Homogeneity: the inevitable result of a strategic approach?

Is homogeneity an inevitable end result of a strategic approach to deciding what gets done?

The following presents some evidence to suggest a potential strong correlation.

What is the strategic approach?

In Jones and Clark (2014) we suggested that contemporary universities (along most other organisations) increasingly use a strategic approach to decide what work gets done. We described strategy as

following a global plan intended to achieve a pre-identified desired future state.

It’s where a bunch of really smart people get together. They analyse the current situation, identify the requirements and the challenges, and then decide that the entire institution should do X. Where X might include: a particular strategic vision; a single set of graduate attributes for the entire organisation; a particular approach to branding and marketing; the selection of a particular information system etc.

Once the strategic decision is made, the entire organisation becomes focused on moving toward the various institutionally approved strategic goals. Doing anything else is seen as inefficient, inappropriate, and is to be rooted out.

The underlying aim of the strategic approach is differentiation. To set the institution apart from the other institutions. To give various stakeholders/customers/clients a reason to go to this institution first.

How does that work out for them?

It’s Hard to Differentiate One Higher-Ed Brand From Another

This page reports on a study of 50 US-based higher education institutions and includes quotes such as (emphasis added)

found that the mission, purpose or vision statements of more than 50 higher education institutions share striking similarities, regardless of institution size, public or private status, land-grant status or religious affiliation, or for-profit or not-for-profit status….
statements may accurately represent the broad views and aspirations of education leaders and their institutions. And they probably differentiate the institutions from financial service and retail companies

Interestingly the suggested solution to this problem is to forge “a strong organizational identity only starts with establishing and committing to a clear and differentiated purpose, brand and culture”. i.e. yet another strategic approach.

The sameness of graduate attributes

Few a few years know there’s been a fetish that has required each Australian University to develop their own set of graduate attributes. These are meant to indicate what are the unique attributes of a graduate of that institution. To demonstrate the unique value that the educational experiences offered by institution adds to the development of their customer student. Surely this must be the most obvious place of differentiation and distinction. Something the truly captures what is unique about each university.

Oliver (2011) does a scan of the literature and practice around graduate attributes identifies that

Universities’ most common generic attributes, apart from knowledge outcomes, appear to cluster in seven broad areas:

  1. Written and oral communication
  2. Critical and analytical (and sometimes creative and reflective) thinking
  3. Problem-solving (including generating ideas and innovative solutions)
  4. Information literacy, often associated with technology
  5. Learning and working independently
  6. Learning and working collaboratively
  7. Ethical and inclusive engagement with communities, cultures and nations.

(p. 2)

Strategic Information Systems

And the other fad over recent years has been the adoption of Strategic Information Systems such as ERPs and LMS. If the institution adopts the same system and works effectively together to leverage its capabilities we will be able to gain a competitive advantage over the opposition. Well, no.

Over 20 years ago, Ciborra (1992) argues

Tapping standard models of strategy analysis and data sources for industry analysis will lead to similar systems and enhance, rather than decrease, imitation (p. 297)

Which is why e-learning within Universities is increasingly infected by LMS-based courses using institutional standard course site designs, a digital repository, a lecture capture system, an e-portfolio, and a couple of other standard systems offering the same broken experience. Whether your LMS is open source or not, typically doesn’t make a difference.

The solution

Ciborra (1992) suggested

How then should “true” SISs be developed? In order to avoid easy imitation, they should should emerge from from the grass roots of the organization, out of end-user hacking, computing, and tinkering. In this way the innovative SIS is going to be highly entrenched with the specific culture of the firm. Top management needs to appreciate local fluctuations in practices as a repository of unique innovations and commit adequate resources to their development, even if they fly if the face of traditional approaches. Rather than of looking for standard models in the business strategy literature, SISs should be looked for in the theory and practice of organizational leaming and innovation, both incremental and radical. (p. 297)

Or as we argued in Jones and Clark (2014)

Perhaps universities need to break a little BAD?

Instead, universities like most organisations, are attempting to solve the problems of the strategic approach by doing the strategic approach again (but we’ll do it better this time, promise).

Insanity by Albert Einstein by Mimsen, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Mimsen 


Ciborra, C. (1992). From thinking to tinkering: The grassroots of strategic information systems. The Information Society, 8(4), 297–309.

How might github and the Moodle book module work together

The Moodle open book project is attempting (not surprisingly) to modify the Moodle book module to enable it to produce open resources (educational or otherwise). The main focus is on making the content of the books open in a way that enables modification and reuse. The plan is to do this by enabling a Moodle book resource to be linked to github.

The following is an exploration of and an attempt to describe how this might work at a fairly high level.

What do you think? Might this work? Are there better options?

The next step will be to try some realistic technical explorations to see if this can be implemented.


The idea is that once in github different people (or courses) can use github to modify and collaborate around the same document. e.g. a book I created for my course, might be useful for another course looking at ICT and Pedagogy. Rather than play around with Moodle backups, I could create a github repository and the content of the book to that repository. The author of the other course can then fork that repo and import the content of the book from their repo into Moodle.

Any changes that either of us make to the book are stored in github. We can then use github’s features to share and manage changes.

Beyond this, I could make all of the books in my course available via github. Who knows, some of my students might find them useful or may wish to make changes that might enhance the work.


At this stage, the idea is to implement the github ‘connection’ as a book tool. This means it can be installed by each Moodle site that wants it. When installed there will be a new link in the Book administration block through which you access the github functionality.

The intent is that an individual Book resource will be linked to a single file hosted in a github repository. The file would be a single HTML file (at least initially) with the different chapters and sub-chapters indicated in some yet to be defined way. The final format will aim to allow the HTML file to be edited by as many different editors as possible, but still allow simple importation into the Book module.

As a future feature, it might be possible and useful to all the import/export of that single file from github into the Book to be done using the user’s choice of other import/export tool. i.e. if I might want the file in github to be an epub file, I would configure the github tool to use the Lucimoo EPUB export/import tools to produce the file that is sent to/from github.

What it might look like

Initially, it might look like the following. The (off) is meant to be an indication that the connection to github is currently off. i.e. not being used.


Clicking on the GitHub link would open up a form that would be used to configure the necessary information including:

  1. github repository – that contains the file.
  2. file – the actual file being linked to.
  3. github credentials – of the author (with the option that this might be left empty for repositories configured to allow that).
  4. behaviour spec – i.e. how to import the file (replace existing content, append?), how to handle changes made in the book

    Initially, this would probably be left to some default combination. It would also be dependent on the settings of the repository and the permissions of the github credentials.

    More work required here.

Once this is configured, the administration link would change to indicate that a connection had been made. It would now have a link to the file on github and also some indication of the relationship between the book and the github file. In the following image “clean” implies the book and github file are a match.


If changes are made in the Moodle book this would mean that the book is “ahead” of the github file. The github link would change appropriately. It would also add an additional link “push”. Clicking on that link should probably display a page that provides some details of the changes to be pushed and allows the author to make the choice whether to push or not.


If the version of the file on the repository had been changed, then changes are also made.


Leaving the question of what happens when both local and remote changes have been made? Both? Some thought to be given here.



This is all based on

  1. The Book author has the details and credentials to a GitHub respository that contains a file of the correct format;
    This might be a challenge for some authors.
  2. There is no local git repository.
    Asking folk supporting a Moodle instance to install git on the server is a bit much. Instead, the content for the book will be stored in the Moodle database. No problems for Moodle, but raises questions about how to determine whether there have been changes. At least two current possibilities

    1. Store the date of last change on the repo in the Moodle database and compare dates for changes to the book.
    2. Generate/store a version of the HTML file locally and do a compare (sounding very heavyweight).
  3. That different books in a single course could be linked to entirely different github repositories.
  4. That the idea of adding additional links and status information about github into the administration block doesn’t break some Moodle style guide.
  5. Outstanding questions


    More specifically

    • How to handle links between chapters?
      A book is made up of chapters (a single HTML page). When displayed in Moodle the Book module provides simple next/previous page navigation. It’s also fairly common for authors to hard-code links between chapters (and even into chapters in other books). If the github version of a book stores all the chapters in a single file, what about these links?

      How do the existing export/import plugins handle this?

    • How to handle embedded resources (images, movies etc)?
      Books also contain embedded images, movies etc. The issue of how these are provided is a common one. I tend to use external services, but others place them into Moodle, how to handle these? How do the existing export/import plugins handle them?
    • Is all of the above technically possible with github, the github API, PHP, Moodle etc.
    • Does all this need to be github specific? Is there a way (and a need) for this to git specific, but not github specific?
    • What might be the process for create a new file in a repository based on an existing Moodle book?

ICT knowledge and quizzes

Do you know more about computers than an 11-year-old? is the title of an article from a UK newspaper. It contains an 11 question quiz that is apparently based on the primary school IT and computer science curriculum.

I’ve come across it via some folk currently taking one of the courses I teach. In that course they are learning about how to use ICT to enhance/transform student learning. For many starting out in the course their perceived level of ICT knowledge and competence is not high. I imagine a challenge phrased as the above struck a chord. Results included: 8 out of 11 and 7 out of 11.

What did you get?

I’ve been programming since 1983, have university degrees in Computer Science and Information Systems, and have spent my professional life teaching and developing applications of ICT. I should do ok. What did I get?

10 out of 11.

What does this tell us?

Yes, I’ve probably picked up a bit more knowledge about ICT over the years playing with computers. But that’s no great surprise.

Is the quiz a good judge of ICT knowledge, or more importantly capability to do useful things with ICT. No!

The article makes claims like

The scary thing for older people is that things you were never taught about are now common knowledge for young children. Even if you’re in your 20s quite a lot of what you learnt in school ICT lessons is probably obsolete now.


One of the multiple choice questions was along the lines of

In what year did Tim Berners-Lee invent the World-Wide Web?

The answer is 1989. This is not some new fangled ICT knowledge that someone in their 20s wouldn’t have learned.

In addition, this is the question I got wrong. One of the distractors was 1988. I couldn’t remember exactly when the WWW was invented, so went for 88.

There’s nothing in this question that tests my capability to do something creative with ICT. Nor with many of the other questions (e.g. which of the following list of words is not a programming language). Most are not basic knowledge required to be creative with ICT and most could be answered after a Google search.

None get at the fundamental knowledge or capabilities that have helped me maintain some level of knowledge about ICTs as they evolve. None talk about the fact that while the syntax and specifics of ICT change rapidly, there are basic principles of how they are designed and how you can learn and work with new ICT.

The quiz is based on the assumption that it is what you know that is important. It’s not. Arguably, it’s about “how you know things are connected”. That particular quote is from this post by @gsiemens. The original full quote is from this newspaper article and is from a former editor-in-chief of a dictionary. The full quote is about the English language

English is a network, being a literate person is not so much about what you know, but about how you know things are connected.

Which perhaps says something about Jocelyn’s concerns

It really gets me wondering how we can actually keep up with the speed in which technology and terminology around technology is constantly updating and changing. Makes me feel like I need to source an ITC dictionary or something to try and keep up with what it all means!

Possible sources of an institution’s e-learning content problems

My current institution has a content problem when it comes to e-learning (insert digital learning, online learning, technology enhanced learning, or just learning if you prefer). The following is an attempt to use my experience teaching at the institution to understand what are some of the factors contributing to the problem.

In order to appear solutions-focused, I’ll start by re-framing the contributing factors I’ve identified below as suggested partial solutions to the content problem, including:

  1. Implement a search engine.
  2. Implement content authoring tools that fulfill authoring and learning requirements.
  3. Focus on authoring tools that help produce content that is “of” the web, not just “on” the web.
  4. Focus on authoring tools that support both design and bricolage.
  5. Identify, query, and replace conceptions and metaphors from prior modes (e.g. print-based and perhaps face-to-face) of learning.
  6. Develop and provide support for a number of higher-level models of “Course Activity”.
  7. Move away from an information transmission focus toward one based on learner activity.
  8. Develop a range of contextual services that can enhance content and student learning.

Disclaimer: I think improving any aspect of learning and teaching within a university is a wicked problem. i.e. there is no one silver bullet solution. Just better and worse solutions. From my perspective, the solutions that the institution appears to be exploring are not necessarily leaning towards the “better” end of the spectrum. The above may be a little better.

In addition, I don’t think this is a problem restricted to my current institution. I also don’t think that the solutions attempted so far are all that much different from what’s been attempted at other institutions. I’ve observed both the problems and the solutions elsewhere.

Does your institution have a “content problem”? Has it any solutions? Any of them worked?

PS. if we’re having problems with “content”, imagine the problems there must be with creating effective learning activities (IMHO, a much harder and more important problem).

Evidence of the problem

Evidence of the problems comes from two different sources.


First, is at the institutional level. For some time there has been concern expressed at senior levels within the institution that students can’t find information on the course sites. This has led to a number of institutional projects and strategies.

The first was the development of a standard look and feel for course sites. Publicised as a makeover of the StudyDesk (the institutional brand for Moodle, which potentially causes its own problems) that promises the ability to find “all course information” and “assessment submission in one location”. There is apparently on-going work around this

Personal observation

From the evidence I see (personally and via my better half who is currently a student at the institution) there remains some distance until this promise is fulfilled. The Moodle sites at the institution that I see are still largely problematic and still mirror what I found when I took over the course I currently teach. i.e. a hodge podge of Powerpoint and other files interspersed with various bits of HTML (Moodle labels) with headings or explanatory text. The HTML often illustrates complete ignorance of simple design (e.g. of the CRAP design principles) and is often an attempt to explain how everything fits together. This is required because due to a couple of institutional specific approaches, not all the content is able to be effectively integrated into appropriate places within the Moodle site.

The ad hoc intermingling of all this content ends up in “the inevitable scroll of death” and the problem that students (and staff) can’t find information.

Even when Moodle courses are well designed, there are times when you can’t find information. I’ll claim that the course site for EDC3100, ICT and Pedagogy (one of the courses I teach) is amongst the most structured of course sites. As far away from the ad hoc upload approach to site design as you can get. In addition, largely I have been the sole designer and maintainer of the course site. A task that I’ve been doing over the last 3+ years and 6+ offerings of the course. I’m also very technically proficient.

And there are times when I still can’t find information quickly on the EDC3100 site!!!

Contributing factors

What is contributing to this problem? What follows are some of the factors arise from my perspective.

No search engine

The number one way you find information on the web is via search and yet there is no search engine that works within Moodle at this institution.

Content tools solving institutional requirements, not authoring/learning requirements

The most recent major investment in content tools at the institution has been the implementation and mandated use of an institutional repository. This quite significant investment of funds was not driven by a desire to help improve the authoring or learning processes. It was driven by two separate institutional requirements, which were:

  1. being able to manage and report use of copyrighted materials; and,
  2. address the disk storage problems created by Moodle course sites containing duplicate copies of large content files.

From what I’ve observed, it would be very hard to claim that the implementation of the learning repository has helped address the ability of people to create and find information for Moodle.

“on” the web, not “of” the web

Alan Levine writes (about the open course ds106)

You will hear people talk about their organizations or projects being on the web. but there is more than a shade of difference of ds106 being of the web.

Much of the thinking behind the tools and approaches of the institution are focused on producing content that is placed “on” the web, but is not “of” the web. In fact, some of the tools provided previously had enough trouble being “of” Moodle, let alone “of” the web.

The prime example here is the ICE environment. An environment developed within the institution to enable it to leverage quite significant print-based distance education material (such as Study Guides) by converting them into a Web format. The existing material (typically created using Word) would be run through ICE to produce a collection of HTML files. That collection of HTML files could then be linked to from the course site – via a link labelled “Course Content”.

The very first web browser was also an editor. If you wanted to edit a page, you could do so within the same tool you were using to view it. The ICE approach doesn’t (I believe) work that way, to make a change you have to go back to the Word version, make the change, and then run it through ICE again. Not “of” the web.

A common way to organise a Moodle course site is by topic or week. Each section of the course site is meant to include everything you should do as part of that topic or week. But the ICE “Course Content” link contains all of the content in one place. It’s more difficult to distribute the content into the appropriate weeks or topics. Meaning that you can’t look in the one place for all the relevant information.

There’s some value in enabling the reuse of existing materials, but they have to be leveraged in a way that encourages them to become part of the new medium. Not always held back to the ways of the old.

A focus on design, rather than bricolage

The ICE model and the model used by print-based distance education was based on design. i.e. the process was to spend a lot of time on design and production of a perfect, final artefact (print-based materials) that was distributed to students. This is because once the materials were sent out, they couldn’t be changed. This created problems, e.g. this from Jones (1996)

inability to respond to errors in study material or the requirements of individual students

Yesterday, one of my students reported some difficulties understanding the requirements for submitting the first assignment. I decided that an example was the best explanation and that I should incorporate that example into the Assignment 1 specification so that other students wouldn’t have the same problem. I can do this because the Assignment 1 specification is a web page on the Study Desk that I can edit.

So I found an example and went to the Assignment 1 page to make the change. Only to discover that I’d already previously modified the page to include (the same) examples. Hence the quick reply back to the student pointing out the examples.

An experience that suggests you can put in all the effort you want around making content findable and understandable, but it may not be enough.

Old metaphors lingering around

It’s not only materials that need to be brought into the new medium. There are other conceptions or metaphors that need to be updated. For example, the makeover of the StudyDesk just undertaken includes a specific page for “Study Schedule”. This was a standard component of print-based distance education packages. But it’s not clear that it belongs in the new Moodle age within which we live.

As mentioned above, a common method for organising Moodle course sites is by week or by topic. The image below is part of the course site for EDC3100. The site is organised by week. The top of the site has skip navigation links (see the next image below) that you can use to take you directly to the week you need to work on. All the activities and resources you need for that week are in that section. As you complete each activity you will get a nice behaviouralist tick indicating that you have completed the activity.

s2 2015

With this structure in place, I question the value of a Study Schedule. Especially when I see the type of information that is contained in many of the Study Schedules on other courses.

My course does include a Study Schedule. It would be interesting to see how often it is used by students.

No higher-level models of “Course Activity”

The makeover of the Study Desk was “sold” to academics (in part) using a line like “we won’t touch ‘Course Activity'”. i.e. the normal Moodle list of activities and resources would remain the sole purview of the academic. The new look and feel was just adding some additional structure (see the left hand menu in the image below) to help students find information.


It was left to academics to organise the “scroll of death” that is a Moodle site. A task that is not straight forward. There have been (yet) no attempts to develop and share higher-level models of how the “course activity” section could be structured. I’m assuming that at some stage soon there will be a project at the institution to develop the “one higher level model” for all courses at the institution, because consistency is good.

I’d argue that there’s value in developing multiple contextually appropriate “higher level” models. The approach I use is one “higher level” model. UNE uses a different model that provides enough eye candy to excite some, and there would be other possibilities.

Resource centric understanding of learning

Lastly, and perhaps most scarily, is the apparent on-going resource centric understanding of learning suggested by the on-going interest in the “Resources” tab in the standard look and feel captured by the tweet from above. It is even more troubling when you combine this significant investment of resources in the “Resources” tab with the apparent lack of focus on “Course Activity”.

At least for me (and a few others I know) this combination speaks of a conception of learning that is focused on the transmission of information, rather than learner activity.

No value added, contextual services

When the screenshot above was taken my mouse was hovering over the 3 in the “Jump to: Week” skip navigation. As a result a tool tip was being shown by the browser with the words Building your TPACK – 16-20 Mar. This is the title I’ve given to the week’s activities and also the dates of the semester that was week 3.

If you look at the earlier screen shot you will see the titles and dates for two more weekly sets of activities: Orientation and getting ready (Before 2 Mar) and ICT, PLNs and You – 2-6 Mar (Week 1). If you were able to mouse over the 0 and 1 in the skip navigation at the top of the page, the tooltip would display the same title and date information. If you were able to look at the provided Study Schedule, you would see the same title and date information in the Study Schedule.

The same course is being offered this semester. The dates listed above no longer apply in the new semester. Under the current institutional model I would be expected to manually search and replace all of the date information every time the course site is rolled over to a new semester. The same applies to assignment due dates and other contextual information. For example, if I decide that the title for week 3 should change, I’ll need to manually search and replace all occurrences of the old title.

Since doing this manually would be silly, most people don’t do it. Instead of providing context specific information (e.g. dates), generic information is given. It’s just week 1 or theme 1. The problem with this is that it makes it more difficult for the teacher and student. Rather than information (like due dates) being available in the space needed, they have to expend energy and time looking elsewhere for that information.

I’ve implemented a kludge macro system, but Moodle has a functionality called filters that could be used to achieve the same end with some advantages.

However, this particular problem doesn’t appear to be on the radar. Arguably because all of the other “content” problems means that few people are producing content that could work with filters or require this approach.

Changing “as learner” focus – analytics to “chamber music”

A much delayed blog post that I’m getting out in a hurry now.

A few weeks ago I started yet another MOOC with the intent of it being the demonstration of “as learner” for the Network & Global Learning course. As with all other attempts to start a MOOC, it was a failure. Mostly due to my own time constraints and unexpected time sinks. But also because the content and the approach used in the MOOC didn’t fit and I wasn’t motivated enough or have enough time to bridge the gap.

Time to change focus and approach. Rather than a formal course, the next attempt “as learner” will be to engage with the network and the communities it contains around a particular topic. Walking my own path through the network(s) associated with the topic, rather than following the path laid out by someone else. An approach that will have it’s own challenges.

The topic (purpose is perhaps a better descriptor) this time will be “chamber music”. Actually, that’s just a highfalutin way of saying that Mr 10 and I are going to try and play a some duets. He’s learning oboe and clarinet, while I’m trying to get back into the alto saxophone (not the most traditional of combinations, but you make do with what you have). Playing together seems a good way to motivate both he and I to play more, and also to provide an activity we can undertake together. Plus, if it all comes off, Mr 8 is going to picking up an instrument next year. The Jones trio may not be too far off.

How to go about it?

The purpose of the “as learner” task as part of netgl is to provide participants with a practical experience to which to apply the literature they are reading. In theory, the literature around netgl should help them reflect and perhaps plan how they go about their “as learner” task. I’ll try to demonstrate one particular approach to doing this.

The readings for next week have a focus on community. The CLEM framework (adopted from another context) talks about looking for

  • Community – folk getting together to share ideas and experience of a practice
  • Literature – ideas and experience around the practice formalised into published forms
  • Examples – examples of others engaging in the practice
  • Models – the terminology and schema associated with the practice


Let’s start with models and in particular terminology. You can’t search effectively unless you know the commonly accepted terminology.

Chamber music, duets, trios etc are some of the terms I believe apply, but as I’m not really a member of the music community/set, I can’t be sure.

Community music is a new term found whilst searching. Defined as

Community music is music played in communities. It can be recreational, cultural or religious and can embrace any genre, from classical to popular to traditional music from diverse cultures. Community music is generally practiced on an amateur and non-profit basis, although there are professional musicians who work in communities.


Search for “music community” reveals an interesting collection of sites

  • Creative Commons – Music communities;

    A list of “exemplary music communities” put together by the Creative Commons folk. Includes a range of sites for finding CC licensed music and platforms for sharing music. Most of the sites appear aimed more at more advanced musicians, but I assume many can be be used to advantage by us novices. Most do seem aimed at sharing performance, rather than actual sheet music and aiding learning.

  • Music in community from the Music Australia site.
    Which links off to Music in Communities network. These appear to be more “portals” to existing music communities etc, rather than network-based communities to get playing. Including a directory of Australian music groups to join.



Have decided that both sheet music and performance can be classed as examples for my purposes.

Using 8notes

I ended up paying to join the 8notes community. This granted access to some sheet music that Mr 10 and I have started playing. It’s probably too complex. I need to explore a bit further and find something simpler for our earlier forays.

The rest of this post is a collection of summaries and thoughts from the netgl literature used in the course. It’s an attempt to use this literature to frame what I’m doing in this task. It’s something that I haven’t finished. But points to further exploration

  1. What type of community is 8Notes? What other types of sources of learning/networks do I need to engage with?
  2. How do Mr 10 and progress through our relationship with these networks? What impact does it have on our learning?

I have to admit that part of the cutting off of this post arises from the fact that I found myself pondering too much the theoretical side of this (trying to understand what I was doing through the netgl literature). As a result I wasn’t spending enough time actually engaged in playing with Mr 10. A feeling made worse by some additional workload and other factors.

Types of community

The other reading for next week – Riel and Polin (2004) identify three types of learning community

  1. Task-based learning communities – come together for a certain time to produce a specific product.
  2. Practice-based learning communities – larger groups with shared goals that provide support. Apparently, where a CoP fits.
  3. Knowledge-based learning communities – much like a CoP but focused explicitly on the formal production of external knowledge about a practice.

I’m not convinced that Riel and Polin’s three learning communities capture the full breadth of possibilities. But then that may simply be my on-going distrust of the CoP approach. But it’s also indicative of the perceived misfit between this type of conceptualisation and what I experience when engaging in learning on the Internet.

Perhaps that’s because when engaged in learning via the Internet it’s about traversing a huge network that consists of many different communities. Perhaps so much so that the desire to identify, classify, and enumerate what communities are out there says more about our desire to put stuff in boxes and not wanting to admit it’s way more complex. Perhaps so complex that any attempt to put in boxes loses more than it gains?

This is where I think Dron’s and Anderson’s (2014) identification of groups, networks, sets, and collectives does a better job of capturing the full spectrum of what happens in terms of learning on the network.

The communities Riel and Polin (2004) identify perhaps largely fit within Dron and Anderson’s (2014) notion of groups. The distinguishing factor being that the membership of these communities/groups are listable. For example, the Research Supervisors CoP at USQ fits within Riel and Polin’s (2004) practice-based learning communities category and its membership is listable through the attendance records at meetings. Dron and Anderson (2014) actually identify CoPs as an intersection of Group and Net, and I think this perhaps highlights the source of my bias against CoPs. The theoretical form of CoPs as discussed by proponents is perhaps what fits at the intersection of Group and Net. However, the implementation of the CoPs that I’ve observed tends to be learn much more toward the Group, than the net aspect. Perhaps this is because of how I’ve engaged, or perhaps due to the technologies they’ve used (almost entirely synchronous meetings).

**** I need to read and write more about collectives, maybe later ****

Identity transformation

Riel and Polin (2004) also talk about the focus of CoP and Activity Theory on learning being “a process of identity transformation – a socially construct and socially managed experience” (p. 19). A transformation that is evolves along with the individual’s journey through the community…….this unfinished thought and idea is something to be picked up later.


Dron, J., & Anderson, T. (2014). Teaching crowds: Learning and Social Media. Edmonton: AU Press. Retrieved from http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/books/120235

Riel, M., & Polin, L. (2004). Online learning communities: Common ground and critical differences in designing technical environments. In S. A. Barab, R. Kling, & J. Gray (Eds.), Designing for Virtual Communities in the Service of Learning (pp. 16–50). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Does learning about teaching in formal education match this?

Riel and Pollin (2004) talk about a view of learning that sees learning occurring

through engagement in authentic experiences involving the active manipulation and experimentation with ideas and artifacts – rather than through an accumulation of static knowledge (p. 17)

They cite people such as Bruner and Dewey supporting that observation.

When I read that, I can’t but help reflect on what passes for “learning about teaching” within universities.

Authentic experience

Does such learning about teaching occur “through engagement in authentic experiences”?


Based on my experiences at two institutions, it largely involves

  • Accessing face-to-face and online instructions on how-to use a specific technology.
  • Attending sessions talking about different teaching methods or practices.
  • Being told about the new institutionally mandated technology or practice.
  • For a very lucky few, engaged with an expert in instructional design or instructional technology about the design of the next offering of a course.

Little learning actually takes place in the midst of teaching – the ultimate authentic experience.

Active manipulation

Does such learning allow and enable the “active manipulation and experimentation with ideas and artifacts”?


Based on my experience, the processes, policies, and tools used to teach within universities are increasingly set in stone. Clever folk have identified the correct solution and you shall use them as intended.

Active manipulation and experimentation is frowned upon as inefficient and likely to impact equity and equality.

Most of the technological environments (whether they be open source or proprietary) are fixed. Any notion of using some technology that is not officially approved, or modifying an existing technology is frowned upon.

Does this contribute to the limitations of university e-learning?

If, learning occurs through authentic experience and active manipulation, and the university approach to learning about teaching (especially with e-learning) doesn’t effectively support either of these requirements, then is there any wonder that the quality of university e-learning is seen as having a few limitations?


Riel, M., & Polin, L. (2004). Online learning communities: Common ground and critical differences in designing technical environments. In S. A. Barab, R. Kling, & J. Gray (Eds.), Designing for Virtual Communities in the Service of Learning (pp. 16–50). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

An experiment with the oerpub editor

The following is a summary of an initial experiment using the OERPub editor with some actual content from a course I’m currently looking after. The aim is to explore what it’s like to use this purpose built open textbook editor that relies on github.

My current suspicion is that it will demonstrate characteristics similar to all these types of projects, i.e.

  1. Be based on a very good theoretical/design set of assumptions.

    In this case, the semantic web and various computer science perspectives are the influence. It appears to be mostly designed by semantic web type folk, so not surprising.

  2. Have some really nice features, but have some difficulty interacting with other parts of the authoring/learning/teaching ecosystem.
  3. In part, because it will be only partially complete or has a few bugs that have arisen.

    Perhaps in part because it was funded from a grant, the grant has finished, and technology et al has moved on. The tool may not have been entirely completed, and is starting to suffer as bits that did work, stop working.

Login with github, create a repository

It took me a while to get this working correctly. Logging in with my github details was simple.

Question: How many authors will have github accounts? It’s not a difficult task to do, but understanding it all…..

There’s also reports that it only works fully with Chrome. The browser specific nature is a small problem, but still a problem.

It uses the idea of a “bookshelf” to contain multiple books. A book shelf also equates to a github repository. The bookshelf/repository that contains the ‘book’ I’m working on can be viewed here. The editor uses a fixed structure to the repository and a particular XML document type (there is an official label for this which I no longer know).


In this case, I’m working with something written by another person. Ideally I would like to import this into the system and there was an import facility implemented. But I’ve not been able to get it to work. Instead, I’ll be doing a copy and paste job and updating as I go.

Observation: The missing import feature is a loss

The copy and paste from PDF wasn’t working last week. I’ve exported the PDF to a Word doc and the copy and paste process appears to work.

The editor provides a number of known “elements” of a document. e.g. an “Activity”. You drag and drop the elements into your document and then fill in the expected components of that element.

Problem: There doesn’t appear to be an element for a “Reading”.

Given that the “textbooks” I’m likely to work with are more study guides, than text books (a study guide often points people off to other readings after providing some context). This is a problem.

That’s a bugger. At this stage it appears that inserting a link in the book isn’t working. There’s an interface element to do it, but using it isn’t changing the display at all and a close look at the HTML in github reveals that the links aren’t being saved in the HTML.

Problem: Looks like you can’t insert links?

There is a preview option, let’s try that. Ohh, the preview functionality includes a lot of words like “Alpha” and “prototype”. The PDF preview gives a 404. The basic view appears to work but doesn’t show the links and also reveals that the content suffers from the cut and paste from word issue.

Problem: Output options appear to be alpha or broken.

Is the copy and paste from Word a problem? No, doesn’t work on entered text either.

Mmmmm, I thought there might be some bugs and limitations, but not quite so much as all that. Seems I’ll have to leave this one alone.