Transitions and aspirations

Well the final assignment has been submitted. The MA is concluded and I’ll find out in the coming weeks as to whether I’ve successfully completed it. Fingers crossed. In the meantime things don’t stop there… I’m continuing with my ‘practitioner learning’ through the PgCLTHE which starts up again at the end of the week. It will have been three and a half years non stop study by the end of the module – I’ll be grateful of the break at the end of it, even if it occurs in term-time. It’s been a great experience on MAODE and I’m looking forward to continuing with bigger things now – I want to get some work peer reviewed and published, and there is no shortage of irons in the fire for that to happen. It’s now really important to me that I get recognition in the community for the sheer range of developments and work I have been involved with in the last couple of years ranging from teacher education, practitioner research right through to open educational resources and creative arts change projects. I also want to extend the research I’ve done in the final module for my Masters here where I investigated the way that the realtionship between theory and practice was experienced through assessment on a postgraduate teacher training programme. I think its a really good starting point, and I’ve got a substantial framework on which to build some useful and valid work around. Of course, all this means that this blog is changing too. It will no longer be ‘study blog’ (in name at least!) but is being rebranded with a new epithet…

…welcome to Sparks & Clouds


Foregrounding proposals for a change in practice

I’ve just read a really useful report about managing change. I’ve been exploring this theme because it links to my ECA for E846.

Trowler, P., Saunders, M. and Knight, P. (2003) Change thinking, change practices, Learning and Teaching Support Network Generic Centre. Available online at: (accessed 9 July 2010)

The report provides a useful overview of different conceptions of change and the implications for viewing them through certain lenses. I would argue that actually, they are sociocultural lenses (e.g. kaizen, technical/rational, economic, diffusionist/epidemiological, holistic) that also reflect the beliefs of those conceptualising change models both implicitly and explicitly. This is also very true of organisations – e.g. kaizen in japanese companies, tensions between economic and complex models in the hierarchy of HEIs, described as ‘loosely coupled organisations’ because they have social agenda to accommodate diversity.

Reading the change document is fascinating because it really does reinforce my thinking about the process of change from a strongly sociocultural perspective. This is significant to my practice because of our position in the University as ‘change agents’. Our role often calls upon the implementation of innovations which frequently strongly challenge the beliefs and values (as exemplified in their current practice) of the wider ‘client group’, or as I would prefer to term them, my colleagues! The authors explore the notion that, “it is important for them to have a value commitment rather than instrumental compliance to a proposed change.” (p17) The emphasis on changing beliefs and values over the ‘endgame’ – or a focus on the result of change also reinforces the emphasis on importance of change as process not product.

Relating to my service in UoC, there are a number of instances where this is particularly relevant. For example, currently there is an attempt to suggest to staff that online submission should be adopted. This has been met with some resistance from some quarters, but currently no exploration into this resistance in context with existing beliefs has been undertaken. I would argue that it is perhaps even unreasonable to expect the imposition of such a change to be well received because it doesn’t resolve the process for people. The reaction subsequently reinforces an underlying resistance based on a lack of understanding about the principles behind the change. Perhaps a more productive approach would be to implement the change process –which in this instance has not yet been identified– before releasing the intended aim of the change.

Likewise in teacher education, and my own practice, we are seeking to develop teachers’ understanding of their professional identity. In fact, we are asking them to change their practice to align with the professional roles outlined by the wider community. This is articulated through the professional standards (a cultural tool) and mediated through the PgC and the way that we deliver it.

So this has some big implications for my practice. This sociocultural view of change has to underpin pedagogy (I want to explore the extent to which it does in my assignment). Considering this will be useful in foregrounding my propositions for changes in practice. I feel that this document is part of the landscape that will inform that response and progress my understanding further.

Further thinking

I’ve been pleased to read my feedback on TMA01 today as it has raised some good points about where my thinking is positioned at the moment in terms of socioculturalism and social constructivism. As I’ve been going through section 3 I’ve also started to think about this emerging tension of how to understand concept in either actual or espoused terms. Christina, in my feedback, pointed this out from a slightly different perspective in that suggested I think about the differences between philosophy and pedagogy. In away, this also connects with the paragraph that I opted to omit form my TMA01 that considered the duality of epistemology and ontology.

The feedback also prompts me to think about my developing understanding of these concepts, which is fantastic, because that is what I have been concerned with since completing the assignment – that already I no longer think quite the same way as I did when I wrote it. For me, this is hugely significant as it identifies that there is no ‘right ‘ or ‘wrong’ answer. Unlike the exam culture many of us are used to, it is our ability to articulate our current understanding that is of value. In doing so we are able to acknowledge the connections that have contributed to our knowledge and understanding whilst simultaneously being able to benchmark for future reference.

Looking ahead, my initial ideas for TMA02 are aligning with this notion of making meaning and being able to shift that, being open to the development of my understanding rather than seeing it as a black and white ‘this is wrong’, ‘still wrong’ ‘ now you’ve got it’ approach (transmission).

Socioculturalism / Social Constructivism

I was quite interested to start reading section three of the course. On the first page there is a comment which develops my thinking from the last TMA where I argue that socioculturalism is a view of learning, and that social constructivism is a this manifest in pedagogical approach. The snippet says:

According to Bruner, ‘a choice of pedagogy inevitably communicates a conception of the learning process and the learner. Pedagogy is never innocent. It is a medium that carries its own message’ (Bruner, 1996, p. 63)

This seems to support what I was thinking about. However, even since completing the assignment I have developed my view of what these perspectives on learning mean. To help clarify where I am up to with this, this is how I would define the two:

Social constructivism is a view of learning that suggests individuals make meaning and develop understanding for themselves by participating in a social context. Teachers create the dots that learners join up. In other words, we make meaning and understanding from our prior knowledge.

Socioculturalism is a view of learning that reflects a layer of influences visible in the cultural scripts followed and tools employed by learners in social settings. In other words, the way we make meaning depends on our past experiences and situations.

As the course guide suggests, (p.141) the implication is that a sociocultural view of learning is ‘potentially ubiquitous’, but I think it is also typified by tacit understanding. So a sociocultural view is more congruous with a view of how we learn to adapt our participation in social settings as defined by their cultures. This is quite evident to me in some education settings, such as those in creative arts disciplines, for example. Here there are strong historical practices in the education setting that are recurrent across many institutions, and over time. However, it is very difficult to articulate what precisely that entails, and even more challenging to compare it to another educational setting. But we know that different things are going on in a Fine Art studio compared to the lecture theatre.

So where does pedagogy fit into all of this? Well I guess that is what section three is all about…!

Unformed thought #???

I was going to conclude my TMA with this statement, but have decided against it because I’ve not done enough thinking about it yet:

As I progress on the course, I hope to explore a dualism of my own. Entwined with beliefs about the nature of being – ontology – is a theory of how knowledge is created and survives – epistemology. In both sociocultural and social constructivist views of learning or teaching, this duality is evident.

However, I do think it is a good starting point for some thoughts further down the line so I felt recording it here was good for now.

E846 – Curriculum, learning and society: Investigating practice

Onwards! Having had a short break after H800 to get married, have a honeymoon and start a new job, I’m ready to get cracking with the final instalment of my Masters programme. Having exhausted MAODE modules that get me finished by when I’d like, I’ve opted to round things off with a one year Education module – E846 Curriculum, learning and society: Investigating practice. I’m hoping that this will be particularly pertinent as I am about to get back into teaching after a few years as a researcher. My role of Lecturer in Teaching and Learning Development at the University of Cumbria will be the practice context on which I underpin my reflections for the course. As the handbook explains, to evaluate and reflect through the duality of theory and practice. The course looks great and I’ve done some peripheral reading but I’m already way behind so am eager to get some thoughts down and start my reading in earnest.

Note: I think the course suggest using MyStuff for collating Action responses, but having been there before I think I’ll stick to the blog this time round. It will mean that some entries are password protected for privacy.

Metaphor is better for…

Having read through the second half of Conole’s forthcoming chapter (see previous post), I think I finally have my head around the notion of metaphors for e-learning, well metaphors for anything really, but as this is the context I’m working in at the moment…

I was particularly interested in the use of Morgan’s five metaphors (p.16) for organisations as a lens for contemplating Conole’s main point of her chapter. These five (organisation as machine, brain, organism, culture and political) are certainly evident not only in metaphors for e-learning, but also common in everyday life. The question that arose for me was, are these five examples appropriate for e-learning or should we focus on those metaphors which have their origins in the context being discussed? For example, Sfard’s (Acquisition and participation) metaphors for learning.

Also, a key lessson should be learned form Sfard’s work about the danger of theorizing several metaphors then choosing one or other to work with. I think Conole makes a similar implicit suggestion. She refers to the complexity of e-learning landscape (p.19) and the need for exploring many metaphors to help us understand it.

I’m writing my ECA about learning technology in context with HE art, design and media, so I’ve just put a couple of links in here to marry up some thinking with some more focused articles – metaphors in art and design.

Logan, C. (2008) ‘Metaphor and pedagogy in the design practicum’, International Journal of Technology and Design Education, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 1–18

Sagan, O. (2008) ‘Playgrounds, studios and hiding places: emotional exchange in creative learning spaces’, Art, Design and Communication in Higher Education, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 173–186



I thought it was interesting that no connections were made between entertainment and communication. I suspect that my use of web tools for entertainment are almost always as a consumer, very little of this activity is about discussion or interaction.

Wk 21/22 A2

Further consolidation of the perspective that web 2.0 and the power of the Internet are underpinning a translatory period for education because media shift is affording new learning opportunities beyond the transmissive.

“A fundamental issue is that there is considerable lack of awareness among faculty, media staff, and tutors about how to move from a primarily print-based educational paradigm to one that also effectively exploits the dynamic, interactive and communicative aspects of the Internet.” (Sclater, 2008a, p.9)

Indeed Sclater (2008b, p.2) alludes to this further when discussing the disempowment of students implied by introducing learning management systems, or VLEs.

Weller’s PLE entry into his blog was quite a nice way of thinking about one’s own use of the Internet, a web of tools and practices. It clarifies the contrast between individual and institutional ownership, determined by a different set of values, goals and aspirations. E.g., a University should be committed to ubiquitous provision of technology and resource.

Just a note on Weller’s criteria for a tool to be part of his PLE web: he states that it is something that he regularly contributes too, and that things like Guardian Online are borderline tools, however, I tink that anything that is regularly accessed, even if it is one way, is still part of that PLE. Most users of web 2.0 tools are still passive consumers of the dynamic content being produced – web 1.0 traits.

“…many online learners already make effective and customized use of a wide range of online facilities.” (Sclater, 2008b, p.3)

There are many, many issues around having a PLE approach. Every one will be different. How can these integrate effectively with what the University wants to provide in support of its learners? The “utopian vision” of PLE interoperabililty, IPR, security – these are all concerns. As are the need for centralised and secure systems for submitting work, housing and integrating student records, for example.

Just a thought: It is interesting that Sclater writes about VLEs and PLEs in separate documents, is the solution exploration of mutable, hybrid technology?

My stance on PLEs is described by Sclater on p.4, “One vision of the PLE comprises of a piece of coordinating software.” I think I would prefer to call it an aggreagator – and these toools already exist: Digg, for example, or something with an outward facing dimension like Pageflakes. In my opinion this is what we should be aspiring to fit with. Use of existing standards and an emphasis on aligning with them, not putting an onus on organistional ownership imposing itself so heavily in a learner’s educational life online. This is more in line with Weller’s conception of a ‘distance learning environment’. (p.9, distributed LMSs)

I think this is reflected in my PLE diagram (coming soon), where tools for learning are only a tiny part of my online lifestyle.

Just a thought: An e-portfolio is NOT a PLE!

Sclater, N. (2008a) ‘Large-scale Open Source E-Learning Systems at the Open University UK’, Educause Center for Applied Research, Research Bulletin, vol. 2008, no.12

Sclater, N. (2008b) ‘Web 2.0, Personal Learning Environments, and the Future of Learning Management Systems’, Educause Center for Applied Research, Research Bulletin, vol. 2008, no.13

Protected: Wk 21/22 A1 – Conole

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