Thursday, 4 June 2015

BA LTR course aims, elements and impact.

The BA LTR course arose out of the Ultraversity project in 2003. It places the workplace as the key context of study, students focus on developing professional expertise relevant to their current workplace role and acquiring further skills that provide a platform from which to achieve career progression and / or access to post-graduate learning.

 Students learn about research strategies and apply them in the workplace to evaluate and enhance their practice. They explore entrepreneurship by prototyping new uses of technologies and exploring the design and management of innovations to personal and workplace practiceThe course aims to develop students as adept 'knowledge workers', effective practitioners who are also critically reflective agents of change, able to manage their own learning and professional development, to generate new knowledge and contribute to organisational development within and beyond their own workplace. See Kamtsiou et al. (2007, pp, 7-12).

Summary of key aims of the BA LTR course:

  1. To develop a personal philosophy of learning, the use of technology and research which relates to their own work setting
  2. To acquire the ability to analyse and synthesise knowledge of practice so as to solve practical problems and situations
  3. To maintain a flexible approach to change as a participant, and awareness of their own power to influence change
  4. To appreciate the enriching nature of working collaboratively in communities of inquiry that share insights and perspectives
  5. To develop a continuing concern for their own professional development and the appropriate strategies to achieve this
  6. To provide an appropriate foundation in professional and technical understanding, and knowledge and skills on which they can build through continuous professional development
  7. To develop the skills of action inquiry as an enduring capacity for lifelong learning and improvement in the workplace
  8. Develop the capacity to communicate to a wider audience.

Key components include:

Learning that is process rather than topic driven. This places the acquisition and application of strategies for research and professional development at the heart of the course so allowing significant personalisation of learning by individuals. Typically in each module, theory is initially explored through a critical review of literature, then by practical application of the theory in the workplace followed by further review of the effectiveness and impact of this experiential learning. This provides students with significant expertise in applying professional processes for personal and organisational development; key skills that have proved attractive to employees when students start looking for employment progression. The approach also maximises the diversity of workplaces the course is relevant to and consequently the potential range of students that might be attracted to it.
Reflective Practice and Action Inquiry are core approaches that students find valuable and adopt as life-long and life-wide strategies as implied in this comment from a student:
"BA LTR has opened up a spirit of inquiry within the cohort and made individuals challenge their use of technology. It is curiosity and a willingness to experiment that will lead to change. If teachers do not experiment with, or try and work with, technology then they will never ever get close to being in a position to grasp its fitness for purpose and therefore the potential to add value to learning using technology in and outside the classroom.”

Professional Development Planning. A review of workplace competences in the first semester enables students to identify appropriate professional development targets that can be met through personalising course study foci. Professional development progression is reviewed annually using a reflective process to ensure effective integration of work-based learning needs into the individual program of study. This key theme culminates with a focused module in the final semester where students develop a systematic approach to preparing for future employment and further learning. They review their progress and create a graduate skills portfolio that evidences achievement and shows how they plan to further develop their work-based and academic skills. During this final module they also develop an evidence based impact study that shows how their activity had impacted on self, colleagues and the wider workplace. 

Flexible learning design. This is achieved in part by placing variety / flexibility within one fixed set of modules rather than achieving it via students selecting from a bank of modules. This requires negotiation of study focus between student and tutor to ensure personalisation of study is appropriate to meet the learning outcomes of any one module. This is achieved via module specific individual learning contracts or research proposals. The approach emerged from a cybernetic analysis of traditional learning design using Beer's (1985) viable systems analysis. The distribution of variety is shown in this diagram taken from a recent EdD paper:

This variety analysis approach was also applied to reduce complexity of module resources by breaking down the activities into a range of smaller patches that accumulate over the semester. These patches are 'stitched' together via a concluding self assessment of meta-learning in the form of a retrospective analytical commentary on the learning activities carried out in each patch. With work based study courses it is also important to allow some flexibility in the pace of study within a module as students may be faced with unexpected changes to their workflow that interrupt study. An insight into strategies for this can be read here.

Technology enhanced learning. Developing significant expertise in using current and emerging digital technologies is a key theme that is integrated throughout the course. Students learn how to locate, filter and retrieve online information - a key skill for today's learners and one that is critical to developing a professional knowledge base. The ability to 'locate, learn from and contribute to' relevant professional networks is another essential skill they develop; this enables them to participate in the knowledge society. 
Digital technologies are progressing at a rate that many workplaces find difficult to keep up with; they have become an essential professional tool and the progression is likely to continue with technologies becoming more ambient and all pervasive, figure 13 on this post summarises some potential medium and longer term developments as identified by the TELMap group at a meeting in Brussels 2013
Prestridge (2012), Wastiau et al. (2013), Donohue (2015) and Wheeler (2015), show there is a pressing need to deal with this complexity and discuss the value of integrating ICT skills development into learning systems. They and many others point out the need for adequate teacher competence, in particular the need for teachers to be able to make appropriate decisions about what, when and how to use ICT. Beetham, McGill and Littlejohn (2009) and Beetham and Sharpe (2010) argue that in the modern digital or knowledge society there is a need for all of society to develop strategies to handle the complexity of information and to incorporate emerging technologies into both life and learning. Over recent decades the provision of free at source social media has resulted in students and the wider public being able to progress from consuming media to creating and publishing their own media, Carneiro (2010) suggested that ICT enhanced learning requires new theories as the learning possibilities are more complex than those encapsulated by traditional theories such as behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism. He offered the term ‘Generativism’ the ongoing derivation of new meaning through sense-making from experience and a shared body of knowledge. Students on the BA LTR course will recognise all of these concepts as part of their learning landscape.

Social learning and communities of practice.  The one-to-many and many-to-many opportunities provided by structured social discourse in online community software is critical to the success of this model. This evolved from the traditional distance learning model where a tutor would speak separately, but less frequently, to each individual and so often end up repeating the same message many times. 
The course deploys a largely asynchronous approach to course discussion, this is initially located in institutionally provided software but students often go on to self organise supplemental communities in a range of social media. The core communities are collaborative online communities of practice and inquiry with the module foci as the practice at the heart of the community and facilitated discussion as the glue that bonds the communities. The integration of community of Inquiry and Community of Practice concepts (Wenger )is discussed here.

Constructive alignment in review and feedback. In order to attain high level marks it is important that students are able to use constructive alignment strategies to self assess their work in progress against module expectations, module specific assessment criteria and generic standards of scholarly practice. The development of self assessment skills is supported by the facilitated peer review process where students are encouraged to offer objective and constructive commentary of draft work in the spirit of critical friendship. Although this is often done in text tutors model use of other approaches that can encourage students to develop more advanced strategies. 

Student comment on tutor use of audio feedback:
"I think it is fantastic that you use voice recordings as well as written feedback, it really enabled me to understand the context in which you were giving the information. It also gave me the ability to 'sense' whether I was on the right track or not."

Student comment on their own experience of peer review via audio:
“…we inadvertently stumbled upon gold when we decided to do it [peer assessment] using audio because immediately you could sense the hesitation in the voice of your critic, 'the humanness of the medium' was the phrase that I used whereas text can be very harsh because it has no tone no intonation its not organic. I think one of the reasons why video wasn't used for me is self consciousness, its nothing more not even vanity, you can see a lot in a voice…”
 As students progress through the course the peer feedback approach becomes a critical feedback loop with detailed discussions emerging via review and response to review. Tutors model and monitor this process and ensure that review comments are aligned with relevant criteria. The same criteria referenced constructive alignment is used by tutors when providing formative feedback on draft work and along with end of module summative feedback. The final module requires the construction of an impact study which is critically reviewed by peers. In this there is an element of presentation and defence of learning that is akin to the viva that concludes doctoral studies.

Assessment by online portfolio. Assessment of media rich portfolios amplifies the potential for students to express themselves creatively by using a range of digital literacies. Although a proportion of formal writing is required, students are encouraged to use alternative genre and range of appropriate media to present aspects of their assessment products. A portfolio will typically contain Word or PDF documents, PowerPoint, Prezi or other presentation files, academic posters, video and/or animations. Students are encouraged to explore the potential of hardware and software that is in use in their own workplace as well as emerging technologies that could be of use to support their study needs and may have future relevance in the workplace. All work for assessment has to be uploaded to the student's secure and private portfolio. It has to be made available in formats that can be readily accessed by the assessors, appropriate choice of file types is discussed and agreed during semester; compatibility testing of recently emerged technologies is also done during semester if needed. Given the university requirement for date stamping the submission, any work hosted live on the internet, such as on personal web-sites, is not accepted for assessment. 

Dissemination of learning processes and research findings in the workplace. The course embraces the concept of individuals being able to contribute to organisational learning no matter what level they are at within the organisational hierarchy. Students learn how to design small-scale practical research projects using action inquiry, Reflective practice or case study approaches to identify and implement changes for improvement of personal and/or organisational practice. Others in the workplace are often involved in this aspect of study via consultation, participation, as mentors or via workplace advocacy. Many students have found that they gain increased recognition and respect in their workplace quite early in the course. it is not unusual for this to result in increased responsibilities or even internal promotion during the first or second year of study.

 It can be argued that the research process is not completed until it is shared with a critical audience. In their final year students plan a dissemination event where the process and findings of their major project are shared with a small and carefully selected workplace audience who are invited to provide critical feedback. This event can lead to significant impact both on the recognition of the professional abilities of the student and in contributing to learning and change within the organisation. It is also not unusual for students to report that they have been subsequently asked to demonstrate and share their media skills with colleagues, line managers or even organisational leaders. This comment came from a Teaching Assistant:

 “My Deputy Head delivers several training courses at a School training centre. Following my dissemination event she asked me to look at her presentation on ‘Visual Supports.’ She stated that my PowerPoint had made a powerful impact and that the images were strong. I worked with my Deputy Head showing her how to adapt slides according to the theory I had learned and applied to my presentation. She then finished the presentation and forwarded to me for my thoughts.”
An insight into student perspectives on the impact of the course can be gained via this selection of student comments that have been aggregated here.


Beer, S., 1985. Diagnosing The System for Organisations. John Wiley, London and New York, NY.

Bradshaw, P., Powell, S. and Terrell, I., 2005. Developing engagement in online community of inquiry: lessons for higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, Vol. 42 No. 3, pp. 205-15.

Carneiro, R., 2010. Spotlight Topic 3. Open Educational Practices and Generativism. Universidade Catolica Portuguesa. Slideshow Available at: [http://

Donohue, C., 2014. Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years: Tools for Teaching and Learning. Routledge, e-book
Millwood, R., Powell, S. and Tindal, I., 2008a. Personalised learning and the Ultraversity experience. Interactive Learning Environments, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 63-81.

Millwood, R., Powell, S. and Tindal, I., 2008b. Developing technology-enhanced, work-focused learning – a pattern language approach. Proceedings for TSSOL 2008, Technology Support for Self-Organised Learners. Austria. pp. 84-105.

Prestridge, S., 2012. The beliefs behind the teacher that influences their ICT practices. Computers & Education, 58, pp.449–458.

Wastiau, P., Blamire, R., Kearney, C., Quittre, V., Van de Gaer, E. and Monseur, C. 2013. The Use of ICT in Education: a survey of schools in Europe. European Journal of Education.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. and Snyder, W., 2006. Cultivating communities of practice: a guide to managing knowledge. Harvard Business School Press. 

Wheeler, S., 2015. Learning with ‘e’s: educational theory and practice in the digital age. Crown House Publishing.