Archive for the ‘My Learning Journey’ Category

Personal Learning Environments – The book

April 22nd, 2013 by Cristina Costa

My dear friends Linda Castañeda and Jordi Adell have just published a new book on Personal Learning Environments: Key aspects of an online educational ecosystem (my translation for Entornos personales de aprendizaje: claves para el ecosistema educativo en red)

portadaThe book is innovative in different ways:

- It touches on very pertinent aspects of teaching and learning online. With a focus on Personal Learning Environments (PLEs), the book goes on to explore several interrelated themes such as Flexible and Open Learning, Pedagogical Approaches to PLEs, Technological possibilities,  and the future of PLEs, just to name a few.

- I also like the fact that the book is divided in 4 distinct parts:

  1. An overview on PLEs (providing insights into the technological and pedagogical perspectives of a PLE as an online learning ecosystem)
  2. A practical section with useful examples on how to set up and use PLEs in different educational contexts
  3. A section on new research on PLEs
  4. And a final section on complementary perspectives of PLEs as a learning ecosystem

- There is an open access version of the book that is super easy to navigate and use. (Like… it a LOT)

- And as a bonus, it is licensed in Creative Commons!  It’s a winner

Well done Linda and Jordi, and all the authors as well. It’s a great project.


Ricardo Torres and I also wrote a chapter for the book Professional development, lifelong learning, and Personal Learning Environments.

Thank you 3 for the opportunity! ;-)

What drew me to Bourdieu’s work

April 15th, 2013 by Cristina Costa
look what has arrived! new reading :-) cc @socialtheoryapp

Social Theory and Education Research
Understanding Foucault, Habermas,Bourdieu and Derrida by Mark Murphy

Many people have asked why I decided to use Bourdieu’s work in my research. I have often jokingly said it was because he “spoke his mind and that I liked that”! ;-) There’s some truth in it. I think Bourdieu used his position well, as a French intellectual, and tried, in his own way, to inform, critique, and sometimes even contest, the social realities he studied and was interested in. This led to studies in the most varied areas… as many as the areas he was interested in, I guess.

This post comes as a first reaction to a new book I am reading:

Social Theory and Education Research – Understanding Foucault, Habermas,Bourdieu and Derrida by Mark Murphy


[This book just came through the post! I have been waiting for it to arrive for weeks now. so I was really excited to see that there was a book-shaped parcel for me this morning! :-)

Please note that this post is *not* a review of the book, as I still have a lot to read and digest before I can provide my impression on the book. However, my first reaction to it is: thumbs up! ]


The book focuses on the work of the 4 social theorists mentioned on the book cover and thus aims to present us with research lenses through which we can examine social phenomena. As you might have guessed, I have started with the chapters focusing on Bourdieu’s work (!). It was just easier to start there. I will need more time to read the articles on the work of the other theorists [i.e, it will take me longer to digest the ideas presented as I know less about their work!]

I have just finished the chapter on Bourdieu and educational research: Thinking tools, relational thinking, beyond epistemological innocence by Rawolle and Lingard.

It is definitely a good read! For me the highlights of this paper relate to:

  • Bourdieu’s approach to scholarship. As the authors so eloquently put it

[f]or Bourdieu, scholarship and commitment go together, but in terms of the researcher participating in political struggles, he argued ‘the most valuable contribution a researcher can make to the political struggles is to work, with all the weapons the science offers at the moment in question, to produce and promote the truth’ (Bourdieu, 2010, 271)  (Rawolle and Lingard, 2013, p132)

This takes me again to the topic of academics as public intellectuals and the role social media can play in stimulating this collective and open debate.  (something the authors also stress given that “Bourdieu argues the necessity of academics becoming collective intellectuals… ” (ibid)

  • Bourdieu’s take on the presentation of research. Something that I attempted to do in my own PhD research and which gave me quite a few sleepless nights as it made me feel really vulnerable as a research apprentice. But now I am really happy I did it. Rawolle and Lingard point out that

Bourdieu suggests an openness and vulnerability, indeed honesty, in the presentation of our research in both oral and written genres

because as Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992, cited in Rawolle and Lingard, 2013) state

A research presentation … is a discourse in which you expose yourself, you take risks… The more you expose yourself, the greater your chances of benefiting from the discussion and the more constructive and good-willed, I am sure, the criticisms and advice you will receive.

I think there is resonance here with the principles of digital scholarship. And with that also scope to apply Bourdieu’s thinking tools in order to understand the relationship between the fields of academia and social media …

just some initial thoughts in the form of note taking!

… looking forward to reading the other chapters! :-)

Learning to Teach online

April 9th, 2013 by Cristina Costa

Graham Attwell just posted this video and I thought it was interesting to share it [ ... also for my own sake, as note taking kind of a  thing] because it stresses some very important points regarding the facilitation of learning.



If we believe that learning is anchored in engagement, then we really need to design for engagement. I think this is where creating learning contexts becomes key. I think that the role of the teacher is to create challenges that encourage learners to take responsibility for their learning because that activity becomes enjoyable, appeals to them, they can identify themselves with. Hence, it becomes fun. It is not a hahaha fun, but rather a I am hooked to it kind of fun!

The video also resonates to some of the discussions Professor Gráinne Conole has started around presence and deeper sense of connection online environments are able to convey. This obviously only makes sense to those who really immerse themselves in these online environments and use social tools as a common means of communication. I don’t know why this is so, but I suspect that writing as a medium can me more powerful, and maybe even more expressive, than speaking face to face. I don’t know about you, but I am always more eloquent in my mind (when I prepare a speech, organise my thoughts…)  than I am when I deliver my ideas to an audience. [ ... sometimes I even manage to go accent free ... in my dreams!! :D ].

I think the medium is important. As I write this, I am sharing my inner thoughts with you…maybe a facet of me I am (consciously or unconsciously) less prone to share in a face to face situation with a larger group of people. Yet, developing this confidence online also translates into a more confident self face to face. So one feeds into the other…

We can also argue that online communication lacks the meanings body language may convey. Nonetheless, I think we have developed a sophisticated system of graphical signs, like smiley, that convey mood, sense of humor, personality… all of that helps with communicating and sharing traits of our personality online. [I am sure there are studies on this... I must do a search on this topic. Fascinating!]

In short, we need to try these environments for ourselves. We need to set the tone of participation…sometimes via assessment too. And we need to design for context so learners can give more of them and take ownership of their learning opportunities. In my own  experience, this is not always easy. At the beginning this is not usually learners’ cup of tea (!), but the more they get involved in it, the more they perceive the value of being main actors of their learning experience. Eventually. they like it! ;-) It’s all about trying it. As educators we need to try it too so we can fully grasp what it means to be (work, shop, socialise, etc)  online.

University professors, REF, and the game that is coming to an end …?

April 3rd, 2013 by Cristina Costa

This week, Times Higher Education published an article about the salaries of University Professors. The article entitled Professorial pay rises twice as fast as rest points out that professors’ salaries have risen considerably more than salaries in other academic grades. The article attributes this phenomenon to the upcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF); an exercise that aims to assess the “quality of research in UK higher education institutions”.

Treino 04.06.2012

“Players moving teams” – CC photo by Flickr ID clubeatleticomineiro/

For people in Academia this is not really news. In the past year or so we have seen how fiercer the game has become and how institutions are competing for the “best” senior academics, which in REF terms, or better said, the interpretations institutions make of it, means to hire individuals with numerous publications in high rank journals, an outstanding and successful record of research grants, and, if possible, evidence of how their research can demonstrate impact.

For those who trawlled job websites in the past year or so, as I have done, it was impossible not to notice that the ” the hunt for the professor” was on. Several institutions promoted their daring, million pound strategies, appealing for the “brilliant minds”  of the world to join their departments or schools. It almost felt as if they were playing at FIFA level. Players moving from one team to the other with the wealthier teams acquiring the best, hence more expensive players.  The trend has got so big that even other academic posts suffered from the same influence as the job specifications got more ambitious.

But the effects of REF are not only felt in research as one of the areas of academic activity. The focus on REF inevitably forces academia to differentiate between the importance it places on research and the one it puts on teaching, engagement and widening participation  (other elements of scholarship). And, I’d dare say, that as a side effect, it discourages the innovation of practices. In this sense, Digital Scholarship still has a long way to go. Will it ever prevail in the presence of exercises such as REF? … I hope it will. I think it will. But I think it will take time and effort to influence policy.

People say teaching and other areas of scholarship will get the prominence they deserve once we get through this exercise. I also think this will be the case… for Early Career Researchers this is already  the case. [ There, now you know how I managed to get the new job... research was not the only item that weighed on their decision to hire me, and so I am enjoying a very friendly environment where people are supporting my teaching, research and knowledge exchange. I am very happy to have landed in such a supportive environment.]

My concern however is that once REF comes around again in 5 years time we might still be focusing on publications as the main measure of research quality. If HEIs are supposed to be incubators of innovation and centres of expertise for the knowledge economy, shouldn’t our digital activity count too?

As pointed out in my research – here comes the PhD again! -  institutions shy away from supporting digital scholarship because their interpretation of research exercises such as REF does not privilege digital scholarship. Hence, it becomes very easy for institutions to default to classic forms of producing and communicating research. One can argue this “preserves” practices. Yet, that has never been the role of academia. The role and duty of academia is to advance knowledge and inform practice to improve and influence the current society.

Translated into Bourdieuian language this means that the strategies adopted by the field (in this case, institutions) to be at the top of their game (in this case, to acquire as much  symbolic capital as they can in the form of prestige and economic capital, i.e., power)  seek to standardise the practices of scholars so they can be measured by the benchmarks institutions stipulate as research excellence based on the interpretations they make of the exercises (REF in this case) to which they submit their research. This means that the habitus of digital scholars have little chance of becoming established practices, despite of it offering pragmatic answers to questions posed by speeches concerned with the digital and knowledge economy. I fear that the innovative approaches digital scholars are exploring for the creation and dissemination of  knowledge  will have little effect in the years to come if future exercises such as REF do not take the habitus of digital scholars seriously and see them as meaningful practices making a significant contribution to the real world.

So my question is: what can we do to make sure that exercises such as REF become aware of, and pro-actively support, digital practices?

  • Search

    News Bites

    Digital Literacy

    A National Survey fin Wales in 2017-18 showed that 15% of adults (aged 16 and over) in Wales do not regularly use the internet. However, this figure is much higher (26%) amongst people with a limiting long-standing illness, disability or infirmity.

    A new Welsh Government programme has been launched which will work with organisations across Wales, in order to help people increase their confidence using digital technology, with the aim of helping them improve and manage their health and well-being.

    Digital Communities Wales: Digital Confidence, Health and Well-being, follows on from the initial Digital Communities Wales (DCW) programme which enabled 62,500 people to reap the benefits of going online in the last two years.

    See here for more information

    Zero Hours Contracts

    Figures from the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in total almost 11,500 people – both academics and support staff – working in universities on a standard basis were on a zero-hours contract in 2017-18, out of a total staff head count of about 430,000, reports the Times Higher Education.  Zero-hours contract means the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours

    Separate figures that only look at the number of people who are employed on “atypical” academic contracts (such as people working on projects) show that 23 per cent of them, or just over 16,000, had a zero-hours contract.

    Resistance decreases over time

    Interesting research on student centered learning and student buy in, as picked up by an article in Inside Higher Ed. A new study published in PLOS ONE, called “Knowing Is Half the Battle: Assessments of Both Student Perception and Performance Are Necessary to Successfully Evaluate Curricular Transformation finds that student resistance to curriculum innovation decreases over time as it becomes the institutional norm, and that students increasingly link active learning to their learning gains over time

    Postgrad pressure

    Research published this year by Vitae and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and reported by the Guardian highlights the pressure on post graduate students.

    “They might suffer anxiety about whether they deserve their place at university,” says Sally Wilson, who led IES’s contribution to the research. “Postgraduates can feel as though they are in a vacuum. They don’t know how to structure their time. Many felt they didn’t get support from their supervisor.”

    Taught students tend to fare better than researchers – they enjoy more structure and contact, says Sian Duffin, student support manager at Arden University. But she believes anxiety is on the rise. “The pressure to gain distinction grades is immense,” she says. “Fear of failure can lead to perfectionism, anxiety and depression.”

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