PJ Evans

weeknotes [20102014]

Posted on | October 20, 2014 | No Comments

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been

further working through my research involving discourse analysis along with network and other sociomaterial methods for my PhD. I think I’m developing a stronger understanding of of the method “in action” and Technology Enhanced Learning.

I’m also continuing to enjoy the teaching on two courses: Digital Environments for Learning; and Course Design for Digital Environments.

I’m also continuing to contribute to the development of two initiatives which I’ll hopefully write about sometime soon.

What is wrong with ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’

Posted on | October 4, 2014 | No Comments

Last Friday I attended a Digital Cultures & Education research group presentation by Sian Bayne on her recent article What’s the matter with ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’?

These are my notes taken during the presentation and then tidied up later – so they may well be limit, partial and mistaken!


16th century French cypher machine in the shape of a book with arms of Henri II. Image from Uploadalt

While Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) is a widely used term in the UK and Europe, the presentation positions TEL as an essentially conservative term that discursively limits what we do as researchers and researchers in the field of digital education and learning. Sian’s critique draws on three theoretical perspectives:

* Science & Technology Studies (STS) for a critique of ‘Technology
* Critical posthumanism for a critique of ‘Enhancement
* Gert Biesta’s language of learning for ‘Learning

For Technology, we dont tend to define it but rather black box it as unproblematically in service to teaching practices. This black-boxing of technology as supporting learning and teaching creates a barrier between the technology and the social practices of teaching. As Hamilton & Friesen discuss, two main perspectives on technology as either as an essentialist perspective of unalienable qualities of the technologies or we treat it instrumentally as a neutral set of tools. I both cases technology is understood as being independent of the social context in which it is used. Hamilton & Friesen argue we need to take a more critical stance especially in terms of technology as the operationalisation of values and to engage in larger issues such as social justice, the speed of change and globalisation, the nature of learning or what it is to be human.

By using the term, Enhanced, TEL adopts a conservative discourse as it assumes there is no need to radically rethink teaching & learning practices but just a need to enhance of tinker with existing practice. So enhancement aligns with Transhumanism – a humanist philosophy of rationality and human perfectibility where technological advances remove the limitations of being human (Bostrom 2005)
Critical post-humanism (Simon 2003) is a philosophical critique of the humanism of the Enlightenment and its assumptions on human nature and the emphasis on human rationality. arguing that these assumptions are complicit in dominatory practices of opporession and control. The human being is just one component in complex ecology of practice that also includes machines, non-human components in symmetry. So post-humanism is more about humility and appreciation of that our involvement as humans in our context is complex and inter-related and interactional. Yet TEL buys into a dominant Transhumanism emphasising the cognitive enhancement of the mind and so could include the use of drugs as a ’technology’ to enhance learning. The Technology Enhanced Learning System Upgrade report.
Transhumanism positions technology as an object acted on by human subject so ignoring how humans are shaped by and shape technology and does not ask Is ‘enhancement’ good, who benefits from enhancement and is enhancing is context specific? It is argued that TEL could learn from the post humanist critique of Transhumanism

The ‘problem’ of Learning draws on Gert Biesta’s writing on the new language of learning and more specifically, the ‘learnification’ of discourses of education. This involves talking about “learning” rather than “teaching”, or “education”. Learning as a terms is used as a proxy for education that takes discussions away from considerations of structures of power in education itself. So learnification discursively instrumentalises education – education is provided/ delivered to learners based on predefined needs rather than needs emerging and evolving over time. So learners are positioned as customers or clients of education ‘providers’ and TEL gets bound up with this neo-liberal discourse/ perspective

So the label of TEL tacitly subordinates social practice to technology while also ontologically separating the human from the non-human. The TEL discourse is aligned with broader enhancement discourse that enrols transhumanism and instrumentalisation so entrenching a particular view of the relationships between education, learning and technology.

Rather, education technologies involve complex assemblages of human and non-human components and as practitioners and researcher, we need to embrace that complexity. Posthumanism as a stance, is a way of doing this and understanding learning as an emergent property of complex and fluid networks of human and non-human elements coming together. In posthumanism, the human is not an essence but rather a moment.

Distributed governance of technological innovation through the case of WiBro in S. Korea.

Posted on | September 29, 2014 | No Comments

I attended the Social Informatics Cluster meting to hear Jee Hyun Suh present on: Co evolution of an emerging mobile technology and mobile services: distributed governance of technological innovation through the case of WiBro in S. Korea. These are rough notes taken during the presentation.

She presented the story of WiBro and the implications for the governance of large scale technological innovations for technology companies and government. WiBro was initiated from 2001 as a national R&D programme for high speed portable internet, it was harmonised with national and international standards (WiMax) and went to a commercial launch in 2006. It is widely seen as a case of market failure despite a successful technological innovation.

The research objectives were initially to examine the socio-technical factors in the development of the technology and the gap between the visions and outcomes of the technology commercialisation and explore the governance of large scale and complex innovations. The technology’s development was interpreted through social learning processes with a particular focus on building alignments between the technology, service evolution, standardisation and social learning within a wider development arena of R&D.

Over the course of the research period, 2001 to date, the focus of interest shifts from design & development of the technologies to a commercial focus on then on to a focus of the service evolution. The WiBro development was linked to broader policy imperatives of positioning S.Korea as innovation leader.

The technology itself was predicated on a problematisation of the inefficient use of 2.3 GHz and then enrolment of stakeholders to co-shape a generic vision of the using bandwidth portable internet service. This became co-evolved with drive towards a High performance portable internet and processes of standardisation.Standard setting closely linked to bandwidth/ spectrum allocation. Became conceived as a seamlessly interlinked innovation process. but different interests and objectives across stakeholders remained unresolved especially between focus on tech dev vs commercial exploitation through existing technologies. Also shifting alignments around adoption of differing international standards. The technology had been successfully developed and as pre-commercial produce was show cased at APEC 2005.
Commercialisation occured around processes of spectrum licensing. Again, different visions for WiBro, eg as an extension of fixed line services, as a differentiated service and as a complementary service to existing mobile networks. These different visions were rolled into different commercial aims eg, early market advantage vs emphasis on interoperability, adoption or blocking of VoIP as well as the emergence of 3G services. The later development of 4G mobile resulted in shifts to the vision of WiBro and how it should evolve.
Also, the commercial focus bifurcated on domestic versus a global market focus. In the domestic market, there could be seen the dynamics of trail and error on finding niche markets for WiBro, eg, mobile routers, digital shipyards, WiBro-Taxi. This market learning processes occurred despite tensions between players and their visions for the service.
The argument presented was that the ‘problem’ of WiBro should be framed in terms of uncertainties in innovation processes rather than in terms of a failure in diffusion/ commercialisation. So the coordination challenges and dispersed arenas of innovation enabled key players to interact in the social shaping of this particular technology highlighting the importance of stakeholder reflexivity and flexibility in large-scale technological innovations.
It was also noted during the Q&A that WiBro coincided with the testing and general failure of attempts at developing national technology champions that could then be exported in to global markets.

For more on social learning processes in innovation diffusion, see:

weeknotes [21092014]

Posted on | September 21, 2014 | No Comments

OK, what have I been up to over the last few weeks:

Well the supervision of dissertation students has given way to the marking of dissertations. I can’t say I enjoy marking the dissertations I supervised (and am very glad they’re double marked) but do find interesting reading the dissertations that I haven’t supervised for the first time. … and just in case I thought there would be a pause, I’ve already started the first supervision meetings for a new set of dissertations.

piloting discourse analysis for my PhD studies continues to develop as issues are surfaced and I develop a better understanding of the method “in action”.

The writing of a couple of papers for publications continues. One is near completion and just requires final copy-proofing and permissions on images etc before submission. The other required extensive rewriting (and re-reading it, I did find it a shockingly poor piece of work – writing a short paper seems to be much harder…) and I’m waiting for feedback on that new version.

attended and excellent seminar on Unbundling the University. I hope to return to this topic in the near(ish) future. Interestingly, the imperatives for unbundling appear to be coming to the state schools system in the UK (or at least England) with this example of outsourcing school services involving the Academy Enterprise Trust.

Also, we’re now well and truly into the teaching term with the two courses I’m contributing to this semester: Digital Environments for Learning; and Course Design for Digital Environments


Unbundling higher education

Posted on | September 10, 2014 | No Comments

These are my notes from a seminar by Amy Collier, Stanford University  titled The Good, the Bad and the Unbundled on 27 August 2014. These notes were taken live and then cleaned up a bit, links added etc. but they remain a bit partial and sketchy in places.  For a more thoughtful and reflective take on the presentation, see Hazel Christie’s post here. Amy’s own post on her visit  can be found here.

The good, the bad, and the unbundled from Amy Collier

The presentation is looking at this emerging phenomenon in the US Higher Education sector and the possible lessons for UK Higher Education.

Amy has been at Stanford for two half years working on MOOCs and on supporting the increasing interest in online learning at Stanford from a position of a weak tradition of online learning. Her role initially focused on the operational aspects of course design. She now has developed a more strategic role asking what they’re doing, who is being targeted and why adopting online learning.

Unbundling is an increasingly prominent topic in US  higher education. It should also be noted that unbundling has a long presence in UK HE in particular through the Open University.

The Unbundling idea has taken hold in the US as part of a wider discourse of ‘disruption’. The US has a weird love affair with the term ‘disruption’. This love affair is based on a ‘dis-ease’ with how things are currently done. Higher education is ‘broken’ and should be disrupted and that disruption is often undertaken through unbundling. Yet, that discourse of  dis-ease with a broken education system is often promoted by others as means to sell ‘solutions’.

Unbundling is the separation of ownership of infrastructure and processes of service provision to gain efficiencies and savings. So unbundling involves the compartmentalism of components of HE that are then outsourced to other providers rather than the traditional model of being provided by a single institution.

As an example, the music industry as traditionally produce a bundled product such as the album, but then iTunes disrupted this product by allowing the purchasing of single songs, users creating their own playlists, etc… Apple and iTunes allowed us as customer to do things with the purchased products independently of music businesses. This development lead on to Pandora and Spotify and took place within a discourse of ‘freedom’ and ‘access to artists’ and hence as the democratisation of the music industry. Similarly, we’e seeing an emerging discourse on the democratisation of higher education in US.

So what is the problem? What is lost when we unbundle? In the case of the music industry, we can see a counter-trend with the return of the cassette as a ‘product’ as a piece of art that cannot be unbundled (popular in Portland – who knew?), it is a single, indivisable and cohesive piece of art. Similar examples of rebundling can be seen in the examples of free music when you buy phone X or in playlists created by Pandora. So unbundling and then rebundling leads to a loss of control and more importantly, a loss of a sense of the whole – replaced by another interpretation of that whole – the art of the album. Also, while obscure artists can be found online they don’t have the sales volumes to make money through these unbundled services.

How does this apply to HE? Returning to the notion of HE as broken is “disaster porn” such as the  IPPR report, An Avalanche is Coming. The IPPR report cites the diversity of pressures on HE in terms of purpose, funding, public policy in the context of a globalised economy where HE is no longer fit for purpose. HE should, therefore, look to technological solutions and these are to be found in the private sector.

A particular recent emphasis is on questioning the value of university, is it worth going? The degree is dead, reimagining higher education. Jose Ferriera (at Knewton) claims bundling works to trick people in to believing a service is worth more than it is and hiding the real cost-benefit.

Unbundling in HE may involve splitting: content; social networks; accreditation; delivery; testing; and research (see Henry Brady, UC Berkeley). But what are the tensions then between economic efficiencies and the holistic integrity of education?

MOOCs have inflated this discussion of disruption and unbundling. Clay Shirky argues that HE is being, and should be disrupted and, returning to the music industry analogy, the “MP3 is our MOOC“.

And we can see examples of MOOCs unbundle accreditation from HE now. The American Council of Education is offering credientialisation of MOOCs through member HEIs so separating/ unbundling the delivery and accreditation of courses. Antioch College told its own students that they could receive credit for MOOCs thereby unbundled content, credit and, in this case, the tutoring and support of learning.

But the concept of unbundling has been going on in HE at least since the 19th Century, for example, in unbundling academics from the pastoral roles.

The problems of unbundling:

While a lot of the authors of the disruption discourse make this comparison to the music industry, as George Siemens states, education is a social and cultural as well as content ‘industry’. In taking that perspective, a number of problems with, or questions on, unbundling can be identified:

1. Who, how and what of rebundling? Who does the rebundling and what power are they taking through rebundling? Things that get unbundled tend to be rebundled with a change of ownership and control and what does this mean, for example, on the student experience?

The Minerva project provides access to higher education at reduced cost by focusing on (transferable) skills rather than content/ domain knowledge. They rely on MOOCs for domain knowledge for introductory courses. So Minerva are rebundling MOOCs provided by others while focusing on project-based and experiential learning..

A dark-side of this is that there will still be very bundled education institutions and there is a danger that these highly bundled experiences become the expensive premium service for an elite minority. So the unbundling and rebundling ‘disruptions’ will increase the divisions on access to high quality education.

So, while it remains the case that for some students the unbundled experience may be what they want and need, a key question remains that if unbundling is about raising access to HE then who for and to what form of HE?

Also, bundled and unbundled experiences collected data. HEIs are generally trusted to handle data with care and respect but what happens when services are unbundled and rebundled with the concomitant opportunities for the commercial exploitation of student data. For example, the backlash on the recent Facebook experiment was not just against Facebook but also Cornell University for their role in analysing the data.

2. Impacts on teaching and other staff.
We can see the unbundling of the academics’ role eg, in support development of student social networks, advising, admissions, instruction design,teaching, research etc . especially to para-academics, but this is problematic if you view the academics’ role as holistic.
In the case of MOOCs, courses are being designed by people who may not deliver/ teach on them. But this approach can also be seen in the development of Online & Distance Learning (ODL)  programmes from the 1990s as they considered how learning technologists interacted with academic staff. Different models of ODL can be seen:

(i) craft model where faculty did it all; (ii) collegial model where academics helped each other; and (iii) where a virtual assembly line was created the produced a course for  academics to deliver. The craft model is where academics identified themselves as autonomous experts whereas this identity was lost in the assembly line model. So unbundling also affects academic self-identification.

But why is an integrated faculty role of value? Because it engages academics in their work and highlights the integrative role of research and teaching. On the other hand, unbundling does allow faculty to focus on individual areas of strength – why force a shy researcher in to teaching?

There are other models such as Patricia Ianuzzi’s (University of Nevada) team-based model involving the co-production between academics and para-academics of student experiences.

3. the lost art of the University: what happens when unbundling leads to loss of serendipity and synergies of the bundled student experience?

On a positive note, unbundling may provide opportunities for the redesign of HE and to challenge assumptions of the institutions.

Examples of redesigning rather than unbundling has changed HE
1. domain of one’s own at the University Mary Washington as a push-back against VLEs and MLEs. Each student was provided with a domain for students to use any tools they wanted and use for their learning. This initiative allows students to experiment with online learning both personally and in groups. Another initiative is Thought Vectors at Virginia Commonwealth University enabling student learning on open websites.

2. the Stanford 2025 project involved both students and staff to consider the redesign of Stanford for 2025. For example, redesigned away from semester and academic years to a much more flexible programme structure built around micro-learning opportunities as Paced Education. In effect this is unbundling the curriculum and is being implemented through The Impact Lab. This social innovation is focused on the food system and involves students researching (immersion), prototyping and piloting implementations of interventions in the food system.

The key point of this talk is to examine the issues and opportunities in the unbundling of higher education.

Q: Can you separate the neo-liberal drivers of the rise of idea of unbundling and the more positive opportunities of redesign? How suspicious should we be of unbundling in HE?
A: I’m very suspicious mainly because I work in Silicon Valley and see unbundling projected as way for start-ups to access investment and government  to ‘solve’ higher education through the private sector.

Q: Can you comment on the adjunct faculty in the US as it appears to be linked?
A: Unbundling the faculty role leads to the deskilling of the faculty so seeing rise of adjunct faculty as having very specialist skills along with precarious employment positions. See the alt ac movement in US (alternative academic).

Q: Comments Music Industry to suggest that senior managers saw that the internet would change their business but didn’t know how to change. Also, the UK has the experience of the OU for the team development of courses. Finally, HEI is very diverse but that is hidden to many of us. Some HEIs rebundle through eg, accreditation of prior learning (cites military in US as example of this)
A: RPEL is really important. A key danger of unbundling is that it imposes a monolithic view of HE and that a sense diversity is lost.

Q: Interested in your views of a model from Cornell University of a faculty housing model of free housing if you live with the students as a rebundling of student services?
A: Stanford has strong ethos of living on campus and the creation of a learning community.

Q: Who is the customer and what is the product? Are students viewed as a product and society the customer?
A: The student as customer is a strong aspect of the unbundling discourse. People have changed their ideas of education as a public good and the promotion of citizenship – now less of a priority given the end of the Cold War.

Q: Worried that there may be an oversimplification of a good or bad unbundling and whether there is a need for a bigger discussion on what the university is for?
A: I’m not opposed to unbundling per se but more discussion is needed beyond the binary of good and bad but that allows the challenge of the assumptions of educational institutions

weeknotes [25082014]

Posted on | August 26, 2014 | No Comments

Over the last couple of weeks, my time has been spent on:

A picture of various draft word processed documentssupervising Masters students on the dissertations with most submitting last week

working with three part-time students as they start their dissertations

developing a couple of ideas on a new course involving what is, I think, an innovative structure. More to follow on both of these

piloting discourse analysis for my PhD studies which is both interesting and slightly overwhelming – I mean, how much data can I really use?

writing a couple of papers for (hopeful) publication

preparing for teaching starting in a couple of weeks on two online courses: Digital Environments for Learning; and Course Design for Digital Environments

planning a Course for a different programme on Managing Organisational Learning & Knowledge (MOLK) that will be a blended Course starting in January 2015.

attended an interesting workshop on employability for postgraduate students as part of the Making Most of Masters project. The emphasis on employability is being partly driven by changes in the PGT market as student recruitment is counter-cyclical to the economy. Hence the market for PGT students is expected to become more competitive and requiring HEIs to develop key added-value offers to students which often revolve around issues of employability, employment outcomes and employer engagement.
The Making Most of Masters project started with mapping what work-based learning was already taking place, then defining a model for work-based dissertations and delivering and refining the model to finally generate a self-sustaining model. This is essentially a toolkit for running work-based dissertation projects.

The focus for the next couple of weeks will be on finalising the draft papers and preparing for the teaching…. and, of course, marking dissertations….

Learning techniques – for education and life

Posted on | August 15, 2014 | No Comments

An interesting and useful read from Harold Jarche on learning techniques framed in terms of PKM and sense-making. As with many areas of knowledge and learning, the post (and the research article cited – and summarised here) highlight the tendency towards shallow learning techniques and the avoidance of the more valuable, but harder, techniques of sense-making and critical thinking. The two key techniques here of elaborative interrogation and self-explanation seem to me to be two crucial steps in situated knowing and being able to think through the nitty-gritty pragmatic aspects of applying knowledge/ information in actual problem-solving situations. It is these approaches that should provide the situational links between education and professional practices.

Personal learning environments

Posted on | August 8, 2014 | No Comments

Network ALL2_BC
I’m currently writing up some ideas on open online professional learning that includes considering  personal learning networks. I came across this interesting post from Martin Weller on the apparent decline in interest or discussion of personal learning networks. The reasons suggested include the mainstreaming of the practices associated with PLEs, a consolidation of the tools used in to a fairly generic set of software used but also that the (research) agenda has shifted from personal learning to institutionally provided personalised learning partly driven by learning analytics.


weeknotes [03082014]

Posted on | August 4, 2014 | No Comments

I’m back from holiday and getting back in to work mode (which will be easier when the kids go back to school next week – bah humbug). Over the last week, I’ve mainly been:

Reading and reviewing dissertation draft chapters from students and meeting those students.

Some further work on developing ideas on new course structures.

Starting discourse analysis work for my PhD.

Next week will see more focus on preparing for the next academic year and, in particular, teaching on  Digital Environments for Learning; Course Design for Digital Environments and Managing Organisational Learning & Knowledge (MOLK).


weeknotes [11072014]

Posted on | July 11, 2014 | No Comments

I’m just getting ready for for two weeks holiday starting today. Over the last couple of weeks, my time has been spent on:

supervising Masters students on the dissertations with most aiming to complete by the end of this summer
working with three part-time students as they’re just about to start their dissertations
developing ideas on a new course involving what is, I think, an innovative structure. More to follow on this after the summer
reading up on discourse analysis for my PhD studies.

Once I’m back from my holiday, in addition to these activities, I’ll also be concentrating on preparations for teaching on courses on two online courses: Digital Environments for Learning; and Course Design for Digital Environments. I’ll also be redesigning a course for a different programme on Managing Organisational Learning & Knowledge (MOLK).


So, back in two weeks feeling fresh and energetic (I hope)

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