The cost of being flexible and pushing the boundaries

For some time Australian universities have led an increasing mantra around increasing flexibility. An inevitable repercussion of the vast majority of students not being full-time learners, but instead having to balance family, work and study, is that study comes last. Family and work pressures lead to difficulty in meeting set deadlines for assessment, hence the call for flexibility. I’m actually all for that increase in flexibility, but it comes at a cost.

This post is evidence of that cost. We’ve just started week 6 of second semester and I’ve got three assignments from last semester to mark due to the need for flexibility. As it happens with this course I’ve engaged in a bit of development to do things a little differently. That’s all well and good, but when you’re kludging together technical solutions flexibility isn’t typically deeply considered at the “design” stage.

That last post reported on the evolution of the kludge I use to the next generation. Now I need to go back make sure that evolution will work properly for the previous generation so I can mark these assignments. Work that will never show up in institutional work allocation calculations or in the budget for IT.

What I’m finding particularly concerning about this extra work is that I’ve only got finite reserves of time and cognitive energy. Doing this is taking time away from current students, but it’s also taking time away from thinking about the learning experience of students and how it can be improved. Does the cost I expend doing these changes outweigh any potential benefit to students?


Importing activity completion

  1. Moodle users working? – DONE

    Need to identify course id and groups.

    The semester 1 course is much larger than semester 2 and has more offerings. Hence more groups. So rather than work with a single group, it needs to be able to work with a list of groups.

  2. Are we starting with the right first activity at 150000?
  3. Ensure only activities that count have activity completion turned on in the course site. – DONE

Updating the report

  1. Mapping activities to weeks
  2. making sure the mirror of blog posts is up to date.

An hour later, seems to be working and I can get to marking.

One process for the NGL course

One of the other participants shared her current position with NGL

I’ve also found it a bit tricky to get my head around all the components I need to cover off on in my blogs for assignment 1, as there seems to be a lot of different pieces we need to address. Hoping this will become a bit clearer to me as I go along.

In an attempt to help I’ve outlined below the basic process I’ve used in fits and starts. The reason why I haven’t done more of the follow process links more to factors external to the course and the process. But I haven’t engaged as much in this process as I’d have liked. Also, this is a process that works for me and where I’m at right now. It may not work for anyone else. So take the following with a grain of salt and as one example and certainly not as an exemplar or the “one way” to do it. In the end it’s important that you develop an approach that works for you.

I’m thinking I might share this more broadly as I think it might help the odd other person.


First, have a PKM process that centres around Feedly as my main “seeking” mechanism. All the feeds etc go there supplemented by the weekly pages linked from the study schedule. Perhaps the biggest tool/seeking mechanism that sits outside of Feedly is twitter. A great source of unexpected connections.


Second, whenever I’m doing or reading anything about the course or NGL in general I should consider it from three perspectives

  1. As learner – I.e. How does this connect with what I’m doing around learning World of Warcraft? How can this help me understand what I’ve experienced? How can it help me make plans for changes to how I participate?
  2. As teacher – same questions almost but connected to my thinking about how I’ll evolve both courses I teach (this one and EDC3100).
  3. As student – focused more on how I’m thinking about and engaging with the course readings, the blog posts of others and the resources shared via Diigo. How does the experience of using my PKM process compare with other approaches to learning? How does it fit (or not) with how I like to learn? What can I do to change and improve my learning in this course? Etc.

For me, an important part of the “sense” phase is to write summary blogs of any readings. For example, this one. These are meant not to only give a summary of the reading, but also to record my initial reactions to the paper and what linkages I think might exist with what I’m thinking about as learner, teacher and student. This does take longer than simply reading an article, but it does encourage me to read and consider the article more deeply (something I need) and it also provides a record of my thoughts that I can come back to at a later date.


As part of the sense process I’d be writing it all down in blog posts. Not just thinking about it. In some cases what I do is start a blog post and just jot down rough ideas and links to what sparked those ideas. So that later I can come back and fill them out.

In other cases I write them straight out. The idea is not that these are polished, complete formal bits of academic writing. They are quick mind dumps an example of working through ideas and thoughts. Often with fairly significant flaws and unfinished thinking. The point is to get the thinking down, because I find that writing about it helps. More importantly making my thinking publish has often led to an unexpected bit of learning as someone makes a point or connection about what I’ve written.

Importantly, I need to make sure that as I’m writing these posts I’m making explicit connections with both what other participants have written and also with various readings, both those set from each week and also others that I find and follow up with because they link with what I need to discover/understand about me as learner, teacher and student.

As part of the above process I also come across resources etc as I follow various leads. Some of these I’ll share via Diigo

Ahh Mendeley and freemium tools

You don’t have to be rich to invest in i by joe.ross, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  joe.ross 

I’ve been using Mendeley for a few years now. Generally fairly happy with it. Move to it from Endnote after the bad experience of using it for the PhD thesis. Have heard that more recent versions of Endnote may not be as horrible anymore, but Mendeley has me locked in a little (better the devil you now etc).

In theory Mendeley has some nice support for groups and I thought that NGL would be a good opportunity to try this out. At the very least the currently group approach I used would allow sharing of the references and we could always explore a bit further. The sharing of annotations on documents sounded useful.

This week I found out you can’t share documents in a public group. Had assumed this might have been connected to copyright of articles etc. But no, that was me being naive. Apparently it’s part of a Freemium strategy.

Mendeley supports the notion of both private and public groups with a private group you can

upload files to which only a selected set of people have access to. Each member can collaboratively contribute to this group too – adding new papers, updating document details and by annotating and highlighting PDF files.

Public groups allow you to curate a reading list, but not share the documents.

Private groups are limited to 3 people, but the premium subscription package allows you to grow your private groups. In fact, it appears that a free account can only have 1 private group.

A team plan will allow you to have more, but the base rate for a team plan is $49 (USD I assume) a month and that’s for 5 group collaborators.

Looks like we won’t be playing with that feature of Mendeley in NGL.

Should probably look for an alternative myself at some stage. Some thoughts from @thesiswhisperer on the possibilities (and with a lot of comments of people sharing their perspective).

And more NGL catch up

I had a choice to make. Do a bit of prep of content for the next week of NGL or make more connections with what folk have been doing? I’ve decided that the later is more important and long overdue.

Wonder what the participants think?

Technology or Pedagogy? – EduDoggy

Musette makes an interesting point about what she’d have liked more of in her post-grad education course

In the subjects around ICT and teaching and learning I would have loved more of an opportunity to play with different technologies and learn about how they work and can be used

As a “technologists” teaching in an education program I’ve always been questioning of the balance between pedagogy/theory and technology. The previous version of NGL matched many of the prior courses that Musette and Mari have discussed. Readings, discussion forum posts, write an essay. Not much focus on technology at all.

I wonder how much of this arises from the “digital fluency” of the teaching staff involved? How much is from them being education experts? In much the same way that my courses perhaps include more technology because, in part, that’s where my expertise is. But I also wonder how much of it comes from a view that technology isn’t that important. That it’s important that pedagogy is considered first. My current view is in line with the point Goodyear et al (2014) make about dualistic perspectives (technology or pedagogy) being limited and a relational perspective as being much more useful.

A personal justification why both my courses include folk engaging with technology as part of their learning. Engaging in the complex entanglement of technology and theory/people is much more useful and effective than studying technology from afar.

How far can all this go?

Paul asks

  1. Whether social media will guide the future of learning or will learning shape social media?

    For me this is a good link back to the relational perspective mentioned above. I don’t think it will be one or the other, it will be both plus a whole range of other factors.

  2. Whether there is any limit to NGL?

    As it happens, we’ll look at some of this in a week or two. To identify where I come from, the limits largely reside with us. Human beings are inherently irrational and stuck in the ways of thinking. Especially when in groups.

    I tend to think individuals will get more out of NGL quicker than formal education will.

    e.g. even with some of the smartest technology brains currently around, the xMOOC crowd gave us lectures with quizzes!

This appears to link nicely with another of Paul’s questions

So if educational institutions are supposed to be as that lovely quote from Men in Black, ‘the best of the best of the best’ then surely shouldn’t they be at the forefront of networked and global learning and not relying upon out-of-the-box solutions?

Networked learning and functional efficiency

Philip comes across a claim in the literature that I hadn’t heard before

It has also been suggested that networked learning offers educational institutions more functional efficiency, in that the curriculum can be more tightly managed centrally, or in the case of vocational learning, it can reduce costs to employers and tax payers

The tighter central management of the curriculum is possible with certain types of ICT, especially the large single enterprise system approach inherent in the LMS. However, the type of radically networked approach in NGL makes this a little harder (though not impossible).

The social cyborg

Philip finds and reports on an article “Dawn of the social cyborg”. Beyond the disruptive changes with IT, globalisation etc it suggests that the next big challenge to corporate learning environments is the “appearance of a new species of learner” called the social cyborg and I quote

It’s helpful to think of these people as a distinct species, one that has evolved unique capabilities to take advantage of networked people and information systems

This challenges corporate learning with extinction as they become irrelevant. The solution is new tool sets, skill sets and mindsets.

Frankly, I’m not sure that the need wasn’t there all along. The “4 steps to best leverage the social cyborg in the workplace” strike me as particularly weak and inappropriate. The first one is to appoint a taskforce and draft a technology plan. Sounds like stone-age thinking to me.

Learning through community

Annelise’s latest post includes a nice quote related to an important idea in NGL

I now know that for me to become that master I must be engaged in a knowledge-based community in the real-world of writers who are further developing their craft.

The idea is that to learn to be a writer (or many other things) it’s very beneficial (perhaps best) to be engaged with a collection of people who are writing and sharing how and what they are doing. More so than attending a formal class on writing, or just reading a book.

Of course, there are numerous areas of interpretation within this, for example

  1. What exactly is meant by “community”?

    Many different definitions, some of which I don’t like, but in Annelise’s case she’s using a definition from Reil & Polin (2004) that she describes in more detail in her post.

  2. How do you engage most effectively?

    Really don’t think there are simple answers to this.

The reward of NGL?

Annelise also quotes her son

Maybe the lecturer is trying to show you how the real-world of blogging is like. To keep on doing it without reward, and how you need to be persistent.

Which begs the question of what is the reward that you expect from “the real-world of blogging”? What do you want, rather than what’s possible?

For much of my early blogging the reward was having a space to make random thinking a little more explicit. I didn’t really care whether others read or commented on what I was writing. However, seeing the stats trend upward was a motivating factor eventually. Getting comments are also great, but the value for me remains as a learning tool for myself. Certainly a tool enhanced by the input from others, but not necessarily required.

Assessment in NGL

Annelise also writes about assessment. The problems with more traditional forms of assessment and the difficulties I’ve mentioned in coming up with the criteria for NGL. The process we’ve used to formulate the criteria seems to have been a plus for Annelise, but I still think what’s been set remains questionable.

One of the problems I’ve faced is the assumption (from the institution and the participants) that there should be a clear expectation of what is required. It’s not surprising that students want to be able to answer the question, “What do I need to do to get the grade I want?”. But the problem I have here is that NGL is meant to be very open and emergent. What each participants learns from the course can’t possibly be predicted by me ahead of time. If this is the case, then how valid can a rubric or three designed ahead of time be? I’ve tried to use “generic” criteria related to reflection, learning, and participation but I still feel it can be improved. This is one area I’d like to explore “as teacher”, if I ever get the time.


Goodyear, P., Carvalho, L., & Dohn, N. B. (2014). Design for networked learning: framing relations between participants’ activities and the physical setting. In S. Bayne, M. de Laat, T. Ryberg, & C. Sinclair (Eds.), Ninth International Conference on Networked Learning 2014 (pp. 137–144). Edinburgh, Scotland.

A bit more NGL catchup

Catching up with everyone in NGL is taking longer than I thought, mainly due to external factors. Here’s some more.

Stone-age facebook

It is interesting to see a reference to the “stone ages” that includes Facebook. I still remember explaining to my daughter how lame she was going to feel because she was still on MySpace and not Facebook. A pre-Facebook time.

Short cut kings

I really like this sentiment for a few reasons

We are shortcut kings really

Kat was talking about this in the context of Toolbelt Theory from @irasocol. I use this early in both my courses as it represents an approach to technology that I like on a number of levels. For example

The thing about toolbelts though, is that no two people ever really need the same one.
the trick to tool use is to learn to evaluate tasks and environments and your skills and the tools themselves as they change and determine what works best for you
The only way to allow students to assemble this essential toolbelt for information and communication is to to throw open your classroom and let the world in

It also brings to mind Kahneman’s (2011) idea of “fast” and “slow” thinking and the linkage that Goodyear and Carvalho (2014) make between it and networked learning

For example, in a learning task, there are often some aspects that require close attention – hard thinking – and others that do not. A well-designed task, and supporting resources, will act in ways that focus hard thinking on the parts o the work that are intended to leave a beneficial cognitive residue – in short, mental effort needs to be focused on what is core to the achievement of learning, on what is hard and important. Well-designed scaffolds, navigational cues and other kinds of procedural facilitation or performance support will mean that ‘slow thinking’ is not required for those enabling, but marginal, tasks.

Toolbelt theory is about individuals finding the tools that help them focus on the important tasks.

I wonder about the NGL course. I’m guessing many participants would argue that the first few weeks were really, really hard. Especially the need to learn a range of new tools. Shouldn’t this process have been scaffolded better?

Aspects of it could have been. However, there’s also a part of the difficulty that is required. Actually learning those tools and having difficulties with it are part of what is “hard and important” in the context of this course.

I also believe that many institutions of higher education have a lot of learn from this perspective. Too often I find myself wasting time on marginal tasks and expending energy that could be better spent on more important tasks.

The other illustration from this post is Kath’s mention of her dyslexia. As I was reading through her posts I had noticed the writing and wondered what I’d end up saying. With this post I now know what’s happening, not something that would always be readily apparent in a different type of course.

The links

I now find out that Kath plays WoW (which is more than I’ll claim for myself at this point in time, time is a problem). Her experience reinforces the importance of the community part of NGL and is illustrated nicely through the use of Diigo’s annotation ability.

Walled gardens and protection

Andrew and Anne share experiences with EdModo. A tool I played with a bit as I headed towards high school teaching. I wonder whether their perspective of Edmodo will evolve as they proceed further into the course?

For me, Edmodo isn’t that far removed from the LMS (learning management system). Yet another walled garden. Something that puts in barriers between the “real” world and the world of formal education. Of course, that’s a view formed from my context in higher education, many years struggling with the confines of the institutional LMS. I don’t have the same sorts of concerns about student protection (and societal expectations) that exist in a school setting.

But I’ve also argued that working within the walled garden and slowly opening up more holes in the wall has some promise as a “change management strategy”. One of the reasons for that perhaps links to the comment above about not wasting time on the marginal tasks. The walled garden provides a safe environment and an opportunity for the teacher (and/or others) to open it up as called for.

But then I also wonder how this approach compares with the plethora of teachers who have bitten the bullet and broken the confines of the walled garden? For example, this post from a teacher that has been using Twitter with her 6 and 7 year old students.

Learning how to get a grade

Interesting to read Mari’s reflections as she engaged with a new program. In particular by her 5th subject having “learned how to achieve an HD in any subject, regardless of how deeply I really engaged in the study materials”. Something that certainly resonates with me. Also interesting to hear how that learned process translates into a standard approach to the use of ICTs and study.

Speaking of “games”. Mari also connects the idea of Wittgenstein’s ladder used in Bigum and Rown (2013) to the metaphor as life as a game – Snakes and Ladders. Especially as

as a game that could be played over and over and not to see losing one game as failure, but rather as a motivation to immediately “start a new game.”

Personal and Personalised learning

The institution has adopted the idea of personalised learning as having strategic importance. I’m not much fussed on the idea, especially given some of the bad press it’s been receiving recently. Mari references the following tweet from @downes and reflects a bit on how NGL is learning toward the personal end of the spectrum.

Though I’m not sure I would limit the following statement to just “art” educationArt education (in an ideal world) has to be more about the process of individual discovery and learning from mistakes than about completing specific tasks and handing in a final piece

Ahh, success

It does sound like Mari has achieved a level of success as an NGL participant. Her PKM process is becoming routine, her network is providing unexpected sparks and she realises that it isn’t linear.

I also wonder about the implications that this statement might have for institutional planners

I don’t think I’ve signed into my USQ account once over the past 3 weeks, as everything happens through the blog

Evaluating the use of blogs/reflective journals

The use of blogs in one of the courses I teach is now into it’s fourth semester. Well past time to do explore how it’s all going, evaluate some of the design decisions, and make some decisions about future developments. In preparation for that it’s time to look at some of the extant literature to look at findings and methods. The following is the first such summary and is focused on @spalm et al’s

Palmer, S., Holt, D., & Bray, S. (2008). The learning outcomes of an online reflective journal in engineering, 724–732.


Looks at the use of an “online reflective journal” (implemented using discussion forum in WebCT) in a 4th year engineering course. Combines a survey-based evaluation of student perceptions with “an analysis of student use of the journal…to investigate its contribution to unit learning outcomes”

Findings are

  • Most students understood the purpose and value the journal in their learning
  • Most read the entries of others and said this help their learning
  • Two most useful things about the journal
    • The need to continuously revise course material
    • Ability to check personal understanding against that of others
  • Least useful related to problems with using WebCT – the difficulty of the interface and “problems with CMS operation”.
  • Significant contributors to final mark
    • Prior academic performance
    • Number of journal postings
    • Mode of study


The quantitative nature of this is interesting as it’s something I need to do more of. If only to gain some experience of this approach and to tick the box (which is a great reason).

There is always going to be a bit of a “so what” issue with this type of thing as research. What really does a study in a single course reveal that’s new or easily transferable. But perhaps doing almost a replication addresses that somewhat.

Of course the real interest in doing this research is just to find out more about what’s going on in the course, its impact and what the students think so it can inform further development.

To do

  • Can I get a copy of the evaluation survey used?
  • Can I apply the evaluation survey to past students?
  • Do I need to get student permission to analyse the data around their use of their blogs and final results?

Comparison with EDC3100

My impression is that prior academic performance would be the most significant factor in EDC3100. Raising the question about how much value there is in what teachers do, if prior academic performance is a big contributing factor are we “failing” the weaker student?

Question: Could the students performance on the course be included in the evaluation survey in some form?

I think mode of study might play a role. My guess is that the online students would get see the value in the blogs more than some of the on-campus students.

Question: What impact does mode of study play in EDC3100?

Given that the blog posts were only marked based on number of posts, average word count and number of links it would be interesting to explore what impact that had on the final mark. Especially given the quote about “assessment” as a “strategic tool for creating student engagement”.

Question: Exactly what type of student engagement is the assessment of the blogs in EDC3100 creating?

Question: What patterns exist in the learning journal marks?

The journaling is contributes 5% of the total course mark for each of the 3 assignments. Is there a pattern in the marks for each assignment and the final outcome?

Question: Does the medium used make any difference?

In EDC3100 students are using their own blog hosted on their choice of external service. Very different from an LMS forum. Does this make a difference? Is it more their space?

Is it seen as too difficult or a waste of time creating a blog?

Question: Is the collection of technologies used to complete this task too difficult?

To get marks students have to create their blog (e.g. WordPress) and follow the blogs of others (Feedly, WordPress “follow” mechanism, WordPress reader etc). This leads to problems with creating links to posts. E.g. students link to the post in Feedly or the WordPress reader, not in the student’s blog.

But that said, the interface is “better” (subjective) and might be seen as more realistic – not a Uni tool, something broader.

Question: Does the time of posting make any difference? What are the different patterns of posting visible? Any patterns indicating task corruption?

Palmer et al (2008)’s journal is essentially a weekly task. In EDC3100 students need to post at least 3 posts a week to get full marks. There is no specific direction as to what or when to post. What patterns are there?

Question: How does the perception of reflection/journaling in the discipline impact thoughts?

Palmer et al (2008) describe how a work journal is a common practice for engineers. Hence doing this in the course can be linked to professional practice.

The same doesn’t apply to the teaching profession. While reflection is seen as important, there’s doesn’t appear to be the accepted practice of regularly keeping a work journal.

Reclaim, identity, and bricolage

Some thinking and reporting on some explorations of getting into the Reclaim project (movement?). — update: picking this up after a few weeks of inactivity.

It seems like now or never. Just as I’m starting (somewhat unexpectedly) on a journey participating in a Masters course on Networked and Global Learning with an explicit desire to “walk the walk” (i.e. break out of the confines of the LMS, traditional approaches to such courses etc.) there’s quite a bit of movement around the Reclaim Hosting project. Tim Klapdoor is sharing his planning and approach to getting into the Reclaim Project. Audrey Watters and others in my network are also sharing reports on the recent hackathon around the project. Rather than any great confluence, perhaps its just that I’m in a place where I’m now more likely to recognise this activity in my network. Either way, it’s time to bite the bullet.

Interestingly just came across this review of reclaim. As it happens the author has also written on why you shouldn’t do DBR which could be very useful for the NGL course. And there’s another post from elsewhere on what the process involves.

Interestingly I discovered this morning that Philip – one of the other participants in the NGL course – already apparently has his own domain. It will be interesting to see how and if he makes any connection between this and the brief touch on identity in the course during the first week. Which is another connection to the Reclaim Project which is proudly challenging/asking you to “Reclaim your Digital Identity”.

Which is where I first got stuck at the first hurdle for my Reclaim Project. What will my domain be?

Being introduced to anyone as “David Jones” in part commences the obligatory cultural reference test. Does this person associate “David Jones” with

  1. The Australian Department store.

    Growing up in Rockhampton – which doesn’t have a David Jones store – this wasn’t common. More so when meeting people from capital cities.

  2. Davy Jones from the Monkees.

    You typically had to be of a certain age to make this connection. Though the rise of Pay TV and its raiding of historical TV shows changed that a little.

  3. Davy Jones locker.

    Entering unlikely candidates now, though the later Pirates of the Caribbean movies opened this up to a whole new population.

  4. David Bowie

    Only the deeply informed are aware that he was born “David Jones”.

  5. Or finally some other David Jones they’ve met.

    While perhaps not at the level of “John Smith” (though I’ve only ever known one of those) there are few of us around. Including one guy who was obviously so much better and engaged in MP104 at UQ in 1986 than I.

First world problems

Why are my wipes at home not warm? #firs by avlxyz, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  avlxyz 

At this stage I have to label this as very much a first world problem. Given what’s happening in Western Africa, Iraq, Ferguson (the inclusion of America in this list is incredibly sad, silly etc), Syria, Ukraine and many other places, worrying about my online identity strikes me variously as self-serving, irrelevant, confronting, worrying etc.

What combinations are possible?

My initial desire is to use David Jones in someway, without having to draw on middle names ( or birth years to avoid duplication

What does the reclaim project offer? The top level domains offered by default include: .com .net .org .us .name .info .ca .uk .es. Is there a David Jones possibility available there? Quick check via the web.

The last one strikes me as interesting, if a little Spanish. It doesn’t quite enable the rapid sharing of a domain name like “”. “It’s davidjones but put a dot before the es”, but it will do I think.

Which generates a “already taken” from Reclaim Hosting, back to the drawing board. Ahh, reclaim is looking at – my check didn’t use the wwww. It appears this applies to the .uk version above, however, is available.

Is that something I can live with?

Other identities?

Which raises the question about other “identities” I have online and offline

  • Jonesy – which mostly applies in the context of playing cricket. – an Australian domain is available.

  • dj – started by some students many years ago. However, does tend to connect me inappropriately to the mixing of recorded music.
  • davidtjones – this blog. is available. As is .info is available

  • davidthomjones – an email address. – would prefer not to use this
  • djplaner – Twitter – would prefer not to use this

    This particular identity started life on Second Life where you had to choose from a list of random words for the last part of your username. “planer” appealed because of the (bad spelling) link with planning and my hatred for teleological planning. You could choose the first part and “dj” connects with the above identity.

  • djones – not known but this, but a smaller version is available

What now?

Reluctant to bite the bullet immediately. Going to let the options percolate a little. Current options are


    Plus, it’s short and a little different. Which is of course it’s draw back. Also suggests I’m Spanish. Actually would be interesting to see how many people make the connection between .es and Spain.

  2. or .info

    Connects with this blog to some extent. Not specific to a country.


    Not sure how I feel about the .au

On the whole it’s been confronting almost immediately to be confronted by the need to choose an identity from a fairly narrow set of options. It’s delayed diving in and having a go somewhat with the reclaim hosting. Though I’m fairly sure there’s flexibility to change this as time and perspective changes, however, not sure I want to go through that.

So will wait and ponder a bit more.