Action Research and Learning Design

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


Mind Now: this is about learning

Pete Cannell and coauthored a paper at OER17 called Mind the Gap, it is concerned with lifelong learning and the role of free open online resources in filling in and creating routes into learning for those distanced from it, and more broadly reflects on the gaps within those journeys as local authorities colleges retreat from this space and Third Sector organisations look to fill those structural holes as best they can. I selected the title for its double meaning, to be careful, and to remember and keep it in our minds. It was only when I started to listen to Rosa Murray at the recent forum organised jointly by Learning for Sustainability Scotland (LfSS) and OEPS on shared values, my use of to mind’ means ‘to recollect’ and this use is a particularly Scottish thing .

Rosa touched on her work with Rowena Griffiths, asking us to consider whether we “mind enough”; suggesting the need for us to explore what a “pedagogy of minding” looked like (here are the slides). The workshop was about sustainability, and the role of openness and open practices in supporting learning for sustainability. Most attendees were “at home” in this space and looking to learn from OEPS about openness. In the self-organised afternoon discussion groups three clusters emerged:

  • How to use openness in teacher education, how to make it meaningful and engaging in ways that align to their values;
  • How and/or will openness transform education, and if it does what will it look like;
  • How to open up content to use and reuse.

LfSS end of session whiteboard

Big questions, questions that often surface when considering open educational practices. However, the focus on sustainability and equity and social justice did draw out some different issues. In particular, there were questions around who is empowered by openness and ensuring that openness and putting stuff online is not used as an argument for withdrawing support for other activities.  For me this went back to what Rosa said about shared values, and minding.  She suggested there was a particular Scottish focus on sustainability as a question of equity and social justice. For LfSS minding is about learning to care about the world, to mind about inequalities.

Concern about the world, care for the environment, has moved from the margins to the mainstream, to a point where every pupil in Scotland is “entitled” to learn about sustainability. As a movement OER/OEP is a long way from this, more people are using open resources, but do more people care. Is it something to care about, what are the things we ought to care about, and what would a pedagogy of minding about openness look like? An approach to education that plays on the distinctive Scottish sense of minding, of saying “I mind”, a sense between remembering, caution and caring.

Honestly, I have no answers, but I think openness is at the heart of a pedagogy of minding, as both a something that goes in as a value, and is an outcome of caring. If I look at Joe Wilson’s blog post about the UNESCO European Regional Consultation on OER and even further back to the work done on the Open Scotland Declaration, I see the articulation of a particular Scottish approach to openness. As the OER/OEP community looks forward, perhaps it is useful to take a side glance at the work done on sustainability, as the focus on values, and minding, might suggest a way forward.


Ronald Macintyre

Reflecting on “The Gathering”

At the SCVO Gathering in February we had a stall where we collected information about Third Sector engagement with free open online materials, we used an interactive poster as a survey tool, with a good response rate, and we ran a workshop on day 2, which 21 people came to. A fuller report on the outcomes of this is forthcoming, but we thought it was worth sharing an impressionistic account of the workshop.

OEPS stall at the Gathering 2017

In the workshop OEPS and Parkinson’s UK shared our experience of the opportunities and challenges of working with each other to create OER (for example Understanding Parkinson’s) and we also explored Scottish Union Learn’s work supporting users of OER. We kept it brief, because we wanted to allow space for others to explore this area. We asked two sets of questions, one set were a “what if”, and the second to think about what openness might enable.

In the first set we asked people to imagine a future where education is free and open, and then reflect on what it would enable for them as an organisation that uses, or may produce, resources to support their clients. On the broader scale while people did think it might be empowering and allow some to overcome barriers, they were concerned who would be empowered, and whether it might accentuate inequalities. They saw it would give them reach as organisations and might reduce costs of delivery and development, but were worried about the ability of their organisations to cope.  While they recognised the opportunities for organisations and clients, this concern around capacity was also expressed in relation to delivery. There was a lot of concern expressed about business models of openness and how this might be supported in the long term

In the second set we asked them to dig a little deeper and reflect on what open would enable, getting them to think about what would need to happen to make it happen, what needed to change within their organisation and what it would enable them to do for their clients. There was a focus on strategic leadership within the organisation and the need for resources (both finance and people) to be allocated to the area. There were also responses around lowering the bar, with organisations feeling that developments costs and technical difficulties were still prohibitive. People felt funders would need to recognise the costs of being open and there would need to be clear and transparent ways of establishing the value for their clients. The emphasised that costs should not just be for development work or one off pilots, but also for maintaining and developing their staff and supporting clients on a long-term basis. In some ways this is a broader issue for the Third Sector, with the tendency for funding to be short term being a long-term problem. Thus the concern was not openness, which was seen as positive, but openness without long-term support.

Tag cloud of participant responses in the Gathering Workshop

The tag cloud is based on the comments on the big bits of paper on the tables.  It may appear that worries dominated hopes, however, going around the tables and in plenary people were more positive about the possibilities for them and for clients. They recognised that they needed to operate in this space in order to meet the needs of their clients in an increasingly digitised world. They were not approaching it from wide-eyed techno-utopianism, but recognised the challenges for them and their clients. Those challenges relate to open and online in a broader context, of how to support people into the digital world, and questions within the Third Sector more broadly around strategic change, and how to sustain activities. I think this is probably a question we need to ask ourselves in the OER/OEP community.  It is all very well having resource to make something open, but what about the resources to ensure it is used and that it remains useful, so asking how to enable things to be open, what openness enables, and how to ensure it is sustained.

Ronald Macintyre