Critical reflection

The capstone is now in place!

The Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) has culminated with this Digital Futures Colloquium capstone.  Again, there was a combination of excitement and fear when the course material was released (Simkin, 2015 j). Firstly, the unknown “Colloquium” which revealed itself to be a mixture of online presentation and class discussion hosted by someone of interest to the course. Secondly, there were numerous readings posted for three modules, more than those in preceding subjects. They were, however, the only readings provided: for the assessments we needed to find our own sources. Conceptually, this was a nice segue for anyone thinking about continuing in higher education.

Colloquium One was hosted by Annabel Astbury (Simkin, 2015 a). It revealed career potential made possible by the digital world for teachers with expertise. As a well-organised educator working in information provision across the Australian Curriculum (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, n.d.), the content held something for all members of the cohort.

Colloquium Two, led the group in a very different direction, and eventually led to my case study. Simon Welsh, who made learning management systems (LMS) come alive, and raised the spectre of an interesting future (Simkin, 2015 b). Attending with a dubious attitude, it was a chastening reminder not to prejudge content. The chat comments from my peers furthered the discussion and added intriguing elements and a degree of humour which became integral to this mode of learning. Simon’s words certainly provoked re-evaluation of my use of the school LMS and make comparison with other systems and academic research (Simkin, 2015 h).

The third colloquium was hosted by Julie Lindsay and focussed on her work with Flat Connections,  and the necessity of involving students in global collaboration (Simkin, 2015 c). This colloquium also featured peer input, which was pleasing, despite technical hiccoughs. The penultimate meeting was led by Tim Klapdor, and took us back to some early INF530 issues of networks, nodes and ownership (Simkin, 2015 d). Finally, Cathie Howe presented the work of MacICT and professional learning programs (Simkin, 2015 g). This issue is critical in achieving positive digital engagement.

Past information from earlier subjects recurred and reinforced professional practice and pedagogy, while linking to this subject’s readings. For example, Couros being cited in Veletsianos (Veletsianos & Kimmins, 2012, pp. 109-128), and talking about the types of engagement with which we have been engaged (Simkin, 2015 l).

For the first assignment, the challenge was selecting one aspect of the many introduced as a research proposal. While the actual question took some time to form, and suggestion and helpful counter-suggestion followed, it became necessary to consider how material would be gathered. Surveys, questionnaires or interviews were all possible, and exploration of sound construction followed with a review of the intelligent design of questionnaires both for the researcher and for the participants (Simkin, 2015 e).

The introductory focus of the subject revolved around aspects of our digital world, therefore the second assignment required engagement with one aspect of this twenty-first-century reality. Given the colloquium’s focus on the impact of digital affordances on learning, the topic “Digital scholarship in education, in the context of interdisciplinary knowledge and research” seemed a reasonable choice (Simkin, 2015 f).

LMS became the focus for assignment three: asking why they should be used (Simkin, 2015 o); reviewing what they offer (Simkin, 2015 n) and considering the role of the library in the process of managing learning (Simkin, 2015 k). Finding appropriate academic articles took time, but improved researching techniques (Simkin, 2015 i). Interviewing one of the developers of SIMON, the LMS used at school, was very valuable (Simkin, 2015 m). The report was the culmination of two wonderful years of learning (Simkin, 2015 h).

The value of this course has been immense: new mentors, supportive peers, renewed self-esteem, intense skill development. Thanks to Judy O’Connell, Ewan McIntosh and Julie Lindsay for the amazing journey, and all the classmates who connected with me.


Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (n.d.). Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Capability. Retrieved from Australian Curriculum: ICT capability across the curriculum: October 12, 2015

Simkin, M. (2015, July 26 a). #1. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, July 26 b). #2. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, August 11 c). #3. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, August 16 d). #4. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015 e). Article Review. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, September 6 f). Assignment Two. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, October 4 g). Colloquium 5. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, October 11 h). Final Report. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, October 9 i). Hunting. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, July 7 j). INF 537 Begins. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, September 8 k). Invisible but vital. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, August 17 l). PLE & PLN It’s Us. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, October 10 m). SIMON. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, September 12 n). What LMS should offer. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, September 11 o). Why Use LMS? Retrieved from Digitalli:

Veletsianos, G., & Kimmins, R. (2012). Networked participatory scholarship: emergent techno-cultural pressures toward open and digital scholarship in online networks. Computers & Education; An International Journal 58 (2012) 76, 58, 766 -774.


Learning Analytics: A Traveller’s Guide

Anyone participating in the learning journey that is INF537 would have been intrigued by the title of Colloquium #2 (Welsh, 2015). The content, while very different in delivery from Colloquium #1 (Astbury, 2015), was equally thought provoking. Despite the title, data was not the only aspect covered, and the final comments indicated the incredible potential of learning analytics.

Simon’s opening comments related to his chosen title, as he pointed out that a traveller digs deeper than a tourist. He then commented that the interpretation and mining of data is an aspect of teaching and learning that is still sorting itself out.

For those who share an antipathy to using test scores to predict educational outcomes, Simon’s comments opened a door to improved educational futures. He explained that academic analytics are those used by institutions to aid with student management while learning analytics are interrogated to support learning and teaching for improved outcomes.

Investigating these concepts further indicates that data mining does not occur in a vacuum; it links to power and relationships; the capturing and sharing of data is in itself a development of knowledge capital (Weller, 2011, p. 43). Another aspect of such data is how it is managed and preserved (Weller, 2011, p. 43). Those generating the most data in a digital world are already privileged, and the rapidly expanding body of work is increasing the division between the haves and have-nots.

Simon referred to the example of the ATAR system and its use by schools to target areas that teachers need to improve, compared to its use by the MySchool website, where visitors choose a very different interpretation. This illustrated the importance of context and intent in such data collection and its subsequent use (Welsh, 2015).

There are three aspects of simplistic data use that cause concern:

  1. What does it mean for a student to be monitored in this way – is it profiling or determinism, as Hyacinth posted in the accompanying chat?
  2. The ethics of such use – who actually owns the data?
  3. The fact that teachers are being asked to interpret such data without training in data literacy (Liz Eckert).

It is also important to know how reporting systems are being used and where the data is coming from in order to give appropriate advice based on the conclusions that are being drawn. Much of the data comes from the vendors of Learning Management Systems, who have set up metrics based on ease of use. Algorithms based on the number of clicks or the amount of time spent on any given task are not really a measure of learning and need to be carefully interpreted. There is a big difference between measuring quantities of clicks and measuring the quality of engagement (Welsh, 2015).

The example of using Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) to capture and mine data was very interesting. VLEs are vendor focussed and often simplistic in terms of the data they gather. Once an institution has invested in providing a VLE it can be stuck with that specific product, as migrating to another platform is expensive and time consuming (a point noted and discussed by several classmates). Weller considers that introducing VLEs has led to the educational institution losing control of data to the manufacturer, and cites the example of Blackboard trying to patent many core e-learning concepts (Weller, Digital Resilience, 2011, pp. 170-171). Andrew questioned consideration of other products as a replacement, notably Moodle, which is open source.

An example Simon explored in some detail was the use of subject forums, such as those used within the Charles Sturt Blackboard internet, and, in the case of my workplace SIMON (School Information Management on the Net). If students have to participate in online forums within their VLEs then a tool to measure this must be able to “read” the type of material being entered. In this way, within an hour of the posted comment a scaffold into deeper learning could be generated, problems within comments across the group can be alerted to the educator, and extra reading could be suggested to those requiring additional explanation, or extension.

This type of monitoring could lead to an easy citation mechanism for resources utilised, which, as Greg commented, would be “referencing heaven”. It is in these potentially positive contributions to learning that most teachers can see the real value of data mining, rather than the click counting and number of visits which are so commonly applied. Resulting real time adaptation of learning programs to personalise student learning experience, development of meta-cognitive skills for learners, fast response to learning design and quick adaptation of technical equipment and systems would all be welcomed by educators (Welsh, 2015).

Weller warns of potential risk from using data to analyse and improve results by stating that it could lead to Google replacing human librarians, and user generated “playlists” of information may make teachers irrelevant (Weller, Digital Resilience, 2011, p. 171). This is a very broad allegation which has been somewhat allayed by Simon’s Colloquium session.

As Rochelle commented: the link between educational data mining, decision support systems and expert systems is inextricable; Deborah’s response that the skill lies in using the power for good sums up the feeling of most educators whose primary focus is the overall well-being of people in their classes.

While Simon’s presentation assuaged some fears, it raised other issues of potential concern for teachers and students. Needless to say, we are living in revolutionary times, and, while a revolution may be bloodless, it is rarely painless (Weller, Digital Resilience, 2011, p. 168). The critical thing for scholars and teachers is that they stay involved, because they need to be in a position to determine what goes, what stays and what comes; passitivity is not an option (Weller, Digital Resilience, 2011, p. 184).


Astbury, A. [Host]. (2015, July 21). ABC Splash Online Colloquium 1. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Weller, M. (2011). Digital Resilience. In M. Weller, The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Transforming Scholarly Practice (pp. 168-184). London: Bloomsbury Collections. doi:10.5040/

Weller, M. (2011). The Nature of Scholarship. In M. Weller, The Digital Scholar, How Technology is Transforming Scholarly Practice (pp. 41-51). London: Bllomsbury Collections. doi:10.5040/

Welsh, S. [Host]. (2015, July 28). Learning Analytics: A Traveller’s Guide; Online Colloquium 2. Albury, Victoria, Australia.


Fellow travellers’ comments from the Colloquium chat box are acknowledged in blue.

Evaluative report

Evaluative statement (a):

From the commencement of Knowledge Networking for Educators, there was an expectation of relevant learning, encountering new skills and continuing involvement in a networked community of practice. The learning modules delivered valuable and relevant material, providing challenging and practical experiences for exploration, as well as demonstration. This is best exemplified by referring to Assignment One, which required the development of a digital artefact (a new skill) (Simkin, Digital Artefact and References, 2015). The end product was a short film, but the processes of topic and platform selection (Simkin, Survey Results, 2015), and subsequent artefact creation, were where the challenging practical experience was most evident (Simkin, Artefact Design, 2015). Given the assessment mark allocation gave more credit to the exegesis, the time taken to develop the artefact was excessive, but incredibly fulfilling, despite the compromises that had to be made (Simkin, Exegesis, 2015). Significant learning resulted from mistakes, investigating exciting platforms, conquering fears (for example, peers found hearing their own voice confronting), and technical frustration. Conquering the digital product was a wonderful achievement, celebrated on Twitter by most of the cohort through sharing links. Assessing the work of colleagues for this task also provided a significant, networked learning opportunity (Simkin, Collegial Artefact Critiques, 2015). A valuable addition to this process would have arisen from sharing the exegeses, which described the context, intention and restraints behind the artefact, enabling a deeper level of analysis.

During the course of the semester, this subject presented a range of concepts and required the exploration of a range of knowledge networking tools. Starting with the obligatory introduction (Simkin, Knowledge Networking for Educators, 2015), and progressing to the final module (Simkin, The Future, 2015), the Digitalli blog posts of 2015 document a growth in knowledge mastery, leading to increased wisdom, thereby setting the scene for ongoing growth as a connected educator as defined by Gregor Kennedy (Kennedy, 2014).

The course began by investigating information in the digital age, evaluating the different sources of knowledge, identifying innovative platforms, and challenging participants to re-define terminology and apply it to contemporary learning scenarios (Coutas, 2010). Early in the subject, students encountered a range of digital tools, some new to them, and others well used (Simkin, Digital tools, 2015). This suite of new media tools, covered all aspects of knowledge management from content creation, to content curation, and included collaborative work, and connecting with and developing social networks leading to communities of practice (Simkin, Curation, 2015).

Building on knowledge networking to strengthen school-based classroom engagement and learning was a highly valuable aspect of the course, even for those with prior active involvement in a range of digital platforms (Simkin, 1.1 Connected students, 2015). It enabled both consolidation and revisitation of virtual learning spaces, revived forgotten skills while mastering new ones, and increased overall personal understanding of the philosophies of information management (Simkin, K. C in a C. A, 2015). The crucial need to consider pedagogy, andragogy and learning design when designing tasks was incredibly beneficial. The latter was aptly defined by Tolisano, in scaffolding what learning occurs when a class is involved in an activity such as Skype (Tolisano, 2103).

While the verdict on skills and knowledge gained from this course is overwhelmingly positive, there are some aspects which cannot be evaluated with such a high level of affirmation.  The documenting of networked learning experiences through blogging enables reflection, and ideally, feedback.  The processes required by the learning modules and assessment tasks for INF532, in combination with a very small cohort, meant that the capacity to engage in dialogue through blogging (and the discussion forum) was limited. There was a strong connection between the assessment tasks and blogging, but limited direction to blog within the learning modules. Unlike INF530 and INF536, for example, there was no requirement that peers comment on each other’s blog posts, an attribute that was missed. The digital artefacts were peer assessed, but some people were fairly slow to complete this or did not advise their peers where to find their evaluation (Simkin, Collegial Artefact Critiques, 2015). This was an innovative digital process which did not meet its potential standard for peer learning or the networking expectations held by most participants.

Using a blog to reflect on learning enabled powerful personal reflection, meaningful consideration, and publication of ideas. Sharing links through Twitter resulted in some feedback from followers, but no comments on the posts themselves (Simkin, Tweeting, 2015). This scarcity of feedback was disappointing.

Another aspect of knowledge networking that has been the basis of subjects within this Master of Education course has been the use of the discussion forums. This year information was distributed through the new Interact2 interface, based on the Blackboard learning management system (Simkin, New LMS, 2015). This added a new format for students and staff to conquer. Students found the new discussion format less user-friendly, and feedback was inconsistent. Fewer comments were posted on the forum, and retracing items proved tricky. The email alert within the system did not work as well as last year’s.

Despite these issues, overall the value of this subject is acknowledged. Throughout the semester topics ranged from the playful to the very serious and academic (Simkin, Play & Learning, 2015). Participants developed physical classroom and library spaces, and digital venues such as YouTube channels ( ). Concepts such as the flipped classroom, blended classrooms and flexible learning, which are sometimes just contemporary buzz-words, were productively investigated and compared with personal practice, leading to improvement in learning design (Simkin, Types of Learning, 2015).

Reflective statement (b):

In retracing the course of Knowledge Networks for Educators, there are several components from the learning modules that really resonated. The contents of the first module raised some key issues relevant to personal concern and frustration in attempting to teach twenty-first century skills in a school that remains largely “analogue” in focus despite being well-equipped technologically (Simkin, 1.2 New Culture, 2015).   From dialogue with other students of this course, this is, sadly, too common.

Contemplating the development of digital lives, personally, professionally and for the students encountered in participants’ work, it is hard to imagine that a sound philosophy of communities of practice is not a basic guiding principle in this day and age. Yet for many teachers and administrators, the main focus with technology in classrooms is fear of cyber bullying, rather than the crucial need to model the use of technology and development of C21st skills which include protective behaviours (Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S), 2014). The dichotomy between issues of authenticity and authority in the digital age compared to the past is extreme when considering Floridi’s comment: that humanity has experienced information ages since writing began (Floridi, 2009, p. 153). Modern students need to become the Gutenberg or Turing of these times, by seeking wide-ranging input to create new information (Floridi, 2009, p. 154). Teachers should celebrate the fact that information is socially situated, and socially constructed, and, therefore, instruction needs to be designed to empower people, as opposed to overwhelming them (Lindsey, 2014). Infowhelm is a serious issue with many different names (Bawden & Robinson, 2009). Students should be guided to locate and evaluate information, rather than be restricted to the text-book or teacher notes that many educators insist on mandating as the sole source of information (Simkin, 1.1 Connected students, 2015).

All educators have a unique and critical role to play in assisting their students to develop skills that enable them to cope with the flood of information that is now accessible (Brown & Duguid, 2000, p. 14).  The rapidity of information sharing is well demonstrated by the mesmerising animated gif that introduces the Too Big To Know blog post (Simkin, Too Big To Know, 2015). Infoenthusiasts are excited by the amazing amount of knowledge that may result from this, however, students need to be educated to understand, select, and curate, then network and collaborate in order to problem solve within a learning community, something to which is so well suited to digital information sources and sharing (Floridi, 2009, p. 154).

Thomas and Brown define this as a new culture of learning, invisible, non-traditional in structure and operating within a defined environment (Thomas & Brown, 2011, pp. 17-18).  They acknowledge that playing in such a culture leads to the development of passions and ideas, which, in turn, encourages freedom to research (Thomas & Brown, 2011, pp. 17-18).  The necessity for managed freedom is supported in Douch’s recent blog post, where he postulates that the balustrade at the edge of The Pinnacle (in the Grampians) doesn’t restrict people; instead it is liberating them to go further (Douch, 2015)!

Learning within this new culture cultivates global, digital citizenship, generates feedback leading to improvement for students, and establishes the use of rich and highly textured examples of cross-referencing and communication to form a community of practice made up of the teachers and students within the group (Thomas & Brown, 2011, pp. 22-25). There is a serious problem if teachers are not also learners.

Ruminating on digital artefacts led to an investigation of the best-known creator of such learning objects: Salman Khan (Simkin, Khan Academy, 2015).  Interestingly, while Khan has designed artefacts to teach entire subjects, he does not advocate a world without teachers, rather, he proposes a change to teacher deployment. He proposes that teaching become a team sport where numerous students in a large space collaborate with a number of teachers (Khan, 2012, pp. 197-198). The fluencies of C21st learning are well suited to Khan’s model (Crockett, Jukes, & Churches, 2011).

A thought provoking concept is that of filter bubbles (Pariser, 2013). People must be educated in the manner that algorithms work, and what is typically collected and presented to each one of us separately. The speed at which information is being added to the web in combination with these mining algorithms is a critical C21st skill, that should be included in overall education programs (Simkin, Filter Bubbles, 2015). In fact, Australian teachers are mandated through learning standard 4.5 (Simkin, AITSL, 2015) to use ICT (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, 2014).

Actor Network Theorists postulate that competence is an effect is passed through organisations as a result of minute translations at mundane levels of everyday knowledge flow patterns (Fenwick, 2010, pp. 27-28). They also state that knowledge must be considered as a rhetoric of contentions (Fenwick, 2010, p. 35). The investigations and analyses of educational processes are more important than the logical meaning of concepts and processes typically applied to analyse education (Fenwick, 2010, p. 44). It is vital that educators think about the accessibility and equity of information (Simkin, ANT, 2015).

Stange’s strange video, filmed through Google Glass, utilises a method of recording that is disconcerting and distracting in the extreme (Stange, 2013). It detracts from the valid points Shirky presents on the premise that knowledge networking is based on having a common interest and working with like-minded people (Simkin, Shirky, 2015). Of necessity, the incorporation of finding like-minded people, connecting with them and following their interests, forms part of this process (Simkin, Shirky, 2015).

New vocabulary has been acquired: glocalisation (Simkin, Fis(c)hbowls etc.!, 2015); “filter bubbles” (Simkin, Filter Bubbles, 2015) and fliperentiated, in relation to excellent design for flipped classrooms(Hirsch, 2014). The latter was shared through the Diigo Knowledge Networks group – a wonderful source of co-created information for members.

In contemplating the growth accruing from the study of Knowledge Networks for Educators, the improvement in and consolidation of personal skills and development of a more focused information philosophy is measurable. It has brought all the learning in this course together to strengthen both educational practice and personal learning connections; a pleasing outcome for those involved.


Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2014). Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Retrieved from Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership:

Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S). (2014). Retrieved March 4, 2015, from Microsoft Education:

Bawden, D., & Robinson, L. (2009). The Dark Side of Information Overload, Anxiety and Other Paraxes and Pathologies. Journal of Information Science, 35(2), 180-191.

Brown, J., & Duguid, P. (2000). Limits to Information. In J. Brown, & P. Duguid, Social Life of Information (pp. 11-33). Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Coutas, P. (2010, October 8). New Sources of Information. Retrieved from Slideshare:

Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011). Literacy is Not Enough, 21st-Century Fluencies for the Digital Age. Corwin.

Douch, A. (2015, May 28). Why Your School Needs Clearly Defined Social Media Policies. Retrieved from Douchy’s Blog onICT and Education:

Fenwick, T. &. (2010). Actor-network Theory in Education. . Knowledge, Innovation and Knowing in Practice , 24-39.

Floridi, L. (2009). The Information Society and Its Philosophy: An Introduction to the Special issue on “The Philosophy of Information, Its Nature, and Future Developments. The Information Society: An International Journal, 25, 153-158. doi:10.1080/01972240902848583

Hirsch, J. (2014, October 21). “Fliperentiated” Instruction: How to Create the Customizable Classroom. Retrieved from Edutopia:

Kennedy, G. (2014, January 30). Official Ascilite Video: 2013 Conference – Understanding our Present. Retrieved from You Tube:

Khan, S. (2012). The One World School House: Education Reimagined. London: Hodder and Staughton.

Lindsey, J. (2014). 1.1 Information environments. Retrieved March 4, 2015, from INF532 Knowledge Networking for Educators:

Pariser, E. (2013, March 22). Beware Online “Filter Bubbles”. Retrieved from YouTube:

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Simkin, M. (2015, April 25). Digital Artefact and References. Retrieved from Digitalli:

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Simkin, M. (2015, May 19). Filter Bubbles. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, May 24). Fis(c)hbowls etc.! Retrieved from Digitalli:

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Simkin, M. (2015, April 29). Survey Results. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, May 24). The Future. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, April 1). Too Big To Know. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, May 25). Tweeting. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2015, May 24). Types of Learning. Retrieved from Digitalli:

Stange, M. (2013, July 9). Blackboard World 2013 Opening Keynote #throughglass. Retrieved from YouTube:

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. (2011). Arc-of-Life-Learning. A new culture of learning, 17-33.

Tolisano, S. R. (2103, January 27). Learning in the Modern Classroom. Retrieved from Langwitches blog: