Innovating Pedagogy: Which Trends Will Influence Tomorrow’s Teaching and Learning Environments?

In November 2015, the Open University released the latest edition of its 'Innovating Pedagogyreport, the fourth rendition of an annual educational technology and teaching techniques forecast. While the timelines and publishing interval may remind you of the Horizon Report, the methodology for gathering the trends is different.

The NMC Horizon Team uses a modified Delphi survey approach with a panel of experts, the 'Innovating Pedagogy' report is authored by a team of OU researchers. The 2015 edition was compiled in collaboration with SRI International. As in previous years, the report discusses ten innovations that are on the brink of having a profound influence on education.

Overview of 2015 Innovating Pedagogy trends timeline

10 Innovative Pedagogy Trends from the 2015 Edition:

  1. Crossover Learning: The concept of crossover learning refers to a comprehensive understanding of learning that bridges formal and informal learning settings. A shift towards crossover learning requires adjustments in curricular planning and assessment techniques through competency-oriented learning outcomes and recognition of diverse, informal achievements with badges.
  2. Learning through Argumentation: To fully understand scientific ideas and effectively participate in public debates students should practice the kinds of inquiry and communication processes that scientists use, and pursue questions without known answers, rather than reproducing facts. ‘Learning through argumentation’ is a process of proposing, critiquing, and defending ideas among peers.
  3. Incidental Learning: Learning that is unplanned and oftentimes unintentional characterizes important milestones in early childhood such as language acquisition, motoric development or social skills. A subset of informal learning, incidental learning occurs through unstructured exploration, play and discovery. Mobile technologies can support incidental learning by providing just-in-time information, connecting learning to a wider community and curating learning artifacts or other outcomes of unplanned activities. An example is the app and website Ispot Nature.
  4. Context-based Learning: Learning is situated in a specific context which the learners co-create. Mobile applications and augmented reality can enrich the learners’ context. An example is the open source mobile game platform ARIS.
  5. Computational Thinking: The skills that programmers apply to analyze and solve problems are seen as an emerging trend in the K-12 curriculum and related to problem-based learning in general. An example is the programming environment SCRATCH.
  6. Learning by Doing Science with Remote Labs: The report identifies as an important innovation the remote access to real scientific experiments. Students gain access to equipment and materials and conduct experiments that focus on scientific inquiry, beyond the practical handling of apparatus. A collection of accessible labs is ilab
  7. Embodied learning: While involving the body is essential for some forms of learning, such as playing sports or performing surgery, Embodied learning also relates more generally to how physical activities can influence cognitive processes. Data gathered through wearable devices could help optimizing physical activities during the learning process.
  8. Adaptive Teaching: The report uses the term Adaptive teaching to describe intelligent tutoring systems - computer applications that analyse data from learning activities to provide learners with relevant content and sequence learning activities based on prior knowledge.
  9. Analytics of Emotions: As techniques for tracking eye movements, emotions and engagement have matured over the past decade, the trend prognoses opportunities for emotionally adaptive learning environments.
  10. Stealth Assessment: In computer games the player’s progress gradually changes the game world, setting increasingly difficult problems through unobtrusive, continuous assessment. This approach has been termed stealth assessment and it is starting to be applied to educational games and simulations.

6 Themes of Pedagogical Innovation

Based upon a review of previous editions, the report tries to categorize pedagogical innovation into six overarching themes:
 “What started as a small set of basic teaching methods (instruction, discovery, inquiry) has been extended to become a profusion of pedagogies and their interactions. So, to try to restore some order, we have examined the previous reports and identified six overarching themes: scale, connectivity, reflection, extension, embodiment, and personalisation.”
  1. Delivering education at massive scale.
  2. Connecting learners from different nations, cultures and perspectives.
  3. Fostering reflection and contemplation.
  4. Extending traditional teaching methods and settings.
  5. Recognizing embodied learning (explore, create, craft, and construct).
  6. Creating a personalized path through educational content.


As in previous edition the Innovate Pedagogy report’s focus on teaching over technology makes for an interesting and compelling read. As in previous editions, some trends describe long-standing concepts such as informal or incidental learning that are established research areas. In some cases, the resource section of the trends appeared rather eclectic and not well aligned with existing tools or approaches.

As an example, though not mentioned in the report, collaboration scripts are an established CSCL technique to leverage technology for supporting learning through scientific argumentation (trend #2 ‘learning through argumentation’). In the case of ‘embodied learning’ (trend #7), Khan Academy is highlighted in the resource collection – without clarifying how Khan Academy video materials are supposed to support embodied learning.

Furthermore, provocative claims such as ‘Until recently, education has been designed to minimize the effects of context on learning’ would profit from providing supporting sources that allow readers to come to their own conclusions. As with all trend forecasts, the prediction of possible futures is difficult and flawed with implicit or explicit agendas.

The Innovate Pedagogy report certainly adds a unique voice to the landscape of current EdTech trend reviews, and therefore is a must-read for practitioners and researchers alike. The six overarching themes connectivity, reflection, extension, embodiment, and personalization offer a useful compass when planning new approaches or discussing the merits of innovative techniques.

Further Reading

Follow these links to blog posts and EdITLib resources to further explore selected trends:
Posted in AACE Tagged with: , ,

On the same page: AACE 2015 Facebook Insights

“The nature and popularity of Facebook itself challenges the idea of what an educational application should look like. Facebook puts the social community first, with content—including, but not limited to, educational content—being the medium of exchange between them.” Stephen Downes, 2007
AACE’s Facebook page is a public space that serves as a marketplace for ideas, starting point for discussions and entryway for inquiries. We use Facebook insights data to understand how people are engaging with AACE:
  • AACE’s Facebook page has over 4,800 fans.
  • During 2015, AACE gained more than 300 new followers.
  • With over 100 messages, this was by far the busiest year for AACE on Facebook.
  • Between 300 and 9,000 people are reached per week.

Facebook offers a well of information about the people interested in an organization, concept or topic. For AACE it is particularly rewarding to see the international mix that characterizes the connections in our network: Though the majority of followers are from the United States, over 45 different countries are represented.

AACE Facebook Followers 2015: International Community

We use the AACE Facebook channel primarily to share conference announcements, new blog posts and quotes from the edtech community that we believe to have the potential to spur substantial debates.
AACE Facebook Word Cloud of 50 most popular postings (excluding conference announcements).

AACE Facebook Word Cloud of 50 most popular postings (excluding conference announcements).

Some of the most shared quotes and posts on the AACE page came from Doug Belshaw, Tony Bates, Jane Heart, Audrey Watters, Steve Wheeler, Martin Weller, Eddie Goose, Donna Murdoch, Matt Osment and Christopher Pappas.

We compiled a list of 20 most shared quotes – a great way to review some of the past year’s events in the edtech community.

More Information

Do you want to learn more about Facebook as a tool for community building, organizational communication or professional growth? Review these resources found in the EditLib Digital Library catalog:

Brooks, C. (2014). Faculty, Community, Information Sharing, and Professional Support in the Age of Facebook. In M. Searson & M. Ochoa (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2014 (pp. 722-726). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Briggs, T.J. (2013). Writing a Professional Life on Facebook. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 17(2). Video available online.

Sarsar, F. & Harmon, S.W. (2012). Facebook as a Learning Environment (FOLE): Graduate Students’ Perspectives. In P. Resta (Ed.),Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2012 (pp. 3759-3763). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Goulart, E. & Gollner, A. (2012). Facebook as an Organizational Communication Tool: A Brazilian Study. In T. Amiel & B. Wilson (Eds.),Proceedings of EdMedia: World Conference on Educational Media and Technology 2012 (pp. 37-42). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Posted in AACE Tagged with: , , , ,

AACE Facebook Top 20 Quotes 2015

Blogger Post Reach Impressions
Doug Belshaw 'Digital literacies are plural, context-dependent, and should be co-created'. Read 2360 3779
Tony Bates Free e-book 'Teaching in the Digital Age' is now available as HTML, PDF, MOBI and EPUB. Read 1760 19050
AACE Blog Grow your Network - Top 20 in Educational Technology to Connect with through Social Media Read 1224 14955
Tony Bates 10 Key Takeaways About Differences Between Classroom, Blended, Online and Open Learning. Read 942 7096
AACE Blog Interview with best paper award winner Eddie Goose from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Read 949 4011
Jane Hart Don't miss Jane Hart's 2015 list of Top 100 Tools for Learning. Read 1730 3114
Tony Bates 11 Takeaways on Quality Teaching workload for both students and instructor. Read 621 4015
Tony Bates 'I have lots of empirical evidence on the pedagogical influences of audio, video and computing, but almost nothing on text...' Read 653 3881
Martin Weller 'The digital natives myth has long been debunked, but what we have are often pseudo-digital native explanations'. Read 1487 2614
Audrey Watters 'Sesame Street was not the first MOOC. And really, it is not a MOOC at all...' Read 1442 2567
AACE Blog Neo Hao explores how open and social software can increase transparency and replication in educational research. Read 480 3288
Tony Bates 9 Questions for consideration in choosing modes of delivery Read 710 2474
Steve Wheeler 'Social learning, the use of mobile devices, and personal learning environments will all be vitally important components of any future learning ecology'. Read 467 2441
AACE Blog Is it possible to learn anything online? Neo Hao writes about his experiences. Read 897 1992
AACE Blog How Faculty Adapt their Practices to Teach Online: An Interview with Donna Murdoch. Read 785 1803
Audrey Watters 'Students are still very much the objects of education technology, not subjects of their own learning....' Read 386 2150
AACE Blog Interview with Matt Osment on video production for the flipped classroom. Read 519 1947
Christopher Pappas 10 netiquette tips for online discussions Read 787 1655
Christopher Pappas 'Every picture hides a story behind it....' Read 825 1485
Martin Weller 'Imagine turning off learning and teaching systems at a university. Many universities would simply be unable to function...' Read 384 1874
Posted in AACE Tagged with: , , , , ,

What A Little Bird Told Me: AACE on Twitter

Since last fall, AACE has been working on implementing a comprehensive social media strategy that involves regular postings on the AACE blog, Facebook and Twitter channels. We want to leverage social media to foster communication among the AACE conference attendees, authors, presenters, special interest groups, and organizing committees. The goal is to create engagement that seamlessly reaches the community not only through conference announcements, but also through news, reflections, conversations, debates, trends and reports. We are now starting to see first results of this effort.


Twitter Data @AACE December 2014 - October 2015

Twitter Data @AACE December 2014 - October 2015

Using tools such as Twitter Analytics and Twitter Counter, we are monitoring our activity and the resulting community engagement. Let's take a look at some data highlights (December 2014 to October 2015):
  • Monthly impressions have doubled.
  • Profile visits and mentions have tripled.
  • @AACE gained 240 new followers.
  • Engagement rates (retweets and likes) have tripled.
Monthly Impressions @AACE December 2014 - October 2015

Monthly Impressions @AACE December 2014 - October 2015

Content That Resonates

For an educational organization such as AACE, the return of investment of social media activities is not merely measured in quantitative gains. Much rather, the channel is designed to compile information on a variety of edtech topics and, thereby, offer a focal point for informal learning activities. Therefore, we are most interested in how others interact with the content we provide and how they assess its usefulness. So far, we received promising feedback, for instance, AACE was mentioned among top e-learning and edtech organizations to follow on Twitter by @CapterraLMS. Periodically, we check which tweets create engagement and use this data to inform our content development efforts. The word cloud below visualizes the topics that most resonated with our community.
Word Cloud of Top 50 Tweets 2015

Word Cloud of Top 50 Tweets 2015, generated with taxedo

Top 10 Blog Postings on Twitter

The following blog postings received the most attention on Twitter and via AddThis (impact score in brackets).
  1. Top 20 in Educational Technology to Connect with through Social Media (177)
  2. Que sera, sera? Predicting Future Trends in Educational Technology ? Horizon Report 2015 (138)
  3. How Faculty Adapt their Practices to Teach Online ? An Interview with Donna Murdoch (84)
  4. Is It Possible to Learn Anything Online? A Student?s Perspective (79)
  5. Learning from Video Games: An Interview with Best Paper Award Winner Eddie Gose (68)
  6. Let's Talk About Flipping: An Interview With Matt Osment (39)
  7. What Can Educational Researchers Do to Make Their Studies Replicable? (38)
  8. My Personal Top 5 Tools for Teaching and Learning (37)
  9. Adventure Learning ? Wearable and Mobile Devices: An Interview with Mary Beth Klinger (37)
  10. Informal Learning: New Challenges for Designers and Educators (35)

Further Information From EditLib

This posting introduced different tools and metrics educational organizations can leverage to understand the impact of their Twitter channel. Are you interested in how you can use Twitter in education? Take a look at these open access papers from the EditLib digital library.

Donmez, F.I., Odabasi, H.F. & Erol, O. (2012). Twitter for Collaborative Professional Development. In P. Resta (Ed.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2012 (p. 3594). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Kanjanapongpaisal, P., Rogers, S. & Bryan, W. (2012). Twitter Usage in Higher Education. In T. Amiel & B. Wilson (Eds.), Proceedings of EdMedia: World Conference on Educational Media and Technology 2012 (pp. 2145-2150). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Posted in AACE Tagged with: , , ,

Digital Literacy: An Interview with Doug Belshaw

Twenty-first century life is fueled by information technology facilitating our actions and communication. Recognizing technology's usefulness as well as its limitations, technical skills related to varied forms of information technology use have become necessary competencies for citizenry, success in reaching educational goals and participation in the workforce. We all need to be digital literate – but are we clear what this means?
Doug Belshaw: ‘Literacy is a condition, a way of being, not a threshold or a bar to cross’ (Image by Travis Miller).

Doug Belshaw: ‘Literacy is a condition, a way of being, not a threshold or a bar to cross’ (Image by Travis Miller, flickr creative commons).

Digital literacy is still an evolving concept. In many policy settings, digital literacy is used synonymous to the proficient handling of information and communication technology, demonstrated through the performance of specific tasks, such as using email, search engines, participating in online communities, or handling different computer programs like word processing or spreadsheet software. In this sense, digital literacy is closely related to, and often used interchangeably with, computer literacy and ICT literacy. Other definitions center on retrieval and critical reflection and conceptualize digital literacy as the ability to understand and to critically evaluate different aspects of digital media content and the digital media landscape. In these contexts, digital literacy is likely to be subsumed under the umbrella of media literacy or information literacy.

From the variety of aspects that can be subsumed under and connected to the concept of digital literacy, it becomes clear that it is not a binary concept or an absolute term. Instead, it exists on a continuum. People can be more or less digital literate, and furthermore exhibit individual differences in their aptitude and proficiency regarding different aspects of digital literacy such as basic use of ICT tools, effective retrieval and evaluation of content, creative production of digital text and audio visual media, and the responsible participation in online communities and social networks. Given the oscillating nature of the concept, some researchers choose to deploy the plural and speak of digital literacies.

Digital literacy does not evolve or exist in a vacuum, but is aligned with the educational system, social and political parameters and cultural values. In his seminal book 'The Essentials of Digital Literacies', Doug Belshaw identified eight core elements, namely cultural, cognitive, constructive, communicative, confident, creative, critical, and civic. In our interview he talks about what fuels his interest in literacy, what he thinks about the state of digital literacy, and the role of education in shaping our use of digital technology.

Your research focus on digital literacies began with your dissertation – which you titled ‘the never ending thesis’. What first drew your attention to the concept of literacy?

I kind of stumbled into my thesis by accident, actually. After doing my MA in Modern History and starting to teach, I was really interested in the difference between 19th century and 21st century education systems. The key question for me with my History dissertation centered around “what did it mean to be educated in the 19th century?” As you can imagine, there was a lot of disagreement.

I realized that we were still having the same debate in the 21st century, partly because the landscape had changed again. It seemed that the difference was technological. So the start of my doctoral research was trying to figure out what ‘digital literacy’ might look like given there wasn’t much agreement in the field.

Many people cannot get far away enough from their PhD research topic, what keeps fascinating you about literacy?

I can understand that! Like many people finishing a large piece of research, I vowed never to read a book again. My father lured me back in through Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series.

But, seriously, I’m fascinated by the ever-changing way literacy changes as we learn to read, write, and participate in communities. Following my work on digital literacies I worked on web literacy for Mozilla. Figuring out the practices and habits of mind we need to interact and make meaning online is important.

Is digital literacy ever changing with every new technology or gadget that enters the market or is it a stable set of competencies?

I think that these days I’d answer this question by saying that there are mindsets and there are skillsets. While the skillsets may change over time, the mindsets - ways we approach and conceptualize technologies - are relatively stable. To use a basic example, the combination of keys or the touchscreen swipe it takes to ‘undo’ something in a digital environment may change across platforms. But the fact remains that, unlike in the physical world, we can ‘undo’ things in digital environments. That’s conceptual thing that can take some getting used to.

Can you give a brief overview of the 8 Cs of digital literacy?

In my thesis I talk of ‘eight essential elements of digital literacies’. I’m grateful to those educational institutions, businesses, and researchers who have subsequently refined and applied these. One such person is Ted Parker who divided the eight elements into four skillsets and four mindsets. The skillsets are: Cultural, Creative, Constructive, and Communicative. The mindsets are: Confident, Cognitive, Critical, and Civic. I go into more detail into each one in my thesis and ebook – this would turn into a very long blog post if I went into them here!

How did you develop this framework?

The initial aim of my thesis was actually to come up with one definition of digital literacy to rule them all. I soon realized that this was a futile task given that greater minds than mine had tried and failed. Instead, I realized that literacies are context-dependent, and therefore tried to look at the really central parts of digital literacies referred to by researchers. I did a large meta-analysis and found that these eight elements came up time and time again.

How can practitioners and researchers use it?

Literacy is a powerful weapon, and therefore defining what counts as it takes care and attention. I’d encourage practitioners and researchers to co-create definitions of the essential elements for their particular context. Then, if necessary, they can create an overarching definition that takes everyone’s views into account in a particular context.

Should we use the term digital literacy or digital literacies?

My strong preference is to use the plural: digital literacies. I think that we’re not talking about a single skillset or single mindset here. In fact, I don’t believe ‘digital’ is a particularly useful modifier to ‘literacy’. It’s unproductively ambiguous. But if we have to use the term, let’s talk about literacies in plural, to show that it’s a contested landscape and there’s multiple areas to focus upon.

Computer literacy, media literacy, ICT literacy, digital literacy: The same, similar or different?

I think that this is an example of practitioners and researchers fighting over what I call ‘umbrella terms’. Ultimately, it’s futile. In the research I’ve read, people tend to assume that their favored term includes every other term. So, for example, researchers in the field of media literacy would say that it includes ICT literacy, digital literacy, computer literacy, etc. And the same goes for those in the other fields.

What is your most important message that people should take away from your book?

I’d say three things, actually: that digital literacies are plural, context-dependent, and should be co-created. People should feel empowered to create their own definitions and perhaps remix other people’s work, instead of being unduly deferential to well-known, big-name practitioners and researchers.

How digitally literate are you yourself?

That’s a difficult question to answer as literacies are ever-changing. I guess I would say I’m highly literate in specialized domains. However, I try to keep mixing things up so that while I’m an ‘expert’ in some things, I’m a ‘novice’ in others. After all, literacy is a condition, a way of being, not a threshold or a bar to cross.

What important research areas do you see in the future of digital literacy?

I’m not sure about ‘important’ as that involves a value judgment, but I’m personally very interested in the ethical dimensions of digital literacies. For example, the Snowden revelations around privacy and security are still having repercussions. Also, as we move into more of a virtual/blended reality we need to decide on new cultural norms and ways of beings. When we encode these so we can pass them on, these turn into literacies.

About Doug Belshaw

doug-belshaw-2014-500pxDr. Doug Belshaw is lead consultant at Dynamic Skillset with his main interests being around education, technology and productivity. Doug has been a History teacher and school senior leader, as well as working in universities and with further education providers. Most recently he was Badges & Skills Lead (then Web Literacy Lead) for the non-profit Mozilla Foundation.


Posted in AACE Tagged with: , , , ,

Designing Assessment

Assessment plays a vital role in delivering, evaluating, monitoring, improving and shaping learning experiences on the Web, at the desk and in the classroom. In the process of orchestrating educational technologies instructional designers are often confronted with the challenge of designing or deploying creative and authentic assessment techniques. assessment Fostered by the rise of constructivist learning theory, authentic assessment, a.k.a. performance assessment as well as connected approaches and tools –such as rubrics, portfolios and competency-based learning outcomes –have been discussed in educational research since the mid-nineties. This paradigm shift from ‘assessment of learning’ towards ‘assessment for learning’ plays an important role for changing from input to output orientation of teaching and learning and support students’ critical thinking abilities. Instead of assessing how well students can reproduce knowledge imparted by the instructor (input), the focus shifts to the competencies students can apply (output).

How can instructional designers create activities that are meaningful, contextualized and connected to real-world problems? Though there is no alchemistic formula, it is important to understand that authenticity is a continuum. Gulikers, Bastiaens & Kirschner (2004) distinguish five dimensions of authentic assessment: (a) the task, (b) the physical context, (c) the social context, (d) the results, and (e) the criteria. Each dimension forms a continuum, which means that authenticity is not an all or nothing trait. Furthermore, authenticity is a subjective measure. The perception of what authenticity is may vary among individuals as a result of educational level, personal interest, or amount of professional experience (Gulikers, Bastiaens & Kirschner, 2004).

Often times, when we talk about ‘authentic assessment’ in the instructional design process, we really mean creative assessment. We are looking for techniques that are engaging, surprising, puzzling, challenging, unexpected or different. This can happen in many ways – creating a mindmap, producing a comic strip, developing an information graphic, creating a game. It does not necessarily mean to be as close as possible to the ‘real world’.

A great way to frame assessment in the disciplines are threshold concepts. The idea of threshold concepts emerged from a UK national research project into the possible characteristics of strong teaching and learning environments in the disciplines for undergraduate education. Meyer and Land (2005) characterize threshold concepts with the following qualities: transformative (significant shift in the perception of a subject), integrative (exposing the previously hidden interrelatedness of something), oftentimes bounded (demarcating academic territories), probably irreversible (unlikely to be forgotten, or unlearned only through considerable effort) and potentially troublesome (often problematic for learners, because the concept appears counter-intuitive, alien, or incoherent). threshold Disciplines have ‘conceptual gateways’ or ‘portals’ that lead to a previously inaccessible way of thinking in a process of liminal transition - these are ‘threshold concepts’. An example from the social sciences is that ‘you cannot make causal inferences from correlational data’. Mastering a threshold concept puts learners in a liminal state where they oscillate between old and emergent understandings - just like an ethnographic researcher who not outside, but also not quite inside the group. So one way to think about assessment is to identify the threshold concepts in the domain you are working on and coming up with creative ways to help learners traverse these portals. Threshold concepts allow instructional designers to support assessment for learning. This type of assessment encourages students to question their preconceptions and evaluate their grasp of crucial concepts in their discipline. Within an organization, assessment for learning confronts stakeholders with their preconceived notions of organizational issues or initiatives, and fosters the shared understanding of problem scope as well as crucial components that are difficult to conceptualize.

Authentic and creative assessment is not only a goal for classroom and online learning, but also for other types of assessment that fall in the domain of instructional design such as organizational improvement or the evaluation of educational technologies and techniques.

Across domains, we feel tensions between measure and treasure. What we measure through standardized tests and metrics is not necessarily what we treasure. Vice versa, what we really care about, we oftentimes cannot operationalize. For individual learning, there is a growing dissatisfaction with standardized test scores. On the organizational level, we hear criticism about program rankings and the prevalence of the social science citation index. In educational technology research, we see the limitations of the experimental paradigm.

Educational technologies can support creative processes and offer connections to authentic contexts, just as well as they can curtail creativity and foster standardized testing routines. Once we start taking individual strengths and skills into account instead of filing students – or organizations – through standardized routines, the assessment becomes a part of the learning process, not an end in itself.

Posted in AACE Tagged with: , , , ,

My Personal Top 5 Tools for Teaching and Learning

Jane Hart has recently published her 2015 list of the 100 most popular tools for teaching and learning. For the past nine years, Hart generates this list annually by surveying professionals in instructional design and educational technology. As in previous years, social media and Web 2.0 tools dominate the collection, with Twitter being the number one choice. For instructional designers and educational technology researchers alike, Hart’s list is a useful resource to see what people in the field are using and to discover new tools and gadgets. It is also an opportunity to reflect upon one's own personal learning environment. Everyone has individual approaches, needs and preferences when it comes to teaching and learning tools. In my role as an instructional analyst at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I use and encounter a broad variety of products, tools and services. The infrastructures listed below either influence my everyday work or have the potential to be significant game changer in my work environment.


In 2012, I had the opportunity to create an interactive publication on local government in North Carolina with the open source authoring tool Xerte. I was impressed by the multimedia authoring templates, the emphasis on accessibility and user choice in formatting and display, the sophisticated player, and the extremely helpful community that supported the tool. Since then, application has become completely web-based, extremely easy to use, and mobile-friendly. If you are looking for a flexible content development tool, I encourage you to give it a try by visiting the Xerte community.


WordPress, in particular multi-sites, is a great, easy to use infrastructure for personal blogs, group blogs, and e-portfolios. As an example, we use the WordPress multisite in the Carolina MPA program for student e-portfolios. At the end of the program students take a portfolio class and compile a collection of learning products that reflect their personal growth and competence profile. While there are specialized e-portfolio tools, I like the ease of use of the WordPress environment as well as the ability to export all material. This allows students to get familiar with the commonly used content management system and potentially to reuse their editing skills as well as their portfolio content. Sample Student Portfolio Page


I like to use the content management system Drupal for building websites that reflect complex information architectures. What makes Drupal particularly powerful as an infrastructure for knowledge management and sophisticated information retrieval, is the easy way to create and display tailored content types. We have used this approach in a recent website redesign process for UNC School of Government. Here, different content types allow to search specifically for courses, publications or other resources, and to connect each resource with the author or faculty member.

Legos, Glue, Wood, Play-Doh, Pen & Paper

Being an instructional designer means carefully orchestrating learning situations for individuals and groups. More often than not, I find it advisable to step away from the computer screen and think outside the box of electronic devices. When we talk about the importance of tactile, sensual activities, with, for instance, paper, glue, wood, felt, Play-Doh, or Legos we often think about the K-12 classroom, or even more narrowly, the preschool environment. However, I find that working with adult learners, who spend most of their days glued to a screen, having activities that are surprising and different can create a great learning atmosphere and facilitate decision-making. As an example, I oftentimes have the challenge to discuss the navigation and structure of websites with non-technical users. I have designed an activity with Lego building blocks to visualize and communicate structural components of the website. Activity: Website Structure with Building Blocks


Over the past few years, I have shepherded and increasing the amount of e-book and e-publishing projects. While there is no magic silver bullet that enables you to turn Microsoft word documents into appealing and functional websites, e-books and PDF documents without any additional effort, the technology of e-publishing has recently advanced. PressBooks is an open source, online publishing tool to support the publishing process of multiple formats at the same time, rendering production more streamlined and efficient. As an open source product, it can be completely customized to clients needs. The main advantage of PressBooks is producing output in many different, relevant formats from one single source. As you transfer a manuscript from Microsoft Word into the PressBooks environment, you can check formatting and layout and, once satisfied, publish in one single step the book as a website, as an e-book that works for iPad or android (EPUB), as an e-book version that is optimized for the Kindle or Kindle fire (MOBI) and as a PDF document for clients who prefer a more traditional approach or want to print sections.

Over To You

What are your favorite tools for teaching and learning? What do you think about my selection? Are you a developer who thinks the AACE community should know about your product? Leave us a comment, here on the blog, via Twitter or on Facebook.
Posted in AACE Tagged with: , ,

Help, I Need Somebody – Okay, Google? Help Seeking Offline and Online

online1Online help seeking is ingrained in our daily information behaviour. For the generation ‘Okay Google’ the answer to any question seems to be just one Web search away. However, help seeking is not effortless, but a skill that requires cognitive, metacognitive and social capacities. In the past three decades, researchers have scrutinized the process of face-to-face help seeking in classroom settings from many different angles. The research, to a great extent, investigated two main questions: (a) How do students seek help in classroom contexts, and (b) What factors influence face-to-face help seeking. The influential descriptive model of Nelson-LeGall (1981) comprises five steps:
  1. Become aware of need for help.
  2. Decide to seek help.
  3. Identify potential helpers.
  4. Elicit help.
  5. Evaluate received help.
First, the learner has to realize that she or he needs assistance to overcome difficulties. Second, the learner has to decide whether to seek help or exhaust all available information. Third, once  he or she has decided to seek help, the learner has to find potential helpers. Fourth, the learner needs to approach potential helpers and request their help. Fifth, the learner needs to assess whether the help was useful in problem solving and determine whether or not more help is needed. online2Research on factors influencing help seeking revealed possible challenges along the way. Being or becoming aware that one needs help takes major metacognitive efforts, including evaluation and self-assessment. The decision to seek help is influenced by concerns of being labelled as incompetent. Eliciting help requires learners to be strategic about inquiries and have basic communication skills. Online environments are much more ubiquitous and open than classroom contexts, which give learners opportunities to take advantage of abundant resources on the Internet and to seek help from experts around the globe. Most importantly, online help seeking requires intensive cognitive efforts in raising questions or forming queries. Human helpers are highly adaptive to the needs of learners in face-to-face contexts: They can figure out what is going on even if the learners are not clear about their problems, or cannot organize their statements to give an unambiguous question. Therefore, traditionally, few researchers looked into how learners raise questions. Search engines on the other hand have very limited adaptivity, so ambiguous questions can hardly be answered. Similarly, people in online communities often lack context information and situational cues to figure out what the help seeker actually means. Therefore, learners usually need to segment big problems into subproblems with specific goals, decontextualize the subproblems for people who have little background knowledge, and convert the problems to either specific questions or queries. In other words, effective online help seeking requires logical thinking, discourse skills, knowledge of search engines and strong problem-solving skills. Unfortunately, learners may not be aware that they need to organize their thinking, or activate their discourse skills to form questions for inquiry, because the solution is apparently only one mouse click away. The challenges students face in online help seeking are new and need deliberate training. Investigating students’ online help seeking behavior and design effective trainings to foster this skill is an important prerequisite of both formal and informal learning online.
Posted in AACE Tagged with: ,

Patterns Everywhere? An Interview with Christian Kohls

Design patterns have become popular in the domains of architecture, software design, human computer interaction, Web 2.0, organizational structures, and pedagogy as a way to communicate successful practical knowledge. Patterns capture proven solutions for recurrent problems with respect to fitting contexts. Practitioners and researchers alike have been adopting the pattern approach to document their work, communicate results, facilitate discourses between experts and nonspecialists, formulate new questions and standardize approaches.

Christian Kohls has authored several books about patterns, co-organized international conferences (PLOP, EuroPLOP), and published numerous articles on the practical use and epistemological origin of patterns. In the interview we talk about patterns in e-learning, teaching, instructional design and EdTech research.


"What’s the secret of a good chef? He knows basic recipes and ingredients to prepare a million different meals by combining these. That's how patterns work". (Image Source: Nicole Abalde, Flickr Commons)

In a nutshell, what are patterns and how can instructional designers use them?

Patterns are a specific way to capture best practices, such as e-learning methods, assessment types, media formats, forms of collaboration etc. What makes them special is that they are on a mid-level of abstraction offering both practical guidance and theoretical justification. A pattern is a specific solution which instructional designer can reuse and adopt to specific needs. The pattern description explains why, when, and how the solution can be applied.

What are the most relevant patterns in the field of e-learning?

The most relevant e-learning patterns are about educational videos and social learning. A lot of video material is produced at the moment but it’s not always appropriate. Everyone can produce videos today but not all of them are effective and efficient. This is a typical example where the elaborate description format of patterns can help instructional designers: choose the right format (when to use a lecture recording, a webinar, a screencast, or a commons craft style animation), adopt the content accordingly, and make a professional production with limited resources.

Social learning is very often student-initiated. However, instructional designers have to think about when and how to integrate these learning activities into the course design: how can we stimulate online collaboration and learning communities? How can learning analytics be used to improve the course design? How can we support and protect students and offer them an open space for experimentation and new ideas? These patterns are just emerging. While there are many opportunities there are also many drawbacks (such as high drop-out rates or a digital divide). That’s another important thing about patterns: they do not only highlight the beneficial aspects but the negative consequences as well.

As a professor, you are teaching software programming and computational science classes. Do you use patterns in the classroom?

Yes, of course! I do that in several ways. Patterns are a very well established approach in software design. So I am teaching these technical patterns to my students.

I am also using educational patterns for planning my courses. That includes patterns for assessment driven course design, the use of audience response systems and digital whiteboards, and the production of screencasts for my entire lecture on object oriented programming. Patterns help me to reflect about my own instructional design. Instead of just recoding my live lecture I produced and edited screencasts with similar content. This was quite a time investment but allowed me to have more student interaction in the lecture hall and use many different media types. Having pattern-oriented mind lets you weigh the pros and cons of each solution in a systematic way.

Most exciting for me, however, are my courses on e-learning patterns where I ask students to write their own patterns based on their experiences.

Do you have some general advice for integrating patterns in teaching?

Teachers can use patterns as inspiration and to detect problems they were not even aware of having. Both the problem and the solution part of a pattern description are very important. The solution part is obvious: it provides guidance to good designs and it can help instructional designers without prescribing scripted steps. Yet the problem statement is just as important because it can serve as some sort of a wake-up call. It is one thing to address problems you are aware of: you can find your own solution or use well-known patterns. But if you are not even aware of the problem you will never solve it.

How do your students respond to patterns?

Oh, they like them as solutions. That’s especially true for the software patterns since they provide good design tricks and release some of the burden of finding a robust and flexible architecture when programming. When it comes to students writing their own patterns, this is a different matter. The pattern format is very strict and it requires that the student reflect about his or her own practices. Sometimes we do certain activities naturally, such as forming learning groups online. One can easily identify this as a best practice. However, it is much harder to explain why and when this is more effective than learning alone. They need to find evidence that this is not just a subjective feeling, they need to find examples and counter-examples, etc. Pattern writing is quite difficult for students, but it offers many learning moments.

What is the best way to get involved with patterns?

Finding patterns in the world is the most natural thing every person does. Without pattern recognition we wouldn’t be able to identify other persons, social behavior, or even scientific laws. We have patterns in our heads! What the pattern community does is to search for patterns in successful designs. There are several pattern conferences around the world (PLoP conferenes) and the community is very open to newcomers. If you have some best practices in mind: just start writing a pattern today. You can find several starter kits for writing patterns on the websites of the pattern community ( Writing your own patterns is already an exciting experience. Once you have your first draft ready, don’t hesitate to submit it to one of the pattern conferences. Each submission will go through a mentoring process (“shepherding”) and you will get constructive feedback in Writers’ Workshops at the conferences.


Prof. Dr. CKohlshristian Kohls is an expert on patterns, e-learning, creativity, software design and software engineering. He is a professor of computational science at Cologne University of Applied Sciences, Germany. Prior to his current position, he worked as an international consultant at SMART technologies and as researcher and developer at the Knowledge Media Research Center. Christian Kohls holds a PhD from the University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, with a thesis about mental and conceptual representations of patterns. He holds a master’s degree of media and computer science from the University of Applied Sciences Wedel/Hamburg. He worked as consultant at pharus53 software solutions and implemented multilingual wbt solutions and software tutorials. He is inventor and development coordinator of moowinx, an end user tool to create interactive graphics.  
Posted in AACE

You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks? Instructional Support For Adult Learning

The saying, ”You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” depicts a common view many people implicitly share: Learning is best done young. For instance, the younger you learn a language, the better your chances of success. But is that actually true?

Can old dogs learn new tricks? Only if they want to!

Can old dogs learn new tricks? Only if they want to! (Image by Mark Robinson)

Read more ›

Posted in AACE