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Less ‘e’ means more learning

Fig.1. My Personal Learning Environment

For someone who completed the Master of Arts Open and Distance Education over a year ago and has done further MAODE modules here and other MA modules elsewhere it surprises even me to recognise I learn, and probably do, more when I am NOT in front of the computer (iPad, laptop or desktop).

These days I have no choice but to read books and when I do this is how I set about them:

Read and attach PostIts

Write up, selectively, into a notebook the bits that I’ve picked out (there is a further filtering process here)

Then type these notes up into a Google Doc (typically into a table).

I have become meticulous about citing as I go along as to want to use a quote or idea and not know where it came from can take a considerable time to recover.

An eBook isn’t only on the Kindle (now Paperwhite), but also on the iPad and sometimes even on the laptop or desktop. I read in tight columns with few words, fast – like a TV autocue. As I go along I highlight. Sometimes bookmark something important or big. And from time to time add a note. On other screens the highlights can be colour sorted, so I may theme these as highlights for an essay, for their narrative value, or simply their quirkiness (so I can blog about it).

Interaction with the content in any and many ways is key. Having a presentation to give or essay to write is crucial, otherwise you can read a book and highlight/bookmark far too much of the thing.

Invariably I follow up references. I may loop off to read parts of these references immediately, which may be a paragraph in another book, sometimes a book I can find free online, sometimes an eBook for £2 or so … occasionally a hefty tome that gives me pause for thought. I have a student library card so can get down to the University of Sussex in 30 minutes. Here I’ve just read a few chapters from a biography on Plumer as I’m preparing something on aspects of Third Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele. My self-directed reading list my have expanded to some dozen texts by now: divisional histories, several biographies on Haig, several books on military history with specialist books on the machine gun corps and gas. My notes are always created in Google Docs and in this case the folder shared with a fellow student who has added his own notes too. The learning process is akin to making a sculpture out of papier mache – I keep attaching little pieces and am starting to get a clear idea of the thing.

Is reading still one of the most efficient ways to pass information from one person/source to another? It’s quicker than a lecture. Good for many things. Were I studying Law surely reading is everything, whereas Chemistry or Physics you may benefit from and prefer the video/animation, the lecture with charts.


My Open University Years

Fig.1 Odd that, 12 years and I’ve gained hair, glasses and a tie.

In February 2001 I began an OU module on Open & Distance Learning – last year I graduated with the Masters in Open & Distance Education (MAODE). Since then I’ve taken a couple more MAODE modules to stay up to date. Impossible given that any MAODE module is out of date before it goes live?

The next direction has to be horizontally into the Open University (again), or vertically towards a PhD. Or both? Or neither.

Meanwhile, I sincerely recommend that anyone with any interest in the way education is going to follow the BBC tonight.

BBC Radio 4 8.00pm

The Classroom of the Future

Is it an OU co-production? These days these things usually are.

Reflection on a decade of e-learning


Having not taken stock for a while it was refreshing and re-assuring to consider the Open University postgraduate modules that I have taken, though it has taken this long to understand the meaning of a module that is approaching its final ‘presentation’. In some cases a better word for this might be ‘sell by date’ especially with a subject such as ‘e-learning’ as at least three of those listed below were on their final or penultimate presentation and it mattererd – ‘H817:Innovations in e-learning’ wasn’t particularly innovative for someone who had worked in the creation of interactive and online learning. I’m used to and value the amount of background theory, but I still feel that in these ‘H’ modules that form the Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education (MA ODE) is considerably biased towards learning in formal secondary and tertiary education, rather than applied L&D in business which interested me most – indeed I know of two people across these courses who quit early on because they were working in a learning creation position in business and felt the modules were not suitably applied. B822: Creativity, Innovation and Change was the exception as however dated some of the content (video content shot in the mid 1990s that included companies that had long since gone out of business and innovations such as laptops the size of a small trunk with a carrier bag of cables) the activities and theory in relation to innovation were timeless – it was also an MBA module. Any of us who have taken part in or hosted learning in an organisation involving games of some kind would have found B822 familiar – much of it also touched on the kind of creativity used in advertising, marketing, PR, events and communications.

H804: Implementing Online, Open and Distance Learning (2001)
H807: Innovations in Elearning (2010)
H808: The Elearning professional (2010)
H800: Technology enhanced learning: practices and debates (2011)
B822: Creativity, Innovations and Change (2011)
H810: Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students (2012)
H809: Practice-based research in educational technology (2013)

I’m continuing with these modules to demonstrate that the standard I am now able to achieve is sustainable so that working in academia, even studying for a PhD is viable. ‘H819:The Networked Practitioner’ is a new module. Reading through the course notes and first units (it came online today and goes live next week) I can see the care, clarity and thought that has gone into it, as well as the substantial use of a variety of online learning  tools for ‘connected’ or ‘networked’ learning … what some might call ‘social learning’ but here has more structure to it that that (parameters, goals, set tools etc:). It is tailored, every step of the way, to the production of a conference piece – there is considerable latitude here, but what is meant that you have a presentation that may be given in a variety of formats featuring a choice of core themes develop through the module but set in your ‘world’ or field of interest or expertise.

A teacher is taught to teach something in class, not simply to teach.

I  feel that I have learnt over the last three years how to teach online, but I haven’t developed a subject specialism, prefering to date to behave as if I were in an e-learning agency serving the needs of many, disperate clients. For this module, and potentially for one or two beyond, I hope to develop and demonstrate how the history of the First World War can be taught using e-learning – apt as we approach its centenary. In parallel I will be taking a Masters in British First World War studies with the University of Birmingham. This is also a part-time course, and ostensibly ‘distance learning’ – though in this instance the distance component is handled by my driving to Edgbaston once a month for a day of intensive face to face seminars and tutorials. This in itself will make for a fascinating constrast with the 100% online experience of the Open University.

In the back of my mind, whatever the subject, my interest is in how to address the global problem of there being 123 million people who want to study at university, but only 5 million places. Even if every university modelled itself on the Open University there would still be a massive shortfall – the answer must be in Open Learning that is supported, possibly by a huge cohort of volunteer alumni, as well as qualifying participants as they accumulate credits. Somewhere in here there may be a question for me to address with doctoral research.

It’s disengenious of me to say that I’ve been studying online for a decade.

I did a module in 2001 but did no further online learning in the subsequent decade – though I did qualify as a swimming teacher and coach! The reason for thinking about a decade as a period of time in which to study is that some would say it takes this long to become an expert. This comes from a piece of research carried out at the Berlin Conservatoire in relation to muscians and the years of training and practice they need to put in to get them to the concert hall as a soloist. Actually it wasn’t years so much as tens of thousands of hours required – 40,000 I think it was with kids introdcued to the instrument early and pushed by parents and institutions getting the furthest youngest. Martin Weller, Professor of e-learning, suggests that a decade is still the time scale in which someone might be deemed a ‘digital scholar’. John Seely Brown, who has applied learning and e-learning to business in the US, notably at Xerox’s famous research institute, suggested earlier this year that scholarship or expertise of the kind we are talking about may be achieved in five years because online learning can speed things up. People do take two degrees in tandem if they study online. Is there a fast track to a PhD? My perspective as a parent with teenagers is that they could begin a part-time online degree in their A’ Level year and graduate at the same time as getting their A’ level results or the year after.


Kiss the frog

Fig.1. ELearning Network team exercise

Throughout my career I have relished the company of like-minds that comes from being part of a ‘trade association’. Since I was a teenager I was part of the IVCA – the communications industry and the extensive use of video in training and communications.

Over the last decade, with the digital takeover and the demise of video in favour of faster, personalised delivery mechanism and smart learning online new associations have emerged. Personally, a Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education (MA ODE) has convinced me that video is a blunt, even bland and potentially forgettable and disengaging response to a learning need – well written text can be read at a pace set by the participant.

I joined the ELearning Network doing a bit online and following various stories. Last Friday I joined 30 or so for a day long series of talks. I was impressed. It worked.

Over the course of five hours there were five presenters – the format was engagement rather than lecture.

It gave me the perspective of the industry I wanted as I contemplate taking my interest in an academic approach to the next step – PhD research.

Where is the ‘smart e-learning’ and what can I isolate into a piece of original research that warrants three years of research and a 100,000 thesis?

I gained insights on:

  1. Composing questions
  2. The role of games and gamification
  3. Tools
  4. Design for social interaction
  5. Designing interaction: games, social, tutorial …

In the process our table invented a game called ‘Kiss the Frog’ where participants have to battle against the odds and each other to ‘kiss the frog’ – so that they too can become a frog and live happily ever after and a game to explain genetics in relation to colour-blindness.

On reflection

It has been refreshing not to blog for a month. It is easier to reflect. 

Had it become compulsive? A necessity to post whether I had something to say or note?

Now qualified with a Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education am I inclined to be more circumspect and scholarly?

Is this ‘jazz writing’ as I call it resistance to or an alternative to ‘proper’ writing, whether academic or storytelling.

I miss what I have missed and the need to catch up. I have been busy with a trip to walk in and out of the old line along the Western Front at Ypres. I have read copiously and widely on psychology, neuroscience, e-learning and history. I have seen a movie a day.

On reflection I am better off WITH rather than without the regular habit of capturing thoughts and ideas as they are experienced. I gain from the e-portfolio, the aide memoire, if nothing else.

Stumbling upon the work of Baroness Susan Greenfield, for example, prompted by a radio talk has had me reading her take on neuroscience.



I keep getting this crazy panic that I can’t know enough soon enough to ‘make a difference’

Fig. 1. Testing ahead of an MBA Webinar

I keep getting this crazy panic that I can’t know enough soon enough to ‘make a difference’ – the learning bug has set off a tempest in my brain

Just as well that neuroscience is next on my list of conquests … or should that be psychology?

Or courtesy of e-learning and blended learning an MA in both simultaneously part-time over two years.

The mind boggles, but this is what the Internet permits like never before – degrees like A’ levels, even like GCSEs, why ever give up a subject you loved – like History … and … Music and … and Fine Art … and Sports Science … then who employs you? A tutor of multiple subjects to the super-rich? Oh, and an MBA.

If only I could be 28 forever.

The University of Oxford offers a combined MA from the Said Business School and Oxford Internet Institute – that’s two MAs taken simultaneously over two years. They’ve already had postgraduates through.

I’m thinking this way having recently wrapped my second degree, the MA in Open and Distance Education with The OU. Though on another ‘traditional’ e-learning module with The OU currently – Practice-based research in e-learning (H809), it is the second MOOC of the year that has my head spinning. We were introduced to various depositories of Open Educational Resources. The MIT offering was the clincher as I came across first undergraduate and then graduate content on Neuroscience.

This, currently, makes more sense to me than psychology.

To see and understand what happens when thoughts are formed or our senses perceive the world. Its like going behind the desk of a Magician to see how they do it (I did that at a friend’s birthday party age 6 or 7 … I can feel the carpet beneath my toes, see the little table and the drop down slat with the bag attached to it … ) I’ve created ‘tricks’ in camera and in post production when making videos. It isn’t hard to trick the brain. We want to see what isn’t there. This is possible because of how our brains connect – the chaos couldn’t be designed. Gun polish takes me back to another boyhood moment. Another the very first time we had marshmallows roasted in the fireplace.


Where do I stand academically? Where and what next? And the madness of being.

Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) with the Open University, UK (OU)

H800: Technology-enhanced learning: practices and debates

H807: Innovations in eLearning – Learning outcomes

H810: Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students

B822: Creativity, Innovation and Change

H808: The e-learning professional

This completes the Masters Degree. I graduate on Saturday 27th April 2013

Currently (March 2013) I am taking H809 as a bridge towards doctoral research or professional consultancy. Complete in June 2013.

H809 Practice-based research in educational technology

I joined the #H817open MOOC for one component of this module. I will register for 2014

H817: Openness and innovation in e-learning.

I am applying to undertake doctoral research in education – using learning technologies.
H809 will help prepare for applications starting in January 2014 for an October 2014 start. Most are now a 4 year programme, with a Masters in research to begin. WebSciences at University of Southampton is an interesting option – I attended an Open Day in January.
Too many active interests was a stated issue on childhood school reports. Nothing’s changed.
I am looking at an MA in History with the University of Birmingham which would give me the opportunity study the First World War. (I have written extensively about this through my late grandfather’s memoire ‘That’s Nothing Compared to Passchandeale’)
I attended the School of Communication Arts, London. A full-time programme in copywriting, art direction and design and have worked in the ‘creative’ and ‘communications’ industries all of my career.
And ‘EAVE’ (European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs)
My first degree is in Geography.
My dissertation was on demographics. I love maps. Perhaps I should try to match maps, e-learning and the First World War. Animated it all and add some interviews and n ‘drama reconstruction’.
See what happens when you let something fester and wake up in the middle of the night.
Neuroscience and long term memory are fascinating too.
I need my life over. I need to split into three and start again. I need a coffee and a long walk on the South Downs. (I need to go back to bed)
And then there’s Fine Art.
And Creative Writing. And cooking. And the garden. There’s teaching, and moderating … and blogging. There’s movies. And sailing and swimming coaching. There’s family and friend … ah. Friend? I knew there was something missing in all of the above.
Scrap the lot and have a belated 50th birthday to celebrate 20 years of marriage, parenthood and the madness of being. Then sign up to crew in the Round the World Yacht Race.
There’s a reason why I call this blog ‘mind bursts’.

Things I wished I’d known when I started the MAODE three years ago (I’ve finished, I’m doing H809 as CPD – already!)

A thorough introduction to the platform and tools as a common 16 hours to all modules.

An afternoon, face-to-face tutorial? Through OU Students regionally if not with your tutor. Perhaps through Alumni support groups in Google Hang outs or some such?

This may sound like anathema to the online, distance learning purists, but I wonder if the OU will have to ‘turn itself inside out’ and have undergrads on campus – not just postgrad doctoral students. As ‘traditional’ universities offer everything the OU and a handful of other distance learning specialists around the world used to have as ‘unique selling points’ they will be able to offer it all: e-learning support for resident students, e-learning for distance learners and blended learning for everyone in between.

Turn the Michael Young building into the OU’s first Hall of residence.

If I go into academia I will want to teach even if my ‘job’ is research. I can think of no better way, intellectually, to master (literally) my art and subject than by supporting others. Knowing some star ‘educators’ in other institutions I wonder if tutors would gain also from greater contact. The weekly tutorial (at a price) is feasible through Google Hangouts.

I digress:

H809, understandably is a module to take once you have several modules under your belt, however, H809 light, say these first couple of weeks, might be an invaluable, even open and free ‘stand alone’. I would have scrutinised more closely, fewer papers had I known what I know now.

These first few weeks has been applied learning – using the OU Library not simply as an exercise. Invaluable.

(p.s. cats were fighting in the street. I got up to survey the aftermath and couldn’t get back to sleep. Why not catch up on H809 as a few postings from fellow students suggests I am getting a tad behind this week).

Don’t get behind. The ‘tick boxes’ on the VLE ‘ladder’ are a blunt instrument. Every exercise deserves a ‘tick box’ too, though I understand why the OU wouldn’t do this – it starts to smack of primary school. It really is the case (like exercise), that a a couple of hours every day is better than trying to do it all at the weekend, or worse, abandoning it for a week/10 days because catching up is a monster. If this happens seriously think about abandoning that week – keep up with everyone else first as learning with them is better than learning alone.

Isolation is a state of mind, or a behavioral issue. The sooner you learn to tip the contents of your mind out on your lap the better. Learning together is a joy.

Make time to get your head into gear in the first few weeks. If you have to give it more time than the course notes suggest put in the extra hours so that you ‘get it’ otherwise you will struggle all the way through. You can’t do much about is as an EMA approaches if you’re still asking ‘but ?’ about weeks 1-3.

There is no need to print anything off! Get an iPad and a Kindle. Get your digital literacy skills up to speed ASAP.

Write it all down. The default button in this OU Blog is private. Use it as a learning journal, portfolio, digital notebook, aide memoire.

Take the initiative. Meet online in week one. Buddy up, agree a time. Nothing beats meeting your fellow travellers. Google Hangouts work. The nuttiest one I remember was a ‘Pyjamma party’ – all above board and ‘propper’ but given the time differences some were in bed and woke up for it. I guess it requires the ‘hyper gregarious’ character in the group to do this.

Don’t get distracted:

Most don’t blog at all … it should fit in to the regular programme.

Contribute to student forums always, even use RSS feeds but get used to putting the next activity first otherwise you can expend too much of the week’s allocated hours discussing the first couple of activities. Enough is enough. Get the other activities out of the way then come back.

All you need to know about blogging that you can’t be bothered to research for yourself because you’re too busy blogging …

Fig. 1. Passion at work: Blogging practices of knowledge workers (2009)
by Lilia Efimova
Doctoral thesis published by Novay.

I’ve come to this thesis for a number of reasons:

I’ve been blogging since September 1999, sometimes obsessively so, such as the couple of Blogathons I instigated in 2002 and 2004 where participants had to post 1000 words every hour on the hour for 24 hours – words were meant to be written during the previous 60 minutes. Three of us made it to the end.

I’ve posted regularly since 1999, with several years never missing a day – that’s the diary writer in me. We created ‘circles’ in Diaryland a decade before Google used the term for those with 100, then 500, then 1000 posts.

I know of one blogger from that era who is still there, plugging away ‘Invisibledon’. 

I’ve written on a theme, typically creative writing, parenting, swim coaching and e-learning.

And added to this typed up entries from diaries. There are some 2 million words ‘out there’.

My credentials therefore are as a participant, as a player.

Perhaps I am too close to the hubbub to see what is going on?

I blog as a means:

  • To learn
  • To collate
  • To share
  • To test and practice my knowledge (or lack of … )

Fig. 2 It helps that I’ve kept a diary since I was 13. Blogging since 1999. On WordPress since 2007.

I’m used to gathering my thoughts at the end of the day or logging them as I go along. And learnt that a few succinct sentences is often enough to bring back the day. My first blog was NOT assembled in ‘reverse chronological order’ – I posted to a set of 32 themes. It works better that way.

  • One diary covers my gap year working in the Alps.
  • Another diary covers a few weeks of an exchange trip to France.
  • A third covers a year with the School of Communications Arts.

I personally value blogging to form a  writer’s journal and as a student’s journal, particularly over the last three years during which time I have successfully completed the Open University’s Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE).

  • I read everything I can on blogging. 
  • I’ve just read this engaging PhD thesis by Lilia Efimova. 
  • She is Russian, works in the Netherlands and writes perfect English.

Her supervisors were:

Robert-Jan Simons
Robert de Hoog

My interest is twofold – blogging and methodology, as I am doing a postgraduate module on research (H809 : Practice-based research in educational technology)

The methods used (Efimova, 2008. p. 1):

  • Use of unconventional research methods
  • Cross boundaries
  • Define and defend choices

Blogging can support a variety of knowledge worked activities to:

  • articulate and organise thoughts
  • make contact with people interested in the same topics (like minds)
  • grow relations with other bloggers
  • work on a publication


  • personal
  • crossing boundaries passions and paid work, private and public.

I read ‘Uses of Blogs’ for the second time. Edited by Dr Axel Bruns and Joanna Jacobs. I had a OU Library copy so bought another through Amazon. A book on blogging that only exists in print. I far prefer eBooks. I’ve posted on that elsewhere. (Versatility, notes and highlights in one place, search and having as Lt. Col Sean Brady described it a  ‘university in my pocket’).

My take on blogging – who does it, is based on Jakob Nielsen’s 2001.

I can’t find figures that suggest that this has changed in the general population, though research with undergraduates might give a split of 5/35/60. The problem is, what do you define as a blog? And can your really say that someone who posts once a year, or once a quarter is blogging at all?

Fig. 3 For everyone 1 person who blogs, some 90 don’t and the other 9 are half-hearted about it. (based on stats from Nielsen, 2006).

According to Nielsen (2006) most online communities show a ratio of creation, commenting and simply reading of 1% – 9% – 90%. With blogs, the rule is more like 95% – 5% – 0.1%.


I agree with Efimova that we learn from the edge. We come into everything as an outsider.  She cites ‘legitimate peripheral participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991) and moving from being an outside in a specific knowledge community to a more active position. I would John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid. (2007)  Awareness, as a starting point of this process, comes through exposure to the ideas of others and lurking at the periphery (observing without active participation), learning about professional language and social norms. Efimova cites (Nonnecke & Preece, 2003). I would add Cox (1999).

As the thesis more reason to blog, or reason not to are offered. Efimova also commits to looking at blogging in the workplace, amongst Knowledge Workers. Efimova (x.p )  In 2000 we used the term ‘infomediaries’  people who dealt in information and knowledge on behalf of others.

Worker use of blogs to

  • develop ideas and relationships
  • inspire conversations
  • work on specific tasks

Early adopters experimenting with the medium. Here I think a full consideration of the diffusion of innovations (Rogers, 2005) would be beneficial too. Efimova offers some ideas from Gartner, though without offering the self-explanatory chart that I offer below.

Fig. 4 . Gartner mid-2005 projection (Fenn & Linden, 2005)

I know of all three company types. Whilst a very few at A can be hugely successful, the safest approach is to come in at C – as Virgin do, time and time again, letting others make mistakes. On the other hand, for example in e-learning, if you aren’t willing to behave like a Type A you may find your clients start speaking to companies down the road. Ditto advertising and social media.

Efimova talks of the  ‘peak of inflated expectations’ and the ‘trough of disillusionment’.

Fig. 5 Evaluation criteria for this research

This is where I need to put in a good deal more scrutiny. Whilst I don’t question the validity of the approach, I do wonder if a more ‘scientific’ approach would have produced something more revealing that observation of 34 work related blogs – which is how this thesis plays out. We wander into the questionable arena of informal interviewing and participant observation as central way to generate ‘ethnographic data’.  This smacks of anthropology to me. Of social anthropology. But perhaps such qualitative techniques are as valid, and may be the only way to study subject if you are going to take the challenge of researching it at all.

The best answer I have read and give myself now when asked, ‘what is a blog?’ is to say ‘electronic paper’. That is how broad it has become, in 2001-2002 a handful of us in Diaryland set out and shared our standards:

  • A minimum of 250 words
  • Post every day for a least a year.
  • Fact not fiction (unless expressed as otherwise)

At the time it was rare to post images and you wouldn’t and couldn’t include video. Today a blog might be a stream of images or streamed video. It can be multiple users too, posting on the hour for a year in a team of six if they wish, which can be the way Andrew Sullivan (2013) posts to ‘The Daily Dish’ which gets a million views a month.

Efimova uses a technique called ‘triangulation’ to help validate her research – this is the use of multiple sources and modes of evidence to make findings stronger, by showing and agreement of independent measures, or by exploring and explaining findings (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Schwartz-Shea, 2006).

i.e. Triangulation by study – studying blogging practices from three perspectives using a variety of methods.

She also used ‘data triangulation’ – including in the analysis different types of data ( e.g. text and statistics), data sources and data collection methods. So including non-elicited data (Pargman, 2000) from public sources (e.g. weblog text) as well as recorded interviews.

I can’t fault Efimova (2008) introduction to Blogging

‘Since their early days, weblogs have been conceptualised as personal thinking spaces: as an outboard brain (Doctorow, 2002), a personal filing cabinet (Pollard, 2003a) or a research notebook (Halvais, 2006). In fact, the first academic publication on blogging (Mortensen & Walker, 2002) discusses uses of blogging in a research context, particularly in relation to developing ideas, and the weblog of its first author, Torrill Motensen, has a telling title: “Thinking with my fingers”.  I soon discovered that a weblog worked well that way, but also that this “thinking in public” provided an opportunity to show how ideas, my own and those of other bloggers, develop over time.

Pacquet 2002 discussed the use of blogging in research.

Fig. 6 Number of weblog posts per month

Blog analytics are mystifying. We count the undefined.

What is a blog?

What is a blog post?

A group of us asked these questions in 2000 then got on with it. We had our guidelines to post at least 1000 words every day, with no post less than 250 words. We did this as others flooded online and in the race to have 100 or 500 posts would put up a random string of letters and post every few minutes. As it become feasible and easy to post images was a picture worth a thousand words?

Was it still a ‘blog’ in our sense of the definition if it had no explanation behind it. And in my case, by storing by category not date in defiance of conventions could what I do still be called blogging?

And if used to archive diary entries was I now an archivist?

Looking at the fall-off in posts in Efimova’s blog I also see that when things get more interesting, when there is more to say – we post less. From an earlier generation I stopped keeping a diary when my fiance and I moved in together.

Had I found what I was looking for?

Around this time, 1998, Ellen Levy featured in the Washing Post for keeping a ‘blog’ (not called this) for a year – writing up business meetings and how attended, even adding photos. She struggled to post when she was ill. Over time knowing when we fall ill can start to explain why. And if, as we can now do, our daily life is captured automatically, is that a blog? To what degree must the blogger select, frame, write and edit what they have to say rather than a device, like your own CCTV camera hanging around your neck does it for you?

Fig. 7 Using a Weblog to store information  (Efimova 2008. p. 58)

To understand the mind of the blogger should we look at the reasons why people in the past have kept a diary? Or is keeping such a record, a journal simply one strand to something that has become extraordinarily multifarious? The 17th century diaries of Lady Anne Clifford and Samuel Pepys, the 20th century diaries of Anne Frank, Virginia Woolf and Anais Nin, the audio-cassettes of British MP Tony Benn …

Surely to say you want to study blogging in 2013 is akin to saying you want to study printed matter in the 17th century. That the field is too diverse. In a way we have gone from the mechanical era of print, to the organic era of the blog. Even to study one facet of blogging, such as the business or corporate blog,  would be like studying the ecology of a meadow in order to understand the interplay between different plants and creatures.

Efimova speaks of ‘sense-making’ (2009. p. 70)

‘As with writing, blogging is not simply formulating in words an idea already developed in one’s mind. It is also about connecting, developing and redefining half-baked ideas. When writing, I often go through the weblog archives to explore connections with what is already there. Reading and rereading what I wrote before shapes and changes what I’m about to write: I often find something unexpected or see patterns only in retrospect’.

And others some reason to blog … and just one reasons not to.

  1. Somewhere to “park” emerging insights until the moment they are needed. Efimova (2009. p 75)
  2. Doesn’t require much effort
  3. Somewhere to park ideas
  4. Reading and engaging with others to become aware of issues and themes
  5. Topics accumulate and connections grew and things become clearer.
  6. A set of sense-making practices
  7. “Everyday grounded theory” Efimova (2009. p. 75)
  8. Connecting multiple fragments
  9. Getting into the writing flow
  10. Strengthened by readers’ feedback
  11. A channel for distribution
  12. Publication additional motivation to document emergent ideas
  13. A legitimate place to share thinking in progress
  14. -ve when the need is to be extremely selective and focused. Efimova (2009. p. 80)
  15. To collect in one place the fragmented bits relevant to my thinking Efimova (2009. 3.5.4)
  16. Clusters of conversations
  17. Conversations unfolding
  18. A personal space and a community space simultaneously.
  19. A personal narrative used to articulate and to organise one’s own thinking. (conversation with self. p 90?) around 4.3
  20. An example of hypertext conversation. Efimova (2009. p. 129)
  21. Weblogs provide a space that helps both to develop one’s own point of view and discuss it with others.
  22. Bloggers present their ideas to the world, readers learn from them. Efimova (2009. p. getting things done. staying in touch)

This would make a good topic for debate.

And if I post multiple entries on my personal life is this content less of a blog when it is locked, then when made available publicly or in a limited way by password?

Eight functions of corporate blogs are offered (Zerfab, 2005, Juch & Stobbe, 2005)

  1. Public Relations
  2. Internal Communications (knowledge transfer and contract negotiation)
  3. Market communications:
  4. Product blogs
  5. Service blogs
  6. Customer relationship blogs
  7. Crisis blogs
  8. CEO blogs

Fig.  9 Conversations with self. Efimova (2009)

To mean something plotting ‘conversations’ requires annotation and even animation for it to start to make sense.

It is also very difficult, even unrealistic, to isolate activity on a website from other forms of synchronous and asynchronous ‘conversation’ – the dialogue in a forum, through email, even on the phone or Skype. This is why as a metaphor I return to the notion of an ocean, in which all these digital assets, this ‘stuff’ is floating around, mixed up by the currents of search engines, micro-blogs and social networks, churned by new Apps, software and kit and made dynamic as it is remixed, shared and transformed through translation, borrowing, plagiarism or mash-ups.

In this way an ocean of content is thrown into the cloud, circulated and recycled like a virtual water-cycle.

Others will see it differently, many talk of an ecosystem, of something organic going on. Would a zoologist or ecologist make more sense of it? Or a biologist, mechanical engineer or psychologist? Some of these questions, and this eclectic mix of folk have been gathering at the University of Southampton for the last three years under the umbrella title of WebSciences – a cross-disciplinary faculty that works with computer scientists and educators, with the health sector and social sciences, with the creative industries, geographers and historians. It’s as if a mirror has been held up to our off-line world and by translation, as Alice through the Looking Glass, transformed the real and explicable into the surreal and the unexplainable.

The history of blogging at Microsoft, Groundup from 2000 to 7000 internal and external by 2005. What it brought and what was hoped for:

  • Humanizing the company.
  • Visibility to its author (Efimova 2008. p. 187)
  • Recognition as an expert
  • Communicating about product
  • Reader expectations and visibility-related risks shape the content. Efimova 2008. p. 191)

‘Employee blogging creates tensions by crossing boundaries between work that is paid for, regulated and controlled, and personal passions that enhance it, passions that could be recognised and appreciated at work, but couldn’t be easily specified in a job description.’ Efimova 2009. p. 199)

For 11 months I worked in a business school in social media.

My efforts to support those who didn’t blog to do so, or to encourage those who said they blogged to post something more often than once a quarter or a couple of times a year failed. If they had wanted to be journalists or politicians and got up on a soapbox they would have done so in their youth. They saw no individual value or purpose to it so wouldn’t. As academics they have readers and their pattern of research and writing is long set. Some do, some don’t. Some will, some won’t. And it would appear that those inclined to share their point of view online are just a fraction of the online population, and just a fraction of that population who read blogs – i.e. 1% (Nielsen, 2006)

‘On the downside, blogging requires an investment of time and effort that could be a burden. Although potentially useful, work-related information in employee weblogs is highly fragmented and difficult to navigate. Although the visibility of bloggers, their work and expertise, can have many positive effects, it may also result in undesired communications overhead, time spent dealing with high reader expectations or with taking care of negative effects.’ Efimova, 2009. p. 200)

  • Lack of control of the company’s message
  • Dependence on personalities
  • Challenged hierarchies and communication flows

Efimova (2009. p. 201)

  • To illicit passion for knowledge (Kaiser et al., 2007)
  • Change the image of the company in the eyes of others (Kelleher & Miller, 2006)

It’s easy to blog, so more should do it.

  • low-threshold creation of entries
  • a flexible and personally meaningful way to organise and maintain them
  • opportunities to retrieve, reuse and analyse blog content
  • opportunities to engage with others.
  • fitted in while working on something else
  • providing a way to keep abreast of others ideas
  • capturing ones’ own emergent insights
  • clarifying matters for a public
  • over time ideas on a topic accumulate and connections between them become clearer.
  • feedback from readers turns blogging into a sense-making practice
  • eventually an ideas is ‘ripe’ and ready to become part of a specific task.

Efimova (2009. p. 208)

The reality, if Nielsen (2006) has got it right, is that only a tiny fraction of any population want to go to the trouble or has the inclination to post something. Better that those with something to say and a voice to say it do so that everyone is obliged to express themselves online. I liken it to cooking on holiday. I disagree with obliging everyone to cook on a rota, for some it isn’t a chore, it’s a joy and if they do it well encourage them. With the proviso that others make their contribution in other ways – laying on the entertainment, doing the drinks … it’s what makes us human?

Conditions for a weblog ecosystem Efimova (2009. p. 232):

  • Scale and reach
  • Readership
  • Visibility
  • Feedback
  • Lowering thresholds – a tool for everyday tasks
  • Making it accessible
  • Crossing boundaries

Ecosystem suggests that blogs exist in something organic – they do, the Web is fluid, shifting and expanding. What value would there be in studying blogs in a way that is somehow ‘scientific’ as if blogging were a natural, evolving feature? Like trees in a jungle?

What other metaphors might contribute to such understanding and how, if at all, can they be justified in research?

Could I look at the Web as a water cycle, as oceans with clouds, as currents and climate? Or is this shoe-horning systems we understand in part to explain one that we do not? Is it presuming too much to look for a natural rather than a machine model for the Web and where blogs fit in?


Plant CPSquare : communities of practice in the blogosphere.


Bruns, A. (2006). What’s next for blogging? In A. Bruns, A & J.Jacobs, J (eds) Uses of Blogs (pp. 247-254). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Brown, J, & Duguid, P 1991, ‘Organizational Learning and Communities-of-Practice: Toward a Unified View of Working, Learning, and Innovation’, Organization Science, 1, p. 40, JSTOR Arts & Sciences IV, EBSCOhost, viewed 15 February 2013.

Cox, R, McKendree, J, Tobin, R, Lee, J, & Mayes, T n.d., (1999) ‘Vicarious learning from dialogue and discourse – A controlled comparison’,Instructional Science, 27, 6, pp. 431-458, Social Sciences Citation Index, EBSCOhost, viewed 15 February 2013.

Efimova, L. (2009) Passion at work: blogging practices of knowledge workers. Novay PhD
Research Series 2009 (www.novay.nl.dissertations)

Halvais (2006) Scholarly Blogging. Moving towards the visible college. In A. Bruns, A & J.Jacobs, J (eds) Uses of Blogs (pp. 117-126). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Kaiser, S, Muller-Seitz, G, Lopes, M, & Cunha, M n.d., ‘Weblog-technology as a trigger to elicit passion for knowledge’, Organization, 14, 3, pp. 391-412, Social Sciences Citation Index, EBSCOhost, viewed 15 February 2013.

Kelleher, T, & Miller, B 2006, ‘Organizational Blogs and the Human Voice: Relational Strategies and Relational Outcomes’, Journal Of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11, 2, pp. 395-414, Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 15 February 2013.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Miles, M.B. & Huberman, M.A.  (1994) Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Mortensen, T & Walker, J. (2002). Blogging thoughts: personal publication as an online research tool. In A. Morrison (ed.)., Researching ICTs in Context. InterMedia report 3/2002 (pp. 249-278). Oslo.

Nielsen. J. (2006) Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute. (Accessed 16 February 2013 http://www.nngroup.com/articles/participation-inequality/ )

Nonnecke, B. & Preece, J. (2003). Silent participants: Getting to know lurkers better. In C.Lueg & D. Fisher (Eds.), From Usenet to CoWebs: Interacting with Social Information Spaces. Springer Verlag.

Pargman, D. (2000). Method and ethics. In Code beges community: On social and technical aspects of managing a virtual community. Department of Communications Studies, The Tema Institute, Linkoping University, Sweden.

Pollard, (2003) Blogging in Business – The Weblog as filing cabinet. How to save the world, 3 Mart 2003.

Seely-Brown, J.S and Duguid, P. (1991) ‘Organizational learning and communities-of-practice: toward a unified view of working, learning and innovation’, Organizational Science, 2 (1): 40-57

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Zerfaβ, A 2005, ‘Assembling a Localization Kit’, Multilingual Computing & Technology, 16, 7, pp. 60-11, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 16 February 2013.

Design-Based Research:A Decade of Progress in Education Research

I skim through the article Design-Based Research:A Decade of Progress in Education Research? by Anderson and Shattuck, noting in particular the section on iterative design

Bridging the chasm between design and execution

I found this article on design based research not only fascinating, but oddly synchronous with the MAODE (Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education) module I am currently doing – H809 Practice based research in educational technology – as my interest is in how we construct learning programmes for use through our various Internet connected devices.

‘DBR is a methodology designed by and for educators that seeks to increase the impact, transfer, and translation of education research into improved practice’. (Anderson and Shattuck, 2012. p. 16)

We are currently stripping down a couple of papers.

I can see that I will automate this process, do a review of who, what, when, why a paper is written. Then check as a skim read for other signs that make it credible for my interests (or creditable at all).

  • Being Situated in a Real Educational Context
  • Focusing on the Design and Testing of a Significant Intervention
  • Involving multiple iterations
  • Involving a Collaborative Partnership Between Researchers and Practitioners
  • Evolution of Design principles

In action research, the educator is both researcher and teacher
(Kuhn & Quigley, 1997).

This becomes inevitable. And is played out in just about anything we do if we think either that there is a problem with it or that it can be improved and we want to improve it. On the one hand as player and participant we are in the best position to understand what is going on, on the other we may be so adapted to certain behaviours and to the familiarity of a situation that we cannot see it with either fresh eyes or the eyes of an objective observer. These are techniques and attitudes that can be taught.

Mingfong, Yam San, and Ek Ming (2010) identified four design characteristics that they suggest must be aligned to create effective interventions. These are:

  1. Frameworks for learning,
  2. The affordances of the chosen instructional tools,
  3. Domain knowledge presentation,
  4. Contextual limitations

(Mingfong et al 1020 p. 470).

Design practice—whether in the manufacture of cars or of fashions—usually evolves through the creation and testing of prototypes, iterative refinement, and continuous evolution of the design, as it is tested in authentic practice. (Anderson and Shattuck, 2012. p. 17)

“Research through mistakes.”  (Anderson and Shattuck, 2012. p. 17)

I came across this in the OU MBA module B822 ‘creativity, innovation and change’ – where mistakes are recognised as a test and a way forward, rather than a barrier to change or innovation.

Grayson Perry – is one of several artists and creatives who talk positively of mistakes. It’s how we learn.

Martin Sorrell – on mistakes in business

There are many others – a search ‘mistakes’ in this blog will find more.

Further Reading

Journal of the Learning Sciences, vol. 13, no. 1; Educational Researcher, vol. 32, no. 1; and
Educational Psychologist, vol. 39, no. 4.


Anderson, T, & Shattuck, J 2012, ‘Design-Based Research:A Decade of Progress in Education Research?’, Educational Researcher, 1, p. 16, JSTOR Arts & Sciences IV, EBSCOhost, viewed 8 February 2013.

Mingfong, J., Yam San, C., & Ek Ming, T. (2010). Unpacking the design process in design-based research. In Proceedings pedagogy

Kuhn, G., & Quigley, A. (1997). Understanding and using action research in practice settings. In A. Quigley & G. Kuhne (Eds.), Creating practical knowledge through action research (pp. 23–40). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Looi, C.-K., Chen, W. the 9th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (Vol. 2). International Society of the Learning Sciences.

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