Why am I blogging?

I’m currently sitting in a computer lab, getting thoroughly inspired by the workshop I’m attending on Academic Blogging, run by my colleague and MSc E-Learning alumni, Nicola Osborne (her prezi for the day is here http://prezi.com/nhayktwpgqq1/academic-blogging-workshop/ ).

I’ve been avoiding blogging with vigour for some time now 🙂  and her workshop is forcing me to think ‘Why am I blogging? Who is my audience? What do I want to be blogging about?’

So here’s my thoughts on why….

I teach on the MSc in E-Learning where we have a course (Introduction to Digital Environments for Learning) which includes a blogging component worth 50% of the student’s final grade.  That blog is a private space between a single student and their blog tutor, one where the student posts regularly, reflecting on the topics, activities and readings the course covers.  The tutor’s job is to comment regularly and help guide the student toward a more critical stance on the materials and a more confident blog voice.  I’m a fairly good blog tutor but I feel a bit of a sham as I’ve not really blogged myself.  So, partly, I want to blog so that I better understand the experience of blogging and can better support my students.

I’m also (kind of) doing a PhD.  “Kind of” because it’s been a bit of a slow start and will probably only take off now as I am making a topic, location and supervision change (more on that in another post!).  I’m a terrible procrastinator and I hope having a regular blog writing schedule will push me. I also know how very very important writing is to help think through ideas, to not lose the ideas (oh how many have slipped away over time!), to have writing that can be drawn on later and to simply  get practice at writing (nothing’s worse than the blank page when the deadline looms!).  So, I’m hoping a blog will help me synthesise readings, chart the development of ideas, and perhaps also be a space where I can sometimes get input from others to help provoke my thinking further.

I’m also (sort of again) research active – I’ve been involved in a few very cool projects over the last couple of years and the blog is a nice way of sharing that.

I’m hoping also that my PhD and ‘work’ research will be complementary and this blog might be a way to bring the two together.

Managing multiplicity

What this means is that I have multiple purposes and maybe multiple audiences (students might pop along to check out more about this Clara person, my supervisors and phd mates might want to check out and feedback on my thinking about my phd, and colleagues who share the same research interests I do).

Yesterday, John Naughton made a great point about social networks and Erving Goffman’s (1959) book Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Naughton was specifically talking about the dangers of social networking (in his example, a private dinner party becomes public faire, much to the host’s horror as guests tweet, FB and take pics without the host’s knowledge).   He said:

 “Goffman uses a theatrical metaphor to interpret social interactions between people. In everyday life, he argues, we are all actors, each of us playing a variety of roles. The audience consists of the other people with whom we interact. And, as in the theatre, we operate in two zones – one when we are, as it were, on stage, and the other when the curtain is down and we can revert to being ourselves – ie discard the role or identity we assume when in the presence of others.

Goffman’s analysis was entirely predicated on the face-to-face encounters of social life as it used to be in a pre-internet age. In those days, it really was possible to go backstage, as it were: to discard one’s public face and be oneself. It still is, but now you have to switch off your phone and resist the egotistical temptations of social networking and location-based services. And, hey! – if you do that, then maybe people will start inviting you to dinner again.”

As I pondered Nicola’s question in today’s workshop, I realized one reason I haven’t properly blogged yet was because I fear how these different roles, different audiences, will come together on this one stage.  I’ve taken the easy route of simply publishing products – artefacts of complete (or complete enough!) research like presentations and abstracts for papers.  But I what I need as a developing academic (whether an associate lecturer or a phd student) is to be able to talk about my processes – and that might make for a more interesting blog too. To use a metaphor – I’ve been showing the swan smoothly sailing above the water, not the frantic paddling underneath. 🙂

I know I can balance the multiplicity of roles – I’m Facebook friends with colleagues, past students, friends and family. But FB asks:

“What’s on your mind?” is easy to answer – it’s in the present, there’s no expectation it’s what will be on your mind in a moment’s time.  There’s an ephemerality to a FB status and an informality that makes managing multiple identities a little easier.  I can easily share a pleasantly trivial thought and press enter and it’s done. Within an hour or two it will slip down the news feed and although it’s still present in my timeline, it’s indicative of where my mind was not where my mind is now.

But a blog post has a different tenor.  There’s the magic button that says:

‘Publish’ comes with different meanings – particularly in Academia where it collocates more with ideas of permanency, robustness (the peer reviewed article, for instance) and a certainty of thinking.

I know that each is permanent and public in some ways (after all, my FB comments, though private, could be made into screenshots and shared with the world). But there is something in tension between process and product and the mighty ‘publish’ button that has meant that my blog has not yet been the blog I intend it to be.

I hope it will become a little more of what I want it to be …. We shall see.  🙂


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‘Campus envy’ and being ‘at’ University: the topologies of distance students

As part of the Edinpace project that I am involved with,  my colleagues Sian, Michael and James wrote and presented a paper on the idea of being ‘at’ the university, asking what it means to be a distance learning student who is at Edinburgh but not in Edinburgh.  It struck me this work was well worth sharing 🙂 so below is the abstract and prezi (nice work, guys!).

The presentation was:

Bayne, S., Ross, J., O’Shea, C., Gallagher, M., Lamb, J. and Macleod, H.  (2012).  Being ‘at’ University: the topologies of distance students.  Internet Research 13.0:  Technologies.  Salford, Greater Manchester, UK:  October 18-21, 2012.

Online distance learning in higher education is growing internationally, with many institutions providing programmes in this mode (White et al 2010), funding bodies encouraging further growth in its provision (Brindley 2011), and institutions investing in order significantly to grow their numbers of off-campus students (for example the University of Edinburgh is investing £4.5 million over five years in new online distance programmes).

This distance education is sometimes described as place-less or border-less (Latchem 2005). However we know that the spatialities of online education are far more complex than such analyses imply. In this paper, we will draw on theories of spatiality which emphasise that educational practices do not take place either ‘within’ or ‘outside’ a space, but rather consist of a range of practices which themselves produce what we understand to be the educational ‘space’ (Fenwick, Edwards and Sawchuk 2011). In providing an analysis of what this means for online distance students, we will report on a research project which has used narrative, visual and mapping methods to explore with distance students the question of what it means to be ‘at’ University when they are not ‘in’ the University.

This research took place within a group of 150 students, spread across 35 countries, studying on a fully online programme at the University of Edinburgh. These are students who never visit the physical campus. Drawing on the ethnographic trope of the ‘arrival story’, we used narrative methods within a series of online interviews to explore with students the tales of their own ‘arrival’ at Edinburgh at the start of their studies. The notion of ‘arrival’ was used in this context deliberately to problematise the association of study with a fixed academic geography. Narrative methods have been little used in research into online education (Friesen 2008), yet the capacity for an arrival story to capture an intense moment as the familiar ‘place of home’ is brought intimately alongside the unfamiliar ‘place of study’ has proven to be richly generative for this project.

Alongside the interviews, we asked students to provide visual data in the form of an image which encapsulated something of their arrival narrative. This form of ‘respondent-generated’ visual data (Prosser and Loxley 2008) has been an attempt to work with the broader ‘iconic turn’ in higher education practice (Kress 2005, Jewitt 2005). We also asked students to submit digital ‘postcards’ which showed their study spaces, using these to make a map of course geographies and perspectives. The postcards are visual, in the form of an image of the student’s study spaces, and auditory in that they embed short clips of the soundscapes of the student’s study environments, in an attempt to work against the tendency among internet scholars to privilege image over sound (Sterne 2006).

We will report on themes emerging from the research, including what it means to have a sense of ‘home’ in an educational context, what it means to be ‘nomadic’ as a student, and what it means to experience ‘campus envy’. We will argue against the tendency within higher education to assume a ‘sendentarist’ view which ‘treats as normal stability, meaning, and place, and treats as abnormal distance, change and placelessness’ (Sheller and Urry 2006). In presenting the findings of our project, we will argue for a more nuanced theorisation of academic geographies, one which takes account of the ‘mobilities and moorings’ (Fenwick, Edwards and Sawchuk 2011) enacted within online distance education.


You can also view the prezi at prezi.


  • Brindley, L. (2011). Collaborate to compete: Seizing the opportunity of online learning for UK higher education. (Bristol: Online Learning Task Force/HEFCE). Retrieved: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2011/11_01/ Date of Access: 27 February 2012.
  • Fenwick, T., Edwards, R., Sawchuck, P. (2011) Emerging approaches to educational research. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Friesen, N. (2008). Chronicles of change: the narrative turn and e-learning research. E-Learning 5(3): pp. 297-309.
  • Jewitt, C. (2005). Multimodality, ‘reading’, and ‘writing’ for the 21st century. Discourse 26(3): 315-331.
  • Kress, G (2005). Gains and losses: new forms of texts, knowledge and learning. Computers and Composition. 22(1), 5-22.
  • Latchem, C. (2005). Towards borderless virtual learning in higher education. In A. A. Carr-Chellman (Ed.), Global perspectives on e-learning: rhetoric and reality. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
  • Prosser, J and Loxley, A (2008). Introducing Visual Methods, ESRC National Centre for Research Methods Review Paper. Retrieved: http://eprints.ncrm.ac.uk/420/1/MethodsReviewPaperNCRM-010.pdf Date of Access: 27 February 2012.
  • Sheller, M. and Urry, J. (2006) ‘The new mobilities paradigm’, Environment and Planning A, 38: 207-26.
  • Sterne, J (2006) Critical cyberculture studies. New York University Press.
  • White, D., Warren, N., Faughnan, S. and Manton, M. (2010). Study of UK Online Learning: Report to HEFCE by the Department for Continuing Education, University of Oxford. (Oxford: University of Oxford).
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The MSc in E-Learning’s Dissertation Festival 2012

This is a post I popped up on our programme site, but I thought worth adding here as it neatly sums up what we get up to during our Dissertation Festival. 

The Festival idea came to me after reflecting on the tension between our very collaborative courses and the, at times, solitary nature of individual research.  The hope was that the Festival would help negotiate that tension and also provide different and useful stimulus for students in the throws of analysis and writing.

I do the admin for the Festival, but it would never have happened were it not for the amazing Second Life skillz of Marshall Dozier, the support of our Second Life guru, Fiona Littleton, and the unfailing enthusiasm of MScEL staff and students.


The MSc in E-Learning’s Dissertation Festival 2012

The Dissertation Festival was held from 30 July to 3 August on our special island in Second Life.  It was  a chance for students on the MSc in E-Learning programme to share their thoughts on their dissertation in the lead up to their submission date and to share ideas, issues and inspirations with each other.


The Festival kicked off with a chat about the dissertation process (Monday 30 July 2012).   Folk popped in for a glass of champagne, a poster viewing and a chance to chat with tutors and students about the dissertation process.  We covered the more immediate concerns of those about to submit, to debriefs about the dissertation process and more general questions for those about to start their Mighty Work.

We then had a wonderfully rich range of dissertation and work-in-progress presentations throughout the week.

Monday 30 July 2012

  • Mark Dransfield – Exploring attitudes to and facilitating cultural change around electronic assignment submission, marking and feedback.
  • Emma King – Exploring staff perceptions of e-learning: the use of e-learning, drivers and perceived barriers to its adoption

Tuesday 31 July 2012

  • Nicola Osborne – Continuous professional development in collaborative social media spaces
  • Paul Salaman – Blended learning for Africa: A pilot study of on-line seminars at a Tanzanian University.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

  • Austin Tate – Activity in context: Planning to keep learners ‘in the zone’ for scenario-based mixed-initiative training
  • Jo-Anne Murray – Students use and perception of Second Life

Thursday 2 August 2012

  • Noreen Dunnett – Twitter as a place for learning: An examination of the relationship between context, technology and learning with trainee teachers on placement
  • Sharon Boyd  – Green electracy: Using digital literacy tools to facilitate reflection in sustainable education
  • James MacKay – implementing iPad initiatives:  Organizational considerations, student use, teacher use and pedagogical implications.

Friday 3 August 2012

  • Debbie Aitken – Medical undergraduate use of smartphones on clinical placements
  • Colin Peters – A study of factors affecting summative assessment performance in an online European postgraduate medical education programme

We also had a little extra treat with  a display in-world of the products of our first Summer School on writing for academic publications.

You can still view the slides, posters and fabulous haikus each student has made.  These are available on the Island throughout the Festival.  Each cluster of student materials is accompanied by a comments board – so you can leave the authors your thoughts, questions and other feedback to help them on their journey.  http://slurl.com/secondlife/Vue%20South/191/58/24

Pics from the week are available at http://tinyurl.com/cyh2opx

All in all, another great MScEL event.  Thanks to all who participated!

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Update: Transforming Assessment/eAssessment Scotland seminar recording available

Aloha all

The recording for my session on ‘Assessment and the Manifesto for Teaching Online’ (23 August 2012) is now available from http://www.transformingassessment.com/events_23_august_2012.php (or jump directly to the Elluminate version here  or the youtube version here).

Many thanks to Matthew Hiller and Geoff Crisp for their excellent hosting and to everyone who came.  There were lots of great questions and comments that have helped me think through some of the implications of the Manifesto further.

Posted in Assessment and Feedback, Manifesto for Teaching Online | 2 Comments

Transforming Assessment webinar: Assessment and the Manifesto for Teaching Online (23 August 2012)

I’m very stoked to be doing a webinar for the Transforming Assessment series (Thursday 23 August, 2012).

The webinar is based on the manifesto for teaching online that Jen Ross, Sian Bayne, Hamish Macleod and myself developed as part of our ‘Student writing: innovative online strategies for assessment & feedback‘.

The seminar blurb runs:

Manifesto for Teaching Online is in part a reaction to problematic assumptions that seem to structure a lot of what is developed and promoted as e-learning and as a way of promoting a positive and forward looking, yet realistic vision for e-learning.

This session will focus on what the Manifesto has to say in regard to the assessment side of online teaching and learning. The audience is strongly encouraged to engage and contribute their views to the conversation.

You can check out a draft version of my slides here:

Frontpage of powerpoint presentationhttps://claraoshea.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/ta_manifesto_webinar_24-8-12.pdf

And if you’re interested in coming along to the seminar, details are here:  http://www.transformingassessment.com/moodle/calendar/view.php?view=upcoming.  Update: the recording of the seminar is now available from http://www.transformingassessment.com/events_23_august_2012.php

(The seminars are recorded – eep! – so you can catch it up, or check out some of the excellent past ones at http://www.transformingassessment.com/events_past.php)

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Presentation: New geographies of learning: distance education and being ‘at’ Edinburgh

Here’s the abstract and prezi for a presentation James Lamb and I did today at the Spaces of (Dis)location conference (Glasgow 24-25 May 2012).

It’s based on the work done by Sian Bayne (our PI), Hamish Macleod,  Jen Ross, myself and our two research associates, Michael Gallagher and James Lamb.  For more on the project, check out http://edinspace.weebly.com/


New geographies of learning: distance education and being ‘at’ Edinburgh

What does it mean to be a student at the University of Edinburgh who is not in Edinburgh?  How do students identify with their institution, and what insight does this give us into learning design for high quality distance programmes?

In this paper, we report on our exploration of how distance learners construct and describe their relationship with their institution, using visual and narrative methods within a group of 150 students from 35 countries studying on the fully online, distance MSc in E-Learning. Students told the tales of their own ‘arrival’ at Edinburgh at the start of their studies, an ethnographic trope which problematised academic geographies and brought together the ‘concrete’ campus and the ‘distant’ place of study.  Students also provided visual and aural data in the form of digital ‘postcards’, creating a vivid sense of the land- and sound-scape of their study environment.

Significant themes that emerged from this research included what it means to have a sense of ‘home’ in an educational context, what it means to be ‘nomadic’ as a student, and what it means to experience ‘campus envy’. From this, we argue against the ‘sedentarist’ tendencies within higher education which treat ‘as normal stability, meaning, and place, and treat as abnormal distance, change and placelessness’ (Sheller and Urry 2006).  In presenting the findings of our project, we argue for a more nuanced theorisation of academic geographies,  one which takes account of their different ‘mobilities and moorings’ (Fenwick, Edwards and Sawchuk 2011), and which positions educational practices as producing new geographies of learning.

Fenwick, T., Edwards, R., Sawchuck, P. (2011) Emerging approaches to educational research. Abingdon: Routledge.
Sheller, M. and Urry, J. (2006) ‘The new mobilities paradigm’, Environment and Planning A, 38: 207-26.

Our Prezi

You can also view the prezi at prezi.

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My accidental Manifesto remix

We’ve had some awesome postcards and posters made up of our Manifesto for Teaching Online.  I haven’t worked out where I want to put my poster, so it’s been sitting rolled up on my bookshelf.  As I was thinking about the re-mixing of the Manifesto that’s already happened, I notice the roll of words formed a pattern…

The rolled up manifesto



It is manifest that the mode we use means we need to redefine our context.  Different digital environments constrain and create different possibilities for engagement.

The aesthetic
places to
other is a

Design, the power of the visual, all of these things create and support ways of seeing, of thinking and arguing – they move us to consider academic discourse as more than text.

of knowledge

Perhaps more self explanatory – Feedback and assessment are key aspects of understanding what learning has occured and what needs yet to happen.

power of

There is something unique about the role of the teacher, separate from that of the student, one that both expertise and the assessor role mean we can not deny.  But what are these boundaries like?

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