Thursday, 18 July 2013

From strength to strength

This particular blog is now closed, but H809 Practice-based research in educational technology continues to go from strength to strength. For full details of the course, please see this page on The Open University website.

If you have questions, please contact H809's new chair, Dr Ann Jones.

Good luck to all those who dare to engage critically in educational research!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

What do students think of H809?

We've been comparing the last few years of pass rates and survey feedback on H809 with other postgraduate courses, and have found some interesting things.

Firstly many students tell us that they expected the module to be particularly difficult. And it has to be said that although the workload per week is (since 2009) no more than average, it is challenging work: H809 involves critiquing published empirical research in detail. So that's why we recommend you take it only once you've got at least some experience of reading and understanding academic literature.

But it turns out that H809's completion rates and pass rates are as good as (and often better than!) other postgraduate courses.

It also turns out that - and we've probably been a bit shy in trumpeting this -  satisfaction scores in relation to the teaching materials and the quality of the study experience are high. Even more humbling: we also get high scores in relation to the items “I enjoyed studying this module” and “I would recommend this module to other students".

So maybe we need to revise the title and the module description to stop the module appearing quite so daunting...?

Of course it's not perfect by any means: many students would like as much forum discussion in the second half of the module as the first. That's something we're working on. Some students would also like all the research papers studied to be of the highest quality. However I should probably admit that we include some papers that, ahem, allow the forum discussions to appreciate certain limitations that can be found in published research... In any case, we tend to replace 10-15% of the readings each year, to keep the module up-to-date, so truly hated papers don't tend to last long.

Many students are surprised how relevant H809 is to their own professional context, perhaps expecting a dry exposition of theories of measurement and philosophical angst about the validity of qualitative research (although we do have theories and angst, if that's your thing!). A few students have found that not all the research papers focus on topics that were directly relevant to their own particular educational contexts. This is perhaps understandable given the diverse range of jobs our students have; and in any case some papers are included to introduce innovative research methods that aren't yet widespread. In any case, over 90% of students who expressed a view last year indicated that they would be able to apply what they had learned on H809 to their own professional context. Nevertheless, we're adding a new survey activity that we think will be of direct use in very many educational settings.

We'll see if this year's improvements work for those who are starting the next presentation in a few days' time.

By the way, when we're planning the annual improvements to the module, we look back over not just the survey results and pass rates, but also the feedback that individual H809 alumni have sent me personally over the years. We don't always act on such feedback: what one may hate, another may love. But this kind of feedback is often particularly helpful in being specific about where we can make improvements.

So if you've not previously completed a survey or sent me feedback, please feel free to say in the comments below what you thought of the module, mentioning which year you did H809. (NB you can say nice things too!)

Monday, 29 August 2011

A couple of European conferences

I'm about to set off in the direction of the leading European educational research conference EARLI, which is about to start in Exeter. I say "set off", but it's not too many paces away... Exeter is a wonderful city, by the way!

I've not come across too many conferences to which I want to return, but the biennial EARLI conference is an exception. It's too large, really, (5 days of 23 parallel sessions?! 4 parallel keynotes at a time?! A 2000 page book of abstracts?!); its submission deadlines are ridiculously long (10 months in advance, this year); and technology is not as strong a focus for EARLI as it is for several other European conferences. But in my experience the papers at EARLI tend to be of a higher quality and the discussions more thoughtful than elsewhere.

It may be a bit late now for you to get to the 2011 conference, but luckily this year the keynotes are being webcast, and anyone can join in the discussions. Here is the link to the EARLI Virtual Conference.

You might also be interested in its sister conference EAPRIL, which is the "European Association for Practitioner Research on Improving Learning". I've not attended EAPRIL, so I can't vouch for it, but it looks very relevant to those who are interested in practice-based research.

The 2011 EAPRIL conference is in Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, 23-25 November. There's still time to submit a paper: the deadline is 14 September. Details at

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

2 days left to sign up for H809's 2011 presentation

I've always thought "presentation" was a peculiar word to use to talk about the running of an Open University course over a defined period of time. Unlike conventional universities we don't have "terms" or "semesters". And, if we want to distinguish the time periods when the course is running, we can't always use "years" either, since many course run more than once a year. Moreover, our students have great freedom over which courses they take and when; and so could never be fitted into neat "annual cohorts".

So we refer to "presentations". Which conjures up images either of a PowerPoint sales pitch or of the handing over of some kind of trophy. Neither of which images seems to fit with the active, personal and dynamic peer-to-peer, tutorial and assessment interactions that I associate with an OU course.

But I digress. (And I should now be referring to OU "modules" rather than OU "courses", it seems. Naughty James.)

H809's next presentation starts on Saturday 5 February 2011. The closing date for registration is in two days time, on 21 January. H809 only runs once a year, so this is your final chance for 2011!

This deadline is slightly earlier than usual, because we've found in the past that when students register later than this, course login details and tutor group allocations aren't always sorted out in time, which can end up being disorienting.

Comments from last year's students

If you're still undecided here, here are some comments from last year's students:

“The library was fantastic, and through the course I learnt a lot about searching, including citation searching & RefWorks.”

“H809 was a very interesting course for me. Most of the things we learned regarding new technologies and cutting edge research methods were new and unknown for me. That’s why I feel that I learned a lot of things from the course.”

“The course’s requirements were clear and comprehensive. [The assignments] were strongly related to the things we were taught.”

“This course gave me a real jump start in being much more aware of technology, its impact and possible applications in education.”

“Developing the theoretical skills [enabled] me to apply them to a real research proposal”

“The subject matter... [was] fascinating and [I] was quite disappointed when it came to an end.”

“Coming from a background in psychology I was concerned whether I would manage to do this course, but I enjoyed it more than I thought and got a lot from it including more confidence in my research capabilities.”

“I was able to put my research skills into practice and further develop my knowledge of Educational Technology.”

Reading List

I thought it might be useful to post this year's reading list:

Block 1
This block gives a flavour of the nature of the field, and provides a common grounding: a shared set of five main readings. These readings are intended to provide an introduction to common approaches and techniques that are often assumed to form a background to discussion of new methods. ... Which is why they tend to be older than the other readings!
  1. Hiltz, S.R. and Meinke, R. (1989) ‘Teaching sociology in a virtual classroom’, Teaching Sociology, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 431–46

  2. Wegerif, R. and Mercer, N. (1997) ‘Using computer-based text analysis to integrate qualitative and quantitative methods in research on collaborative learning’, Language and Education, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 271–86

  3. Laurillard, D. (1994) ‘How can learning technologies improve learning?’, Law Technology Journal, vol. 3, no. 2

  4. Oliver, M., Roberts, G., Beetham, H., Ingraham, B. and Dyke, M. (2007) ‘Knowledge, society and perspectives on learning technology’ in Conole, G. and Oliver, M. (eds) Contemporary Perspectives on E-learning Research, London, RoutledgeFalmer
  5. Roschelle, J. (1992) ‘Learning by collaborating: convergent conceptual change’, Journal of the Learning Sciences, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 235–76

Block 2
Much of the focus of this block is on theoretical perspectives often met in research on educational technology, and it also considers the audiences for research and ethical aspects of research.
  1. Conole, G., Dyke, M., Oliver, M. and Seale, J. (2004) ‘Mapping pedagogy and tools for effective learning design’, Computers & Education, vol. 43, nos. 1–2, pp. 17–33

  2. Jones, A. and Preece, J. (2006) ‘Online communities for teachers and lifelong learners: a framework for comparing similarities and identifying differences in communities of practice and communities of interest’, International Journal of Learning Technology, vol. 2, no. 2–3, pp. 112–37

  3. Tolmie, A. (2001) ‘Examining learning in relation to the contexts of use of ICT’, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 235–41

  4. Crook, C. and Dymott, R. (2005) ‘ICT and the literacy practices of student writing’ in Monteith, M. (ed.) Teaching Secondary School Literacies with ICT, Maidenhead, Open University Press

  5. To be confirmed. Last year's reading is being replaced: Jonassen, D. and Rohrer-Murphy, L. (1999) ‘Activity theory as a framework for designing constructivist learning environments’, Educational Technology Research and Development, vol. 47, no. 1, pp. 61–79
Block 3
The final block is all about cutting-edge research methods and cutting-edge research.

  1. Bos, N., Olson, J., Gergle, D., Olson, G. and Wright, Z. (2002) ‘Effects of four computer-mediated communications channels on trust development’ in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems: Changing Our World, Changing Ourselves, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2002, New York, NY, ACM

  2. Ardalan,A., Ardalan, R., Coppage, S., and Crouch, W. (2007) 'A comparison of student feedback obtained through paper-based and web-based surveys of faculty teaching' British Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 38, no. 6, pp. 1085-1101

  3. Davies, J. and Graff, M. (2005) ‘Performance in e-learning: online participation and student grades’, British Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 36, no. 4, pp. 657–63

  4. Cox, R. (2007) ‘Technology-enhanced research: educational ICT systems as research instruments’, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 337–56

  5. Hammersley, M. (2006) ‘Ethnography: problems and prospects’, Ethnography and Education, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 3–14

  6. Gillen, J. (2009) "Literacy practices in Schome Park: a virtual literacy ethnography", Journal of Research in Reading, vol. 32, no. 1, pp 57–74

  7. Lindroth, T. & Bergquist, M. (2010) "Laptopers in an educational practice: Promoting the personal learning situation", Computers & Education, Vol. 54, No. 2, pp. 311-320

Last minute questions?

Feel free to contact me on Twitter or via email.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

openED course goes live

Just a quick note to highlight the start of the academic modules for the new (and free!) openED 2.0 course on Business and management competencies in a Web 2.0 world.

Details of what openED is about are here. This is Round 1, and is very much work-in-progress. The idea is that - like wikis - the design of openED is open to change by volunteers. So it is hoped Rounds 2, 3 and beyond will show some improvements generated by people outside the initial course team.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Exciting new research project

We've been lucky enough to win some EU funding for a project related to H809. openED 2.0 "Designing for participatory learning in open educational environments" starts from noticing that the Web 2.0 world shows that great things are possible when openness is a guiding philosophy. We want to find out to what extent open online collaboration can foster open online informal learning communities.

Building on the design and materials of H809, the project team aims to collaboratively generate a series of free and open pilot modules. That's "open" not just meaning "public", but also meaning "modifiable by others".

The Open University will be making the initial materials available and developing one of the pilots, but the pilots aren't "OU courses". The focus for the pilots will be more related to business and management than H809, and there won't be any accredited assessment or personal tutoring. If you want that, you'll need to pay to do H809!

In studying how the pilots develop, we're hoping to explore a number of research questions:
  • How do materials generated by such open initiatives and the designing communities develop over time? What pedagogical exchanges occur? What are the drivers of change?
  • What learning takes place? What are the drivers of learning? To what extent is the resulting learning determined by the designers, by the learning community or by the individual learner?
  • What issues arise associated with cross-cultural and multilingual settings?
  • How are differences between formal and informal education exhibited?
  • What are the factors affecting the speed, effectiveness and sustainability of such initiatives?
The Open University is one of six project partners. The other five are SPI, Portugal; IBM, Belgium; Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece; the Hellenic Management Association, Greece; and the University of Applied Sciences of Western Switzerland, Fribourg. Here are some introductory slides.

Monday, 2 November 2009

End of the second presentation

The second presentation of H809 is over, and we're hard at work on updates to the course for next year.

There was a good haul of distinctions in 2009, and average results were up slightly. Well done to all H809'ers on these great results.


The course team has been through the outcomes of the student end-of-course survey in some detail now. Thanks to all those who gave us feedback. Here are some highlights...

Workload: It looks like the changes to the materials and assessments made for this presentation have turned out well. In particular, the level of student workload now seems just about right. This is great news, and suggests that in updating the course for 2010 there should be no net increase or decrease in the amount of reading and assessment required.

Podcasts: The survey also found that the podcasts were a hit once again, and so I'm going to record a couple more to keep them refreshed.

Wiki: The wiki was a big success, unlike last year: I suspect the difference was that my seeding the wiki with slightly rubbish content at the start helped to give more people the confidence to edit pages. For next year, we might be trying a public wiki for the glossary as part of the openEd project (see below).

Blogging: There was about the same level of blogging as last year: Jo Iacovides is currently writing a report on our experiment of having a course blogger. Many thanks to Jo for her work in this role.

Topics: Some good ideas for new topics were suggested. In particular, more about research into social networking would be appreciated, so we'll consider possible readings on this topic for 2010.

TMAs: Late return of some assignments was an issue for some students this year, and we will need to seriously consider for 2011 whether - because it's a 20 week course - we need to move from three TMAs to two TMAs in order to allow sufficient time for feedback to be acted on.

Forums: There was less interaction in the forums than last year, so we'll need to have a think about what we can do about that for 2010.


In other news, we've been lucky enough to win some funding from the EU Lifelong Learning Programme to support a three year project to make an 'open' version of the H809 materials that other project partners will be translating and reversioning. More on this news soon...

Au revoir

Finally, let me wish everyone who did H809 this year all the best for the future. Do let me know if it ends up helping you give a conference presentation, publish a journal paper, embark on a PhD, or simply develop your research interests.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter if you'd like to keep in touch. I promise a follow back if you mention H809! And well done once again on your result.