Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) Spotlight

I had the pleasure of being yesterday’s Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) Spotlight. This MIEE spotlight is a nice blog that Microsoft uses to highlight the work of MIEEs around the country. On reading the spotlight post, it made me realise I’ve yet to post my portfolio on my own blog. and as such, I’ve just created this quick blog post to share my portfolio from last year. I’d also like to extend thanks to @misskmgriffin for the summary of my portfolio in the spotlight above.


I also realise it has been a while since I’ve provided an update on what I am up to with Microsoft in education, so stay tuned for some more updates in the new year!

Using LEGO as a teaching aid for academic essay writing in Higher Education

I conduct a lot of personal appointments with foundation and undergraduate students. For some students, ordering their ideas and structuring them is a real challenge. This problem tends to stem from:

  • not knowing where to start,
  • a sense of being overwhelmed,
  • the volume of information they consult,
  • the volume of information they feel *needs* including in their assignment.

Further, it is not just a case of ordering ideas, but structuring them that can be problematic. I feel that a lot of the poorly structured essays that I see are failing at the paragraph level. This is a real issue for a lot of students, especially those with less writing experience, those who have taken a break from education, or those who have no experience of essay style examination. The later is particularly an issue for international students from countries with different approaches to higher education assessment, often focusing on examinations above course work essays.

This post will detail how I’ve used LEGO to discuss some of these issues with students, and use it to help them outline their approach to academic writing. This starts with a student I saw a couple of weeks ago. I was struggling to communicate the structural elements of an essay to them. The student had lots of ideas, but simply did not know where to start and all the approaches in study skill books were simply not working for them. Instead of just rephrasing, I tried a different approach, running downstairs to grab my tub of LEGO. I think LEGO bricks are an excellent way to visualise some elements of academic writing and decided this was the perfect time to give it a go. I think this metaphor for academic writing structure can really help students struggling to structure their ideas – or more appropriately, to help students who are overwhelmed with their own ideas and sorting them out.

Let me know what you think by commenting below, or getting in touch via @LeeFallin.

Using LEGO as a metaphor for academic writing

When planning your essay, it can be really daunting. You end up with ideas all over the place:

LEGO bricks spread all over a table in no order


You need to order these ideas into groups. The act of doing this enables you to identify the major aspects of your essay. As expected, some ideas will be discarded at this phrase too (see the pile to the right side). It is still worth keeping a record of these as they may be useful at a later stage (who would EVER throw a LEGO brick in a bin!?!?!):

LEGO bricks grouped into piles of the same colour. Some to the right are discarded.

Once you have grouped all of your ideas like this, they form the basis of your overall argument. Each brick group is an aspect of this, forming one of the micro-arguments that lead your reader to the conclusion in your overall argument. These micro-arguments (brick groups) may by represented in an individual paragraph, or across a group of paragraphs. This process is not easy. At this idea stage, some of your groups will end up too large and you will need to break them up across two or more paragraphs. When this is the case, it is hard to distinguish which paragraph an idea belongs in. In reality, you are more likely to come across this problem later in writing when you have an oversized paragraph that you need to break up:

A pile of yellow LEGO bricks of subtlety different shades


When all the elements of your points, arguments or ideas are grouped into their individual paragraphs, they need further structuring:

A pile of brown bricks come together into a block

A solid paragraph should have a good structure. I recommend TEAL as a good starting point:

  • Topic – A brief introduction to what the paragraph is about. What is your point?
  • Evidence – Academic evidence, reflections, your own research/data
  • Analysis – The ‘so what’? Persuade the reader that your conclusion is the correct one
  • Link – Link this paragraph to the next – or to your overall argument.

(Indeed – this stage may be the *best* starting point for some students, but the route described so far is excellent for those struggle to structure all their ideas in the planning phase)

TEAL is a good way to structure all those ideas into a coherent paragraph:

An assembled block of brown bricks

LEGO bricks are an excellent metaphor for how you need to link all these elements together. The bumps and they way they interlock with bricks above makes this point clear. Everything with a paragraph must coherently link together and make sense:

Photo of lego blocks - demonstrates the

Once you have your individual paragraphs, they need to be assembled into the right order. This is often done as you go along, but as you being to edit, you may realise they need re-ordering. It isn’t just the structure that may change, and as you edit, some smaller points may need removing as you further refine your ideas (and try to get under your word count):

A long block of assembled bricks. Colours are striped in groups to represent paragraphs.


All of these elements together can help you rule your own writing:

LEGO monarch with crown


Taking this into practice

To put this into practice, I often recommend students grab a stack of post-it notes or use a mindmap to get all of their ideas on the table. The principles above serve as a great framework from which to interpret all these ideas. Working from the ideation phrase, grouping/sorting and through to refining the order and breaking it into paragraphs. If all else fails, literally using the LEGO bricks works well too. Small post-it notes can be used to adhere ideas to the bricks in a way that doesn’t require cleaning them afterwards. This works perfectly with Duplo too.

The model above is designed to help students identify their main points, grouping their ideas under these main points, and then divide those points into interlinked paragraphs. As the bricks represent, these all need ‘clicking together’ to form a stable essay (or stable LEGO model!). This may seem a little obvious for advanced writers, but it is certainly worth trying with those new to academic essay writing. As above, please let me know what you think! I should also note a quick thank you to my colleague Sue Watling. She indicated this approach was interesting when I mentioned it in conversation, so I figured it was worth expanding on my blog.


N.B. The main part of this post is also stored on its own page to allow me to continue tweaking it in future. I realise there may be some other aspects of writing that I need to include moving forward.

The bitesized EdD: Finding slots of time for a professional doctorate

Over the last few weeks I’ve been able to find more time for EdD writing (and reading). This hasn’t been large chunks of time, but just making better use of the small pieces of time I would usually waste.

It is easy to fall into the trap of feeling a doctorate needs whole days and afternoons of time. Yes. This helps. But actually, small bits of time really add up. Finding a couple of fifteen or twenty minute windows per day easily leads to a few hours over the week. This is where I’m finding my time.

I’ve been able to get a good twenty minutes on a fair few mornings to squeeze in some work. Instead of waiting for weekends or a whole free evening, I’ve found additional EdD time by squeezing in an extra hour or two on a few week nights. This hasn’t really impacted my personal life as I’ve fit this in after my fiancé goes to bed.

Being able to pick up work in small chunks like this requires a lot of discipline. It’s hard to put the work down after a few minutes. But when you have only twenty minutes – that is what you have to do! It also means you need to jump into productivity quickly and get yourself used to picking up where you left off quickly. This also requires discipline and practice.

I find technology really helps with this. Microsoft Word handily tells me where I left off. One Drive allows me to pick up work on any Mac, computer or iPad tablet. OneNote keeps my notes available everywhere. EndNote lets me take my library with me. All of these tools together allow me to quickly pick up bits of work. Quite often, I find OneNote is the largest enabler. I can quickly pick up some reading and make some notes or record some thoughts.

Track changes and Microsoft Word comments are also a great way to keep up with where I left off. One thing I’ve yet to try is a recommendation for @JaxBartram, she recommended always ending mid sentence. The idea being it is always easier to pick up work mid-sentence than it is to start afresh.

One one way to see if that works!

Home Office

Digital Transformation – responding to the challenge in academic libraries (Northern Collaboration 2017)

Today I attended my first Northern Collaboration Conference, with the added pleasure of delivering a workshop with Mike Ewen. This conference had the added bonus of being relevant for both work purposes and for my EdD research. The conference theme, Digital Transformation – responding to the challenge in academic libraries certainly aligned across work and research interests, with a good mix of educational technology thrown into the mix.

Digital transformation is a very topical theme for academic libraries, with the conference website presenting the following definition Brian Solis

“the realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle.”

In the library context, this definition really highlights the role of technology and related business models in the engagement of students throughout their student journey. This of course is very topical, and something my thesis touched on in guise of space. The conference theme and its constituent parts were really well brought together and contextualised in the closing keynote from Anne Horn (Director of Library Services, University of Sheffield). Anne highlighted how libraries are embodying such digital transformation(s) through:

  • service enhancement
  • energising our teaching
  • enriching library spaces
  • developing staff digital capabilities
  • utilising new digital processes, channels and platforms
  • pioneering new technology.

In her keynote, I particularly enjoyed the speculation on new technological megatrends and their potential impact on the library sector. With augmented reality, the internet of things, automation, robotics, personal assistants, big data, data visualisation, artificial intelligence, information exchange, makerspaces and wearables all featuring in the discussion. It could certainly be an interesting future for libraries. A great deal of this will depend what technological hypes settle into the mainstream edtech.

I think one thing we can be confident in, is that libraries will be still here (or, at least for some time yet!). Anne gave an interesting angle to the argument. As often said, there was conjecture that libraries would die as paper books and journals diminished in a world of eBooks and eReaders. This did not happen – and will not happen anytime soon. It was here that Anne’s argument got interesting. We are in a world where Uber can be a global leader in taxi transport provision – yet it does not own a single car. Airbnb is a leading hotelier without owning a single premises. So it has to be suggested. Can libraries not continue to exist in a world where they may not own the content (particularly with the vast quantity available freely on the internet)? This begs the question “What is worth owning… the platform or the underlying asset” (Schwab, 2017). Libraries are perhaps another industry that presents a platform more powerful than the assets it provides access to.

I strongly believe that as long as libraries continue to provide compelling services and spaces (both physical and online), they will always have a popular and needed platform, even if it does not directly own informational assets.

I will leave my conference discussion here for now. I would just like to add that I thoroughly enjoyed the parallel sessions that I attended throughout the day from the University of York, Sheffield Hallam, University of Bolton, Open University and University of Sheffield. All were very thought provoking and I believe they will feed into my wider digital literacy and general skills provision work, particularly online. Thanks to the organisers for a wonderful conference.

p.s. Mike and I intend to collaborate on a blog soon to review our session in a bit more detail.

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert 2017-2018


Monday this week I had the great pleasure of receiving an email from Microsoft to congratulate me on being selected as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) for 2017-2018. This was a wonderful surprise, following my application submission earlier this year. The application process involved putting together a PowerPoint Mix or Sway to overview my work. I chose to create a small portfolio in Sway which was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the last academic year. Now I am part of the MIEE programme I look forward to continuing to model the use of Microsoft technologies for learning and teaching. More importantly, I look forward to training and supporting colleagues in their own use of Microsoft technology for learning and teaching.

The year ahead

The MIEE status stays with me for a year and over this time I’ve been thinking about what I want to work on. Like any other commitment I take, I took to Twitter to outline my plans for the year:

As outlined in my tweet, I have three areas I want to work on and in this blog I’ll add a fourth – my own CPD.

Sways and Mixes

I think Sways and Mixes are fantastic educational tools. I especially love how I can quickly create a Mix in PowerPoint. While I can use more complicated tools, they take valuable time. Time I don’t have. For Sway – I love the dynamic and responsive nature. They work really well for content heavy pages that need to be accessible on any size of screen. The ability to set image focus points always ensures the most important elements of any diagram are preserved no matter what device someone is on. I am looking forward to getting some Mixes and Sways online.

Support colleagues with digital literacy and Microsoft 365

Over the last couple of years I’ve been doing a lot of work on digital literacy. My work over the last few months with Microsoft Office 365 and a whole range of Microsoft tools and apps (Learning Tools, Sway, Office Lens, Snip, PowerPoint Mix) has brought new perspectives to this work. Having built my own expertise through practice, I’m now looking forward to supporting colleagues developing their use of Microsoft educational tools, apps and Microsoft Office too. I’m also keen to update some of my existing resources with the latest tech solutions.

Promoting OneNote

OneNote has long been a component of Microsoft Office. It is however, often in the shadow of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I think it is one of the most undervalued aspects of the office suite and I always love introducing users to it. Often, students have OneNote installed on their computer but have never even opened it. I want to try and promote it more within my own institution. I think OneNote combined with Office Lens is the perfect solution to all a students note taking needs! Additional aspects of this including further experimentation with Class Notebooks, and I look forward to seeing how they can replace some wikis I am currently using in the VLE.


Technology is always developing and I aim to keep myself up-to-date on any new tools Microsoft release, and any updates to existing tools. I’m also keen to continue developing my knowledge through the Microsoft Educator Community.

ALDinHE Conference 2016 – Herriot Watt

It is with great sadness that I depart on the 17:00 train back home from the ALDinHE Annual Conference. It has been a fantastic three days in Edinburgh and I am already planning my return visit. I seem to fall into the nasty habit of always being here on business and I am determined to come back for leisure.

I fully intend to post a few blog posts spawned from the conference and in particular, a few more details about my presentation from today. I wanted to make this very quick post to solidify that commitment as I often tend to find myself *busy* after such an event. I do however believe that no matter how busy I am, it is important to make these reflections, ideas and thoughts a bit more concrete. At least, in the digital sense.

One thing that strikes me surrounds the reoccurring themes through the conference. This in itself is not surprising as the conference had four key themes: professional identities, social justice, students as partners and diversity. I was however surprised by the reoccurrance of freedom, civil liberties and belonging. This has linked to a lot of the conversations at the Freedom to Learn Conference in Hull, The Liberal Democrat Spring Conference and general discussions with my peers on the Hull EdD. I think this gives a real feel for some of the genuine concerns people have about education, freedom and government policy. There is every chance I am working hard to find these themes as they are important to me, but I feel their prominence is real. Let’s keep this conversation going!

I really appreciate the energy, enthusiasm and ideas from my loosely related learning development buddies at ALDcon. I am looking forward to getting back to Hull and working on some new ideas based on what I have heard. I also can’t wait to write up my own paper and look forward to trying to get it published. A big thank you to our ALDinHE Steering Group and to Andy for his hard work with the conference.

SAGE Research Methods

I just wanted to write a quick blog post today about SAGE Research Methods (SRM).

I think this is a fantastic resource and wanted to share some details about it for my fellow #HullEdD students. Azumah did try to show this at the end of our weekend, but there were some technical issues on campus.

To paraphrase SAGE, SRM is a research methods tool to help researchers with their papers and students with their studies. SAGE particularly specialise in humanities and social sciences research giving them a large catalogue of resources that are pulled into SRM. This means in includes over 720 books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and handbooks, the entire Little Green Book, and “Little Blue Book series, two Major Works collating a selection of journal articles, and specially commissioned videos, with truly advanced search and discovery tools. As the resource focuses on methodology and not discipline, it is widely applicable to lots of disciplines including us in education (SAGE, 2014).

As EdD students, the dictionary and encyclopaedia entries may not be something we would want to reference, but they do serve as a useful first place to check the definition of something. The text books within SRM can then be used to build on your initial understanding and the case studies and journal articles will show these methodologies and methods in action. As with any other journal articles, the articles accessed via SRM make a great addition to your bibliography, as may some of the books and case studies. For EndNote and RefWorks users, you will find SRM supports citation exports to make referencing just that little bit quicker! I should add it supports Zotero for anyone going off piste with their choice of bibliographic manager 😉

As SRM is an online resource, everything is available digitally which is a big plus for any of our international peers!

Accessing SRM at the University of Hull

As a University of Hull student, you will get access to SRM, you just need to login through Shibboleth. First click Log in to SAGE Research Methods:

The select Sign in via your institution:

You’ll find Hull under: University of Hull (Shibboleth) and selecting this option will take you into our familiar log in page.

Methods Map

The reason I think SRM is such a powerful tool comes down to the Methods Map. You can find this under Methodologies > Method Map. If you navigate through to Qualitative data analysis you’ll find everything from Foucauldian discourse analysis and grounded theory through to interpretive phenomenological analysis and visual research.

Give it a go! It is awesome!


SAGE video introduction to SRM

My evolving relationship with writing

I am supposed to be blogging about a conference right now but I can’t. This is a post that has been sitting in my head for far far far too long…

It is all because I have a terrible admission to make. I fell into a trap.

Over the last few years my perception and definition of writing had slowly drifted. Somewhere along the way I stopped seeing writing as the act of forming letters and words to communicate and record ideas. It had become the art of stringing words together for the sole purpose of assessment. This of course is not how I use writing or how I see it – but it became my definition of it despite this fact.

This is a shameful admission to make for a Learning Developer, but can I be blamed? Perhaps it wasn’t a trap at all. Somehow I was dragged into this worldview by the hordes of undergraduates whose sole focus is writing for grades. How can so many people miss the importance of writing in the learning process? Is there any wonder so many undergraduates struggle with writing when the only time they actually write is when they are working on an assignment.

Whenever I teach essay writing to students, I tell them to use a nine step process. Only at stage 8 do I suggest they actually write their essay. All the pre-stages to this involve research, planning and note making. All of this involves a lot of writing. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think students should be constantly writing pages and pages of linear text. I wholeheartedly believe these preparatory processes do not need to be full sentences and paragraphs. I encourage patterned notes, illustrated notes and linear notes. While all varied, they all need some form of writing and some form of work – and this is the killer. For the majority of students I work with, my suggestion of putting so much effort in something they cannot hand in generates looks of mild horror. The blatantly clear link between this preparatory work and the assignment is not enough.

But I accepted this…

At times I even failed to challenge this.

But not any more.

I guess the problem is that some forms of writing can seem redundant. The slides will be online later, you have a permanent digital copy of the text, you can use a search function to find what you need at any point or maybe you can just access videos and audio of the content itself. As that thought pops into you head you can just write it straight into Microsoft Word as part of your essay… The lists of reasons why is endless. If you see notes as just a memory aid then it is easy to see potential redundancy. What so many seem to miss is their importance in developing writing itself – and not just content.

The thing that annoys me is that I have been giving the correct advice – do lots of writing! I have consistently championed the link between writing for notes and writing for assignments to develop content. The sheer importance of this for developing writing itself somehow escaped me. I guess this is because when I was an undergraduate, I fell into lots of writing. It is just what you did through lectures and as part of seminar preparation (in the age before smart phones and tablets existed)! I’m not so sure today’s undergraduates see things this way…

Doctoral thinking and writing is complicated and difficult. It is also a large step up from masters level and it is clear to me now that I would not be starting to make this step if the only writing I undertake is for my essays and the thesis itself. Indeed, there is literally no way I would have survived the last few months without copious amounts of writing. The more I type, write or draw my thoughts and ideas, the easier things become. The most valuable learning point from my doctoral studies so far has been the importance of writing.

Now I just need  to convince a LOT of undergraduates…

Before I end this post, I need to thank @azumahcarol for nudging my views on writing in such a beneficial way and @mark_carrigan for guilting my into blogging again reminding me of the importance of blogging in understanding your own ideas 🙂

Studying on a MOOC: Introduction to Psychology

I wanted to create this post to reflect on my experience of studying on the Introduction to Psychology MOOC. The MOOC was run through Coursera and was taught by Steve Joordens, a professor at the University of Toronto. As mentioned in my previous post, I started this Intro to Psychology as I wanted to experience a MOOC first-hand and I have always been fascinated by psychology as a discipline. I completed the MOOC a couple of weeks ago and I now feel I am in a position to reflect on this experience.

Learning experience

This course was structured in a classical university format. We received weekly lectures and were graded via a mid-term exam, a final exam and through a peer-assessed assignment. Naturally – this was all a little different as it was all done online. The video lectures were 10-18 minutes long on average which made them very easy to fit in with work and my other commitments. There were eight lectures a week and the course was eight weeks long so there was a lot of content. Each lecture included a mini quiz to test understanding and linked to a collection of further reading/watching. Like a good student, I took diligent notes for all the lectures, using the experience as an opportunity to experiment with a variety of note-taking techniques – but more on that another time.

Steve Joordens is one of the most engaging lecturers I have seen. I still cannot believe how drawn in you could get even though it was all by video. He is exceptionally adept at explaining things and managed to structure a course in a very approachable way. This is important in the MOOC world as it involves people from so many backgrounds. I would argue Steve is the definition of a ‘superstar professor’. The term was coined for fear that a single professor teaching on a MOOC engages with tens of thousands of students, portraying their views/arguments on the discipline coupled with the fame associated with such a large audience. Is it good in academia to have so few teaching so many? I am concerned by this idea of course but I believe Steve portrayed a very even viewpoint on current arguments. His distaste for eating meat and using animals did shine through however. I’m not sure that is such a bad thing :). The reason I define his as a superstar however is that he has an excellent teaching style, he is in a band (that he livestreamed to those on his MOOC), he has a string of teaching awards and he is conducting a lot of excellent research into pedagogy.

On reflection, this MOOC is one of the best learning experiences I have ever had. Most importantly of all – it cost nothing. I am still in awe regarding that fact, especially as I am currently funding myself through study. Unlike my degree, this experience didn’t cost a penny and the teaching was just as good. The issue that the level was much lower aside, this experience means nothing as it doesn’t bare credit. Here lies the problem with all MOOCs. Until they’re recognised – it is difficult to see them as a path to career progress. Having said that – all MOOC providers are literally racing to provide MOOCs in a credit baring way. The first few courses that bare credits are launching now. Watch this space…



The examinations were taken through MTuner – an exceptional online examination tool that I believe is developed at University of Toronto as I’ve not see it elsewhere. Questions are multiple choice, but students are encouraged to type in their answer first. I found this very useful as when presented with a list of options, doubt always creeps into my mind. It also gave me confidence when submitting my answers as I have gone through the process of typing my answer and then seeing it as an option on the list. The most important aspect is what happens when you go wrong. If you answer incorrectly, you are given the opportunity to watch a video clip of the answer. You then get to choose your answer again and you will still receive marks for it – though less than if correct the first time. As Steve puts it:

When someone tunes a guitar they go one string at a time and see if it’s in tune.  If it is, they leave it and move on.  But if it isn’t they “tune it up” and then move on.  When they are done they have all the strings in tune which is a beautiful thing!  The mTuner Activities try to tune up your knowledge of what you learned while also assessing where you’re at

I like that idea. When you get a question wrong (or a string isn’t in tune) – you fix it before you move on. The couple of questions I got wrong, I remember because of this process. I doubt I would make those mistakes again!

The peer assessment activity was done through PeerScholar. Students submit their essays and then grade their own work. The following week, students are each given another six assignments to grade and comment on. After  seeing the work of six others, students are encouraged to reflect on their own work and give it another score. The following week, students can review the comments from other students and the grades they have been assigned. The actual grade we received would be the average of the six marks. In a real course, you may get a tutor or  teaching assistant (TA) to review these. For a course with thousands of students – this is not so possible. Having said that, Steve has done extensive research in this area. Some of this research suggests that the grading done by students is incredibly accurate. In one study, the average of the six grades given by peers matched exactly with the score given by a TA. I’ve seen a LOT of peer assessment activities – but I was incredibly impressed with how this online tool processed it. I am very keen to look into PeerScholar further…

MOOC elements

All my description so far describes this course a rather traditional – all be it online. On reflection, you could pass through this entire course without truly engaging with any of the MOOC elements. Dave Cormier argues that a successful route through a MOOC requires five stages:

  1. Orient
    Simply orientate yourself. Find out what is due when, where things are, etc.
  2. Declare
    You need to declare yourself on the course. This can be through a twitter hashtag, through a course forum or personal blog
  3. Network
    Start to make connections through the above mechanisms. Get involved in the discussion.
  4. Cluster
    Cluster with people who have a similar interest. Focus on their blogs/posts/comments.
  5. Focus
    Focus on what you want to achieve. Why are you doing it? What do you want to achieve. Work with your cluster maybe?

Now all these opportunities were available in the MOOC, but on reflection, I didn’t particularly network or cluster. I orientated myself and then declared myself on the forum and twitter. I didn’t really have the time to do more than that. I could have networked and clustered through the course forum or via social media but I just didn’t have time. It didn’t even have an adverse effect on my studying. It was perhaps a missed opportunity, but not something that damaged my progress. What I wanted was to learn some psychology and achieve my certificate of completion. That was my focus.

Would I do anything differently?

Definitely! For a start, I would have networked and clustered. While this had no impact on my learning, I think it was a great opportunity that I missed. While I am sad the course is over, had I networked I may have a group of people to still explore this subject with. Having said that, I just didn’t have the time because of when this course fell. Next up I would have kept myself a little more up-to-date. On reflection the course was too flexible and it gave me no motivation to keep myself in line with the course schedule. Having said that, had it been strict I probably would have been unable to do this.


The one thing I would state from this journey is that I am now convinced MOOCs can work. I was very dubious before but now I am not – I think they have their place in the world. This place however is not anywhere near replacing traditional study. I think people will always have the desire to go to University and have that experience. Humans are social beings and face:face interaction is still so much more than computer mediated communication can replicate. This is however my opinion. I sometimes wonder if the generations who are raised with this technology see it as a valid and equal means of communication. I digress. I think the huge volume of students on a MOOC make traditional HE difficult. At some point you need to get interaction with a TA/facilitator/Lecturer/Professor to really challenge and further your understanding. At the very least they are needed to assess work…

MEd 11: So what does this all mean?

Yesterday I finished my research interviews and took to looking at the data. In total, eight participants were interviewed and this has provided some good insight into our service. This blog post will review and reflect on my key findings. All participants were openly asked if they knew of our team and what we do before the interview began. This enabled me to provide those who needed it with an overview of the service remit to help contextualise the interview. None of the participants had used the service as intended. This allowed me to focus on issues surrounding why they have no used the service.

Mode of delivering study support

The overwhelming preference for study support seems to be on a personalised, contextualised 1:1 basis. The desired mode of this delivery heavily varied between participants. Some insisted that the content needed to be delivered face:face, though the majority did not care how the content was delivered (email, phone, skype etc.) as long as it was personalised to them. Though only one participant mentioned electronic/distance/internet appointments unprompted, all participants viewed them as a useful way to engage the team (more on this later).

What support?

The unfortunate thing that this research has highlighted is that the vast majority of what the students want – constitutes things we currently offer already. This was the hardest part of the research as I had to carefully control my facial expressions and body language to ensure I did not influence the participants. The worst part of this was to not reveal we’re doing this stuff mid-interview – particularly difficult when someone describes their need for a service in intricate detail and it is already something you offer. This information is useful however as it highlights the need to work on our team profile, developing our marketing to ensure students know what we do and where we are.

Why have you not used the service?

This was the most interesting question of them all. The surface issues indicated students had not used the service as they did not know of it or did not understand its full remit. On further investigation however, asking students if they would use the service led to some interesting discussions. The first issue that usually came up involved time or schedules. Participants felt they could probably utilize the help but would not be able to access it in a convenient way. Unprompted they were asked how they would like support – many would prefer additional times to those offered while some suggested but some suggested online services may be more useful. Once again however there was a focus on tutor support and personalisation.

The largest issue however was to do with the principle of asking for help itself. This was the most difficult issue to address with the participants. Asking them if there is stigma with asking for help. Some of them opened up and really demonstrated the vulnerability they feel when seeking help. How it makes the feel weak and ‘look weak’. There was a lot of reflection on how strength is revered in society so they feel like they must live up to that and not show weakness. Not in this competitive world. Some felt issues with looking stupid or feeling like they were bothering staff.

Underlying themes also included peer support and departmental support as a crucial way to develop skills. Those who spoke of this highlighted the strength of skills contextualised to their discipline or the comfort from receiving help from students who understood their disciplinary content too.

 So what?

My overwhelming feeling at this stage is that this I have only begun to scratch the surface. Speaking to only eight individuals has given a good foundation to the issues, but has not really given me the depth I need to draw out any themes. The good news in this is that there is definitely something interesting there that warrants further research. While not a groundbreaking piece of research, this has really given me a taste for research again and has provided some valuable points to reflect on for the future.


The scary thing now is finalising my 1,000 reflection on all of this before Friday. I am so happy I got the research together, but feel overwhelmed by how long this took for a non-assessed task. I just need to look forward now and plan my time effectively to get these two assignments finished.