Reading Around Research Topic (Annotated Bibliography)

Hawkins, A., Graham, C. R., & Barbour, M. K. (2012). “Everybody is their own Island”: Teacher disconnection in a virtual school.The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(2), 123-144.


The authors note that a factor in the growth of synchronous online learning in the US is recent research that online instruction is as effective as face-to-face learning. Hawkins, Graham and Barbour acknowledge that the online environment requires new teacher roles, responsibilities, and teaching and learning strategies. In their study, teachers had to assume greater managerial and technical roles to solve problems and encourage participation. Constant feedback was central to student motivation. In addition, teachers had the added pressure of facilitating the social environment as well.

The research explored the experiences and perceptions of teachers at Utah’s Electronic High school (EHS). They had access to a wide range of personal development opportunities, including multiple face-to-face workshops and online webinars. A major theme that emerged was disconnection from students. The absence of physical cues and lack of responsiveness meant teachers found it difficult to gauge the level of understanding. It was also difficult to “reach out and engage” the students (p. 133). In addition, teachers at EHS tended to limit social interactions as they saw them as a distraction and not something the students actually want. Somewhat contradictorily, they also often struggled to build a rapport with students, which sometimes led to student disengagement.

Another finding was that teachers felt disconnected from the traditional role of teacher and “more like someone standing on the sidelines ready to offer support when asked” (p. 137). They felt frustration that they connected with the content but not with the individual students. They also felt disconnected from their teaching colleagues as they were less accessible if not a close physical community. They concluded that new ways need to be established for sharing best practice.


This is a well-structured research article written in an international refereed e-journal. The case study was based at secondary level rather than a tertiary environment, which limits the generability of the findings. In addition, there was little distinction between synchronous and non-synchronous environments. Some of the findings were paradoxical or contradictory, in that teachers felt frustrated at the level of contact with individuals yet tended to limit the degree of social interaction. However, there were also some interesting findings around the level of disconnection that teachers feel with online learning that would also be relevant in my tertiary context.

Something that could be useful when implementing an online teaching innovation is the Community of Inquiry (COI) framework to articulate the importance of teacher presence, cognitive presence and social presence. For effective online learning, the quality of teacher-student interactions is measured through clear expectations, group collaboration, productive discourse, and meaningful feedback.

Scenario Planning Matrix

Because I work in a polytechnic, I was interested in what the work situation might be like in 30 years, and how that could influence vocational institutions. It helped me to try and imagine the kinds of economic, political and business structures that might exist in 30 years.

I’ve now revised my matrix. I wasn’t happy with one of my axes so changed the local-global perspective to one moving from the public to the private good. With some tweaking, I think the scenarios now fit better.

scenario matrix V2

Intrepid Journeys

Technology has improved to the point where automation and robotics has replaced many jobs. People work less but travel further afield in search of opportunities. International agreements encourage people to travel and work overseas but many governments have taken a hands-off approach to funding or controlling tertiary education. Education has become a commodity that grows and changes to meet individual needs and current issues. The growth in niche educational providers in Asia who offer courses cheaply online has resulted in similar competition worldwide. Vocational institutions specialise in distance education, with fewer campus-based programmes offered. Now students have a huge range of choice in courses, study online and through mobile learning. They choose their subjects and use social media as part of the shared global learning experience. When students complete courses they submit their results and other artefacts to certified assessors who authenticate and certify competence.

Outrageous Fortune

This is a world where multi-national companies employ a large number of the workforce. They also own or support many vocational institutions that subsidise students into short term programmes that match the needs of the company. They offer low or no fees in return for service. Polytechnics specialise in a few STEM areas and offer both blended and distance versions of courses. Standardised qualifications help to get students on the employment ladder. There is a high mobility of students to other regions and countries seeking work or promotion and study can be transferred to overseas campuses or continued online. Students are supported by ILPs based on learning analytics. These corporations also invest a lot of money into educational technologies and dictate the kinds of technologies used in the institutions they support.

New Zealand’s Got Talent

In this scenario, technology is encouraging the growth of small business and the Internet is the main means of doing business. Local entrepreneurship and self-employment is prevalent, although the market is global. People are demanding a wide range of business and STEM courses and partially government funded polytechnics compete with other private providers who offer government approved competency credentials. People want flexibility and targeted online and blended short courses proliferate. Students are prepared to pay for excellent teaching and support, so online courses are interactive using the best materials accessed globally. There is high mobility between providers as students seek courses that best meet their personal needs.

Close to Home

In this scenario, political conditions and a worldwide recession have restricted the movement of people and goods. Vocational tertiary institutions are small and regional. They struggle to survive with limited government funding and provide a limited range of courses to meet employers’ needs. There is little money or incentive for research development and upgrading technology, so government funding is spent on local campuses providing retraining opportunities for the unemployed. There is a mix of face to face and online learning as economics often makes it more viable to offer online resources with fewer teachers there to provide support. Technology is mainly used to provide access to existing resources and there is little innovative use of digital tools.

Identifying trends in a Learning Services context

Bullet list of trends from Horizon Reports

Tablet computing
Mobile Apps
Learning analytics
Personal learning environments
Mobile learning
Competency based credentials
Electronic interactive books
Open educational resources
Flipped classrooms
Social media
Cloud computing

Two major trends:

1. Learning analytics – This is comprehensive data analysis at every level of the organisation, and can be used to analyse learning and teaching trends. It could be very useful in student services for analysing student-related data to identify at-risk students immediately and possible reasons (eg. Non-attendance, programme effectiveness). So it supports student retention and a more personalised learning experience.

2. Mobile learning – I think this really now encompasses tablet computing and mobile Apps. It includes all kinds of mobile devices and mobile Apps giving access to a huge range of educational resources and communication opportunities via the internet. I was thinking of choosing Personal Learning Environments as a major trend here but think that in many respects mobile learning will allow students to create their own PLE. In my context, mobile learning will allow resources to be optimised for the learner, with a growing number of Apps that allow students to learn in ways that suit them, using a range of different media. What is also exciting is the growing ability of institutions to develop their own Apps to enhance their specific teaching and learning needs.

An interesting graphic I found:

Envisioning Technology. (2013). Retrieved August 7, 2013, from

Scenario planning through the lens of a Student Services Manager

My decision making context:

I am reviewing the scenario through the lens of a manager for student services, specifically academic services, at a medium –size tertiary polytechnic. The polytechnic provides a range of vocationally based programmes both face-to-face, blended and online.

Overview of the scenario:

I chose to utilise the “Four Future Scenarios for Higher Education” (up to 2030) scenario planning document developed at the OECD/France International Conference. I chose scenario four – Higher Education Inc.

There is global competition to provide educational services on a commercial basis. Vocational institutions focus almost exclusively on teaching, with very little research outputs. Competition for students is fierce and institutions look internationally for their share of the market. The most successful open campuses in other countries and develop and sell their educational programmes to other institutions. This has resulted in a division of labour and specialisation, a scenario allowing the growth of specialised education providers in developing countries such as India. While English is the language of research and post-graduate studies, specialist vocational and under-graduate programmes are run in the local language of the provider.

Key drivers of change in this scenario include government policies and international agreements to open up educational opportunities to overseas students, thus encouraging international students to move for their education.

Support comes in the form of lower communication and transport costs to encourage student mobility, and positive immigration policies. With government support, institutions realise the commercial potential of marketing their institution internationally as an alternative education provider.

Brainstorm of potential decisions:

Student advisors would come from a range of cultural and language backgrounds
Provision of training and support in dealing with students from diverse backgrounds, and in the technologies to teach and support them
A reassessment of working hours if increasingly flexible provision of programmes is offered
Providing individualised learning plans that support the success and retention of students
Provision of student mentors to support the student’s educational ‘journey’
The accessibility of online resources, as seen through language and cultural filters
Decisions around how much English language teaching and support can be provided for international students
How to collaborate with colleagues in satellite campuses, sharing expertise and resources
Choosing the most appropriate technologies for communicating with and teaching students in distance learning programmes
Resolving the accessibility issues of student services to students in terms of information, locations and flexible means of support
Developing ways and means to orientate students to the host culture, educationally and socially

The two most important strategic decisions:

1. Resolving the accessibility issues of student services to students in terms of information, locations and flexible means of support. This is really important as in the competitive business model clients demand prompt, individualised service that meets their needs. If they don’t get it, they will go elsewhere. Being able to meet student needs in all areas, including student services, ensures a competitive advantage. That means making information and resources accessible to students in multilingual forms, and providing a comprehensive front-facing service both face-to-face and online.

2. Providing individualised learning plans is the second strategic decision. It provides the ability to track the progress of students, identifying issues that may affect their success and, as a consequence, the prestige of the institution. It is an important part of the package that offers a personalised, student-focused service and particularly necessary in supporting students to overcome language and cultural barriers. Learning plans can also move with students if they move from one campus to another.

Transferability of recommended decisions for the scenarios alternatives:

Both strategic decisions are crucial in the ‘Open networking’ scenario as it too is very internationalised, often delivering courses online and with students expected to work independently. There is less strategic importance on addressing accessibility issues for international students in the ‘Serving local communities’ scenario as anti-globalisation sentiments discourage international students in favour of local and national students. Both strategic decisions are relevant in the ‘New public responsibility’ scenario because institutions are more “attentive to the learning needs of students of all ages and with a wide range of learning needs.”

Keying in to the uncertainties of the future

I’m beginning to understand how scenario planning is useful for predicting longer term futures, especially as it emphasises contrasting possible futures. It leads to an emphasis on flexibility and adaptability, key elements of sustainability. It does force decision makers to look past the current trends and plan for those unexpected events. It also forces decision makers to look past personal preferences to other viable possibilities and options.

I don’t mind admitting that I’m struggling to get my head around scenario planning and its usefulness in my context. It’s interesting to note that at my tertiary institution a number of important decisions have been made recently, with significant monetary investment, on technologies to address the learning and teaching needs of the future. One of the key guiding documents the Steering Group was given was the 2012 New Horizon Report, The Technology Outlook for Australian Tertiary Education 2012-2017, whose methodology is rooted in a systematic review of the literature on current and emerging technologies and trends. It is a response to recent trends, or what is happening now in education and gives us a good look at identified drivers of change in education (predetermineds). Therefore it takes a strategic rather than a scenario planning approach to predicting technology adoption in education.

Where I think scenario planning is important in an educational context is the ability to predict where our learners will be in the future, what work they will be doing and what their world will look like, so we can work backwards and put things in place that will hopefully be relevant to their futures. I would like to better understand what the key uncertainties of the future are for tertiary education and explore how well decisions that have already been made address possible future scenarios.

Johnson, L., Adams, S., & Cummins, M. (2012). Technology Outlook for Australian Tertiary Education 2012-2017: An NMC Horizon Report Regional Analysis.[Report]. Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium.

Scenario planning is about being prepared

“Scenarios can’t predict the future, so what’s the point?”

[Have now added appropriate tags…omission reflects the fragmented nature of my mind at the moment.]

Scenario planning is about predicting possible futures further ahead than just the foreseeable future, that of a few months or 1-2 years. Strategy planning extrapolates data from the past and uses current trends to predict short-term directions. Trends change over a longer period of time and so are unreliable indicators of change. In addition, there are many unexpected events that can change the direction of the future (eg. Christchurch earthquake). The key is in preparing for possible futures.

The video emphasises that businesses are better at preparing rather than predicting, but shouldn’t limit themselves to preparing for one possible future as there are many possibilities. The challenge is to use current drivers and uncertainties to predict the most probable futures, and prepare for those. It’s about preparing to face the most relevant effects of change.

Freeman identifies an important distinction of scenario planning. Scenario planning helps us visualise what influential factors such as “Ideas, Nature, Society, Politics, Economics, Culture, and Technology” might have on the future. Because there are a wide range of external factors, it is equally important to include perspectives from a wide range of people in the scenario planning. Once possible futures are visualised (also described as stories) we can work backwards to identify what strategies should be put in place to prepare for those plausible, possible futures.

So, the point of scenario planning is not to try to predict the future but predict several plausible futures so that strategies can be put in place in preparation for any likely eventuality.

Learning Reflection #1

I’m pleased that I waited to the end of week 3 to write this, as the last week has provided some clarity for me. Or perhaps I should say the last 2 days, as this has been the only time available to put significant time and effort into reading, reflecting and making important connections between my topic, theories on change and the review essay. I guess I’m now starting to see the ‘big picture’ that I was lamenting as missing last week. Writing a bunch of annotated bibliographies this weekend has helped develop my understanding, as well as helping me realise the valuable contribution to completing the essay itself. While I was initially frustrated with the workload, I know that it will mean less time required at the other end.
I admit to being quite frustrated in the first two weeks, as I struggled with setting up the blog and navigating the online course with an unfamiliar structure. However, repetition bred familiarity and I now have a reasonably clear sense of how to navigate to the information and links I need. With another change in the form of the Scenario Planning for Educators (SP4Ed) micro Open Online Course (mOOC) staring me in the face next week, I feel better prepared to deal with any frustrations, confident that understanding will come over time if not immediately. I’m enjoying writing my blog posts now and getting feedback. I like how all my important ideas and reflections are aggregated as, in other online courses I’ve done, important contributions were often spread through a number of discussion forums. The downside seems to be progressively less discussion in the Moodle forums, of which I’m guilty myself. I’d be interested to know if other participants agree and if they feel it is an issue?
A nagging frustration that I still do have is around my choice of topic, which is the impact on learners and academic advisors of introducing online teaching, specifically synchronous teaching of academic tutorials and workshops. I’m happy that what I’ve chosen is relevant and, with feedback from others, become progressively focused and specific. However, in the last week CPIT has launched its Technology Enhanced Learning Strategy, along with a raft of technology initiatives including lecture capture, Moodle-based ILPS and the purchase of a significant number of Microsoft tablets for teaching and learning. I know I could probably change my topic, but don’t want that distraction. I guess I’m still bemoaning the need to choose a topic in the first week.
My reading around change theories has been edifying. Understanding Niki Davis’s Arena of Change helped me understand the impact of the online learning environment for us teachers at the ‘coalface’, as well as the increasing influence of ‘people in the stands’ such as other tertiary collaborations. Both the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM) and the Learning Adoption Trajectory Model (LAT) are useful models for addressing concerns at different stages of adopting online teaching technologies. This formal approach to identifying and addressing the concerns of individuals as they face change with technological innovations will benefit me not just for this course but in my work role on the Learning Technologies Steering Group, as we discuss introducing new technologies.
So, I look ahead to new changes in week 4 still with some trepidation, but also with the confidence of knowing I’ve addressed (most) concerns and developed strategies to successfully get through the first three intense weeks.