How Faculty Adapt their Practices to Teach Online – An Interview with Donna Murdoch


Donna Murdoch: Digital Learning and Online Teaching Specialist

Donna Murdoch is a Digital Learning consultant who is currently working with UNICEF to build an architecture that embeds digital learning into the organization. She also teaches educators how to integrate online and blended instruction into their practice at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education in the new VOLT program (Virtual and Online Teaching.) As part of her doctoral dissertation, Donna Murdoch investigated the incorporation of online learning into faculty's regular practice. She surveyed 20 faculty members from across the U.S. who had been face to face instructors in higher education for at least 3 years prior to teaching online, and were currently teaching at least two course per semester, with at least one of them online. Her interviews focused on faculty’s perception of their own experience as adult learners during the transition, the challenges they faced, how they overcame them, and the perceived quality and value of the online courses they taught.

How do traditional face-to-face teachers become e-teachers? What are challenges and milestones in the transition process? It was my pleasure to talk to Donna about her research project. transition Online Learning: From enigmatic phenomenon to everyday practice (Adapted from algogenius Flickr collection, creative commons, some rights reserved).

Donna, can you sum up your findings in a few headline-grabbing sentences?

Headline grabbing –

Adults don’t like the change they encounter when new technologies are introduced – and you won’t believe the reasons why!!!

Faculty member stays up all night answering email from students doing online work at 2 a.m. – find out her 10 secrets to napping during the day!

All kidding aside, I did have three distinct findings, and they were almost unanimous. First, the vast majority of participants expressed concern about the quality of online instruction. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman also found this in the 2014 Babson Survey “Tracking Online Education in the United States.” The difference in my survey was that most participants expressed more concern about the quality of their colleagues’ courses. They perceived they had overcome most obstacles, but that others at their institutions had not.   They did not believe that others were teaching courses that were on par with face-to-face classes in terms of quality. This is because of findings 2 and 3. The second finding was that the overwhelming majority did not feel support from their institutions when transitioning to online modalities, rather they indicated that experiential learning in the form of mentorship, learning by doing, and dialog with peers were most critical when overcoming the challenges. The third finding was that the majority of participants indicated the time required for preparation and intrusion of time on an ongoing basis during the course of an online class were significantly greater than time requirements of a face-to-face course.

What gave you the idea for this project?

When I began developing an online program at a very large university, I experienced a phenomenon. Highly educated faculty members, popular with students and/or dedicated to research and well respected in their field were reluctant to teach online. Not only were they resistant to online instruction – I should not limit it to one modality. Many were resistant to any kind of change to what had traditionally worked for them, and emphatically so when it came to change that meant they would need to use technology. I was fascinated. These super intelligent people were overly resistant – there seemed to be something more to it. There were so many different reasons stated, but I sensed it was about something more overarching. I was often successful in “convincing” them, but when I did, it was not very easy!   When I did work in corporate education, I saw the same resistance. Very few people like the change that accompanies technology integration, whether in an academic setting or a corporate university. I wanted to know why this was happening.

What challenges did you face during data collection and analysis?

Interestingly, the only challenge I faced during data collection was not putting enough time on my calendar for each interview!   People who had been through the transition really wanted to talk about it, more so than I had anticipated. The parameters of the study included “must teach at least two classes online” so if we refer to the results of the study which highlight the time that is devoted to online instruction, it is easy to understand why they wanted to talk about such a big part of their lives. Analysis was not too difficult – I’m really infatuated with a new cloud based analysis tool called Dedoose, which can replace some of the traditional software programs - it is quite magical.

How can your results benefit faculty development initiatives?

The focus of technology, e-learning, or blended learning initiatives is often the shiny toys. It frequently involves working with the platform and perhaps some “training” on the tools themselves. Technical support is common, but technical competency is a very small part of what it takes to be successful in online instruction. The results showed that we really need to view the adoption and acceptance of e-learning in a more systemic way that educators will feel is supportive. This is change management, but it seems many experience support by means of an IT hotline number, LMS instruction, or a quick lunch and learn. Faculty are adult learners, and my research showed that they don’t feel IT oriented support is giving them what they need in order to feel confidence in the process they go through to build and sustain a high quality online course. We need to assess them in advance to find out what they need to know and how they will learn best. The benefits will be clear when the most common challenges are addressed via adult learning methodologies.

What are your next steps?

I will be defending my dissertation in the spring at Columbia University Teachers College. I got so much unanticipated data, there are a number of papers I hope to publish. Everything I learned was so worthwhile! That will come next. I also really enjoy applying research to practice, and I’m excited about PennGSE’s new VOLT graduate certificate in online learning, as I’ve been part of it from the beginning. I think it will be different than anything we’ve seen before. I enjoy my corporate work, and have been helping corporate universities (and NGOs) build digital learning that works for adults. And I really enjoy working with education entrepreneurs, especially when they are working to build tools for adult learners.

Did you know?

Donna and I met through the AACE Special Interest Group on ‘Assessing, Designing and Developing E-Learning’ (ADD E-Learn). You do not have to be an AACE member or an attendee of previous AACE conferences to join an AACE Special Interest Group– simply connect on Academic Experts.

Are you currently conducting a research project that you would like to share with the AACE community? Let us know! Contact us via FaceBook or Twitter @AACE.

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Informal Learning: New Challenges for Designers and Educators

By Till Credner (Own work: [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

By Till Credner (Own work: [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

I first realized the power of Informal or Out-of-School Learning as I lay looking up at the stars in my backyard with my young daughter. We lay together looking up, and I pulled out my phone and opened up a Sky/Constellation science app. Together, we looked at the stars, and she looked up information and saw high quality photos about constellations, stars and other objects that we couldn’t view without this augmented reality. In that moment, she was engaged in this informal learning in a way very different from a classroom setting. It was a great experience.

Informal learning happens all around us. Many educators and instructional designers are taking notice. According to Julian Sefton-Greene, there are two scales to consider when looking at informal learning. First, learning can be considered on a scale from informal to formal in terms of setting (e.g., in-school vs. out of school). Secondly, learning can be considered in terms of the curriculum (e.g., self guided educational apps vs. a highly structured MOOC). Considering where your designs fall on this scale can be a powerful tool for educators and designers as they look at ways to improve learning.

Informal Learning Scale

The Indian edublogger Sahana Chattopadhyay explores how the changing landscape of work and learning impacts the requirements for learning material, the design process and the skill profile of instructional designers. Chattopadhyay argues that instructional design needs to respond to an education landscape that is characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA).

"An instructional designer today is required to not only understand the fundamentals of good instructional design but must also expand his/her skill sets to include an understanding of community management, the spectrum of learning from formal to informal, the impact of social, local and mobile on user behaviour, the need to equip users with self-managed learning skills".

A first step to develop these skills is to develop an understanding of user behavior and learner activities that span formal and informal learning. Here is a brief list of informal learning articles and publications from 2014. It offers a gateway into current research on social learning activities, online communities and informal learning in a variety of contexts.

Further Reading

Chunngam, B., Chanchalor, S. & Murphy, E. (2014). Membership, participation and knowledge building in virtual communities for informal learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(5), 863-879. Retrieved from

This study, looks at the design of a virtual community for informal learning about Thai herbs. The community relied on social networking tools and a database of expert knowledge as well as community coordinators. Results show findings that relate the importance of access to expert knowledge and interest in a subject in informal learning contexts.

Ferguson, R., Faulkner, D., Whitelock, D., & Sheehy, K. (2014). Pre-teens’ informal learning with ICT and Web 2.0. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, (ahead-of-print), 1-19.

This study looks at the habits of pre-teen informal learning with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Web 2.0 tools. There are still restrictions of how technology is used in many school environments and this study takes a look at some of the distinctive elements of pre-teens use of these technologies.

Halverson, E. R., & Sheridan, K. M. (2014). The Maker Movement in Education. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 495-504.

In this essay, the authors provide context, give theoretical background, and consider the role of making in education. This form of informal learning is increasingly popular with the decrease in price of 3D printers, Laser Cutters, and other consumer manufacturing equipment. They finish with exploring the potential pedagogical impacts on teaching and learning.

Hou, H. T., Wu, S. Y., Lin, P. C., Sung, Y. T., Lin, J. W., & Chang, K. E. (2014). A Blended Mobile Learning Environment for Museum Learning. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 17(2).

This study looked at three varieties of museum learning. (1) The traditional museum visit accompanied by a learning website, (2) paper - based learning sheets used during museum visits accompanied by a learning website, and (c) an interactive mobile learning system used during museum visits accompanied by a learning website.

Jones, W. M., & Dexter, S. (2014). How teachers learn: the roles of formal, informal, and independent learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 62(3), 367-384.

In this qualitative study of math and science teachers at two middle schools, the authors iden- tifies how their system for learning to integrate technology into their teaching goes beyond what school leaders typically consider when planning for teachers’ learning. It considers the roles of formal, informal and independent learning for today's teachers.

Maier, M., Rothmund, T., Retzbach, A., Otto, L., & Besley, J. C. (2014). Informal learning through science media usage. Educational Psychologist, (ahead-of-print), 1-18.

This article reviews current research on informal science learning through news media. Based on a descriptive model of media-based science communication the authors distinguish between (a) the professional routines by which journalists select and depict scientific information in traditional media and (b) the psychological processes that account for how media recipients select, process and integrate such information.

Schreurs, B., Van den Beemt, A., Prinsen, F., Witthaus, G., Conole, G. & de Laat, M. (2014). An investigation into social learning activities by practitioners in open educational practices. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 15(4).

This research investigates how educational practitioners participate in activities around open educational practices (OEP). The results show how practitioners of six different OEPs learn, while acting and collaborating through a combination of offline and online networks.

Song, D., & Lee, J. (2014). Has Web 2.0 revitalized informal learning? The relationship between Web 2.0 and informal learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning.

Web 2.0 technology allows researchers to shed a new light on the importance and prevalence of informal learning. The present study investigates the relationship between Web 2.0 levels and the evaluation of over 250 informal learning websites.

Ziegler, M. F., Paulus, T., & Woodside, M. (2014). Understanding Informal Group Learning in Online Communities Through Discourse Analysis. Adult Education Quarterly, 64(1), 60-78.

While informal learning may tend to occur as an individual endeavor, group learning can also be powerful. This study presents an exploratory analysis of a single thread from an online hiking community to introduce discourse analysis as a framework to study informal learning as a group meaning-making process.

Join the discussion

Want to join in the discussion about informal learning? Share your comments and other references below.
Posted in AACE Tagged with: ,

Learning Adventures in the Red Rock Canyon Park: Michael Searson on Wearable and Mobile Technologies

Wearable technology refers to devices that can be worn by users, taking the form of an accessory such as jewelry, sunglasses, a backpack, or even actual items of clothing such as shoes or a jacket.” Horizon Report Wiki 2015

Wearable technologies are seamlessly integrated with a user’s everyday life and movements. They enable users to see information about their surroundings, allow them to engage with social media, email and web services, and can be used to track and monitor an individual’s physical functions such as sleep, movement, blood pressure etc. Together with the already ubiquitous presence of mobile devices, wearable technologies are likely to shape our personal learning ecosystem.

How can we leverage these exciting new technologies for formal and informal learning? It was my pleasure to talk to Mike Searson, immediate Past President of SITE—Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education, Executive Director of the School for Global Education & Innovation at Kean University and on the Education Advisory Board for the US National Parks Service.

Explore Red Rock Canyon State Park during SITE 2015 (Image Source: Wikipedia)

Explore Red Rock Canyon State Park during SITE 2015 (Image Source: Wikipedia)

During SITE 2015, Mike Searson offers conference participants a unique experience: Exploring the Red Rock Canyon Park and delving into the possibilities of mobile and wearable technologies at the same time. As the US National Parks approaches its Centennial in 2016, Searson and SITE are excited about the opportunity to weave together rich, place-based education experiences with emerging technologies.

Q: What wearable and mobile technologies make up your personal learning environment?

Of course, the answer to that question depends on how one defines “wearable” and “mobile” technologies. In some cases, that’s pretty easy: my Fitbit is a wearable, my Android phone is a mobile. My MacBook Air is neither (although some may feel an “ultra” laptop is a “mobile,” I don’t). And, I’d classify my iPad as a mobile. Currently, the mobile/wearable landscape is changing very rapidly, and will continue to do so for some time. For example, some items at the SITE conference may disappear, while others may emerge just around the corner. For example, Google recently announced that it was “shelving” its Glass. And Apple is about to release its Watch. And, Google Cardboard offers some very interesting possibilities, especially for educators exploring place-based learning opportunities. We’re hopeful to have a good array of mobiles and wearables with us at the SITE conference.

However we define “mobile” and “wearable” devices, we should explore the possibility of BYOD tools to their fullest educational potential. In other words, we should leverage the devices people carry around with them everyday, as powerful tools for learning.

Q: What National Parks are you planning on visiting this year?

Well, for the SITE conference, we’ll be spending time at the Red Rock Canyon, which is under the US Bureau of Land Management. It’s wonderful and beautiful park, just outside of Las Vegas. Perhaps I should mention that I sit on the US National Parks Service Advisory Board for Education, which allows me unique opportunities to “explore” parks. However, as I live in the Northeast US, I devote considerable time to “urban” parks. Over the next few months, along with various colleagues, I will be exploring the Federal Hall National Monument in NYC and the Independence National Park in Philadelphia. Also, I spend a lot of time biking at the Sandy Hook Gateway in NJ, along the Atlantic Ocean that has great views of the NYC skyline. As an educator, I am intrigued by the educational possibilities that Parks offer to urban youth and their teachers. I should mention that the year 2016 is the Centennial of the US National Parks Service, and many people are exploring the rich opportunities that parks—from national, to state, to local levels—offer the public, including place-based education experiences.

Q: What specific potential do you see for mobile devices and wearable technologies to enhance place-based education?

Before answering that question, I’d like to acknowledge a remarkable phenomenon that has occurred over the past few years. When smart phones were first introduced, they had to be regularly tethered to computers; that is, if you wished to add new apps to your phone or update its operating system, you had to connect it to a computer. Over time, smartphones worked as truly independent devices. You could enjoy their full potential without ever connecting to a computer. Access to the “cloud” was the only requirement to optimize their value. Now smartphones have become the hub for wearable devices, i.e., with very few exceptions, your wearable device is not fully optimized unless it is either directly connected to or within a short distance of its smartphone hub. Yet, this coupling does allow for true 24-7 experiences. For example, I wear my fitness band all day; thus, certain fitness data are constantly monitored. And, when in range of my smartphone, these data are shared and uploaded to the cloud. Although, I was provided a dongle to “connect” my Fitbit to my computer, I never use it. I really like the mobility and ease with which I can carry/wear the smartphone/wearable combo all day long. So, within a few years, the smartphone went from a device that had to be tethered to a computer to one that is now a hub for other devices.

As education leaders, I believe it is our responsibility to explore the potential of such devices, especially when used in tandem, as rich learning technologies. And, due to their mobility, they are perfect tools to explore place-based education opportunities. While I could take my laptop and use its camera to take pictures of flora and fauna in National Parks, I’d never consider doing so. I would do what I do in other interesting daily experiences, take out my phone and take the desired picture. I could then use Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat to share with my community. And, at the same time, my wearable device may be collecting spatial and temporal data—I could easily find out the distance and elevation of the trail that I just walked.

In the end, it may be best to say that we really don’t know the answer to your question. We are in the early stages of exploring how mobiles and wearables can “enhance place-based education.”

Q: What distinguishes wearable technologies from other mobile learning devices, such as smart phones?

First, I need to repeat what I said above, for the most part, wearables function best when they utilize a smartphone as a hub. Currently, there are very few exceptions to this. But, again, the landscaping is changing quite rapidly—there are wearables embedded in clothing, wearables “connected” to medical devices, wearables that transmit (and receive) data directly to (and from) your car. With that in mind, here are some of the notable distinctions: wearable are true 24-7 devices. My laptop is with me much of the day, but only when I am indoors. My smartphone is with me most of the day, but usually not around when I sleep nor (hopefully 😉 when I drive. Yet, the only technology that is with me 24-7—indoors or outdoors; asleep or awake; driving, watching TV or hiking—is my fitness band. Currently I find the notification systems on my wearables to be more functional and less intrusive. Frankly, many of the notifications on my smartphone are little more than annoyances—often some type of marketing message. Yet, on my fitness device, the subtle buzz when I’ve reached ten thousand steps or a flashing light that I need to recharge my battery seem just right. Again, as we gain more experience with wearables, this may change, but at the moment, for me, it seems that their notification ecosystem is just right. Finally, and this feature could cause alarm—many of the features in some wearables are tacit. In other words, without being consciously aware of it, I transmit and receive data to and from my fitness band 24-7.

However, all of this should raise some concerns for educators. As described above, since most of these data reside in the cloud, it is possible that they could be hacked. So, if they wished to do so, a law enforcement agency or a good ole hacker could tell precisely when (and even roughly where) I went to sleep. Should we begin to more formally incorporate mobile and wearable devices into classroom experiences we need to be concerned about who might be accessing the data students produce, and for what reasons.

Q: For many people, me included, National Parks are a place for disconnecting from devices and re-connecting with silence. Are we old-fashioned curmudgeons missing out on crucial learning opportunities?

Actually, many of us on the Parks advisory board would agree with you. On the one hand, we recognize the need to make our parks as connected as possible; on the other hand, we should be concerned about the distraction issue. Ideally, connectivity in the parks, and other placed-based education spaces, would only enhance the overall experience, and not distract from it. For example, remarkable “apps,” available on both iOS and Android platforms, developed by National Parks Service staff (see, provide true added value to the Parks experience. For example, the NPS Mall App, which can be used when in DC national parks, offers a unique augmented reality tool that allows the visitor to alternately view actual monuments and then access cloud-based media.

Yet, there are times that the unvarnished experience is the purest reality. For example, if you seen a herd of moose running across a plain in Yellowstone Park, put down your camera, stash your cell phone and just enjoy! In fact, one of the Parks subcommittees is simultaneously recommending that Parks be empowered with Wi-Fi/4G connectivity; yet, have strategically placed signs that say “Power Down Zone,” indicating the visitor has reached a space that could be best enjoyed with no filters, especially technology driven ones. In the end, those of us who support place-base experiences are confronted with the same issues faced by 21st century contemporary society—how do we best used our devices to enhance, rather than distract from, our lives.

Q: Could mobile data collection by everyday visitors eventually inform park management and help curate national treasures?

Absolutely! Actually, that’s an easy transition from what’s been happening for years. Consider the numerous monarch butterfly tracking projects, where naturalists and other scientists work with students and teachers to track and collect data on monarch migrations. These types of activities are designed to create citizen scientists, everyday people who, under the right conditions and paired in some way with real scientists, can participate in actual scientific activities, such as providing tracking data on butterfly migrations. While some of the initial projects were PC based, we’re already seeing the availability of citizen scientist projects on mobile devices. For example, there are the Project Noah and Marine Debris Tracker apps that leverage active communities, such as students and teachers, to work with scientist in data collection and documentation.

Of course, even without apps, mobile and certain wearable devices come with inherent geo-tagging and time-stamp features, which are useful for data collection and curation activities. For example, in many of these devices, the very act of taking a picture invokes an array of meta-data—such as the location, time, and sometimes weather conditions—that were present when the picture was taken. And we can add text or audio notes to our pictures and videos, providing rich documentation of the experience.

Later this year, a group of educators, working with National Parks staff, will explore the historic sights in Philadelphia’s Independence Park to explore ways that we can use mobile and wearable devices to document some national treasures. We’ll then examine the classroom implications of such activities.

Q: What learning experiences and outcomes do you hope your participants will take home from the SITE 2015 workshop?

Well, I guess I’ll begin with a point you raised earlier. If nothing more happens than enjoying the beauty and surroundings of Red Rock Canyon, we would have had a rich experience. However, if we use the mobile and wearable devices that we carry around with us on a daily basis to collect data and document our experiences, then our trip to the park will become more engaging. Finally, we end with some reflective time addressing issues that concerns many educators: How can we best incorporate our exciting informal learning experiences into formal classroom activities? For example, can data and documentation collected in the Red Rock Canyon with our mobile and wearable devices then be integrated into lesson plans and curriculum standards?

Want to Learn More? Register for SITE 2015

Do not miss the SITE 2015 workshop ‘Taking it Outdoors: Personalized Learning Technologies and Place-Based Education’. To register access the SITE website at

Taking it Outdoors: Personalized Learning Technologies and Place-Based Education

This innovative workshop will examine the role of personalized learning technologies as a place-based education tools. For example, how can wearable devices and mobile technologies be transformed to support informal and formal learning experiences for students? Working with the US Bureau of Land Management and the US National Parks Service, workshop participants will be transported to the scenic Red Rock Canyon Park. Once there, we will take a guided tour through key areas of the Park. Facilitated by workshop leaders, participants will use wearable technologies and mobile devices to collect data and document their experiences in Red Rock Canyon. Returning to conference headquarters, participants will then engage with workshop leaders on how personalized learning technologies (PLTs) can be incorporated into formal classroom experiences. While workshop participants are encouraged to bring their own mobile and wearable devices to this workshop, a limited handful of new devices will be on hand to explore their potential as learning tools.

Posted in AACE, Conferences, SITE Tagged with: , , ,

Tinkering with the Idea of Bricolage

“Bricolage is a practical process of learning through tinkering with materials. It involves continual transformation, with earlier products or materials that are ready to hand becoming resources for new constructions”. Innovating Pedagogy Report 2014
Bricolage: Taking available pieces and assembling them to make something new

Bricolage: Taking available pieces and assembling them to make something new

Bricolage means to engage in a dialogue with a heterogeneous collection of materials and tools, in which items are repurposed and rearranged to solve a problem. Bricolage does not necessitate having a clear end in sight. On the contrary, it requires the stakeholders to be open and start with a vaguely defined idea. The project and its components take shape over time.

Bricolage comprises tools and artifacts that were accumulated over time. This may include material that was collected without any specific purpose, and picked up simply because it might be useful someday; as well as outcomes, products or ‘leftovers’ from other projects. The typical bricolage setting is one of constant remix: Its tools and artifacts are not limited to only use nor does one need specialized expertise to adapt and use them.

Instructional Design Implications
  • Learning Process: Engaging in bricolage means learning through creative improvisation, just as a toddler may turn a leaf pile and sticks into an airplane. ‘Rather than replacing forms of informal, self-organized pretend play by school education, bricolage can contribute to creative practices in adult education such as experiental learning activities.
  • Transfer Learning / Personal Learning Environments: When looking at learning over time, bricolage is a collage fabricated when students combine little bits and pieces from different domains and learning experiences. As such ‘bricolage’ is a helpful concept to illuminate the process of transfer learning. Allowing room for ‘bricolage’ that can furnish a students’ personal learning environment ties together the often fragmented experience that may potentially derail students’ learning trajectories.
  • Educational Technology Systems: In contrast to the traditional engineering approach in which the end product determines the means and methods, bricolage offers opportunities for stakeholder involvement through open, participatory design processes. It allows for unforeseen and chaotic developments as the end product is not clearly known at the outset. It focuses on building, refining and testing (and potentially discarding) rather than defining, planning and implementing.
  • Organizational Innovation: Bricolage offers a basis for creative innovation through combining and adapting tools and theories to generate new insights. It fosters collaboration and exchange across disciplinary, divisional or cultural divides. The reasoning process does not use deduction, but is a creative design process.
Recommended in EdITLIb
Jon Dron, Researcher at TERKI (Athabasca University)

Jon Dron, Researcher at TERKI (Athabasca University)

Dron, J. (2014). Ten Principles for Effective Tinkering. In Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2014 (pp. 505-513). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Jon Dron argues that ‘bricolage’ is better suited to networked, social, open-ended learning than traditional learning design approaches. He offers ten principles and patterns for effective bricolage:

  1. Do not design - just build
  2. Start with pieces that are fully formed and useful
  3. Surround yourself with both quantity and diversity in tools, materials, methods, and perspectives
  4. Dabble hard - gain skills, but be suspicious of expertise
  5. Look for exaptations and surf the adjacent possible
  6. Avoid schedules and goals, but make time and space for tinkering, and include time for daydreaming
  7. Do not fear dismantling and starting afresh
  8. Beware of teams, but cultivate networks: seek people, not processes
  9. Talk with your creations and listen to what they have to say
  10. Reflect, and tell stories about your reflections, especially to others
Posted in AACE Tagged with: ,

Threshold Concepts for Learning

The 2014 Innovating Pedagogy report describes 'threshold concepts' as a trend with significant impact over the next 2-5 years:
"Momentum for using threshold concepts to help teaching is growing across disciplines".
The idea of threshold concepts emerged from a national research project in the UK, where researchers looked into the possible characteristics of strong teaching and learning environments for undergraduate education. Disciplines have ‘conceptual gateways’ or ‘portals’ that lead to a new, previously inaccessible way of thinking. An example from the social sciences is that ‘you cannot make causal inferences from correlational data’.

A threshold concept is "a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something" (Meyer and Land, 2003).

Mastering a threshold concept puts learners in a liminal state where they oscillate between old and emerging understandings - just like an ethnographic researcher who is not outside, but also not quite inside the group he or she is working on. Characteristics Meyer and Land (2003, 2005) characterize threshold concepts with the following qualities:
  • transformative (significant shift in the perception of a subject),
  • integrative (exposing a previously hidden interrelatedness),
  • oftentimes bounded (meaning that they separate academic disciplines),
  • 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).
Applications in Instructional Design
  • Identifying thresholds for a specific domain
  • Informing curricula design
  • Inspiring lesson planning
  • Developing creative, authentic and meaningful assessment
  • Adopting student-centered, motivating approaches
Further Resources from EdITLib

Kiley, M. & Wisker, G. (2009). Threshold Concepts in Research Education and Evidence of Threshold Crossing. Higher Education Research and Development, 28(4), 431-441.

While most work on threshold concepts is related to discipline-specific undergraduate education, this article identifies six generic doctoral-level threshold concepts: Learning challenges experienced by research students and their supervisors. The research involved 65 experienced research supervisors across six countries (Australia, England, Jamaica, Malaysia, New Zealand and Trinidad) and across Humanities, Social Sciences, Engineering and IT and the Sciences.

Chetty, J. & van der Westhuizen, D. (2013). "I hate programming" and Other Oscillating Emotions Experienced by Novice Students Learning Computer Programming. In Jan Herrington et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2013 (pp. 1889-1894). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). View paper as Open Access in EdITLib.

The paper explores the range of of emotional reactions while learning a threshold concept, program dynamics. It helps educators understand students’ emotions so that they are not only communicators of information but also motivators.

Posted in AACE

2014: Thanks for AACE Community EdITLib Contributions & 12 Most Popular Articles

For a growing number of researchers and practitioners, EdITLib--Education & Information Technology Digital Library is the go-to resource for high-quality content. In 2014, the library greatly increased the value for researchers and educators by adding a number of journals and proceedings.

Special thanks to the AACE community who enriched the dialogue around educational technologies and innovative pedagogical approaches as AACE conference participants, speakers, presenters, reviewers, editors, and journal contributors.

The infographic below gives an overview of  EdITLib and AACE activity followed by a list of the 12 most popular articles for the year.

The Year 2014 – Trends, Facts & Figures

Search Terms 2014

World cloud of the 20 most popular search terms of 2014 (produced with

12 Most Popular Articles in 2014

The selection of the 12 most popular articles in 2014 offers a potpourri of trends, ongoing issues and current debates. The full text of each paper is available in EdITLib. Enjoy, reflect, learn and connect to the AACE community.

1. Comparative Analysis of Learner Satisfaction and Learning Outcomes in Online and Face-to-Face Learning Environments
This empirical study compared a graduate online course with an equivalent course taught in a traditional face-to-face format on a variety of outcome measures. Results revealed that the students in the face-to-face course held slightly more positive perceptions about the instructor and overall course quality although there was no difference between the two course formats in several measures of learning outcomes.

2. Characteristics of Adult Learners With Implications for Online Learning Design
The online educational environment is increasingly being used by adults and should be designed based on the needs of adult learners. This article discusses andragogy, an important adult learning theory, and reviews three other adult learning theories: self-directed learning, experiential learning, and transformational learning.

3. What is Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK)?
This paper describes a framework for teacher knowledge for technology integration called technological pedagogical content knowledge (originally TPCK, now known as TPACK, or technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge).

4. Social Presence Theory and Implications for Interaction and Collaborative Learning in Computer Conferences
This paper examines research on social presence theory and the implications for analyzing interaction, communication, collaborative learning, and the social context of computer-mediated communication (CMC). Even though CMC is considered to be a medium that is low in social context cues, it can be perceived as interactive, active, interesting, and stimulating by conference participants.

5. Digital Literacy: A Conceptual Framework for Survival Skills in the Digital era
Digital literacy involves more than the mere ability to use software or operate a digital device; it includes a large variety of complex cognitive, motor, sociological, and emotional skills, which users need in order to function effectively in digital environments.

6. Integrating Technology into the Classroom:  Eight Keys to Success
There are many issues related to the successful use of technology in the classroom. While attention to choosing the appropriate hardware and software for the classroom is prerequisite, it is the skill and attitude of the teacher that determines the effectiveness of technology integration into the curriculum.

7. Teachers’ Views on Factors Affecting Effective Integration of Information Technology in the Classroom:  Developmental Scenery
This article reports on an exploratory, longitudinal study, which examined six teachers' views on the factors that affect technology use in classrooms. The research examined teachers of grades 4, 5, and 6-for three years, studying the teachers both as a group and as individual case studies.

8. Issues in Distance Learning
This review of literature and research into the effectiveness of distance education systems deals with a number of factors which affect their success or failure.

9. Humanizing the Classroom by Flipping the Homework versus Lecture Equation
Innovative educators are using technology to revolutionize teaching by inverting or flipping the homework versus lecture equation. In an inverted or flipped classroom, students review pre-recorded lecture content online before class, freeing class time for active learning.

10. Moodle: Using Learning Communities to Create an Open Source Course Management System
This paper summarizes a PhD research project that has contributed towards the development of Moodle - a popular open-source course management system ( In this project we applied theoretical perspectives such as "social constructionism" and "connected knowing" to the analysis of our own online classes as well as the growing learning community of other Moodle users.

11. iPads in the Classroom – New Technologies, Old Issues: Are they worth the effort?
This paper presents the results of a research project that involved introducing iPads into two elementary school classrooms to support the development of student digital storytelling skills. This project resulted in many positive learning experiences with the technology, with storytelling and across other components of the curriculum and the community.

12. Key Factors for Determining Student Satisfaction in Online Courses
One-hundred five respondents out of a sample of 303 online learners completed the resulting Online Course Satisfaction Survey. The results indicated student satisfaction with online courses is influenced by 3 constructs: instructor variables, technical issues, and interactivity.

Posted in AACE, EdITLib Digital Library

Big Data and Education: Prospects and Problems

The Data & Society Research Institute, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and New America’s Open Technology Institute recently organized a conference on “Data & Civil Rights”. The organizers released a series of research briefs that summarize current research literature, practical challenges and emerging questions surrounding ‘big data’ in different areas of society – including education:
“Many education reformers see the merging of student data, predictive analytics, processing tools, and technology-based instruction as the key to the future of education and a means to further opportunity and equity in education.”
Big Data

Big Data: Discovery of Patterns and Relationships

For educators the ‘Data & Civil Rights: Education Primer’ offers a balanced view of both the opportunities and risks associated with learning analytics and other uses of data mining in education.


On the plus side, leveraging large datasets has the potential to improve efficiency, effectiveness of education providers and the learning experience of individual students.

“Data mining can support a variety of education-related functions, including building student models to individualize instruction, map learning domains, evaluate pedagogical support, and contribute to learning science. Analytics techniques can be used to create models to predict registration, student performance, and retention. The wealth of new information about students is used to detect cheating or plagiarism, create college or course recommendation engines, and identify abnormal results. It can also be used for administrative, recruiting, and fundraising purposes.”

Though data-driven education has the potential to improve access to and the quality of teaching, it does not come without risks and potentially severe side effects:

“It may perpetuate persistent labeling, deepen rather than lessen concerns about resources, violate peoples’ expectations of privacy, and enable inappropriate or harmful repurposing of educational data in non-educational contexts. For example, students or their guardians may find it impossible to eschew or reverse flawed algorithmic assessments. The identification of students as “at risk” might not allow them to remove any harmful record of their failures if they improve later on. Students may see labels as self-fulfilling prophecies and predictive analytics may prime educators to make prior judgments about students’ capabilities and character.”
Further Information EditLib offers free access to several interesting case studies on the use of learning analytics. Review these papers from past AACE conferences to gain an idea how educational data mining is applied in practice:
Posted in AACE

2014 Innovating Pedagogy Report on Ed Tech Trends

Innovate Pedagogy ReportThe Open University (OU) has released the 2014 edition of its 'Innovating Pedagogy' report, the third edition of an annual educational technology trend report. While the timelines 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. This year's edition focuses clearly on instructional strategies, not technology.

10 Innovative Pedagogy Trends in 2014:

  1. Massive open social learning
  2. Learning design informed by analytics
  3. Flipped classrooms
  4. Bring your own devices
  5. Learning to learn
  6. Dynamic assessment
  7. Event-based learning
  8. Learning through storytelling
  9. Threshold concepts
  10. Bricolage
Edublogger Stephen Downes has both praise and criticism for the report: "while it is capable of insight (such as the discussion around threshold concept' it has the flaw of predicting events that have already happened ('flipped classroom', 'learning by storytelling') and predictive hackney ('learning to learn')".  How prevalent are the pedagogy trends highlighted in the report? We checked the 100,000+ records of EdITLib--Education and Information Technology Digital Library - here are the results: Report-EditLib
  •  As the search results indicate, storytelling approaches are indeed widely used throughout the educational technology community - though we could only find 21 articles with the exact term 'learning through storytelling'.
  • Phenomenons like 'Flipped classroom', 'Learning analytics' and 'BYOD' have been discussed widely in the blogosphere. However, there are still not too many publications on the subject.
  • Though we retrieved 90 contributions on 'Massive open online courses', our search yielded no results for 'Massive open social learning'.
Posted in AACE, EdITLib Digital Library Tagged with: , , ,

Who Dat? It’s E-Learn 2014! Come, Learn, Share, Connect

The 19th annual E-Learn -- World Conference on E-Learning took place from October 27-30, 2014 in the sunny, warm and welcoming climate of the city of New Orleans. The conference attracted 670 participants from 60 different countries who enjoyed four days of workshops, keynotes, presentations, symposia, SIG meetings, posters, and, last but not least, informal discussions and networking opportunities during the session breaks.

Conference infographic by Stefanie Panke.

Conference infographic by Stefanie Panke.

E-Learn 2014--World Conference on E-Learning

What sets AACE conferences apart from other events in the educational technology community is the rigorous peer review process in the selection of presentations. Instead of simply submitting an abstract, AACE requires a full manuscript of 6-10 pages. While writing skills do not always and certainly not necessarily translate into great presentations, the quality of contributions is generally high.

This also makes the conference proceedings (available in EdITLib--Education and Information Technology Digital Library EditLib, a really great resource for an up-to-date overview of the current state-of-the-art in educational technology. While full-text access to the proceedings is generally restricted to conference participants and subscribers, several papers that were honored with an outstanding paper award are openly accessible:

The best paper awards mirror the diverse spectrum of the conference. E-Learn is a place where educational technology researchers, developers, and practitioners from higher education, K-12, nonprofit and industry sectors meet – brought together by a joint focus on leveraging technology for achieving instructional goals.

My Conference Experience

This conference report is my personal eclectic account of E-Learn 2014. My schedule was packed this year: Not only did I, in a hyperactive mood, choose to deliver three talks, but I also had a symposium and a special interest group (SIG) meeting to moderate and an Executive Committee meeting to attend. Luckily, the overall conference atmosphere, the great discussions during the SIG meeting, and the thoughtful feedback, ideas, encouragement and contributions by numerous conference participants made all of this fun.

Monday: Video Makes the Edustar

My conference week started with a workshop on video production for the flipped classroom organized by Matt Osment, UNC Center for Faculty Excellence. Approximately 25 participants spent Monday afternoon learning the ins and outs of conceptualizing, planning, recording, producing, distributing, sharing and reusing videos for educational purposes.

Lately, flipping the classroom has become an educational imperative on many campuses. To free-up class time for active learning and group work, students need to process content outside of class. Effective instructional videos thus become a central ingredient of flipping. The workshop addressed the needs of instructional designers and faculty involved in delivering and supporting flipped classrooms. The attendees’ backgrounds varied widely, from video newbies to experienced producers.

However, the focus on instructional strategies and strategic planning offered something for everyone. Often, translating workshop exercises into practice is no easy task. Probably the best testimony for the workshop’s effectiveness: A group of participants took what they learned and started recording videos during their stay in New Orleans.

Tuesday: Connect, Connect, Connect – Play Thumb War?

‘Making connections’ may generally describe the motto of this year’s venue. It was certainly the theme of the first E-Learn keynote by Ann Hill Duin from the University of Minnesota. While her invitation to play several rounds of thumb war games with one’s seat neighbors was not everybody’s cup of tea, the general question ‘Who do you connect with?’ together with the invitation to reflect upon one’s personal learning network helped to set the tone for active networking.

She challenged participants to envision their part in a networked future: ‘As the future connects us, how are we handling it? Who do we connect with? As we have all this information out there, what is our role? With all the answers available in networks, what are the most important questions in our field?’

Tuesday’s invited talk featured the dynamic presenter duo Cathie Norris (University of North Texas) and Elliot Solway (University of Michigan). The two researchers focus on K-12 settings, as scholars, developers, entrepreneurs and, most important, passionate educators. They started out with a polemic take on two recent New York Times Magazine cover stories, stating that ‘Public education is under attack.’ As Solway put it: ‘Basically, the impression is that education is so broken that anyone from any background can come in with any idea and try to fix it.’

Image 1:  Scaffolding Synchronous Collaboration, recording available at

Image 1: Scaffolding Synchronous Collaboration recording available here.

The next hour was devoted to a simple idea: ‘Technology is pedagogy neutral." Using new technologies does not equate to innovative pedagogical approaches. Norris and Solway estimate that 80% of educational apps follow the drill and practice approach. As an alternative, they emphasized the need for children to work together in real time collaborative settings with digital technologies, pen, paper, or whatever comes in handy: "Children use whatever tool is appropriate and serves their need at the time. You are supposed to use all the toys in the toy box!"

They predicted that in 2-4 years every website and mobile application will have collaborative elements and shared several examples of educational apps that exemplify this principle.

If you are at all interested in using mobile devices in the classroom, you should really take a look at these apps:

For developers, the platform collabrify IT offers a framework to add synchronous collaboration elements to mobile applications and websites.

Special Interest Group ‘Assessing, Designing and Developing E-Learning’

Curtis P. Ho

Curtis P. Ho, University of Hawaii at Manoa

The lunch meeting of the SIG ‘Assessing, Designing and Developing E-Learning’ was a great opportunity to practice Ann Hill Duin’s advice to grow and cultivate your personal learning network. As SIG chairs, Curtis Ho and I were delighted to welcome 45 participants. The discussion centered on wishes and ideas for future SIG projects and activities.

The attendees came up with several compelling suggestions:

  • Create a website/website template for AACE SIGs to use to present themselves and their members.
  • Team up for a shared project in the public health and government sector by developing a web-based resource for the homeless population.
  • Work on identifying shared challenges among instructional designers.
  • Start international research and writing collaboratives around specific topics.
  • Organize Google Hangout webinars and discussion panels.

Wednesday: What’s in a Name?

Wednesday started with my favorite keynote: Ellen Hoffman, from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, looked at the E-Learn community from a linguistic perspective. Talk story, a Hawaiian way of meaning making, guided her approach to the keynote. She shared the story of her own department’s name changes that spanned almost 50 years of information technology history.

"Usually, a department is more likely to die than change its name," Hoffman stressed. She pointed out that other disciplines, for instance educational psychology, never adjust their label, whereas the field of learning and technology seems to reinvent its branding every decade or even more frequently.

As an anthropologist and linguist, Hoffman’s perspective on language change is characterized by pragmatism. It’s not just technology, but also language never stands still. This does not mean that our language choices are arbitrary: Language matters, and it shapes our identity. ‘The language of technology is not just about technology, but how we see ourselves as humans in the social world." Hoffman argued that changes in language should be perceived as productive: "Language change can facilitate the use of new technology."

Hoffman encouraged the E-Learn community to take an active role in shaping the terms that we use to make sense of technology: "People who are experts will have more refined words to describe their field," she explained. Inventing new terms is a catalyst to enrich the perspectives of technology users and researchers.

Wednesday’s invited talk was my personal conference highlight: Susan McKenney(University of Twente) presented findings, theoretical concepts and practical lessons learned from design-based research and research-based design. I was intrigued by the balancing act of applying rigorous research methods to products and processes that accommodate real, not ideal, situations. In most organizations, research and development processes are separate and not intertwined. Through many compelling examples, McKenney illustrated how integrated approaches create synergies and open up new opportunities for agile development. In these settings, research-based design can inform design-based research and vice versa. Both approaches are likely to surface tensions between stakeholders and are certainly resource-intensive regarding time, money and expertise needed to complete the research/design process. According to McKenney, the additional resource allocation pays off in the end by meeting goals in sustainable ways, with often unforeseen benefits.

Thursday: Educational Technology Through the Ages

Thursday’s keynote by Johannes Cronje (Cape Peninsula University of Technology) used Shakespeare’s seven ages of men as an analogy to explore shifts in attitudes and use patterns towards technology in education. I really liked the interactive elements Cronje integrated into his presentation through polling, using the online presentation environment everyslide.

A particular treat for graduate students and PhD candidates was offered at the end of the talk: Cronje’s ‘free online doctoral program,’ an easy to read step-by-step guide with many useful tips and tricks on how to come up with a relevant research question, how to conduct a comprehensive literature review and how to choose your research design.

The invited talk by David Perry (St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia) focused on the benefits of open access. The presentation ‘Steal This Syllabus’ started with a reference to the 2008 lawsuit of three academic publishers against Georgia State University. Perry delivered a dystopian prophecy: ‘What is at stake is not whether or not if professors will keep their jobs, as the publishers argued, but if professors will be able to DO their jobs.’

With a historic overview, Perry set out to make his point that "knowledge and information is more valuable to a culture at large the more it is shared." He explained: "At two key moments in the Internet’s history, the academic community chose open access over monetizing knowledge – this was a choice, not a given. Imagine what the Internet would look like today if every time you loaded the website you had to pay access fees."

As an open access missionary, Perry practices what he preaches: "When I went up for tenure, everything I submitted was open access and #FTW – free to the world," he assured his audience. The same open access culture should apply to teaching, claimed Perry. ‘The more we share, the better we are as teachers. One of the things that we are good at in academia is referencing and crediting the work of others. We should take this approach to teaching materials."

The role of the villain in Perry’s talk was reserved for learning management systems in general and Blackboard in particular: "Since syllabi are locked behind the walls of learning management systems, it is difficult to look at colleagues’ works. The learning management system exists: It is called the Web."

While I followed the argument for open access publishing more or less, Perry lost me with his radical views on learning management systems. It was fairly obvious that he had simply never used one and was neither familiar with typical LMS functionality nor with open source platforms such as Moodle and Sakai.

Favorite Talks

Often, your conference schedule is dominated by keynotes, invited talks, and award-winning presentations.

Thus, I always try to make room in my schedule for serendipitous discoveries. Here are some personal highlights:

  • On Tuesday, I attended a great talk on digital storytelling in language education by Naoko Kasami. As an EFL assignment, students developed videos that teach concepts of Japanese culture to foreigners. This significantly raised the learners’ language confidence – and resulted in some stunning and fun YouTube videos that were very well received by the conference audience.
  • On Wednesday, I enjoyed the brief paper presentation on infographics by Lyn Ackerman. The presentation offered a well-structured, systematic overview of the concept of infographics – which gave me the idea to include one in this conference report.
  • On Thursday, I really liked the talk by Marc Beutner on the classroom response system Pingo. Even though the demonstration did not work out as anticipated, the overall concept is sound and innovative – to learn more visit the Pingo website.

Good-bye New Orleans, Aloha Kona!

elc 03.jpg First published at ETC-J
Posted in AACE, Conferences Tagged with: , ,

SITE 2014 (Jacksonville, FL) FINAL Call for Participation: Jan 15

SITE 2014 Keynote Speakers Announced !
Due: January 15, 2014
SITE 2014 is the 25th annual conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education . Join with 1,300+ colleagues from over 60 countries in Jacksonville, FL!This society represents individual teacher educators and affiliated organizations of teacher educators in all disciplines, who are interested in the creation and dissemination of knowledge about the use of information technology in teacher education and
faculty/staff development. SITE is a society of AACE .
Registration & Hotel Information
Click Here for : SITE 2014 Registration Rates
Special discounted hotel rates have been secured for SITE participants . To rece ive this special rate, hotel reservations must be made by: February 15, 2014, 5PM EST US and you must iden tify you rself
as a SITE 2014 attendee.
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