‘Where?’ is no longer a simple question

After a year’s wrangling about ‘online vs face-to-face’, many people are coming round to the view that this is a false and unhelpful dichotomy. Learning doesn’t happen online. It happens where the learner is. The digital and material resources that come to hand while engaged in a learning activity can have subtle and powerful effects on how the activity unfolds, and on the learning that eventuates.

I’m using this brief post to point to some literature that helps with thinking about education and learning when the digital and material are seen as closely entangled, rather than in opposition.

The most recent paper I’d recommend is Lesley Gourlay’s article ‘There is no “virtual learning”: the materiality of digital education’. https://doi.org/10.7821/naer.2021.1.649

Some of the best recent writing about education that responds in a sophisticated way to the limitations of the ‘online vs face-to-face’ dichotomy can be found in the new(ish) journal Postdigital Science and Education.

In particular, I’d recommend two papers in PDSE by Tim Fawns and by Christine Sinclair and Sarah Hayes.

Fawns, T. (2019). Postdigital education in design and practice. Postdigital Science and Education, 1, 132-145. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-018-0021-8

Sinclair, C., & Hayes, S. (2019). Between the Post and the Com-Post: Examining the Postdigital ‘Work’ of a Prefix. Postdigital Science and Education, 1(1), 119-131. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-018-0017-4

The field of research and practice known as ‘Networked Learning’ is also a good source of ideas and experience, with many thoughtful accounts based on innovative teaching and careful investigation. We brought together a number of people who have been working on relations between digital tools and material places in a book edited by Lucila Carvalho, Maarten de Laat and myself in 2017.

Carvalho, L., Goodyear, P., & de Laat, M. (Eds.). (2017). Place-based spaces for networked learning. New York: Routledge.

The title of this blog post is taken from the introductory chapter to the PBSNL book.

Another recent article in PDSE provides a good way into this broader Networked Learning literature:

Networked Learning Editorial Collective. (2020). Networked Learning: Inviting Redefinition. Postdigital Science and Education, 3, 312-325. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-020-00167-8

Finally, there’s a recent special issue of BJET on ‘hybrid’ learning spaces, including a paper I wrote about how university teachers and others design for learning activities that spill across the material and digital.

Goodyear, P. (2020). Design and co-configuration for hybrid learning: Theorising the practices of learning space design British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(4), 1045–1060. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12925

ICCE 2020

28th International Conference on Computers in Education

Here’s a copy of the slide deck I used in my keynote at the ICCE conference (25th November 2020). There are more slides/ideas in here than I discuss/use in the actual talk. Notably, there are a couple of slides very near the end containing follow-up references.

AECT 2020 Presentation

The 2020 convention of the AECT – the Association for Educational Communications and Technology – moved ‘online’, like so many conferences this year. I was asked to make a presentation connected with my AECT/ETR&D Distinguished Development Award. There’s a recorded version of the presentation here on YouTube (takes about 20 minutes). Here’s a copy of the slides and notes (40 Meg.).

There’s an associated paper, mirroring some of the talk, currently under review with ETR&D. Here’s the abstract.

Activity-Centred Analysis and Design (ACAD): core purposes, distinctive qualities and current developments

Peter Goodyear, Lucila Carvalho & Pippa Yeoman

This paper provides a summary account of Activity-Centred Analysis and Design (ACAD). ACAD offers a practical approach to analysing complex learning situations, in a way that can generate knowledge that is reusable in subsequent (re)design work. ACAD has been developed over the last two decades. It has been tested and refined through collaborative analyses of a large number of complex learning situations and through research studies involving experienced and inexperienced design teams. The paper outlines the motivation for ACAD and describes a number of its central features. The paper also provides an overview of two current areas of development in ACAD: the creation of explicit design rationales and the ACAD toolkit for collaborative design meetings. As well as providing some ideas that can help teachers, design teams and others discuss and agree on their working methods, ACAD has implications for some broader issues in educational technology research and development. It questions some deep assumptions about the framing of research and design thinking, in the hope that fresh ideas may be useful to people involved in leadership and advocacy roles in the field.

Convivial technologies and networked learning

In the process of drafting a recent paper ( NLEC 2020 “Networked learning: inviting redefinition” ) I suggested to co-authors that it might be an opportune moment to revive Ivan Illich’s concept of “tools for conviviality” (Illich 1973). 

To be honest, we were stuck – we were facing a conundrum about how to refer to technology as part of the definition of Networked Learning. 

The “customary definition” of Networked Learning runs as follows:

We define networked learning as: learning in which information and communications technology (ICT) is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners; between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources. (Goodyear, Banks, Hodgson & McConnell, 2004, p1, original emphasis)

The first formulation of this definition is found in a research proposal we submitted in 1998.

We define ‘networked learning’ as learning in which C&IT is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners, between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources. (Goodyear, Hodgson & Steeples, 1998, p2, original emphasis)

At the time, ‘C&IT’ (Communication and Information Technology) was the preferred acronym used by the funding body to whom we were bidding (the UK’s Joint Information Systems Committee – Jisc). Our proposal was a response to a call from Jisc for R&D projects addressing three aspects of what Jisc had labelled ‘Networked Learning’. The definition we wrote into our proposal was a deliberate strategy to insert into Jisc’s conception of ‘Networked Learning’ the kinds of human, social and community interactions in which we were interested, and which we particularly valued. The text we wrote into our proposal, immediately after the words above, helps establish this point.

Some of the richest examples of networked learning involve interaction with on-line materials and with other people. But use of on-line materials is not a sufficient characteristic to define networked learning. (Goodyear, Hodgson & Steeples, 1998, p2, original emphasis)

In the circumstances – late 1990s, UK Higher Education – it was quite likely that Jisc would fund proposals that focussed only on individual use of online learning materials (given the interest in personalised learning and more efficient “delivery” of education). We were keen to create other opportunities: a more ambitious conception of what was possible and worthwhile. We weren’t introducing the term “Networked Learning” – we were expanding what it meant and beginning to shift the core of its meaning. (There’s more on this history, if you are interested, in the first two chapters of the The Architecture of Productive Learning Networks . 

Wind forward to 2020, and we find ourselves trying to construct a better definition – or at least a better concise description – of Networked Learning. The reasons for this are in the NLEC paper.

We struggle with an appropriate way of talking about what had previously been referred to as “C&IT” or “ICT”. One complicating factor is that none of us wants to say that the use of contemporary digital technologies is a necessaryfeature of Networked Learning – for at least two reasons. Firstly, in the 20 years or so since the definition was first written, use of “ICT” has moved from esoteric to everyday. Secondly, we’ve become much more conscious of hybridity – no longer wanting to make sharp distinctions between “digital” and “analogue” or (heaven forfend) “virtual” and “real”. Rather, the tools and infrastructures used by people in learning and other activities are better understood as assemblages or networks of people and things: material, digital and hybrid. This is well explained in a number of places. See, for instance, Chris Jones’s Networked Learning book (Jones, 2015) or papers by Fawns (2019) and Carvalho & Yeoman (2018). 

Tim Fawns, for example, argues for 

a postdigital perspective in which all education—even that which is considered to lie outside of digital education— takes account of the digital and non-digital, material and social, both in terms of the design of educational activities and in the practices that unfold in the doing of those activities. (Fawns, 2019, p132)

One of the strongest motives for revising the Networked Learning definition was that the older “customary” version did not foreground the critical and emancipatory commitments that are found widely in the Networked Learning literature. In finding an alternative to “ICT” or “digital technologies” we remembered Illich and his “tools for conviviality”. Hence, the text in NLEC (2020) says:

Networked learning involves processes of collaborative, co-operative and collective inquiry, knowledge-creation and knowledgeable action, underpinned by trusting relationships, motivated by a sense of shared challenge and enabled by convivial technologies. Networked learning promotes connections: between people, between sites of learning and action, between ideas, resources and solutions, across time, space and media.

In settling on these words, we were conscious of the fact that “convivial” is used by Illich with a special meaning and that anyone looking up dictionary definitions might be misled into thinking that “tools for conviviality” are the stock-in-trade of people who organise parties – bottles of wine, plates of food, music systems and balloons. Illich himself was conscious of this linguistic issue – that his readers might associate the term with “tipsy jolliness”. 

After many doubts, and against the advice of friends whom I respect, I have chosen “convivial” as a technical term to designate a modern society of responsibly limited tools. In part this choice was conditioned by the desire to continue a discourse which had started with its Spanish cognate. …  I am aware that in English “convivial” now seeks the company of tipsy jollyness, which is distinct from that indicated by the OED and opposite to the austere meaning of modern “eutrapelia,” which I intend. By applying the term “convivial” to tools rather than to people, I hope to forestall confusion. (Illich, 1973)

Illich uses the term ‘tool’ broadly, to include

“…simple hardware such as drills, pots, syringes, brooms, building elements, or motors, and not just large machines like cars or power stations [but also] productive institutions such as factories that produce tangible commodities like corn flakes or electric current, and productive systems for intangible commodities such as those which produce “education,” “health,” “knowledge,” or “decisions.” I use this term because it allows me to subsume into one category all rationally designed devices, be they artifacts or rules, codes or operators… School curricula or marriage laws are no less purposely shaped social devices than road networks.”

Illich explained the value of convivial tools in contrast to those provided by a centrally or hierarchically managed industrial society: one in which people are obedient workers and consumers.

Convivial tools are those which give each person who uses them the greatest opportunity to enrich the environment with the fruits of his or her vision. Industrial tools deny this possibility to those who use them and they allow their designers to determine the meaning and expectations of others. Most tools today cannot be used in a convivial fashion (Illich, 1973)

People need not only to obtain things, they need above all the freedom to make things among which they can live, to give shape to them according to their own tastes, and to put them to use in caring for and about others. Prisoners in rich countries often have access to more things and services than members of their families, but they have no say in how things are to be made and cannot decide what to do with them. Their punishment consists in being deprived of what I shall call “conviviality.” They are degraded to the status of mere consumers. (Illich, 1973)

He drew firm connections between conviviality and justice:

In an age of scientific technology, the convivial structure of tools is a necessity for survival in full justice which is both distributive and participatory. … Rationally designed convivial tools have become the basis for participatory justice (Illich, 1973)

In the NLEC 2020 paper we make connections to more recent work that is capturing the imagination of many people who are deeply concerned about contemporary challenges of climate change, sustainability, poverty and social justice, but who are uncertain about how to act. These feel, to me, to be close to the spirit of Illich on conviviality, and concerned with tools for joint inquiry and action. See especially Manzini (2015), Raworth (2017), Cottam (2019) and Krznaric (2020).

The connections to Networked Learning are most apparent in situations where people come together to both (a) analyse and understand a problematic situation and (b) decide what action to take together, and take it.

(a) is the homeground for people working in a critical tradition. If I wanted to be provocative, I might say that some people working in a critical tradition offer no tools for (b) – they write as if it is enough to name a problem and its causes. Planning and sustaining complex action in the world needs more than this.

Consider “expansive learning”. The following is taken from Engeström. Other examples where people come together to design processes of inquiry and action can be found in Chapter 19 of Markauskaite & Goodyear (2017).

“An ideal-typical sequence of epistemic actions in an expansive learning process can be condensed as follows.

The first action is that of questioning, criticizing or rejecting some aspects of the accepted practice and existing wisdom. For the sake of simplicity, this action is called questioning.

The second action is that of analyzing the situation. Analysis involves mental, discursive or practical transformation of the situation in order to find out causes or explanatory mechanisms. Analysis evokes “why?” questions and explanatory principles. One type of analysis is historical-genetic; it seeks to explain the situation by tracing its origins and evolution. Another type of analysis is actual-empirical; it seeks to explain the situation by constructing a picture of its inner systemic relations.

The third action is that of modeling the newly found explanatory relationship in some publicly observable and transmittable medium. This means constructing an explicit, simplified model of the new idea that explains and offers a solution to the problematic situation.

The fourth action is that of examining the model, running, operating and experimenting on it in order to fully grasp its dynamics, potentials and limitations. 

The fifth action is that of implementing the model by means of practical applications, enrichments, and conceptual extensions. 

The sixth and seventh actions are those of reflecting on and evaluating the process and consolidating its outcomes into a new stable form of practice. 

Together these actions form an open-ended expansive cycle. In practice, the learning actions do not follow one another in a neat order. There are loops of returning and repeating some actions, as well as gaps of omitting or stepping over some action.” (Engeström, 2020, p37)

Most of Engeström’s examples arise from locally-situated work in “Change Laboratories”. For geographically dispersed communities committed to joint inquiry and action, Networked Learning offers some convivial tools.

In a recent Twitter exchange, Marianne Riis asked for some pointers to publications in the Networked Learning literature reporting use of “convivial tools”. (She and her colleague Anna Brodersen were working on a revision of the paper they presented at the 2020 Networked Learning Conference: “Development of a Pedagogical Design Matrix for ICT-based Boundary Crossing in Dual VET”. You can find it in the proceedings here.)

This is a very fair question, but it is not easily answered. One reason is that many of us would have to admit that we have/had begun to forget about Illich. 

He visited my university and gave a talk in the mid 1970s. At the time, I found many of his ideas captivating. (I went to university to learn about environmental science and development studies and I became very interested in ideas about “appropriate technology” – the “small is beautiful” paradigm advanced by Ernst Schumacher and so on.) And I guess that as I immersed myself in the areas where technology and education overlap, I found myself thinking in ways influenced by Illich and others, without necessarily making direct connections. (I wrote a chapter on “convivial learning environments” for a book on learning and affect technologies about 10 years ago. My inaugural professorial lecture at Sydney University (2004) also drew on Illich, conviviality and learning spaces.) 

So … how best to answer the question posed by Marianne and Anna?

1) Take a look at some of Petar Jandrić’s writing on Illich, conviviality, deschooling and the internet (e.g. Jandrić 2014).

2) And also some of the writing in the NL community on Illich’s notion of “learning webs” which was picked up by Christopher Alexander (“Pattern 18: Network of Learning”). 

3) And then I would suggest some of the chapters in Part 2 of the Carvalho & Goodyear (2014) APLN collection – in which we chose to focus on networks that were consciously engaged in various forms of social action.

We mention Illich on the first page, where we set up Networked Learning, in part, by framing formal education as an aberration. But after that we neglect to mention him at all.

Looking across the history of our species, one sees much more experience of learning from networks of family, friends and acquaintances than of learning in formally constituted educational institutions, such as schools and universities. Indeed, some would argue that schools, colleges and modern universities will turn out to be a short-lived aberration – that they are suspect inventions that seemed to serve the needs of rapidly urbanizing and industrializing populations, but that soon turned out to be expensive and ineffective ways of meeting human needs (Illich 1973, Illich and Verne 1976,Varbelow and Griffith 2012). (Goodyear & Carvalho, 2014, p3).

However, I think it can be argued that a number of the chapters in Part 2 of APLN portray networks of people using technologies in a convivial manner. Other examples that spring quickly to mind come from the teaching of Viv Hodgson, Dave McConnell, Michael Reynolds and others on the MA in Management Learning at Lancaster – approaches and underpinning values that are reflected in their various contributions to the NL literature. (See for example Hodgson & McConnell, 2019.)

As a closing point, it should be clear by now that to label a tool or technology “convivial” is to speak mainly about how it is being used, and for what kinds of purpose. It is not saying much about what one might call the intrinsic or inherent properties of the tool. Illich implies that some tools are hard to use in convivial ways. 

There’s an interesting line to explore here, concerning convivial technologies and the distinctions made in the instrumental genesis literature between the properties of a tool and the schemes for its use. (See, for instance, Rabardel & Beguin, 2005; Lonchamp, 2012; Ritella & Hakkarainen, 2012; Carvalho et al., 2019.) 


Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., Silverstein, M., Jacobson, M., Fiksdahl-King, I., & Angel, S. (1977). A pattern language: towns, buildings, construction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Carvalho, L., & Goodyear, P. (Eds.). (2014). The architecture of productive learning networks. New York: Routledge.

Carvalho, L., Martinez-Maldonado, R., & Goodyear, P. (2019). Instrumental genesis in the design studio. International Journal of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning, 14, 77-107. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11412-019-09294-2

Carvalho, L., & Yeoman, P. (2018). Framing learning entanglement in innovative learning spaces: connecting theory, design and practice. British Educational Research Journal, 44(6), 1120–1137. doi:doi:10.1002/berj.3483

Cottam, H. (2019). Radical Help: How we can remake the relationships between us and revolutionise the welfare state: Little Brown.

Engeström, Y. (2020). Ascending from the abstract to the concrete as a principle of expansive learning. Psychological Science and Education, 25(5), 31-43. 

Fawns, T. (2019). Postdigital education in design and practice. Postdigital Science and Education, 1, 132-145. 

Goodyear, P. (2011) Affect, technology and convivial learning environmentsin Calvo, R., & D’Mello, S. (Eds.). (2011). New perspectives on affect and learning technologies. Berlin: Springer.

Goodyear, P., & Carvalho, L. (2014). Networked learning and learning networks. In L. Carvalho & P. Goodyear (Eds.), The architecture of productive learning networks. New York: Routledge.

Goodyear, P., Banks, S., Hodgson, V., & McConnell, D. (2004). Research on networked learning: aims and approaches. Chapter 1 In P. Goodyear, S. Banks, V. Hodgson, & D. McConnell (Eds.), Advances in research on networked learning. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Goodyear, P., Hodgson, V., & Steeples, C. (1998). Student experiences of networked learning in higher education. Research proposal to Jisc: Lancaster

Hodgson, V., & McConnell, D. (2019). Networked learning and postdigital education. Postdigital Science and Education, 1(1), 43–64. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-018-0029-0.

Illich, I. (1973). Tools for conviviality. London: Marion Boyars.

Jandrić, P. (2014). Deschooling Virtuality. Open Review of Educational Research, 1(1), 84-98. doi:10.1080/23265507.2014.965193

Jones, C. R. (2015). Networked Learning: An educational paradigm for the age of digital networks. Dordrecht: Springer.

Lonchamp, J. (2012). An instrumental perspective on CSCL systems. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 7(2), 211-237. doi:10.1007/s11412-012-9141-4

Krznaric, R. (2020). The good ancestor: how to think long term in a short-term world. London: WH Allen.

Manzini, E. (2015). Design, when everybody designs: an introduction to design for social innovation. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Markauskaite, L., & Goodyear, P. (2017). Epistemic fluency and professional education: innovation, knowledgeable action and actionable knowledge. Dordrecht: Springer.

Networked Learning Editorial Collective. (2020). Networked Learning: Inviting Redefinition. Postdigital Science and Education. doi:10.1007/s42438-020-00167-8

Rabardel, P., & Beguin, P. (2005). Instrument mediated activity: from subject development to anthropocentric design. Theoretical issues in ergonomic science, 6(5), 429-461. 

Raworth, K. (2017). Doughnut economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist. London: Penguin Random House.

Riis, M & Brodersen, A (2020) Development of a Pedagogical Design Matrix for ICT-based Boundary Crossing in Dual VET, Proceedings for the Twelfth International Conference on Networked Learning 2020, Edited by: Hansen, S.B.; Hansen, J.J.; Dohn, N.B.; de Laat, M. & Ryberg, T. pp175-182.

Ritella, G., & Hakkarainen, K. (2012). Instrumental genesis in technology-mediated learning: From double stimulation to expansive knowledge practices. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 7(2), 239-258. doi:10.1007/s11412-012-9144-1

Schumacher, E. (1974). Small is beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered. London: Abacus.

Working with the universities we have, not the universities we wish we had.

This is partly prompted by Jesse Strommel’s post here warning against pedagogical models. 

Jesse has been a voice of reason and humanity in many debates about how we teach and how we relate to students in higher education – not just in situations where technology plays a part, but more generally. He works in North America and some of what he writes resonates very clearly with experiences in US universities. I have lots of friends and colleagues who work in US universities, and I read a lot of the research that comes from US-based education research, educational technology and learning sciences scholars. But all my direct experience of studying and working in higher education has been in Northern Ireland and England (1970s to 2003) and Australia (2003 onwards). There are important differences between countries in the ways higher education is organised, funded, described and experienced. There are significant terminological differences that can also cause confusion, undermine mutual understanding, or simply make our worlds seem strange and even alien. Some of these differences are obscured on Twitter (and in the terser forms of social media more generally), and can generate a bit of irritation. (“That may be how they do things in the US, but it’s not like that here.”)  

One of Jesse Strommel’s recurring pieces of wise advice is that we (teachers in higher education) should spend more time talking with our students, finding out about them, learning more about their real needs and desires, and about the lives they are leading before, outside and beyond university. He also talks about “teaching the students we have, not the students we wish we had.”   I have no trouble identifying with these sentiments, and I suspect that’s also the case with many of my colleagues, even though we’re not closely involved in the American HE discourse to which these words are a reaction. For example, some of the debates about ‘rigour’, grading, making allowances for students’ circumstances, the power of administrators and the cultural variations between universities take on different forms in the UK and Australia. Though we ‘get’ the main points being made, they can feel exotic and are expressed in ways that can cause us to feel well outside the worlds described. 

All that said, I’m trying to unpick what it is that Jesse is deprecating in his article. I’ve come up with the following possible readings:

1) Beware of ed tech companies, consultants, gurus and other snake-oil salesmen bearing gifts. They may be offering you a colourful diagram but their true motives could cause damage to you, your wallet and the people and things you care about.

2) Beware of any attempts to simplify and over-systematise what you do. One size does not fit all. Watch out for administrators and other powers-that-(would)-be who may weoponise rubrics, models, quality frameworks and other paraphernalia, in ways that stop you doing good work. Moreover, don’t do this to yourself: inflexible methods can be used to self-harm. 

3) Beware of specific models. They may be wrong, outdated, or prone to being misunderstood or misapplied. Among those listed in Jesse’s article are: learning styles, Bloom’s taxonomy (original and revised), ADDIE, scaffolding, design thinking, Quality Matters, andragogy and HyFlex. 

4) Beware of all and any models. Model-based action/thinking takes you in the wrong direction. Start by talking to your students.

5) There is also a cynical reading: that undermining the legitimacy of models undermines the credibility of other influencers and strengthens the position of those whose brand depends upon being understood as deeply and inherently good and wise. 

Taking these one at a time.

1) I am in full agreement. Caveat emptor. Especially when someone else is buying with your money. 

2) Absolutely. But pause for a moment to consider how we decide when something is as simple as possible, but not simpler.

3) For sure. But pause for another moment to consider that (a) the things referred to in the list are of quite diverse kinds – are they all actually models? And (b) we evaluate models of the world and models to guide action by different criteria. How, for example, should we think about scaffolding? Should we be testing the validity of the science, from Bernstein, Luria and Vygotsky through Wood, Bruner & Ross and on into the hundreds of studies across psychology, educational technology and the learning sciences? Or should we think about scaffolding (and fading) as designable elements in a learning environment that we have a responsibility to help create? How should we think about design thinking? As the infantilising pastime popularised by fans of IDEO? (Actually, that’s defamatory to infants, who could teach most of the Silicon Valley celebrities a thing or two about ideation and empathy.) Or as a set of resources for people to work together and construct more just and sustainable ways of living? (I’m thinking of Ezio Manzini and Hilary Cottam here, but pick your own.)

4) Cards on the table. One big part of my work has been to create frameworks for analysing and designing complex learning environments. Working with some very creative and industrious colleagues, I’ve helped construct some ways to help other people think about learning and design. We’ve done some of this by designing, some by analysing existing designs, and some by researching how design is done and what design tools and methods help teachers (and others) in higher education to design better. Skin in the game. If you’re interested, you can read more about the approaches we’ve taken by following up on other links from this site – some papers here; a good 3 minute video here

But the main point I want to try to make is the following. Yes, agreed, talk to students – early and often. But don’t kid yourself that this leads in any simple way to a plan of action. One of those subtle, unstated, differences that I pick up when I read some US-based commentators on good practice in higher education and compare what they say with the lived experiences of university teachers here in Sydney is that ‘talking to students’ is a more straightforward proposition when you have a class of 30 or 50 than is the case with Biology 101 or Psych 101 here – with one or two thousand students in the class. 

But let’s not get hung up on scale. Bring in the constraints of a curriculum that can’t be changed till the year after next, a squad of casual tutors who don’t get paid to attend course planning meetings and who may not know they have a job till the week the course starts, a set of teaching spaces last renovated in the 1950s, a digital and regulatory infrastructure that changes every couple of years, QA regimes that don’t measure what really matters, time-poor students who need to satisfice course requirements in order to juggle work and carer responsibilities, worsening job prospects, a risk-averse business sector, an anti-intellectual government and a tycoon-owned media whose business model depends on fanning new fronts in the culture wars. And Covid. And climate change. And colonialism.

About 20 years ago, I made a conscious choice to work with and for the teachers we actually have, in the universities we actually have. I hope that part of my work helps them, and their students, tool up for collective action to create worlds worth living in:  ‘new normals’ worth fighting for. But my work also needs to provide resources – including ‘tools to think with’ – that can be used next Monday, or perhaps the Monday after.  And to help with the complex challenges of distinguishing between what can be changed this week, this year, next year, and maybe never. Finding the edges of what can be changed, and how, is not always simple. Nor is it always easy to discern what should be changed, and what consequences may flow.

So, I guess I’m left wanting to say that I believe in the value of tools and methods that can help groups of people understand complex situations, and come to an agreement on how to move onwards. Talk is good. Raw observation and experience are good. But I’m not sure they are sufficient unto the day – especially Monday.    

Oh yes. I almost forgot.

5) I am good and wise enough to deprecate cynicism.

Aligning education, digital and learning space strategies: an ecological approach

These are slides to accompany the presentation I made at ITaLI, University of Queensland, this morning.

Rob Ellis and I have a chapter on this in a new book edited by Ron Barnett and Norman Jackson.

Our book length treatment was published earlier this year by Routledge.

Tasks, activities and student learning

Talk at ITaLI, University of Queensland, 7th November 2019

The following references are cited in the slides/talk. Slides themselves are here: Goodyear UQ 2019-Nov-07 condensed.

Bearman, M., & Ajjawi, R. (2019). Can a rubric do more than be transparent? Invitation as a new metaphor for assessment criteria. Studies in Higher Education, 1-10.

Beckman, K., Apps, T., Bennett, S., Dalgarno, B., Kennedy, G., & Lockyer, L. (2019). Self-regulation in open-ended online assignment tasks: the importance of initial task interpretation and goal setting. Studies in Higher Education, 1-15.

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university: what the student does (3rd ed.). Buckingham: Open University Press.

Carvalho, L., & Goodyear, P. (Eds.). (2014). The architecture of productive learning networks. New York: Routledge.

Ellis, R., & Goodyear, P. (2010). Students’ experiences of e-learning in higher education: the ecology of sustainable innovation. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Forbes, D., & Gedera, D. (2019). From confounded to common ground: Misunderstandings between tertiary teachers and students in online discussions. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 35(4). doi:10.14742/ajet.3595

Goodyear, P. (2015). Teaching as design. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 2, 27-50. Retrieved from http://www.herdsa.org.au/system/files/HERDSARHE2015v02p27.pdf

Hadwin, Allyson, and Philip Winne. 2012. “Promoting Learning Skills in Undergraduate Students.” In Enhancing the Quality of Learning, edited by John R. Kirby and Michael J. Lawson, 201–27. New York: Cambridge University Press

Krippendorff, K. (2006). The semantic turn: a new foundation for design. Boca Raton FL: CRC Press.

Laurillard, D., Kennedy, E., Charlton, P., Wild, J., & Dimakopoulos, D. (2018). Using technology to develop teachers as designers of TEL: Evaluating the learning designer. British Journal of Educational technology, 49(6), 1044-1058. doi:10.1111/bjet.12697

Shuell, T. (1986). Cognitive conceptions of learning. Review of Educational Research, 56(4), 411-436.

Suchman, L. (1987). Plans and situated actions: the problem of human-machine communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sun, S. Y. H., & Goodyear, P. (2019). Social co-configuration in online language learning. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 36(2), 13-26. doi:https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.5102

Wisner, A. (1995a). Understanding problem building: ergonomic work analysis. Ergonomics, 38(3), 595-605.

Wisner, A. (1995b). Situated cognition and action: implications for ergonomic work analysis and anthropotechnology. Ergonomics, 38(8), 1542-1557.

The Sydney Business School ACAD video (3 mins) is here: https://player.vimeo.com/video/302378219

Impact and engagement

A few notes to accompany a panel session at Deakin, organised by CRADLE 14th October 2019.

Although my publications are reasonably well-cited and I can say that some of my work is taken up by other academics, my impact on policy and practice is quite marginal. There are claims I could make about specific areas of change in curricula or in how teams approach the design of learning environments. But these claims feel patchy to me: important in a specific program or university, but nothing that would count as credible evidence of impact at scale.

However – and this is an example of shiftily switching a practical into an academic problem – I am very interested in the pathways from research to policy and practice change. So, for example, I’ve been carrying out research on:

  • how university leaders construe the challenges of integrating educational, IT and physical infrastructure planning,
  • how to make educational design experience and design ideas easier to share and re-use,
  • how teams of academics and educational developers collaboratively design for students’ learning, and
  • what counts as ‘actionable knowledge’ in/for the design of programs of professional education.

I’ve also worked with AARE and other organisations, in Australia and elsewhere, on aspects of research policy: including approaches to the evaluation of research quality and impact and strategies for research capacity-building and engagement with ‘non-academic’ users of research.

At the panel session today, I summarised three ways that researchers in (higher) education tackle the challenges of ‘impact and engagement’. These descriptions are very broad brush, and not meant to offend. I’m calling them ‘thoughts and prayers’, ‘branding innovations’ and ‘research-practice partnerships’.

‘Thoughts and prayers’ is the default. A researcher writes up a study, an educational innovation or whatever, publishes a paper in a higher education journal and hopes that someone will read it, and be inspired to change what they do.

Much more noisy and visible is the work that goes on when a person or team coins a persuasive term and markets it hard. I will try not to be too cynical about this. Education is prone to fads and fashions and a set of research-based ideas can be taken up quite readily if they are presented as a discrete and coherent whole. I’m sure we can all think of some examples where a pithy phrase transforms into something that can be trade-marked, branded and/or sold as a commodity. Epistemic fluency,  teaching-as-design, design thinking, evaluative judgement, feedback literacy, visible learning, productive failure, flipped classrooms; even such large and hairy mammoths as PBL.

Only a small proportion of these get a breakthrough into the mass market. However:

  • those that do make it big tend to be used to set the mould (or expectations, or standards) for what educational impact should look like and
  • educational practices and educational systems have shown they are capable of radically reinterpreting research-based interventions and actually realising something very different from what was tested in the original research, and
  • what is easy to pick up as a package is easy to drop as a package.

A recent article in the ‘Fairfax’ papers illustrates this, with Deanna Kuhn’s work on ‘growth mindset’ as the example. The original research was deep, painstaking and insightful. The educational take-up, around the world, has been widespread and enthusiastic. But implementations are many and varied and some have moved a long way from anything Kuhn would recognise.  In other words ‘implementation fidelity’ is far from guaranteed in educational systems, so the connections between research, practice and outcomes can be very tenuous.

This brings me to the third approach, which I’ll subsume under the heading of ‘research practice partnerships’. There’s an excellent book on this by Bill Penuel and Daniel Gallagher. Rob Ellis and I summarised some of the ideas, customised for higher education, in the second half of our most recent book. The organising theme here is engagement, with impact on practice as one of the benefits – accompanied by a stronger, reciprocal, role for practitioners to shape research. The RPP idea has shaped some of our work in setting up the Centre for Research on Learning and Innovation at Sydney University, though we have a long way to go yet.

Such partnerships have also influenced a strand in my own research – such that I’ve chosen to research educational practices in which there’s a reasonable chance that research-based knowledge will prove useful. For example, common sense and good evidence suggest that teachers are much better placed to consult research when they are designing for learning (‘upstream’ of a learning activity) than when they are in the middle of a live teaching-learning event. In addition, when the right materials, tools or spaces become available at the right time, they are likely to become part of prevailing practices and have beneficial and sustainable effects. Research-based ideas that take on a material form, such that they can become entangled in – and reshape – existing practices, live a different life from those that sit silently in the literature. Hence, I’ve researched the dynamics of design teams’ working practices and have experimented with rendering research-based insights in readily materializable forms (such as design patterns).

My final point: I’ve had a close involvement in setting up and/or running four research centres in the last 30 years. I’ve been drawn to this mode of working for a number of reasons. But one of them is a realisation that the intensification of pressures on academic researchers means it’s not sensible to try to be outstanding at all aspects/phases of the research lifecycle. For one person to be energetically forming new ideas for projects, securing funding, recruiting and guiding research teams, writing for academic and practitioner audiences, overseeing a suite of dissemination activities, liaising closely with practitioner communities and policy-makers, making cases for internal resources, etc etc – that’s a recipe for burnout and disaster. We can’t all be good at all these things all of the time. Also, some of them really benefit from specialist skills. Hence: if you want to engage in a sustainable way in processes that are likely to improve the impact of your research, you are best advised to work closely with kindred spirits.

See also:

Recent articles on the LSE Impact Blog by John Burgoyne and Toby Green.

The UK REF Impact case studies from Durham on Threshold Concepts and Lancaster on Evaluative research improving policy and practice.

The DETYA report on The Impact of Educational Research – published in 2000, but thorough and full of insights.