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What is digital ‘academic’ scholarship? Should 19th and 20th century definitions even apply?


Martin Weller published ‘The Digital Scholar’ in 2011 on a Creative Commons Licence. You can download it for free, or purchase the book or eBook, and then do as you will with it. When I read it I share short excerpts on Twitter. I’ve blogged it from end to end and am now having fun with a simple tool for ‘mashing up’ designs called ‘Studio’. It’s a photo editing tool that allows you to add multiple layers of stuff. I rather see it as a revision tool – it makes you spend more time with the excerpts you pick out.

You cannot be so open that you become an empty vessel … you have to create stuff, get your thoughts out there in one way or another so that others can knock ’em down and make more of them. Ideas need legs. In all this ‘play’ though have I burried my head in its contents and with effort read it deeply? Do we invoke shallow learning and distraction with openness? If we each read the book and met for a tutorial is that not, educationally, a more focused and constructive form of ‘oppenness’?

In relation to scholarship shoulf the old rules, the ‘measures’ of academic prowess count? In the connected world of the 21st century ‘scholarship’ is able to emerge in unconventional ways, freed of the school-to-university conveyor belt.


Weller, M (2011) The Digital scholar


How a MOOC will spot the genius. He or she is riding a bike in a favela in Brazil.

What has changed in learning each time a transformative tool or technology has come along from a) written language b) papyrus c) codex d) printing and e) the Internet? A neuroscientist will say that the human brain hasn’t changed one jot – its innate capacity to learn and to do so at certain developmental stages remains the same. Struggling to see what is new, believing that our latent motivations, drives and inclinations to learn as individuals are as unique to each of us as it has always been I see one change only – the numbers, whether as a percentage in a population or as a gross figure – literacy could only expand as the printed word got into the hands of more people. The Internet will in due course help put primary, secondary and tertiary education into the hands of the disenfranchised.

What has been the frequency of genius revealing itself over the last thousand years?

Even accounting for the billions to chose from in the 21st century compared to the 15th, or 1st, won’t exposure too and access to ‘an education’ by billions give genius a chance to develop and show itself like never before?

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.

No Internet Connection and the seventh MAODE module in four years.

My twelve years and more studying with the OU has seen how I learn shift.

The current twist is looping back to the less distracted days of being ‘off line’. At the same time I have done a couple of things that are very old school:

1) A ‘Room of my own’ without internet access (my choice) .. down the road with an opt in/ opt out. Also an ‘office’ (I recently bought the domain name Mindbursts.com.

2) Pen and paper … and by that I mean a fountain pen with ink cartridges and a pad of lined paper – not quite an exercise book, but close.


1) I am easily distracted. Studying with the Internet 24/7 it is too tempting to be checking email, responding to forum messages or just browsing, I miss linking to books and journals I read about, but these can wait. Maybe the impulse to purchase or read another book will reduce by the time I get to consider it in the wee hours back at home. My ‘room’ is ten miles down the road.

2) Partially this is physiological – I am seeing a physio trying to untangle or unknot some hideous pain in my left elbow which I ascribe to typing up blog entries with my left hand while reclined on the sofa or in bed. Partially it is knowing that there is never a short cut to learning and knowing a subject. I truly believe that mixed methods work – that it helps to take the written word and write it out, and type it out, and talk about it and visualise it. Neurologists will confirm that memory formation requires the  binding of activity across the brain, rather than from just one part of  it.

Meanwhile, I look forward to another e-learning module, H818, with trepidation:

1) I need to demonstrate to myself that I can keep up and even improve on the standard I’m now able to attain. (Time and effort and the only two words to think about).

2) I will be running in tandem with another module, taught old-school, at a different university, simultaneously. Already I dread the commute to a monthly day-long tutorial that I can only do by train if I am on a train at 5.20am. It’ll make for a very interesting comparison. If the OU offered the module I want to study I would have done it – they don’t. This surprises me given the Open Learn work they are doing on the First World War with the Imperial War Museum.

Best wishes to all … so much for thinking I’d finished with this. Next up I’m applying to the OU to do a PhD so I might be around for a while longer yet.


I started an early e-learning module H808 in 2001 … skipped off the final paper and came back to it all decade later. I have both books and papers from that period which make for amusing reading.

Oliver Thomas commented

You appear to have dedicated your life to learning so I doubt seriously that you could stop even if you knew how (that’s meant kindly). Your attitude to life may well see you reach a ripe old age as I wager your mental acuities will be in tiptop condition long after a long-suffering elbow gives up the ghost. The distal study room is a fascinating idea (less so the early starts on the train, but needs must and if the devil can lay on a carriage, so be it).

Good luck on your latest endeavours!

To which I replied

Thanks Oliver ,,, yes, certainly a ‘Life Long Learner’ though only recently with any pretence to climbing an academic ladder. I have an insatiable desire to understand ‘why?’ and ‘How?’ My big why at the moment is ‘The First World War’. THe big how is, how to give 123 million people a university or tertiary education where only 5 million campus places exist in the world. The OU handles 275,000 … that leaves, well, a lot.

And he commented further:

I just looked at Wikipedia to see how my old bricks & mortar uni in Nottingham stacks up against the OU; the student populus is under 35,000. You see that a virtual learning establishment like the OU can therefore cover roughly 12 times that amount. If all universities were the same, there would still be a shortfall of 65 million places (12x the 5 million campus places; a lot of assumptions in this mathematics). It will be very interesting to see how education is meted out in future. There are obvious pros and cons with both setups, but one thing seems for sure, the internet as a medium for learning is not going away (in the same way as it has revolutionised many industries in recent years). Universities will have to adapt if they are to be competitive. There is a place for both, undoubtedly.

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.



31 Years Ago – Oxford 1982 on video

Fig.1. The author/auteur with his Sony Betamax out. My study, Staircase 11, Balliol College, Trinity Term 1982

31 years ago I was an undergraduate at Oxford University.

In my second year, eager to develop my interest in TV production I managed to get myself a Sony Betamax Camera. It was semi-portable – a backpack and cable. I’ve had the 20 tapes digitized. The pleasure for me and for those featured will be to see themselves and their friends in a way that will have quite escaped them. You are faced with the spatial disjointedness of seeing and hearing yourself as others presumably saw you and the temporal disjointedness of seeing a 19 or 20 year old from the perspective of a fifty-something. There’s some 17 hours of content. I got through it at x18 in a few hours yesterday afternoon.

Fig.2. Rehearsing in the Oxford University Drama Society (OUDS) production of Taming of the Shrew. I played Baptista.

These are the obvious observations:

  • How young we looked. Look at the fashion (hair, clothes) and the cars.
  • Did I really look like and talk like that?
  • Even an idiot could see that I couldn’t grow a beard, so why did I try!
  • Why did I buy that shirt?

The more nuanced thoughts and realisations are:

Fig.3. The Oxford Lightweights Crew, Henley. My purpose had been to video them in training.

How amazing it is that watching a blurry clip of a team of rowers an image no bigger than a pea tells me quite quickly that I know one of these people, a few moments more and I have their name. The ability of the human brain to identify faces is remarkable. (The above is far closer and clearer than the silhouette tat initially gave me the location, purpose and person).

There are events I covered, even moments where I appear, that I simply cannot recollect at all.

Being behind the camera can do this … you’re cut-off from the moment slightly in any case as you should be tending to the camera (on a tripod), lighting and sound. There’s a good deal that I didn’t cover – the camera often went out with others.

Then I see a person, and it does ‘come flooding back’ – this personal emotional tie to a person or event is vital.

Just a few seconds of a person and I feel warmth and longing for a lost love. I know the name, when we met and the times we spent together. But what unintended hurt might I cause even these decades later? Or others who had no inkling of my interest? Or is this just part of being who and what we are at that age? And we have, of course, move on … so far beyond that the past really is a different country. And we are not those people who populated it.

Getting myself back into the head of a 20 year old feels like a kind of lobotomy – it had might as well empty my head of everything that has happened since. The perspective makes you realise just how naive and inexperienced you are even at that age.

There are inevitable technical issues:

  • The tapes, stored for three decades, are damaged.
  • The lighting, anything in doors or when it was dreary, is atrocious.
  • The sound, through the directional mic on the camera is pretty dreadful too.

Fig. 4. In conversation somewhere, with someone – but I don’t know with whom, and can’t even tell what was on our minds.

What next?

Just a screen grab shared with a handful of the participants has produced glee. It is a reminder of how friendships are formed, a bond and trust that slips into place between strangers after they’ve got to know each other and then spend more time together doing things and making fond memories. This is its value if nothing else. None of the video will go online. I’m even reluctant at this stage to store content online and offer a password to people. I know that it is too easy for content to ‘leak’ which at this stage I feel is too unfair to those concerned. I’ll start just by sharing the moments with them.

  • How much do we need or want to remember?
  • Doesn’t the brain, for those of us who are and remain physically and mentally well, do a perfectly adequate job of forgetting?
  • Is it not better to see the past through the prism of narrative, anecdotes and recollections. To feel, either good or bad about people and moments rather than getting this ‘in your face’ absolute?
  • Twice I spotted people who were lovers.
  • Twice I spotted people I ‘fancied’.

Is it not healthier and correct to reinforce my marriage of twenty years with memories of equal strength of her and our children?

Wherein a wedding and some holiday video footage may have served a purpose. On graduation I never, or very rarely, have ‘gathered’ amateur footage like this. Perhaps understandably I want to work with a team of professional broadcasters and filmmakers.

There are fictionalised stories I want to tell about this age group.

This content is an invaluable record and reminder of all that we are at that age. It is also noticeable, even in the streets of Oxford on May Morning, how the student population dominate, while of course cast and audiences of students productions are for the most part students too. For a period, or for some weeks, you live away from your family, without a family – most people around you are your age and possibly, its weakness in the 1980s, amongst those from a white caucasian middle class background. This too would reflect the bias of whoever was behind the camera, and the events covered.

Fig.5. Oxford Theatre Group (OTG) rehearsals for the Oxford Review. I have several hours of footage of setting up, the hall and rehearsals for three out of the five productions: Titus Alone, Edward II and the Review.

Best of all, and the fullest record, is the Oxford Theatre Group on the Edinburgh Fringe in August and early September 1982. As well as our edited highlights from this, behind the scenes, rehearsals and productions, there are several hours of ‘rushes’. There is also coverage of an Eight’s Week (College Rowing Event), the Oxford & Cambridge Ski Trip to Wengen, one May Morning (May 1st, 1982 I presume) and Lightweights and Woman’s Eights at Henley … and some ‘Student News’ from a single edition of ‘Oxford Television News’. I didn’t need three tapes of rushes for an English Language School for Japanese Students.

In a world where such images are so easily gathered are we even more inclined to bin or wipe them?

Do most young people live in a world of image overload where the recording and broadcast of content is instantaneous so little thought needs to be given to what is recorded, how it is stored, how it is shared and who sees it? In thirty years time will my children be able to look at content the way I can?

At my mother’s funeral my God Father presented me with a couple of DVDs containing digitized 16mm footage of my mothers age 17 from the late 1940s. Would this have lasted sixty years on tape? In sixty years time will people want to or need to see clips of themselves in their youth? Isn’t it too easy, even expected to dip back and forth through your timeline?

Fig. 6 I know the people in the line and the person who recorded the footage – rain damage put the camera out of action for several months, perhaps worth it for several minutes of frivolity during May Day celebrations, May 1st 1983 (or 82?)

How will people change if they cannot forget and are not allowed to forget?

I’m sure we’ll become more accepting of the human condition – that politicians who ‘had a life’ may be preferred over those who did not? That we will be accepting of a good deal more of what we do and how we were and how we change, that we have different personas in different settings and at different times.

Fig. 7 My study – second year, a study with separate bedroom. In College. The key to this era, should I wish to explore it, is the diary on the shelf in the background. Whilst the video record is selective and patchy, the daily journal is complete.

What though the value of keeping a diary? I understand the academic value of reflection, but a record of what you did, what you read and maybe who you saw and most especially what you thought back then? Digitised, a process I started patchily two decades ago, others insights – some best left in the past. Devices that capture your day, sensecams and wearable devices … how much more are these a record if the data they provide can be analysed for you or does a memory need and deserve the filter and effort of being recorded as you experienced  and felt it?

Several edits into the above I realise I have failed to sate the obvious – after a part-time Masters Degree in Distance and E-Learning (MAODE) I am now applying to undertake doctoral research. The youth of these images didn’t have postgraduate study on his mind largely because he didn’t understand who he was – deeply curious about people and learning. If an education is wasted on youth, then I’d say this is even more the case with postgraduate study.

13 E-learning theories

E-learning theories are not new theories, but rather e-enhancements of existing learning theories (Mayes and de Freitas, 2004).
They form “sets of beliefs: about the nature of knowledge and competence, about the purposes of learning, about how learning occurs, about how people should and should not be treated, etc” (Goodyear, 2001, p.51)
Consecutive learning theories don’t replace each other, but complement each other, each contributing its legacy to learning.  Theories can be considered as various levels of aggregation, with associative/behaviourist approaches addressing observable factors, cognitive approaches focusing on the ‘detailed structures and processes that underlie individual performance’ and situative approaches taking into account the social and cultural aspects of learning (Mayes and de Freitas, 2004).
Activity designs are usually a blend of different learning theories.  Being aware of the main learning theories helps building a consistent design and clarifying what type of learning and interaction is intended.
An example provided by Goodyear (2001): It is not uncommon to find some members of a team believing that learners are poor at  organizing themselves and learn best by being fed information in small amounts, while other members of the team want to promote active, student-managed learning.
The table below summarizes key concepts of different learning theories and their implications for online learning, taken from the publications from Anderson, Mayes and de Freitas and Goodyear.
Associative/ Behaviourist approaches
Design principles
Looking for observable behaviour
Explicitly mentioning course outcomes
Behavioural objectives
Ability to test achievement of learning outcomes
Instructional Systems Design (ISD)
Decomposing learning into small chunks
Routines of organised activity
Learning hierarchies (controversial!)
Sequencing learning materials with increasing complexity
Giving direct feedback on learning
Individualized learning trajectories
Cognitive psychology (constructivism)
Types of memory (sensory – short term – long term)
Maximize sensations: strategic screen layout
Research on memory, perception, reasoning, concept formation.
Maximize sensations: well-paced information
Learning is active
Maximize sensations: highlighting main elements
Learning is individual (knowledge construction)
Relate difficulty level to cognitive level of learner: providing links to easier and more advanced resources
Use of comparative advance organizers
Use of conceptual models
Importance of prior knowledge structures
Pre-instructional & prerequisite questions
Experimentation toward discovery of broad principles
Promote deep processing
Use of information maps zooming in/ out
Cognitive Apprenticeship (Brown et al, 1989)
Interactive environments for construction of understanding
Metacognition (reflection, self-regulation)
Relate to real-life (apply, analyse, synthesize)
Learning styles (controversial!)
Address various learning styles
Cognitive styles
Let students prepare a journal
Dual coding theory
Use both visual information and text
Motivate learners (ARCS model)
Use techniques to catch attention, explain relevance,  build confidence and increase satisfaction
Situated learning (constructivism)
Personal knowledge construction
Personal meaning to learning
Situated learning: motivation
Relate to real life (relevance)
Holistic/ Systemic approaches
Conduct research on internet
Build confidence with learners
Identity development
Use of first-hand information (not filtered by instructor)
Communities of Practice (Lave & Wenger)
Collaborative activities
Fostering the growth of learning communities
Learning as act of participation
Legitimate (peripheral) practice, apprenticeships
Lifelong learning
Authentic learning and assessment tasks
Information explosion
Digital literacies
Learning in network environment
Keep up-to-date in field
Knowledge base
Multi-channel learning
Distributed learning
Build diversity, openness in learning (different opinions), autonomy
Personal Learning Environment
self-directed learning, just-in-time
Some comments on the table:
1. It’s difficult to draw sharp lines between these theories.  Some authors distinguish between cognitive constructivism (based on the work from Piaget) and social-cultural constructivism (based on the work from Vygotsky).  The work of Vygotsky formed the basis for the anthropological work from Jean Lave and the concept of ‘communities of practice’. The work of Engeström on activity theory forms a bridge between situative learning (with the activity system, it takes a more social unit of analysis than the individual) and constructivist approaches.
2 .Constructivism doesn’t really fit into the overview.  Goodyear (2001, p.75) mentions the following description of constructivism:
“…learning is a constructive process in which the learner is building an internal representation of knowledge, a personal interpretation of experience. This representation is constantly open to change, its structure and linkages forming the foundation to which other knowledge structures are appended….this view of knowledge does not necessarily deny the existence of the real world..but contends that all we know of the world are human interpretations of our experience of the world….learning must be situated in a rich context, reflective of real world contexts…” In other words, constructivism states that knowledge is relative and is different for every user.  Learning, in this position, means actively building a personal and contextualised interpretation of experience.

Constructivism – Jonassen et al 1999

Social Constructions – Vygotsky 1986

Activity Theory – Engeström et al 1999

Experiational Learning – Kolb 1984

Instructional Design – Gagné et al 2004

Networked and collaborative work – McConnell 2000

Learning Design Jochems et al 2004


Primary: presenting information

Secondary: active learning and feedback

Tertiary: dialogue and new learning.

Goodyear, P. (2001) Effective networked learning in higher education: notes and guidelines, Networked Learning in Higher Education Project (JCALT), Lancaster, CSALT, Lancaster University, [online] Available from:http://www.csalt.lancs.ac.uk/jisc/guidelines_final.doc(Accessed 28 May 2012)
Anderson, T. (ed.) (2008) The Theory and Practice of Online Learning, 2nd ed. Athabasca University Press.
Mayes, T. and de Freitas, S. (2004) Review of e-learning theories, frameworks and models, Bristol, The Joint Information Systems Committee, [online] Available from:http://www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/Stage%202%20Learning%20Models%20%28Version%201%29.pdf(Accessed 28 May 2012).

13 Learning Theories for e-learning

Unscrambling the presumptions of research in e-learning educational practice

Activity Theory (AT) according to various authors …. , supposes a quest to solve a problem, an ‘activity theorist’ looking at certain kinds of research, understanding activity system as being driven by outcomes, would therefore annotated the six nodes of the AT pyramid with this in mind.

Fig. 1. Activity Theory (Engeström, 2008)

In contrast, considering the same subject of research, a sociologist would be inclined to look for power structures.

In turn how might a management consultant, or psychologist approach this? And in relation to H809 and the MAODE, how differently would someone educated in each of the following theories approach the same subject matter: behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism and connectedness?

The suggestion that the theory behind a piece of research or OER from H809 TMA02 predisposes a specific research response is like having an undefined medical problem. In turn each specialist offers a view based on the narrow perspective of their specialism.

By way of example, with sinus/earache like symptoms from which I have always ‘suffered’ I in turn visit a neurologist, immunologist and dentist. I discover from each in turn that I must be depressed/stressed, have an allergic response to something, need a tooth filled/crowned. In turns out that I have a pronounced response to house dust mite and due to physical damage to a channel in one part of the maxillary sinus it doesn’t drain so the slightest infection, a mild cold, will cause inflammation and pain. The response that works is primarily preventative with self-medication of prescription pain relief at a dosage that works – co-codomol and occasional antibiotics. (The above over a 33 year period of investigations that included several other excitable consultants who each in turn gleefully hoped that I might have a very rare condition X or Y that they would investigate).

Just as medical specialists are inclined to come at a situation with too narrow a perspective, so too can we when wishing to study, in a learning situation, what is going on … in there (the brains of each student) and externally, the context and situation of the ‘learning’ that they are doing (or having done to them).


Conole, G., and Oliver, M. (eds.) (2008) Contemporary perspective in e-learning research. Themes, Methods and Impacts on Practice.

Engestrom, Y (2008) From Teams to Knots

When I think if learning, I think of the minuscule intricacies of the component parts of the brain and at the same time the immense vastness of the known universe.

As humans we are eager to understand everything.

It seems appropriate to marry neuroscience with astrophysics, like brackets that enclose everything. From a learning point of view then ask as you look at a person or group of people, ‘what is going on?’ specifically, ‘what is going on in there? (the brains) and between them to foster insight, understanding, innovation and advancement.

The best interface for this, a confluence for it all, is the Internet and the connectedness of it all.

What has the impact of the Internet been and based on everything we currently know, where do we presume it is going?

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