Author Archive

It’s been a while since I blogged, but I have decided to take it up again. This one is not about my PhD research, but my thoughts about research itself. Someone whom I’ve grown to admire and respect gave me a copy of her new book on grounded theory (Birks & Mills, 2011).  I cannot put it down, it is akin to reading a novel, which is highly unusual for a research text. It has demystified so much of the unknown for me on this particular research approach. The text is very accessible and written in a storytelling narrative – wonderful, inspiring! So much so that I have decided to answer the first set of questions posed in the text, which must be answered in 6 minutes. I was done in 5min and 45sec. Not bad, but it’s only the beginning – I have to come back to these questions, so I have to “file it carefully for another day”, as the authors suggest. And yes I will come back, already I have some things I wanted to add and refine for clarity.

How do we define our self?

By the way we think and act, which is governed by beliefs, and rooted in our culture, natural or adopted.

What is the nature of reality?

Something that we can make sense of, and gain a level of understanding.

What can be the relationship between researcher and participant?

Giver and receiver. One provides information – the other inquires and tries to make sense of whatever it is not yet known.

How do we know the world, or gain knowledge of it?

By experience, through social mediation.

The book: Birks, M. & Mills, J. (2011). Grounded theory: A practical guide. Sage Publications, London.

A few months back my reflection on my PhD research project took me into a space where I started to explore in realistic terms about its contribution to knowledge, its usefulness for improving educational practice and my personal growth after completing the study.  I found holes of all sizes in my original proposed study, which left me with more questions than answers.

But it was a good thing… it was new learning, new reading, more consultations with a new group of critical friends. In this process, I found my place in education research, which according to my supervisors crosses boundaries between curriculum studies, sociology in education and ‘new educational psychology’ (whatever the latter means – I’ve never heard of it). They said the true focus is likely to emerge as I progress with the study.

One of my new critical friends asked me to write the problematic  in ‘plain’ English, which proved quite an arduous task but I pushed on. Several iterations later, I nervously presented the draft below, which he approved and later on so did my supervisors! I was happy… my motivation has been reinvigorated.

I guess this bit of framing shall remain in draft form until I’m done with the new literature review. As I read new materials, new angle emerges or I discover a new way of framing the questions. Such is the nature of conceptual framing I suppose… but here goes, inspired by the wisdom of Lee Shulman:

The educator in a profession is teaching someone to understand in order to act, to act in order to make a difference in the minds and lives of others– to act in order to serve others responsibly and with integrity.- Lee Shulman

Herein lies an extraordinarily complex but fascinating role of university teachers in educating competent graduates for their chosen professional careers and, equally important, for developing good citizens able to contribute to better societal good. But to what extent do university teachers appreciate such complexities?

My work as a curriculum designer has led me to believe that understanding the university teachers’ conceptions of ‘competence’, and their role in constructing curricula, is critical in understanding the productive preparation of students for professional practice. This was borne out of my interest in understanding how university teachers in different disciplinary fields make curriculum decisions. Using Basil Bernstein’s work on pedagogic practice, I hope to understand disciplinary ‘pedagogic discourse’ and its link to the teachers’ epistemological views.

It is my observation that the university teachers’ idea of competence may underpin their understanding of pedagogic discourse in their discipline, which then impacts on their role in the curriculum process. As such, the manner in which they conceive and enact the curriculum may have a link to the degree in which student abilities are cultivated and developed in higher education. By exploring how the teachers’ notions of competence are shaped, their identity, space and agency in the curriculum design and development process may provide insights into understanding what is being done and what needs to be done in improving professional education in the university setting.

Accordingly, the goal of my study is to understand the university teachers’ conceptions of competence and how this influences their thinking about the curriculum. Hence, the questions guiding this study are:

1) What do university teachers understand about the notion of competence?
2) What influences their understanding of competence in their discipline?
3) And how does it shape their curriculum decision-making?

The educational motivation of this research is to point the way to more effective educational practice by university teachers, to assist in developing the confidence and competence of students in preparation for professional practice and beyond. It is hoped that the exploration and analysis of the symbiotic relationship between university teachers’ conceptions of competence and curriculum thinking will increase understanding of factors that contribute to better educational outcomes in professional education.

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Twelve months into my doctoral candidature, I experienced an inner turmoil, uncertainties, self interrogation, critical reflection and finally elation for having eventually understood that there was indeed a bigger problem that needed addressing. This meta problematic will bear a critical part in my research agenda not only during my candidacy but also beyond. It now points me to the direction I can hopefully pursue, having recognised the narrowness of the conceptual frame I initially proposed. Yes, there is a bigger problem and deeper questions that at this point I cannot begin to imagine what likely answers I may uncover.

This new discovery has reinvigorated me, within which came a new goal for the project. Previously, if I were to be honest, my goal was to complete within my nominated timeframe… I knew what I was doing, my longitudinal design experiments more or less gave me the answers to the problem, therefore I can finish as scheduled. However, moving my candidature to The University of Newcastle had changed all these. My new supervisors asked me to 1) articulate where I see myself in 5 years time, i.e. what work would I be doing; 2) identify the place of my research in a specific field of education; and 3) explain what I will be contributing to knowledge. I now have answers to all these questions, which concurrently came about as a result of thinking in a larger frame about my thesis and reflecting on my true goal and aim for undertaking the project in the first place. I no longer care if I finish in 3, 5, or 8 years’ time because what I hope to discover is knowledge not yet known to anyone.

And so here I am with a re-framed thesis which is exciting and scary all at once. I like the analogy I used in one of my learning designs a few years back, that of being a tourist in a learning journey… a journey to the unknown, full of anticipation and excitement, and with it comes risks and maybe some disappointments along the way. I guess I need to practice what I preached… feel the fear but do it anyway!

I will share my re-framed thesis in my next post.

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The ‘learning technology by design’ (Koehler & Mishra 2005) is the framework being used for bringing academics along towards sustainable renewal of educational practice, and forms part of the institutional repositioning of learning and teaching at my university. Koehler and Mishra (2005) suggest that this approach can help academic staff respond in a sustainable manner to the pedagogical possibilities that new technologies have to offer. Learning technology by design provides academic staff with opportunities to encounter the connections between technology, content and pedagogy, and has been shown to lead to meaningful learning (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). Academics learn by doing in a collaborative and supportive environment, often tied to their attempts to solve genuine educational problems. The learning technology by design approach puts academics in a more active role as designers of technology as opposed to the role of passive consumers of technology (Koehler & Mishra, 2005), inherent in most standard how to use the technology workshops.

To prepare for the Moodle implementation, academics are shown the capabilities of the system and go through different stages of reflection during course design planning. Using the seven principles for good practice (Chickering & Gamson, 1987) as the lens to explore pedagogical possibilities in Moodle, academics, as course designers, work with curriculum designers and information technology staff in discovering different features of Moodle to address key pedagogical requirements for course delivery as espoused in the Minimum Service Standards. The Minimum Service Standards for Course Delivery communicate service expectations, which students and staff use as a point of reference.

The elements in the Minimum Service Standards provide a starting point for course design planning, aided by exemplar courses developed by Moodle Mentors. The exemplar courses not only exhibit the Moodle elements used to meet the minimum design expectations, but the exemplars also demonstrate possibilities for integrating good pedagogical practice into the design. There were no pre-defined templates provided during the pilot, but in response to requests from academic staff, a common course shell was introduced containing commonly used blocks such as Latest News, People and activities block. However, unlike the previous practice of prescribing the look and feel of the course site in Blackboard, academics as course designers shape the design of the course site and its content, often evolving from the initial requirements in the Minimum Service Standards.

During group discussions in early parts of the workshop, there are tendencies amongst academic staff to treat technology, content and pedagogy as relatively independent areas of knowledge. However as academics go through the actual course design and development process, the possibilities to recognise the complex and intertwined relationships between technology, content and pedagogy are increased (see Koehler & Mishra, 2005). Interestingly, many academics have chosen to go beyond the minimum requirements for course delivery as they begin to appreciate the liberating aspects of the new LMS that have previously inhibited innovation in other systems. What is apparent in some cases is that the seven principles through the Minimum Service Standards provided a framework and a label for what good teachers have always done, i.e. setting the environment for students to encourage active learning and providing a means to connect with each other, among other important aspects of the pedagogy of engagement (see Krause, 2005). What is also apparent is that while some academics appear risk-averse they are still willing to adopt the technology particularly if they perceived benefits for students, as Birch and Burnett have also observed (2009). The courses developed in Moodle thus far provide evidence that when academics directly assume the role of designer, actively engaging in the development of their courses, they have a greater appreciation for the technology and its connection with the content and pedagogical practices. Using the learning technology by design approach in facilitating course development, a sense of ownership is also noticeable.


Birch, D. & Burnett, B. (2009). “Bringing academics on board: Ecouraging institution-wide diffusion of e-learning environments”. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 25(1), 117-134.

Chickering, A.W., & Gamson, Z.F. (1987), Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3-7.

Koehler, M.J. & Mishra, P. (2005). “Tracing the development of teacher knowledge in a design seminar: Integrating content, pedagogy and technology”. Computers & Education, 49, 740-762.

Krause, K-L. (2005). Understanding and promoting student engagement in university learning communities. Centre for the Study of Higher Education: University of Melbourne.

Mishra, P. & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.

I am reflecting on another recent success of my authentic learning research that has become a part of my being. I submitted a paper to HERDSA for the first time this year. My intention when I submitted was to get feedback on my work, I heard that HERDSA has a very good reputation for its rigorous review process.

And rigorous it was, the most informative feedback I’ve received by far. The only ever time I was asked to respond to every reviewer’s feedback and suggestions. I was required to document my reaction/response to each and every recommendation made by the reviewers. The learning for a relatively new researcher like me had been tremendous. There were many praises and encouragement as well included in the reviewers’ feedback, which was motivating for me and my co-researcher.

At the HERDSA Conference in Darwin, I was informed by folks from Sydney University that my research had influenced their presentation on role play, which was surprising to know. However, the biggest surprise came during the closing ceremony when my name was called to receive the best paper award for authentic learning. I couldn’t help but reflect on what the conclusion of my PhD thesis holds. I dream of contributing to knowledge to improve educational practice. With the two recent successes at conferences, I wonder if I am on track to make a difference.

Well, the PhD journey has just began, it is a while to go yet. It is good to know for now that interests in my research project continue to come my way. I have been invited again to present at another university on the same topic below. 

The 2minuteMoodle motto
“Where before there was a spectator, let there now be a participant.” ~ Jerome Bruner 

Scaffolding can be characterised as acting on this motto (Bransford et al, 2000), and the aim of the 2minuteMoodle is to provide students additional scaffolding in the learning and teaching process at CQUniversity.

What is scaffolding?
In educational setting, scaffolding is a metaphor used to describe learner support mechanisms, which may be delivered by human and/or embedded in computer-based technological tools. Proponents such as Shaphiro suggest that scaffolding provides learners with a “support structure that aids them in attaining a higher level of achievement” (2008, p. 29).

What is involved in instructional scaffolding?
Scaffolding involves a number of activities and tasks. Here are some examples adapted from Bransford et al ( 2000): 

  • Motivating students, by recruiting student’s interest to the task.
  • Identifying critical features of objects to be learned.
  • Providing some direction in order to help the students focus on achieving the goal.
  • Demonstrating and defining the activity to be performed.
  • Simplifying the task to make it more manageable and achievable for students.
  • Controlling frustrations and risks, e.g. providing guidelines for engagement.

How to provide additional scaffolding for students?
The 2minuteMoodle approach provides some quick and easy scaffolding techniques, which involves preparing and recording answers to the following questions on a weekly basis:

The 2minuteMoodle instructional scaffolding approach

The 2minuteMoodle instructional scaffolding approach

Next, do the following:

  1. Choose the media type for the delivery, e.g. audio or video
  2. Do the recording – duration must be two minutes
  3. Provide access on the Moodle course site and/or via RSS
  4. Test that the file is accessible.

Note: It might help to refer to the activities and tasks for instructional scaffolding listed above.

Why two minutes?
It is assumed that other scaffolding techniques are already embedded in the way course sites have been designed in Moodle, as well as in other instructional materials such as Study Guides. The spoken format of the 2minuteMoodle is designed to complement these other techniques. Here the specific aim is to deliver a more personal message. As Gardner Campbell in his well-cited EDUCAUSE article asserts “There is a magic in human voice, the magic of shared awareness… Photographs are undeniably powerful, and perhaps a picture is worth a thousand words but a few words uttered by a dear voice may be worth the most of all (2005, p. 40).


Bransford, J. Brown, A.L.,  & Cocking, R.R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. (expanded edn.) Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. 

Campbell, G. (2005) ‘There’s something in the air: Podcasting in education’. Educause Review.

Shaphiro, A.M. (2008). Hypermedia design as learner scaffolding. Educational Technology, Research and Development (56)1, 29-44.

My University has recently adopted the Moodle Learning Management System (LMS)  to replace Blackboard. The Curriculum Design Team in which I am a member is actively assisting in the implementation, one of our tasks is to help academics enhance learning and teaching practice with the use of LMS. I have finally put into paper an idea that has been in my head for sometime about helping academics develop capacity to provide scaffolding in the learning process, which incidentally supports at least four of the 7 Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (Chickering & Gamson, 1987). I spoke to an academic about this idea and he is very keen to take it up, one of the reasons is the ease with which he can produce a two-minute voice recording once a week in his iPhone. 

The central idea is to record a two minute audio in MP3 format which will then be made available in the Moodle course site and/or provide RSS to the two-minute weekly podcast. The academic will use the questions in the 2minuteMoodle framework (see illustration below) to provide an advanced organiser for his/her students, focused on the idea of scaffolding. Academics who prefer a more visual approach (also useful for hearing impaired students) may be shown how to use Voicethread, which can also be embedded on the Moodle course site. But it must be no more than two minutes duration – the rationale for this I have now documented but will be discussed in a separate post.


The 2minuteMoodle instructional scaffolding approach

The 2minuteMoodle instructional scaffolding approach


Another purpose for introducing the 2minuteMoodle approach is that I believe it supports the “Learning by Design” framework for academic development that I have been pursuing to embed in my instructional design practice. By providing academic staff a situated context for why, how and when a particular technology might be used in learning and teaching, an academic is empowered to develop knowledge of both technology and pedagogy to complement their content knowledge (Mishra & Kohler, 2006).

My next post will describe the 2minuteMoodle approach in more detail.


Chickering, A. W. & Gamson, Z. F. 1987, ‘Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education’, AAHE Bulletin, vol. 39, no. 7, pp. 3-7. 

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record 108 (6), 1017-1054.

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