Research Quality’s Scandals April 2014

Research Quality Scandal

(From George White’s Scandals of 1935)

Here we are again with the “Research Quality’s Scandals of 2014“. Those of you awake out there might notice that George White performed his “scandals” or reviews on an annual basis, you will note that on my blog there is ample evidence to write about “research scandals” much more frequently.

Why today?

Well I was anticipating a nice morning writing an abstract for a forthcoming conference (Open Ed 14). As usual, once I started to delve into the literature, practically none of it was accessible at all. Maybe this was a typically bad day, but not really. This experience was after more or less two hours of research and finding numerous interesting papers, and then not being able to openly access a single one of them. Rather ironically the subject was “open learning”.

This really is so bad, but why?

There are many people who dedicate their life to education. Ha. I wouldn’t be sitting here on a Bank Holiday corresponding with students and doing research if I wasn’t one of them. Few of us actually have time to conduct good quality research, and even fewer have the luxury of any funding these days to support their research.

So I find this so deeply annoying because research is so sparse and so precious, particularly anything of good quality, and when you do find it you cannot access it! I do not want to pay $39 and my institution doesn’t subscribe to much of it. Come on, a paper from 1970 surely could be released into the public domain now couldn’t it? Apart from the immorality of it all, that tax payer and public money has funded the work and the livelihoods of the researchers, and then it becomes a commodity to sell on.

And what if you don’t pay for it?

Publication bias is huge – not just from the predominance of publishers and authors only writing about “positive” results, but increasingly these days, people will only write about what they can access for free. So all that stuff hidden behind paywalls is excluded from the discussions and thinking.

Ultimately we are wasting time and re-inventing the wheel, and we are always blaming ourselves for this! I think it is criminal to not learn from previous knowledge. I really do want to know what Roger Lewis wrote about open learning (“What is open learning“?) because there were discussions in the 1970’s about distance learning and the advent of open learning that are important for today’s online learners. This was one of many papers that I found this morning, and I can’t read any of them.

Will the future look brighter?

Well policy is moving slowly in support of open access but that isn’t going to help the back catalogue of papers that are closed off to those that don’t have the money to buy them.

In a recent presentation I talked about changes to the UK research assessment exercise and funding body specifications toward open access.

As for my imminent future, it will be muddy and beer-shaped as I ditch the work and walk across the fields to the pub. 🙂



MOOC research on student experience and social responsibility toward learners

Open Education Conference 2013
November 6-8, Utah

I am very excited about being in UTAH this week and presenting at OpenEd 13. Here are slides accompanying my presentation and below are listed other resources and a short description of the research. A full publication is currently being drafted.


View slides on Slideshare

Download reference list of peer-reviewed literature articles

Download reference list of blog articles

Methodology for literature and blogature searching and evaluation – coming in a wee while!


I am interested in our academic and social responsibility toward online learners. I don’t know a single academic past or present who is not entirely dedicated to supporting young people through their education. I just get the sense that just because some online learning is now free, academic institutions involved have just stopped caring.

My aim was to look at the literature and “blogature” surrounding massive open online courses (MOOCs) that has discussed academic standards, social responsibility, inclusivity and accessibility, and many of the other core values of an education institution. I conducted a systematic review of the literature and also evolved methods for identifying and evaluating other web-based literature such as blog articles.

What did I find?

In his keynote lecture at the OpenEd13 meeting, George Siemens reported on recent Gates-funded research around MOOCs, and identified there is certainly interest in good quality research being carried out. I guess I am a little surprised at the conference so far at the lack of speakers talking about any research underway. Mike Caulfield was one exception reporting on a really interesting study where a group of academics looked at using MOOCs in blended learning scenarios.

Hopefully my research will act as a bit of a primer in terms of identifying gaps and also making the plea (once again) for good quality work.

Whenever I research an educational field, as with my past systematic review looking at multimedia and learning (Rolfe and Gray 2011), it is always surprising how little good quality education research is actually carried out. In my MOOC review, of the 38 peer-reviewed articles that I did find, 26 were empirical studies and only 1 was a case-control study with two comparative groups. Only 1 study directly addressed social responsibility, and the rest largely focused on methodology for analysing learner data rather than the learner experience.

Results of the blog search

In addition to searching peer-reviewed academic journals, I used Google Scholar and Google Blog Search to surface current opinion and other useful reports. The blogs were from high authority people – academics, technologists, senior university executive, and in my thinking are as good quality as any “letter to the editor”, “comment” or “mini-review” of any peer-reviewed journal. Some of my themes of interest in terms of digital and social inclusion, intellectual property and privacy, were reflected in the blogs but not the published literature.

I would hate to see people get a bad taste of university because there’s just too many students in there to get personal attention.

There will be no private, “safe” spaces for learning.

Fairly unaltered in relation to the important stuff like instructional design, instructional delivery, and authentic assessment.

Conclusions of the research

The increasing number of free online courses delivered by large-scale platforms (xMOOCs) are reaching potential learners all over the world, and sparking much debate in media and educational circles. What is clear is the evidence supporting the MOOC in terms of learning design and providing the best possible opportunities for learners is lacking, and much research focuses around tracking users and analysing the vast quantities of user data.

It would be lovely to see in the future:

  • Some good quality research into xMOOC learners – their needs, their successes and what happens when they fail? This could feed directly back into mechanisms for support.
  • Discussion around intellectual property and privacy. Do participants know they are being tracked? Where are their personal details going next? Don’t they have the right to a safe space in which to learn?
  • How inclusive and accessible are xMOOCs? Current institutional strategies reflect widening participation, providing accessible learning for ALL including those with special needs, and are digitally inclusive. Much of this is not reflected yet in the xMOOC.


Introduction to ethics for university undergraduate students

An introduction to ethics

Series of open educational resources openly licensed for your use (CC BY SA unless otherwise stated). This page includes:

  • Screencast part 1
  • Screencast part 2
  • PDF of slides
  • MOCK paperwork (participant information sheet, consent form and ethics checklist).

Part 1

Part 2 

Access to PDF of the slides
Introduction to research ethics SLIDES compressed Oct2013

Supplementary material

MOCK Consent Form October2013

MOCK Ethical Reviewer Form October2013

MOCK Participant Info Sheet October2013