Enhancing the student digital experience

The challenges of learning and teaching in online environments are ones that all educators face today – or at least should! So in this context, I was pleased to see the latest @JISC report for the university context:- Enhancing the Student Digital Experience: a strategic report.

The report seeks to provide answers to key questions:

  • How are you responding to the changing digital needs and expectations of your students and staff?
  • Do the experiences and the digital environment you offer to your students adequately prepare them to flourish in a society that relies heavily on digital technologies?
  • What are you doing to engage students in dialogue about digital issues and to work collaboratively with them to enhance their digital learning experience?
  • How well is the digital vision for your establishment embedded in institutional policies and strategies?

A must read and addition to your professional collection.

However, from my experience in  Higher Education what we do is probably far more complex and less likely to come to a happy resolution than in schools. This is not because we are any less competent, but rather that many in tertiary see ‘teaching’ as of secondary importance to everything else, whether that is research, writing or administration – because of the pressures put on them.

This ‘dilemma’ leaves me somewhat unhappy with the trajectory and resolution of competing interests in my own small ‘realm’, particularly when as Courses/Program Director part of my brief is to nurture good quality learning opportunities for students.  It puzzles me  when I see a messages come into my mail about  “strategies for assessment design that reduces marking time”, or “designing subject content and/or assessment to increase alignment with your research interests and why this is justifiable.” Both could (in my mind) run counter to overall course design, and/or quality engagement with students if taken in the wrong way. .

So the real problem of course is not commitment of lecturers, but the priorities, that often make teaching the thing that you have to do rather than the thing you want to do. I would love to know how many folks in HE love their teaching, and work tirelessly with students to achieve the best outcome possible.  I’ll leave it to you (from your personal experiences) to think of an answer.

Conversely, of course, students come in many shapes, and dispositions, so the overall learning experience is still a dual experience.  We can’t always meet everyone’s needs in online learning environments – after all, the learners themselves have to take a lead role/responsibility in the process.

I’ve kickstarted another great year in my favourite education degree http://www.csu.edu.au/digital where we encourage students (amongst other things) to share their experiences in the Twitter back-channel.  You have to have fun with learning too!  Two subjects that I am involved with are underway #INF530 Concepts and Practices for a Digital Age, and #INF541 Game Based Learning. I encourage students to joke around about the challenges, as that helps to lighten to pressure on us all.   (Of course, if they are using the back channel already, they are usually doing very well! Good on you Amanda and Simon!)

 Image: creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by giulia.forsythe

Our connections and the flow of knowledge

Learning is the process of acquiring knowledge, which is an active process and operates at both individual and social levels. When it comes to information behaviour within this context there are a wide range of theories and models which represent thinking and research investigations in this field. Existing models have elements in common, though most models in library and information science focus on information seeking and the information user, while those from the field of communications focus on the communicator and the communication process.  It is certainly worth stopping and revisiting these models, to better understand the ‘cognitive actors’ or other influences at play (Robsons & Robinson, 2013)

What I’m particularly interested in are the Information seeking behaviours and places of information seeking which are constantly changing, and of course growing in possibilities all the time. While we can study models in depth, as academic or professional pursuits,  when we consider how we think in the digital age, Bradbury hits the nail on the head for some of our common issues:

Our modern-day information processing is both careless in how it is consumed and how it is related back to others: rarely do we intentionally seek out an article, comb through it, and then selectively disperse it to an appropriate recipient. Rather, we come across it online, skim the headline or sound bites, and blast it indiscriminately via social media.

The complexities of information behaviour are so important to understand and be responsive to.   What can we hope to do about this, or what is being done? After all, you could say that digital technologies tend to outsource much of what could potentially be reflective thinking to an external device that provides a quick, pre-formed answer!

I was quite taken by a reflection on the Fourth Age of Libraries, and will share an example here from author Sean McMullen:

Recently,  for a story that I was writing, I researched intelligence in crows. So my first stop was to type ‘intelligence and crows’ into Google. I was instantly offered 8,180,000 links. At 5 seconds per hit, working 12 hours per day, it would take about two and a half years to check them all. Everyone can surf the Internet, but librarians can do it effectively. Since I am more interested in using information than finding it, I will continue asking librarians for help.

Yes! Information seeking, and good information behaviours will continue to involve quality curation and equally open information dissemination processes.

Two reports

Two reports I picked up this week add to my pool of readings to help with my thinking about the information era dilemmas.

We  have to nurture the ability to read – and read well!  Measuring the impact of thousands of libraries across multiple countries is quite a formidable undertaking, but with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,  an external research team examined from Room to Read examined  libraries in Laos, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Zambia, and South Africa. To establish a baseline, they began evaluations at the schools before a Room to Read library was established and tracked progress in reading habits over the course of two years.

The most exciting takeaway from the study is that they have been able to confirm empirically that  libraries are helping children become independent readers.
Read the full report summary.

The second useful report to examine comes from the Knowledge Exchange, and the report Sowing the seed: Incentives and Motivations for Sharing Research Data, a researcher’s perspective. A qualitative study, commissioned by Knowledge Exchange, has gathered evidence, examples and opinions on current and future incentives for research data sharing from the researchers’ point of view, in order to provide recommendations for policy and practice development on how best to incentivize data access and re-use. Researchers’ experiences, data sharing practices and motivations are shown to be heterogeneous across the studied research groups and disciplines. Incentives and motivations ask for development of a data infrastructure with rich context where research data, papers and other outputs or resources are jointly available within a single data resource. Different types of data sharing and research disciplines need to be acknowledged. This  report that shows what a long journey is yet ahead of us, to beat the general google-grabbing of low-level information, because better quality material is hidden. Download the study ‘Sowing the seed: Incentives and Motivations for Sharing Research Data, a researcher’s perspective’

Moving forward

So let’s focus on technology and supporting services.  Libraries are a significant focus point in our communities, and technology is the other. As we invent more technology and forms of media, we also need to reinvent our community interactions as virtual and physical spaces of exchange for cultural and knowledge development. Libraries can continue to lead the way in this – from the national services to the quality services in your small local school library.  Building reading along with development and refinement of information seeking strategies and long term information behaviours,  educators and organisations need to remain open and responsive  – skipping the fads that are not supported by research and proven to stand the test of rigorous investigation.

The good news is that libraries are morphing. Read the Near and Far Future of Libraries .As archives become digital and machines become smarter, what function will libraries serve ten years and ten thousand years from now? See what some interesting experts had to say!

Our priority has to be our connections, and creating a flow of knowledge for all ages, across communities, nations and people. Our connections and the flow of knowledge is vital through building on critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.

If you love something – set it free!


Andrew Robson, & Lyn Robinson. (2013). Building on models of information behaviour: linking information seeking and communication. Journal of Documentation, 69(2), 169–193. doi:10.1108/00220411311300039

Image: creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by whatmattdoes

New Badge for CSU and NoTosh

Just when you think academic life is getting boring, along comes another opportunity to play nicely with friends!  In this case, my most excellent colleague Ewan McIntosh is in the middle of working with a good bunch of lucky students who are busy in our new subject Designing Spaces for Learning, which is part of our  in our fab new degree in 2014 Master of Education (Knowledge Networks & Digital Innovation).

This needs more than just a tick for a subject completed!  This is why! This is what has happened!

We’ve got a badge!  But we need to tell the story of the context and why we have the badge first!

F3939 Badges_DesignSpaces_Exp_NotoshEwan masterminded the writing of the subject to fit the profile of our degree, and the students are encountering  challenges almost on a daily basis. Together we have been pushing the boundaries in traditional academic processes, and assessments. The most recently completed task (no marks, just challenges – that’s different!) has been a creative coffee morning experience.

In fact students were challenged to undertake a coffee morning, afternoon, evening beer, meeting the criteria of the task.

This assessment is undertaken in three parts:

  1. The creation and undertaking of a Creative Coffee Morning in your community.
  2. The online publication of photos, video, a Twitter hashtag archive, Storify and/or blog post which shows the activity that occurred during your Creative Coffee Morning.
  3. After completing your own task, you must provide kind, specific and useful feedback on at least three of your subject.

The upshot has been a wide range of activities, in a variety of settings.  But I’m sharing here the Storify #INF536 Creative Coffee Morning: A meeting of creatives to discuss creativity, design, design thinking and the design of learning spaces, of an event that took place in Melbourne, because I was very lucky to be able to attend!

You get the drift?

This degree and this subject is not your regular experience, even though it does get structured around the traditional framework of an online degree. It’s new, and because it’s new, we wanted to see what else we could do.  Some of our students are also just doing this subject, as ‘single subject study’ and others are here for the long haul of getting a fab new degree.  So why not do more??

Charles Sturt University (CSU) has seen the potential for digital badges and are running an innovation project involving a number of faculty pilots in 2014. The benefit of digital badges for the Earner is that they can profile themselves online through displaying their badges and highlighting their most recent and relevant continuing education and professional development achievements. So in our case, the Faculty of Education,  has partnered with the global leader and CEO of NoTosh, Ewan McIntosh (expert and international keynote speaker on innovation, design thinking and creativity) to offer a digital badge in Designing Spaces for Learning. This badge recognises the successful demonstration of an earner’s ability to design spaces for learning through engaging in theory and collaborative practice, and fits beautifully into the participatory intentions of the  Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation).

I hope that this will be the first of many digital badges that will be offered, but for now  we can learn from our experience of designing and issuing a badge, and improve on this for our next offering.

Experimentation with digital badges is gaining momentum across Australian universities with various trials and projects being announced including Curtin University’s Curtin Badges and Deakin University’s Deakin Digital.

I’m excited to be involved in actualising digital badging at CSU with NoTosh!

We’ve been connected online since a TeachMeet in Glasgow on the 20th of September 2006 (Judy beaming in via Skype at 2am).  By the way, did you know that TeachMeets were conceived in the summer of 2006 in Edinburgh, Scotland, under the name “ScotEduBlogs Meetup. The new name TeachMeet was created by Ewan McIntosh and agreed upon by the attendees of the first event. The 2nd Edition was held in Glasgow on the 20th of September 2006.

Want to join us in 2015 for this subject, or in the whole program – you’ll find that enrollments are open for March. Come join us :-)





Leadership in a Connected Age

A great gathering of educators today in Melbourne for the SchoolsTechOZ conference.  Always a favourite, and as always a great lineup of speakers and workshop leaders.

Here are the slides for my presentation in the afternoon.  Not identical, but the main links that attendees might be looking for are all there :-) .  I’m looking forward to digging into some of this a little more deeply at my workshops tomorrow.

Launching Designing Spaces for Learning – our new subject!

Our newest program/course/degree (terminology depends on the part of the world you are in) has been keeping me very busy.  Here at Charles Sturt University I  launched the Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) in March 2014.  We have just completed some of the subjects, and I will have to share the outcomes.

But before I do share this, I want to welcome my good friend Ewan McIntosh of NoTosh fame,  to CSU as a newly minted Adjunct lecturer – all ready and engaging as of this week with a new clutch of students. We have people from all around the world, who will be pulling and teasing ideas around with Ewan in the first iteration of the grand new subject.

Ewan said:

When most people find out that they are in line to create a new physical or virtual environment for their school, few have really driven deep into what the research says, and how it might pan out in practice. And, with deadlines in place, and architects producing their “masterplans” based on what they have been able to squeeze out of school communities, the clock is ticking too fast in most cases to begin that learning journey in a timely fashion.

School principals, deputies, librarians and innovator educators can base multi-million dollar decisions on hearsay, gurus’ say-so, and what the Joneses have done with their school. For the initial cohort of students on our inaugural Masters subject on Designing Spaces for Learning at CSU (Charles Sturt University), the story will be very different.

Do visit his blog post Launching a new Masters: Designing Spaces for Learning #INF536. and check out his wonderful welcome video.  Visit the course Facebook Page too!

Perhaps you would like to join our course and his subject in 2015?

Track those new Horizons!

While it was published a little while ago, I am still pleased to share the NMC Horizon Report 2014 edition, in case you’ve missed it.

Launched in 2009, the NMC Horizon Report > K-12 Edition broadened the reach of the NMC Horizon Report series to include primary, middle, and high schools. The K-12 Edition explores the key trends accelerating educational technology adoption in schools, the significant challenges impeding it, and emerging technologies poised to impact teaching, learning, and creative inquiry.

I’ve been along for the journey in every K-12 edition as a member of the K-12 Expert Panel, which has been amazing! Now we have this amazing collection that tells an extraordinary story of change, development and innovation in education as part of the mapping of new horizons.  It is fantastic to be involved at this level in education – I love it :-)

> Download the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 K-12 Edition

Check out the trends, challenges and technology forecast in the report. Look for the opportunities where you can contribute to your school’s development, especially in ways that technology can be embedded into the curriculum programs.

Creativity and education

A regular criticism leveled at education is the function (and sometimes the lack of) creativity in motivating and inspiring learning.  Creativity these days is seen as something ‘special’ and worth capturing.

However, when it comes to creativity in education, there are many aspects to consider. Every student is creative in some way, and the job of educators is to release and support that creative talent in an appropriate manner. Of course, not every student is a  musical Mozart or a scientific Stephen Hawkings. That is not the point for educators. The point is capturing creativity to empower knowledge transactions and in so doing also help prepare students for the digitally diverse and changing nature of our society.

A working definition of creativity is offered by Faultley & Savage (2010, p.6), which does capture nicely the transactions taking place in a learning environment such as a classroom.

Creativity involves mental processes;  can involve action; is within a domain; is purposeful; and is novel (to the individual – ‘everyday’ creativity)

Teaching creatively and for creativity entails taking students on a creative journey where their responses are not predetermined. Teaching for creativity means that students will be producing ideas that may well involve novelty and possibly, experimentation. Teachers and students involved in teaching for creativity will be engaged with processes and although products may well be important it is in the process of creation where the true focus lies.

Craft (2005, p 42) identifies that teaching for creativity involves:

  • the passing of control to the learner and the encouraging of innovative contributions;
  • teachers placing a value on learners’ ownership and control, when innovation often follows;
  • encouraging students to pose questions, identify problems and issues;
  • offering students the opportunity to debate and discuss their thinking;
  • encouraging children to be co-participant in learning, resulting in further control for learners over appropriate strategies for their learning;
  • being at the least considerate and ideally ‘learner inclusive’, thus prioritising learner ‘agency’;
  • encouraging ‘creative learning’, the construction of ‘creative learners’ and ultimately the ‘creative individual’.

So then what is meant by creative and critical thinking in education contexts?

Langer (2012 p. 67) proposes two major purposes that help shape our expectations, both of which result in “mind in action”, meaning-making moves with distinct functionality and motivation.

  1. to gain information and build concepts. (motivated primarily by an information-getting, retrieval, connecting and/or applying purpose)
  2. to engage in a more fluid and open-ended experience where we are not sure to where it might lead. (motivated primarily by a search to see purpose)

Together they contribute to intellect, and it is their joint availability that permits us to engage in the kinds of flexible cognitive interplay that supports intellectual functioning and intellectual growth.

Exploring horizons of possibilities, in a creative experience, we are guided by the open-ended search for ideas. To do this we not only call on what we can imagine,  but also what we cannot yet imagine, in response to ideas or stimuli that we meet along the way of our search.

I can imagine that all these aspects of creativity have a good chance of being unleashed at the Pegasus Bay School.  They want to broaden their horizons!


Craft, A. (2003). The limits to creativity in education: Dilemmas for the educator. British journal of educational studies, 51(2), 113-127.

Fautley, M., & Savage, J. (2010). Creativity In Secondary Education. Learning Matters Limited.

Langer, J. (2012). The interplay of creative and critical thinking in instruction. In Dai, D. Y. (Ed.). (2012). Design research on learning and thinking in educational settings: Enhancing intellectual growth and functioning. Routledge.

Image: GoogleTV by lynetter