#SRHE Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness’ in Higher Education

Last week I was in London for the event Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness’ in Higher Education as part of the SRHE’s digital university series. Catherine Cronin, Rob Farrow and I were the main speakers, sharing our research findings on various topics and contexts of openness

Catherine Cronin discussed the complexity of open education practices as personal, contextual and continuously negotiated and that higher education needs to provide more support for developing digital identities in increasing participatory cultures. Rob Farrow wrote a live blog with more details here. Rob presented on the OER Research Hub project and I found it interesting that OER textbooks could have cost-saving impact on the cost of education in the United States where textbooks are expensive and publication is big business.

Then I got the chance to talk about my research – there should be a podcast available soon from the SRHE, but for the moment the slides are here

My Doctoral research was very much exploratory and initially with a view to investigating what kind of learning was going on for professionals on Twitter. However through investigation of Twitter profiles and subsequent interviews I soon became very aware that participation differed greatly and that professionals had reasons for outward participation or peripheral participation in Twitter spaces. Some of my participants described cautiousness in using open online spaces, their stories highlighted their potential vulnerability online, thus they avoided establishing social presence via Twitter, which in turn affected the development of identity among others in online spaces.

Participants mentioned ‘more knowledgeable others’ claiming that they felt others were more professionally knowledgeable than them and this feeling restricted them from finding affinity with others online.

Overall a lot of rhetoric exists on the benefits of openness, of developing a digital identity for professional reasons. But my findings show the very real stories of people who feel less comfortable about participating in these spaces. These findings link with Catherine Cronin’s call for more research into the concerns and actual experiences of staff using online open spaces and how privilege supports or inhibits open education practices or participation in open online spaces. Indeed, Beetham declares on the topic of gender privilege “participating online feels different if you are a woman” (Neary & Beetham, 2015, p. 98) and Sava Singh asserts that open online platforms “were designed with specific people in mind, and those people were rarely people of color, minorities, women, or marginalized folks” (Singh, 2015).

(Neary & Beetham, 2015, p. 98) and Sava Singh asserts that open online platforms “were designed with specific people in mind, and those people were rarely people of color, minorities, women, or marginalized folks” (Singh, 2015).

So it seems there that participation and establishing belonging online is not a simple and easily manifested activity. However if we are working in an ever-increasing digital era – How can we as educators support students and those we work with across education contexts to develop capacity to use online spaces and develop digital identities that support and help development? More and on-going critical conversations are needed with all involved in learning and teaching contexts on this growing complex topic.

Neary, M., & Beetham, H. (2015). The Nature of Academic Space. In J. Lea, Enhancing learning and teaching in higher education: engaging with the dimensions of practice (pp. 83-102). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Singh, S. (2015). The Fallacy of “Open”. Retrieved May 20, 2016, from savasavasava: https://savasavasava.wordpress.com/2015/06/27/the-fallacy-of-open/

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Twitter for professional learning: disseminating the findings

Last week I presented my EdD research at the Next Generation: Digital Learning Research Symposium 2016 at Dublin City University.

This was the first time I put voice to my research since the Viva. Those at the symposium were mainly other doctoral researchers and scholars in digital learning, which proved a worthwhile audience, many conversations followed about the challenges of participating in online open spaces. Very exciting. I feel my research expresses much of what people feel when it comes to using Twitter professionally. They perceive professional benefits of using Twitter but they also feel a little daunted in using it and revealing themselves online.

In short, my research tells stories (using case studies) of professionals using Twitter for professional learning. Participating on Twitter is not that straightforward. This research shows that while claims are made about the usefulness of Twitter for professional reasons including learning, my participants highlighted their concern about exposing themselves in the online space, choosing to lurk at the peripheries rather involve themselves explicitly in online participation.

Here are the symposium slides which provide a brief synopsis of the research and implications of findings:

Also last week The Irish Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning published a paper of my initial research findings. 

Then later last week my thesis went live online on UCL discovery, more in-depth findings and implications can be read in the thesis.

Next week I will visit London to present at the ‘Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness in Higher Education’ event at the SRHE in conjunction with Catherine Cronin and Rob Farrow. I’m looking forward to more discussions about participation and implications for openness, furthering my thinking and research in this area.

The last few weeks have been really busy post-Viva. The ‘Dr’ title doesn’t feel real at all, but I’m enjoying the conversations about the research findings. Until now they only inhabited the space between my mind and my laptop, now they are out in the world! A big thank you to other scholars who have read my work so far and long may these interesting conversations continue.

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How I prepared for the Viva

This day 2 weeks ago I defended my EdD thesis and was successful in achieving my Doctorate without corrections. I was over the moon and the outpouring of good wishes and  congratulatory messages have been amazing. But like others who have shared finishing up experiences I was also dazed and confused and exhausted. 

Over the past two weeks,  5 years worth of stress have poured out of my body. When people ask how I am celebrating, I describe catching up on sleep,  slowly starting to engage with once-upon-a-time activities like yoga, cooking, and tending to neglected flower boxes outside my apartment. In the next while I will watch out for post doctoral burnout and maintain a balanced and restful pace of life…..

Anyway I want to blog about my Viva preparation, what I did and what worked for me. There are a great many blogs and helpful websites available to assist preparation for the Viva. Firstly, while I could not nominate examiners directly, I suggested examiners that I respected in the area of research and that  I thought would be interested in the research and provide valuable critique. Then I did the following:

  • Collated potential Viva questions *
  • Scripted  answers to each of these questions
  • Got friends to ask random questions from my list of questions
  • Read my thesis again
  • Annotated chapters of the thesis with memos and post-its
  • Made notes of potential corrections (typos, unclear sentences)
  • Arranged a mock viva
  • I presented the main points of my thesis to work colleagues who provided feedback

The main benefit of the preparation was hearing myself talking about the research. Until that point I had articulated my thoughts on paper, so ‘talking-out-loud’ about the research was really important to develop my confident speaking voice.

My supervisors also gave worthwhile guidance; one piece of advice was about being agreeable with critique rather than defensive and argumentative, but using provocative questions as starting points for discussion on why I made certain decisions in the research process.

Before the Viva, I practiced some mindfulness techniques and reminded myself to:

  • Smile
  • Believe in myself
  • Know that I was prepared
  • Not let fear take over
  • Be open to questions, not guarded

I hope that this post might be useful to anyone preparing for the Viva. Very best of luck with it and in hindsight it was an exciting opportunity to share years of dedicated hard work with other interested scholars.

*I collated questions from my supervisors and blogs about the Viva:  Preparing for your viva and The examiner-perspective lens for doctoral editing

  • Why did you choose this topic for your doctoral study?
  • Can you describe the different steps involved in your research?
  • What is your “USP”? What is new and different about your topic?
  • What led you to select these models of…?
  • What are the theoretical components of your framework?
  • Which overarching philosophical or theoretical assumptions have you been working within? Why? How did it work out?
  • How did concepts assist you to visualize and explain what you intended to investigate?
  • How did you use your conceptual framework to design your research and analyse your findings?
  • How did you arrive at your research design?
  • What other forms of research did you consider?
  • How would you explain your research approach?
  • Why did you select this particular design for your research?
  • What is the link between your conceptual framework and your choice of methodology and how would you defend that methodology?
  • Can you explain where the data can be found and why your design is the most appropriate way of accessing that data?
  • How would you justify your choice of methodology?
  • Please explain your methodology to us.
  • Why did you present this in the form of a case study?
  • What choices of research approach did you consider as you planned your research?
  • Can you tell us about the “quasi-experimental” research that you used?
  • How do your methods relate to your conceptual framework?
  • Why did you choose to use those methods of data collection?
  • What other methods did you consider and why were they rejected?
  • How did you arrive at your conceptual conclusions?
  • What are your conceptual conclusions?
  • Were you disappointed with your conclusions?
  • How do your conclusions relate to your conceptual framework?
  • How do you distinguish between your factual and conceptual conclusions?
  • What is your contribution to knowledge?
    How important are your findings and to whom?
    How do your main conclusions link to the work of [other famous scholars]?
    The absence of evidence is not support for what you are saying and neither is it confirmation of the opposite view. So how do you explain your research outcomes?
  • If you were given a block of new funding now, how would you like to follow up your work?
  • Thinking about your examiners: what links their work with your own research? Have you got hold of some of their published work to get a feel for how they work and how they discuss research?
  • What would you do differently if you were starting again?
  • What has been happening in your field since you did your research? Is a further literature review necessary? How does your research fit into this updated context?


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Listening to the student voice on assessment & feedback


Two weeks ago, Teaching and Learning Day at DCU came to fruition and it was am amazing success. The highlight of the day turned out to be commencing with the student panel discussion.Originally I had

Originally I had organised a keynote but due to illness this was cancelled and I reorganised the schedule to begin with the voice of students.

Assessment is claimed to be the senior partner in learning and teaching. (Biggs & Tang, 2011) and can be a motivating (or demotivating factor) in students engagement in learning. Assessment enables the measure of student achievement and success and students deeply acknowledge the importance of assessment in their learning processes. While literature (Carless, 2015; Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Y1feedback, 2016) can provide approaches for creating assessment for/as/of learning (Earl, 2003). Having an opportunity to hear the student voice on topics of assessment proved powerful on teaching and learning day. Students were asked about thoughts and feelings about assessment processes in higher education and how those processes were working for them (The list of questions are provided at the end of this post). I had met the students to brief them with the questions before the panel. I knew at that point that hearing their experiences would be useful to DCU staff.

Students shared that they wanted greater transparency in what was expected of them in assessments. They indicated that examples of previous assignments of other students would be useful. One student commented that his favoured assignment had been an authentic real-world assignment completed where an external professional in his discipline mentored him and gave feedback. Others noted that feedback was important to them and they liked to know how they were doing in their learning, but they said that feedback sometimes came too late at the end of the semester. One student highlighted that a lecturer delivered feedback via podcast to the entire class group and this was useful in knowing what to avoid and what to continue doing.

In all it seems that these students were very interested in enhancing their assessment outcomes and they appreciated having their experiences heard. Similarly teaching staff valued hearing student opinions about this – A win-win situation!

The Storify of the day has tweets and other comments of interest, see more on https://storify.com/muireannOK/teaching-and-learning-day

 Questions for student panel 

  1. When you are working on an assignment do you know what your lecturer expects of you?
  2. How do you find out what your lecturer expects of you?
  3. Do you ever refer to the module learning outcomes when doing your assignments?
  4. Do Lecturers provide choices in the assessment type you get to do?
  5. Do your lecturers use rubrics? If so do you find rubrics helpful?
  6. How do you typically receive feedback on your work?
  7. And how would you LIKE to receive feedback?
  8. If you have received feedback, how long do you wait for feedback (days, weeks?)
  9. Do you receive feedback through Turnitin or podcast or other technology?
  10. What do you do with feedback? Do you take it on board for the next assignment?
  11. How would you feel about peers providing feedback?
  12. Have you experience of giving peers feedback?



Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University (4th ed). Maidenhead, Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.

Carless, d. (2015) Excellence in University Assessment: Learning from award-winning practice. Routledge

Earl, L. M. (2003) Assessment as Learning: Using Classroom Assessment to Maximise Student Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA, Corwin Press.

Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of educational research 2007 77: 81

Year 1 Feedback Project Team (2016) Technology-Enabled Feedback in the First Year: A Synthesis of the Literature. Retrieved from http://y1feedback.ie/wp- content/uploads/2016/04/SynthesisoftheLiterature2016.pdf


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Teaching and Learning Day DCU

Only one more sleep to Teaching and Learning Day at DCU…. that’s if I get any sleep. It’s been a hectic week. I submitted my EdD thesis at the beginning of the week!!! I will say more about that another time as I am a bit mentally exhausted after the marathon of writing/editing in the last few months! Anyway I hardly drew a breath and Teaching and Learning Day is on tomorrow.

We kick off with a student panel discussing issues and experiences of assessment and then leading into how presentations on assessment design by lecturers here at DCU.

See the timetable for more http://www.eventbrite.ie/e/teaching-and-learning-day-tickets-25774008754 

Anyway I have written some notes for the welcome address which I hope will settle participants into the assessment and feedback theme for the day:

“Assessment is the senior partner in learning and teaching. Get it wrong and the rest collapses” (Biggs & Tang, 2011, p. 221). In proposing a “preferred future” for assessment, Earl (2003) has written about the need to think beyond the pervasive practice of marks-based summative assessment of learning to consider assessment for learning and ideally assessment of learning.

To this end the DCU TEU has organised today’s T&L event so that those who teach and support teaching at DCU can share practice and experience about existing assessment elements, and their design into curriculum

We hope this will stimulate cross-disciplinary exploration of new strategies for assessment

Indeed this event contributes to the “enhancement theme” 2016-18 of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, where Assessment strategies OF, FOR and AS Learning, where discussion and debate of these topics is a major focus

There have been strong arguments to rebalance the traditional assessment in the curriculum, reducing the level of weighting given to high stakes Assessment OF Learning (summative) and giving stronger emphasis to Assessment AS and Assessment

Students’ and Teachers’ knowledge, skills, attitudes, and emotions are central to enabling changes in many of these assessment tensions in higher education.

The schedule:
1.     Starting with the panel discussion of students, giving educators the opportunity to hear the student voice. What do students think and feel about assessment processes in higher education?  How are assessment processes working for them?
This panel is a very relevant discussion to highlight issues encountered by students, serving as a relevant and topical foundation for the day’s events

2.    Assessment change can be supported by professional development of staff across the disciplines who teach.  Presentations from various staff [school of Nursing and human sciences, the Institute of Education, Schools of Science, DCU business school, school of computing] each sharing practice and experience of assessment and feedback processes at DCU

3.     In the afternoon a workshop on feedback by the “Year 1 Feedback project team”  promises a lively discussion among staff on feedback

Overall this event will be a stimulus for questions:

  • How can students become more engaged with assessment enhancement?
  • How best might we promote assessment literacy among students and support students to become more engaged in the assessment process?
  • How can the curriculum and the learning environment be designed to enhance assessment?

Finally this event is important, as it brings staff from across the NEW DCU together, in situ to discuss, share, and reflect on the practices of teaching, a valuable event in the DCU calendar to plant possibilities of ideas for teaching into the next academic year


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Participation on Twitter supports identity development

Today’s editing of the conclusion has been fun, I am sharing my favourite paragraph as it reminds me of the penny-dropping moment of learning I had while preparing for the DRHA2015 conference. I was exploring how higher education professionals  were using Twitter for learning, but I had neglected to give importance to identity and it’s relationship with learning. Data brought up issues of belonging, participants feeling different from others and confidence, all related to who they perceived themselves and others to be.

I am sure I will re-word this again, but here it is now warts and all…..

This research has highlighted that development of digital capabilities (Beetham, 2015) digital and identity (Neary & Beetham, 2015) is important to the many activities and responsibilities of those who work in higher education. Indeed Wenger (1998) argued the politics of participation included influence and personal authority (Ibid, 1998) but with that in mind Visitor participants in this study, lacked a digital footprint and digital identity which suggests a lack of power to influence others (Stewart, 2015).

In this study professional confidence arose an issue that inhibited participants from engaging outwardly on Twitter and this was correlated with feelings of lack of a sense of belonging with other professionals on the online space of Twitter. However reflections on the research findings and literature have highlighted the opportunities for developing awareness of the self that online social networking offers (Wesch, 2008). Investigation of other literature (Turkle, 1997) emphasises the critical learning opportunity that being online offers the professional in that “computers brought philosophy into everyday life” (Ibid, p.x). Indeed this study shows that presenting oneself and exposing one’s views, opinions and practice online contributes to dilemma inviting further inquiry into the self, into who a person identifies as professionally and personally. To summarise activities online on social networking services such as Twitter can inspire thinking about digital identity but in turn can trigger significant consideration of the self and about one’s position in societal, cultural, institutional and global contexts. Therefore, I think, that introduction of social networking services such as Twitter into professional learning and development opportunities might prove very helpful in the identity work of academic development, whereby academic developers endeavour to develop the professional.

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Reflection on ‘belonging’ in online networked spaces

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We want more, We want more!

We want more, we want more! That was the overarching theme from results of  evaluations from recent participants on the Assessment and Feedback module I’ve been teaching on.

I have been teaching on short modules* that offer opportunities to staff to explore teaching and assessment practices at DCU. Unique to the Irish higher education setting, these academic development modules are delivered almost entirely online, providing opportunities for both DCU staff and teaching staff from other HEI’s to engage in developing their skills and capacities as teachers.

What I’m really excited about is that outcomes of the module have been extended further than the module itself. Five of the participants have disseminated their assessment related  work in through blogs https://facultydiary.wordpress.com/ and  http://www.libfocus.com/2016/04/peerwise-social-platform-for.html

One staff member  has been invited to speak about his innovations with PeerWise:


DCU staff seem to be hungry for more professional development in the area of teaching and learning. At the moment these short modules  offer [5 ECTS]  opportunities for staff to ‘propose’ changes to teaching/assessment

…..but wouldn’t it be great if we could extend our work** to support staff in implementing changes to practice, thus supporting them in researching their practice as teachers!

* Module design was competed during a DRHEA project, curriculum designed by Jean Hughes, Morag, Munro, Leone Gately and Eloise Tan

** Qualifications in teaching and learning to PG Dip, and Masters level can be attained from other HEI’s for example from NUIG, DIT, UCD

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How I create podcasts for student feedback

Some of my students have been asking how I feedback podcasts

So here goes: No theory about feedback cited here, just the practical stuff that I think of and apply when creating podcast feedback for students

Firstly I read the assessment piece and compare it to the assessment rubric criteria

I make brief notes (aka messy scribbles) about what I liked about the piece and what I think could be improved into the future

Then I use QuickTime player on my MacBook Air to record ‘audio’

I record once only and try to make the audio file max 3 minutes long

I do not edit out my uhms and ahs, I think that it adds authenticity and shows I am a real-thinking-human-being!

I save the audio file and then upload it to Google drive from where I share it privately with the student

Here is a short screencast to show how I record the audio in QuickTime player and upload to Google drive.

I found these brief notes on composing feedback useful (Staff 2016)

  • Be kind – celebrate what is great about the assignment.
  • What is my favourite part – be specific.
  • Be helpful and specific when providing feedback.
  • What could make this assignment even better?
  • What would you like added or taken out to make the piece even stronger?

What the research says:

For literature in this area I suggest reading Hattie & Timperley (2007). They assert that feedback needs to answer 3 questions

  1. What do I have to do? – clarifies goals for student
  2. How am I doing? – helps close the gap between current and desired performance
  3. What can I do next?

This video from John Hattie on ‘Learning Intentions & Success Criteria’ discusses helping students achieve success through feedback and transparent assessment processes.

An Irish research project on enhancing feedback practice with 1st year students has just published a synthesis of literature http://y1feedback.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/SynthesisoftheLiterature2016.pdf


Hattie, J., Timperley, H. ( 2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research Vol. 77, No. 1, pp. 81–112

Staff, c. (2016) Assessment Webinar. Retrieved on March 31st from https://prezi.com/_sfxahw-grjx/assessment-webinar/

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Can we really consider Twitter a learning tool?

This gallery contains 2 photos.

For the past 18 months I’ve been engrossed in the research topic of how Twitter is used by professionals for learning. Finally I’m nearly there, tomorrow I will present at a doctoral conference at UCL Institute of Education in London. Creation … Continue reading

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