Voices of Innovators #Twalk #audiofeedback

toolkitTwo new toolkits have been developed on the Media-Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group site for which I am responsible. They signal a good shift for the nebulous group of innovators that comes the way of MELSIG according to it current themes and foci. Known for its events, which I hope will continue for many years to come, the development of toolkits is something that the extended community can co-develop with relative ease.

I want to draw your attention to the Voice of Innovators section in the Audio Feedback Toolkit. These are 3 minute long audio contributions submitted by anyone who is using a related method. They have the following structure:

  1. Contributor’s name and affiliation
  2. Context – the circumstances that led to the innovation
  3. Description of how the innovative method was/is being used
  4. Observations
  5. 3 tips for others who would be interested in doing something similar.

The examples which have already been submitted demonstrate well how this can be done in approximately 3 minutes. It can be thought of as an audio pecha kucha. Incidentally, the method exemplifies audio as a learning media at its best: clear, direct, personal, engaging and accessible. Not forgetting, easy to produce.

What do you have to offer?

Can you, or do you know anyone, who can offer a Voice of the Innovator mini-case study recording on either,

  • Audio Feedback including audio, screencast or video models (producer or user stories welcomed)
  • Twalks – accounts from Twalk leaders or designers, or accounts of participants

Please send your audio files to a.j.middleton ‘at’ shu.ac.uk

Looking ahead

The next MELSIG toolkit will be on Digital Storytelling. If you would like to help with pulling this together please let me know: @andrewmid or by email a.j.middleton ‘at’ shu.ac.uk or comment here or on the MELSIG site.

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Place is our starting point

Aristotle’s gymnasium , Athens

“In Aristotle …we have a very powerful philosophy of place as the starting point for all other forms of existence.” (Cresswell, 2009, p. 2)

This year will see the publication of my book Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Central to its thesis is the proposition that place and placemaking are the starting points for understanding spaces for learning. We need to be learning-centred in our thinking about space. This is fundamental to evaluating social media for learning, for example, in which learning occurs within a distributed and networked context, being experiential and unbounded. Social media learning spaces do not fit the paradigm of learning space; they are fundamentally experiential, boundless and connective and so they are unlike historic conceptions of learning space conceptualised and straight-jacketed by binary distinctions of formality and actuality.

It is apt that I am in Athens for New Year. It is here that Aristotle established his Lyceum and the gymnasium, places of learning through interaction and contemplation. This is where peripatetic learning was born. Subsequently the word peripatetic has become associated with the organisation and movement of teachers, nurses or doctors to service a region, but its original meaning was Aristotelian, describing learning as contemplative and conversational through walking. This phenomenon continues to fascinate me. Not only are learning, walking and talking central to the twitter walks (#twalks) I have run this year, but they are symbolic of a disrupted yet valid conception of learning space in which learning is part of a narrative of becoming. The same ideas are fundamental to Studio for All (Middleton, 2017) – the proposition that learning is best understood as being active, co-operative, generative and dynamic. This brings us to ‘being’ and learner agency in which each learner must first understand, accept and embrace the active learning role, developing the skills they need to learn now and into the future.

By understanding connected place rather than simply detached space as our locus, educators may begin to redirect attention to learning context and situatedness, and what this means for developing knowledge and acquiring a learning disposition. Place, then, is much more than space: learning place is more about learning situation and what this means for each learner, while learning space is more interested in pragmatic matters of location and locale.

This year I expect to pay more attention to learning as it relates to place, placemaking, being, belonging and becoming.


Cresswell, T. (2009). Place. https://booksite.elsevier.com/brochures/hugy/SampleContent/Place.pdf

Middleton, A. (2017). Studio for All: perspectives on the pedagogy and ecology of studio-based learning. Creative Academic Magazine, August 2017, pp. 31-37.

Posted in active learning, Digital Placemaking, learning space, Possibilities, social media for learning, studio-based learning, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#socmedhe17 – what next?

socmedhe17The third annual Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference took place this week at Sheffield Hallam University. I have been involved with it throughout and may claim some responsibility for proposing we run it in the first place on the back of interest in #BYOD4L, several Media Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group  (MELSIG)events with a focus on #socmedhe and various collaborative activities with Sue Beckingham. This year I had very little to do with the organisation. I have just not been able to prioritise it. So first, thanks to my colleagues who have made sure that it has such a strong identity in the academic calendar and ensuring that again a rich and diverse conference has taken place. And thanks to my boss Graham Holden (@grahamjholden) who has had the vision to recognise the importance of actively exploring innovative learning spaces and it is Graham who has made this happen. Thank you.

Organising the event is quite a commitment. While the ticket price has covered the costs on the day, the staff time in running a proper peer review process is significant and we decided to look for other ways of sustaining the conference.

Some of us met to discuss this in one of the Bring Your Own Conference (#BYOC) unconference sessions in the morning. I wanted to summarise some of the points that were made and which now give ‘us’ the basis for planning next year’s event(s):

  • #socmedhe, in its own right, has a strong identity and has created a forum for an energetic community, and this gives it great value;
  • A chance to meet face-to-face is what distinguishes it from other fora through which many of the participants are also engaged (we talked a lot about #LTHEchat, #MELSIG, ALT and regional special interest groupings). We didn’t talk enough about #CLmooc or #DS106, but more on that in a minute.
  • A core group in the room including John Coupeerthwaite (@johncoup), Sarah Honeychurch (@NomadWarMachine), Simon Horrocks (@horrocks_simon), myself (@andrewmid), and a research student from Huddersfield and another student (I didn’t catch all the names, sorry) agreed that a transitional ‘ad hoc’ steering group should be established. Helen Rodger from SHU who has had the responsibility over three years to make it happen agreed to make the transition happen. We agreed a call would be made to establish this core transition group and would devise a brief to explain what such a commitment would entail.
  • We talked about existing groups, what we might learn from them and how we might co-operate with them. Some exploratory conversations will be had with one or two key organisations in January.
  • We were looking for a different modus operandi. One of the problems of a one day conference, especially one that happens before the Xmas break, is that it becomes a great landmark activity that struggles to engage its community through the rest of the year. The ideas and issues raised on the conference day are left hanging until next year and therefore there is a tendency to focus on show and tell rather than the trickier issues or the bigger ideas (though that does misrepresent the reality of quality, albeit brief, discussions.
  • Sarah Honeychurch attended the meeting and expressed her own commitment to taking the #socmedhe concept forward. On reflection I wish we had made more space to discuss more of her own experience of engaging through #CLmooc (Connected Learning) and similar initiatives like #DS106 which achieve much of what a conference can deliver, and more besides, through an active, creative connective learning ethos.

So, what will #SocMedHE become?

My guess, on the basis of the meeting, is that a core collective group will carry through the transition. We will have a conference (not at Sheffield Hallam) next year. We will also have some other things, possibly,

  • An ongoing webinar series
  • Social Media for Learning in HE podcast or YouTube channel
  • Some making, research and writing activities
  • Strong alliance with existing groups and organisations
  • An energetic and committed co-operative network able to make things happen by demonstrating the principles of an effective learning network.

Well, that’s what I’d like to see.

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Twalking as digital placemaking #twalk #socmedhe17

This 10 minute screencast introduces the key ideas of the twalk concept – learning walks with integrated tweetchats – and the pedagogic rationale underpinning walking, talking, tweeting and thinking.

The video is part of the Twalk Toolkit being developed on the Media-Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group site in time for our workshop at the Social Media for Learning in Higher Education conference (#socmedhe17) at Sheffield Hallam University next week.

Posted in active learning, BYOD, Digital Placemaking, learning space, MELSIG, social media for learning, walking | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

From outside-in to inside-out (and possibly back-to-front) rethinking #feedback

Back in the 1990s I was a young developer working in the Learning & Teaching Institute at Sheffield Hallam University. One project that I was not directly involved with, but which I was present for, was on developing the use of feedback. Led by Richard Higgins and Peter Hartley, publications from this work are much cited. I don’t think I’ve reread any until now, but clearly it is ingrained in me! Or is that because Peter was my tutor for a while some years later? Anyway, I have just reread their paper ‘Getting the message across’ (Higgins, Hartley & Skelton, 2001).

It takes a communications perspective to the design of good feedback and challenges preoccupations with a QA approach to examining the quality of feedback as being predominantly a matter of process, and argues for a student-centred view of feedback design.

“the process of feedback as communication is inherently problematic… it is impossible to investigate how an outside influence impacts upon a process if the internal dynamics of that process are not understood — that is, if the true nature of the process remains hidden (or simply assumed).” p. 272

The following is particularly pertinent to the work that I am currently conducting,

“We should be asking how the tutor comes to construct the feedback, how the student understands the feedback (how they make sense of it), and how they make sense of assessment and the learning context in general.” p. 273

As discussed in previous posts, assessment and feedback is experienced differently by each student. I argue that w recognise this as we design and engage students with the task. Higgins et al. seem to be saying something similar in the following.

“Tutors [cannot] assume that students will understand a list of assessment criteria. Feedback may need to be more dialogical and ongoing. Discussion, clarification and negotiation between student and tutor can equip students with a better appreciation of what is expected of them, and develop their understandings of academic terms and appropriate practices before or as they begin to write. Perhaps we need to shift the emphasis to ‘feeding forward’ into a piece of work, rather than simply ‘feeding back’. ” p. 274

This is where my ‘back-to-front’ comes in – let us focus more on how a student comes to a task  – how they are supported in navigating it – before we dive in to work out why there may be a problem with the feedback, wherever it occurs.

Higgins, R., Hartley, P. & Skelton, A. (2001). Getting the message across: the problem of communicating assessment feedback. Teaching in Higher Education, 6(2), pp. 269-274. – https://doi.org/10.1080/13562510120045230

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“Things that the mind already knows” – what is an assessment? #assessment #briefing

The American artist Jasper Johns, whose retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy closed over the weekend, was fascinated with exploring the theme ‘Things that the Mind Already Knows’. He is perhaps best known for his interest in iconographic images, especially the American national flag ‘the stars and stripes’.


Here is an example. His interest in representation and interpretation is a subject that has been explored by many others, notably John Berger in his book and 1970s television programme Ways of Seeing. If I asked you about the above image you could tell me that it is the American flag, and we could leave it at that. I could tell you that it is actually a photograph in a webpage. You could tell me that it’s a photograph from an exhibition on your screen. All of these, and many other descriptions, would be factually right. Conceptually, you might tell me that it is this, that or the other. I’m sure this isn’t new to you!

The reason I am discussing this is that on Saturday morning I posted about the importance of briefing students clearly and in the afternoon I walked into this exhibition. It was apparent that Johns was preoccupied with similar matters to do with subjectivity and interpretation.

Looking at that image as a metaphor for assessment, here are three questions: what do I bring to understanding ‘the question’? What does the person next to me bring to their interpretation? How adequate is my photograph in representing what is needed?

Picking up on the last question first, are the floor, the lighting, the wall, or the title card significant? Are the other pictures in the gallery (things we have also experienced, or will come to experience) significant? The first two questions above indicate how the student (or the viewer) brings their own experience and aspirations to the question (the picture) and these must have some legitimacy. When we design an assessment, to what extent do we value the student’s own experience? Are we flexible in terms of methods, modes, contextualisation, opportunities to negation criteria or their weighting for example?

Let’s focus on the implications of all this to adequately setting a question or briefing an assessment task. As already discussed, the task and the feedback it generates can only be as good as the way the assessment is briefed. However the academic conceives the question, it is nothing until it is perceived and then experienced (i.e. we can understand assessment in terms of LeFebvre’s Spatial Triad – assessment is a space that will be navigated and could be negotiated).

However well-crafted the assessment task is, it needs to be checked and tested by others who may read it differently before it is used. Further, in terms of formative activities and coursework assignments, time must be designed into the task and exploited so that students are supported as they come into the task and as they relate it to their on experiential frameworks, past, present and future. On a practical basis this means giving the students real opportunities to check their understanding of the task through tutorials, discussions with peers, or opportunities to draft responses and to reorientate their energies. An early tutorial on a dissertation assignment for example creates a decisive moment for restating, reconsidering and reorienting oneself to the task.

The dangers of invalidating of assessment due to inadequate opportunities to explore the question are real. As an example, I remember when I did my Geography A Level at school. I undertook a summer project which was a key component of the exam. On returning to school, having had no opportunity to review the task, I was told that what I had spent the summer doing was a waste of time. I dropped out of school soon after, disillusioned, albeit with a project of which I was immensely proud but which had been misconceived. Years later I returned to education and discovered I was quite capable academically, but by then my misconception of the task had had serious consequences nevertheless. I felt cheated and, to use the parlance, dissatisfied.

So, reflecting on my earlier post about male students who tell you they are “OK” and that they understand the task you have given them, I urge you to check in with them a little later to find out that they really do see the task in the way you had conceived it. Explore the canvas and its meanings.

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