Blog Archives

Is open and online reconfiguring learner journeys?

Tuesday 6th June marked the first day of the 3rd International Enhancement in Higher Education Conference held in Glasgow. The conference coincides with the final year of QAA Scotland’s ‘Transitions’ enhancement theme. At the Enhancement Themes Conference in 2016 the OEPS team explored the relevance of OER and OEP to educational transitions. This year in our presentation we focussed on the question ‘Is open and online reconfiguring learner journeys?’

We noted that learner journeys may involve transitions from informal or self-directed to formal learning, between sectors and between education and employment. These transitions are negotiated in environments where digital technology is becoming ubiquitous. Organisations that support transitions now believe that supporting the development of digital skills is essential and some are making use of open resources.   Almost all students, young and mature, now arrive in HE with some digital skills – some may have new forms of credential (open badges). These provide a platform for developing digital literacy and the skills appropriate to learning in higher education.

We raised the possibility that as a result it may be necessary to rethink the pedagogy that underpins transitions and concluded with two questions for reflection:

  • Is there a disconnect between pedagogy, practice, student needs and student experience?
  • And if there is what does this imply for supporting widening participation transitions?

et 2017ET Themes by Pete Cannell, CC BY SA 4.0

The slides for the OEPS presentation can be accessed on

All the presentation slides from the Enhancement Themes conference (keynote and parallel), conference papers and poster presentations are available on the Enhancement Themes website.

Pete Cannell



Action Research into the Learner Experience

The issue is examining why it is we follow a particular track


Credit: Ronald Macintrye, Postal Deliveries to the tidal Isle of Oransay, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Evaluation of Learning Experience of e-Learning Special Interest Group (ELESIG) recently launched a MOOC on the EU MOOC platform and aggregator EMMA. The MOOC is titled “Researching Learners experiences and use of technology using action research” #LERMOOC. It includes linked case studies based on partnership work by OEPS. In them I reflect on the three phases of content development, reflecting on design, production and use. I explore the value and tensions around working in partnership with an external organisation, in this example Parkinson’s UK.

The value of partnership comes from getting closer to the learners and their experiences through working with practitioners, in particular in the design phase where you can surface and test assumptions, evaluating them as part of the design process; but also in use, where the materials can be embedded in existing social contexts through the partner’s networks. The tension is often about how systems speak to each other; sometimes these are technical questions, sometimes ones of organisational culture.

The purpose is to create partnerships with organisations to allow you to get closer to understanding the learners, it is exploratory, and the case studies focus on the process, on wayfinding, surfacing my own action research into the learner experience as part of being a reflective practitioner.

Click on this link to read the OEPS case studies.

Ronald Macintyre

‘The Porous University’

“The Porous University – A critical exploration of openness, space and place in Higher Education

Time and venue: Two day symposium in late April/early May 2017 (dates tbc), Inverness Campus, University of the Highlands and Islands

Contacts: Ronald Macintyre (Open Educational Practices Scotland, Open University) and Keith Smyth (UHI)

The idea for this symposium arose out of a series of conversations and reflections on the nature of openness within Higher Education. It started with the observation that openness is increasingly seen as a technical question, whose solution lies in employing the low transaction costs associated with digital technologies with open licences to open up academic content to new groups of learners. Where critical voices have engaged this partial reading they have often rightly critiqued the degree to which this is truly open, for example, drawing on older traditions of open to question the freedoms free content allows for those already distanced from education. However, other questions also arise, what does it mean beyond releasing content? What is the role of open academics in dealing with problems “in the world”, how should staff and students become learners within community contexts, developing and negotiating curriculum based on those contexts? What would it mean for openness as a way to allow new voices into the academy, to acknowledge knowing and ways of knowing outside the academy, and where can and should our open spaces – both digital and physical – intersect?  If we are to advocate allowing learners experience and organisations to inform the academy how open should academics be to the influence of private capital? These are the kinds of questions we want to explore in this symposium.

Further details and a call for contributions and participation is forthcoming in December 2016. Attendance at this event is free.

For further information or to express an interest in becoming involved please contact Ronald Macintyre ( or Keith Smyth (”


OEPS at the #Design4Learning conference

by Ronald Macintyre

The Higher Education Academy/Open University (HEA/OU) organised conference, #design4learning, was focused on learning design and learning analytics. OEPS presented in the poster section, see here [], and no, we did not win. I am sure you can tell from the # title this was an elearning conference, and as one might expect twitter was very busy. All the ingredients were there: various papers with cool models of how to design learning journeys, the pros and cons of all that student data we can collect, those ubiquitous MOOCs, there was even a touch of open. In that sense it could have been like any other elearning conference but actually it was a little different; something is stirring in the elearning community.

Once you put an ‘e’ (or for a while an ‘’i’) in front of a word, things change, costs change for a start; they go up, and often in an apparently uncontrollable way, not just in education of course, the most obvious recent examples have been in the NHS where the Government eventually just gave up. Looking at some of the big elearning projects, costs have been huge and while they tend to deliver a platform or a tool, one often gets the sense that no real thought has been put into how useful or well used they are. Mark Johnson’s paper captured the post-project angst of an unused platform very well; the £10 million plus project iTEC has come to an end, the platform and tools look great but he felt it was by no means clear if it would ever be used. His blog is here I had an opportunity to chat with him later, again he emphasised the pressure placed on those in the community to bring in the next big project, the pressure to keep yourself and your team in a job. Also, the easy obsession of decision makers with the transformative power of technology which is often more about enabling the creation than what the creation enables [note: apologies to frequent readers who must be getting bored of this turn of phrase].

It does look like this flow of money is drying up, and policy makers are starting to ask questions. Questions like: what kind of transformation, who, how many – they are starting to want evidence. This sense permeated the conference, a sense of ennui, or more bluntly as someone whispered in my ear “the end of the gravy-train”. It seems harsh but the conference was full of introspective and quite self-critical analysis of the claims made for and by elearning. For example, Terese Bird’s [] session which looked into a future and saw Pearbucks Ltd., a hydra formed by Udacity, Starbucks, Pearson, in it she presented a vision of HE without HE, with the private sector stepping up because HE could not get its act together. In some ways it was part of a narrative that argues the possibilities of elearning are just around the corner, if we do not grab them someone else might. Though within this narrative I sometimes feel we talk ourselves into a constant state of becoming, arriving at critical questions but drifting towards introspection rather than action. Others, more in line with my own views, looked at the damage done by deliberate unrealistic hype. Alejandro Armellini’s [] “Old Wine in New Bottles” asked us to consider whether the way we dress up ideas in new jargon is useful. When we call doing prep before a tutorial ‘the flipped classroom’ are we doing anything other than making people feel cynical about educational researchers, where sometimes all we have discovered is a new name for something that goes on anyway and our innovations are merely about terminology. If that is the case, why should people attend to anything we say? It is a good question and it requires action.

Very interesting, but what has this got to do with being open? Well, OER/OEP in the UK grew out of the elearning community; we would do well to heed the warnings coming out of that community. Then of course there is “the bubble”, “boom and bust”, it is amazing how easy it is to forget, or even to imagine the “hot” area you are in is not like the other hyped ones, the one I am in is being hyped because it is great. Actually, mostly those areas that get “hot” within educational practice are “hot” because they have the “potential” to do great things. Interest in Open Educational Practices is not another “Darien Scheme”, it has potential, and as you can see from our poster it is “doing things”, but people might lose faith if we make unrealistic promises, or fail to deliver on realistic promises. So perhaps it is time to turn to Burns, not the “parcel of rouges”, but:

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us.

Perspective – perspective in “seeing ourselves” we need to ask critical questions, not navel gazing, but questions that ask what open does and can do in the world, it is about practice. In the end I suppose it comes back to being a reflective practitioner.