WordPress for education: giddy new heights not same old LMS doldrums

Week 2 of the Teaching with WordPress Course

“Colossal octopus by Pierre Denys de Montfort” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – _by_Pierre_Denys_de_Montfort.jpg
“Colossal octopus by Pierre Denys de Montfort” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – Pierre_Denys_de_Montfort.jpg#/media/File:Colossal_octopus _by_Pierre_Denys_de_Montfort.jpg



















Well the great thing about open courses of course, is you can continue the course, ahem, some six weeks after the thing has actually finished. 

This week is all about how to use WordPress effectively as an educational tool. I was with Christina on her Twitter comment:

Christina's Tweet

How are we using WP to create our courses differently than we might do on an LMS?


Good point. It is probably easy to hit that slippery slope of just dumping content and emailing the link to the student. That is no different than dumping content on Blackboard and emailing the link to the student. I must admit I am totally guilty of doing just that with the limited teaching that I do – my blog is just a repository, but a step forward, it IS open content, and it IS visible by any student and not just ones enrolled onto that particular module, e.g. my ‘Introduction to Systematic Review’.

Actually I’ve always hated the LMS, or VLE as we say (virtual learning environment) with a passion. They look dull, and have engendered a generation of content-thirsty students who’s favorite question to ask is, “will this be on Blackboard”? I’ve marked exam scripts where students have memorized my notes and even written out word for word my text with bullet points. These feelings have been recapitulated by others. The wonderful Jim Groom and Brian Lamb wrote in their article about reclaiming innovation that the danger with the LMS is that everything is locked away and inaccessible, and students are cut off from each other. In reality, not a single person ever works like this do they? As they say, also, the LMS does nothing to provide students with practical web skills, so how can I enhance what I do to destroy the silos and enrich what and how people learn? So what can I learn this week in stepping up my game?

What I do so far?

  • OK my materials are openly licensed. My university has no open policy, so I do it anyway under what I believe are my ‘learning resources’ as opposed to university-owned content such as module handbooks and any formal learning materials.
  • My materials are available to anyone and aren’t locked into module runs where students in year 3 for example doing their research projects can’t even look back at the research materials they used in year 2. So no additional bonkersness there.

So how can I think about being more ‘coursey’?

So, the Google Hangout with Cogdog, Tannis and Christina was great, and provided me with a view of what different designs of open course could be. OK, question number one. What is a course?

A course is a unit of teaching that typically lasts one academic term, is led by one or more instructors (teachers or professors), and has a fixed roster of students. It is usually an individual subject. Students may receive a grade and academic credit after completion of the course. (Wikipedia 2015).

So building a framework for a course containing a unit of teaching, instructors and final grade, we can start to define what is an open course, which for a start, is far more fluid. Also we can start to add thoughts about content and educational ethics.

Open course designs


To track or not to track?

Many strategies were discussed for this, like open content just on WP and page hits tracked by Google analytics. Minimal tracking could be introduced by students completing a final test within the institutional administration / grading or testing platform. Creation of accounts, use of Google forms, Gravity forms, Buddy press, were all mentioned as means of more sophisticated tracking of learner attendance and possibly engagement. Learn dash, badging all suggested as means to track.

Business cases?

Open course 1 could be a free ‘unit’ offered as a precursor to enrolling on a fully- fledged university course, or allow for payment just for registration to sit exams and build credit. Back to the ‘pic-a-mix’ approach to learning. Open courses would be great for outreach, supporting student transitions to university or reaching non-traditional academic audiences. Of course we all know that universities use open courses and content for marketing, but I believe this should not be the reason for being, surely the motivation should be an educational one?

So using WP as an educational tool?

My big questions would be around how does WP differ from many of the learning management platforms, and their open variants, in terms of copyright ownership and privacy?

On WP’s Wikipedia site ( they list these as concerns, but then don’t state what WP does about it:


Content and ownership: Both students and educators that blog must be aware of copyright laws and issues. In order to ensure best practices in education, teachers and students need to be aware of and adhere to copyright laws and licenses. 

Privacy and Security: Expressing opinions and beliefs to a worldwide audience has cost some educators their jobs, as issues surrounding freedom of speech blur the professional and personal blogging practices of educators and students. For example, a senior faculty member in Colorado, USA, was fired from her position after questioning university policy and leadership in a personal blog posting (Horwedel, 2006). Additionally, adolescents often will disclose a great deal of personal information about themselves when blogging. Issues surrounding safe Internet use must be taught directly and intentionally in the classroom in order to ensure the well-being of students (Davis and McGrail, 2009). (WP Wikipedia Page)

Copyright ownership of content?

So if the teacher places openly licensed content, and learners produce content, does WP have to comply with the terms of the license? I guess this is OK then. But what about the rights of the hosting company? I think the issue would be if teachers / learners were posting non-openly licensed content that might be copyright of the university or others, and the comment now would be, what would WP or the hosting company have rights over? I’D LOVE PEOPLE TO INFORM ME VIA THE COMMENTS BOX.

Learner Privacy?

Again, if we are encouraging learners or our own campus-based students to log-in and enroll, or create accounts, my question is, what happens to this data? Does WP end up having rights over it, and is this any different to a VLE such as Blackboard or Moodle? And what about the hosting company? AGAIN, COMMENTS PLEASE!
I suppose it is all about risk. I feel nervous now that I’ve set up a student blog and their contributions reveal their names. But here is a good resource and some useful insights from the University of Notra Dame blog, and like with copyright, an area I feel my institution should be able to support me with. Here are the guidelines Notra Dame issue to students:

Explain on day one that due to of the nature of the course students are required to publish work on the Internet. If they were unaware of that fact and have a major problem with it, they can drop the course.

Let students know they have privacy rights and are not required to reveal personal information. Reassure them that the professor will not release such information and enjoin them not to disclose personal information about other students.

They advocate the further advice to students:

Only provide the exact account information required; hide anything you do not wish to be made public; use a screen name or fake name; use a graphic rather than your photo; have separate email addresses for separate account registrations.

This university also gets students to sign disclaimers regarding privacy rights and options. All very good, but what about open learners on the web?


I seem to have been left with more questions than I’ve answered this week, but I do have a really clear picture in my head of levels of open course designs which is great. I haven’t made the leap from VLE to open course as I’m still missing levels of interaction I think, but this is all work in progress.

  • How is WordPress different from LMS / VLE in terms of copyright ownership of content and data privacy and security?
  • As open educators, how can we equally protect open learners as well as our campus-based students?


Oh, and some other nice things this week:

Getting students to use tag clouds

UBC guide to copyright



The pic-a-mix of open education

Fabio Alessandro Locati
“Fale – Barcellona – 194” by Fabio Alessandro Locati CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


Week 1 thoughts:
An awesome and informative week learning about open pedagogy with details of the course right here:

The webinar by Amanda Coolidge and Tracy Kelly was super and made me think about open pedagogy really for the first time really. I’ve been working on open educational resource (OER) projects for around ten years with rather a ‘bull in a china shop’ approach, and this week is really making me think through more of a structure that would be useful.

How do we define open?

The webinar started off assisting us in thinking about defining open pedagogy. I really have struggled recently with how on earth the open movement can move forward unless we start defining the ethical boundaries in which we operate? Open ultimately is a free-for-all on the web and we are all familiar with the more negative aspects of this. We need ethical common ground for sure. Hopefully his community will help define it. (Here is a pitch for funding that was unsuccessful but shares my thoughts…).

David Wiley’s definition of ‘open’ and the 5 Rs of openness

The 5 Rs of openness provide a useful framework for us to think of in terms of sharing learning materials openly – reuse, revise, remix, redistribute and retain (the control of the content produced). I would add a 6 category of course – to participate in the spirit of openness in an ethically appropriate manner.

(Just thinking the 6th R might be – responsibly or responsibility).

Back to the show – many of the definitions of open do focus on resources and as the webinar presenters highlighted there is a whole field of open practice, behaviour and activity that also apply. I know in my own institutions there are discussions about open data, open science and open research. We all increasingly operate a ‘pick-a-mix’ approach to education, dipping in and out of being open, although many learners and teachers find it more easy to just adopt a philosophical stance toward openly working, and apply it to all they do.

So how do I define open pedagogy?

Going back to some of the clearest thinking about education and what it is, Richard Peters’ describes the ‘matter’ and ‘manner’ of education, and discussions about open pedagogy for me cannot isolate the content from the learner-teacher relationship, and the manner in which we all engage on the web. His book “Ethics and Education” is a must-read. (R. S. Peters: Ethics and education. 5th edn, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, London 1968).

Also, going back to the definitions of pedagogy (and andragogy) that are the science and practice of teaching, we absolutely do not want to lose sight of the need to evaluate what we do either to produce well informed approaches. I personally think we have all become a little lousy at that.

How can we reflect on our approaches now?

I really liked this next bit of the webinar. Amanda and Tracy have constructed a matrix to help us position our practice. I might challenge and say there could be a new row on co-creation. The matrix I think identifies a learning journey that we must encourage students along. Obviously, students new to university or anyone making the transition back to education are vulnerable and need support, so may start off in box 4. As they become accustomed to open licensing, use of technology, working openly on the web – as they may not have ever done before – we can gently nurture them toward box 1. It would be good if the journey to 2 and 1 were a quick one as we don’t want to dwell to long on dinosaur methods of education.

Open Pedagogy Matrix
Amanda Coolridge and Tracy Kelly. Open Pedagogy Matrix. CC BY. (BCU week 1 webinar screen grab).

Unfortunately we may be based in institutions that are non-open, and have no policy or inclination to work openly. We may therefore be firmly rooted in 4 and 3, using dinosaur methods, locking learning behind VLEs, and assessing student knowledge regurgitation in examinations, obsessing with providing them feedback, all of which does nothing to develop individuals.

Summary of week 1

  • So I have formed a definition of open pedagogy in my mind, embracing the pic-a-mix of open practices and approaches we all use these days.
  • I have reflected on my own practice and that we need to encourage students (and staff) through the matrix up to box 1 and perhaps beyond as co-producers.
  • I believe in the 5Rs of open plus a 6th category of embracing the spirit of openness in an ethical manner.
  • My question that I hope to explore through this course is – how can I work openly as an educator on the web – because I chose to do so outside of work hours – but operate ethically in terms of copyright (OK, using what is mine), in terms of privacy (OK, using the privacy terms that come with WP blogging) but also ethically in terms of the manner in which we conduct ourselves?




Blog Education Research

The Only Way is Ethics

The Only Way is Ethics


Thank you Facebook for doing what many of us have been trying to do for some time, and that is raising awareness of the important and largely un-held ethical debate regarding the use of personal information and data from the internet in research. The Facebook story bought together three important things:

  • A commercial organisation claiming that their terms and conditions cover them to do anything they wish when researching human subjects.
  • Authors who didn’t make it transparent whether their research had been reviewed at a university ethical committee, what issues emerged and how they were addressed in the study.
  • Journal publishers who seem to take leniency in the ethical nature of their papers rather than upholding high standards of research and review.

The Facebook experiment has surfaced a range of opinions with claims that it was socially irresponsible, and that it was ethically dodgy,

“participation wasn’t voluntary, it was enforced, and as a result people’s state of mind may have been manipulated, in my view, without consent” (The Reed Diaries).

Peter Reed rightly suggests that advertising companies have been manipulating us since the dawn of time, and Stephen Downes agrees that commercial companies deal and trade in consumer data to bring us the products and services we would like. Companies constantly experiment with consumer data and “ethics regulations are routinely ignored”.

All of the opinions this week miss other important points regarding the clearly unethical nature of the research conducted. And also, having worked in consumer understanding within a multinational blue-chip company, the statement that we routinely ignored ethics, as did many of my collaborators, for me, is entirely garbage.

What is research?
First, let us separate out what is ‘research’ from what is merely the handling of data. What we are then distinguishing between is research ethics and the ethical and moral values that constitute a commercial organisations degree of social and corporate responsibility. This definition is from the US National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioural Research:

 “The term ‘research’ designates an activity designed to test an hypothesis, permit conclusions to be drawn, and thereby to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge (expressed, for example, in theories, principles, and statements of relationships)”.

Researchers have an obligation to ensure:

“Persons are treated in an ethical manner not only by respecting their decisions and protecting them from harm, but also by making efforts to secure their well-being”.

How are research ethics governed?
When conducting research it is the responsibility of the investigators and ethics boards of universities or organisations (commercial or otherwise) to evaluate the risks and benefits of their work. This is an important step on many levels, to protect the researcher, to ensure the work is of the best quality, and to also provide the required documentation to ensure the participant is fully aware of the risks, hence ‘informed’.

How should these systems work? Regardless of the field of research, whether it is medical, psychological, biomedical, sociological, the responsibility of the researcher is to identify and comply with relevant ethical protocols, and in reality this usually means complying with internal protocols alongside codes of conduct from often more than one professional bodies and organisations.

When I worked in market research, we complied with the codes of practice from the UK Market Research Society. Those companies we worked with, such as those processing store card data,  also followed research codes of practice. It has amused me the sweeping statements this week about ALL commercial companies being unethical. I would even go so far to say that for commercial companies, there is much more at stake than for an academic institution. Conducting good ethical research would be directly linked to reputation, and if a company is investing half its R&D budget on a product (the rest on packaging and even more on marketing), the research underpinning it needs to be robust. I suggest that with both universities and companies conducting human research, there is a wide range of ethical standards employed, but we cannot tar everyone with the same brush.

How does all this apply to online research?

The Market Research Society defines online research as:

“Collecting information from a social networking service” and “any other collection of personal data in the online environment for the purpose of research”.

And therefore it follows:

“In accordance with the principle of voluntary informed participation, information identifying respondents (personal data) must not be collected from without their consent”, and “researchers conducting social media monitoring, text analytics or sentiment analysis should take steps to avoid collecting personal data. Researcher must ensure that any personal data is not further processed without consent”.

And ethical codes particularly govern working with children and vulnerable individuals:

“In accordance with the principle of voluntary informed participation, information identifying children must not be collected from forums, social networking sites, blogs, etc without their consent and without obtaining the consent of a parent or responsible adult”.

The flaw in the research published this week, and many other studies like it, is that the risks and benefits of the study were not fully weighed up. The methods of ‘informing’ the participants about such risks and the nature of the work was not in place, and there were no means of ensuring each participant was “truly informed?” Many people think that any information on the internet is up for grabs, and the ‘public private’ argument is a bit of a smoke screen. All internet research requires ethical consideration. Fact.

With research on Facebook, Twitter, MOOC platforms and other social networking services, the answer appears far to simple. The Terms and Conditions increasingly seem to out trump the need for any ethical discussion. This is a horrific situation, and if it persists, it gives anyone researching carte blanche to experiment with human subjects, including possibly minors or vulnerable people.

So what were the risks?
So we have established that the study was a deliberate experiment with a hypothesis that had considered the recruitment of individuals into a study. In January 2012, “participants were randomly selected based on their User ID. The experiment manipulated the extent to which people (N = 689,003) were exposed to emotional expressions in their News Feed”. (Kramer et al 2014).

The outcome was they had manipulated people’s emotional thoughts through a social network, not a new finding, but a study done on a large scale none the less. So what might the risks have been to individuals?

The UK Office of National Statistics in their ‘Social Trends 41 for Health’ analysis in 2009/2010 shows that 1 in 10 adults (11%) of England were diagnosed with depression. That is 11% of adults within that year, not the prevalence over a lifetime which is much higher. Over the preceding decade, prescriptions of antidepressants increased by 334% in England. You will find similar figures on the internet elsewhere, so assuming therefore that a fair proportion of study participants might have been depressed, what might the impact on them have been, and what might the impact on non-depressed individuals have been over the research period? Well both negative thoughts, and levels of rumination and dwelling on negative thoughts are measured outcomes in studies of depression; research suggests negativity may or may not contribute to it, and work in this field is generally in its infancy (Pasyugina 2014, Takano 2014).

Within this population there would undoubtedly have been risks. Individuals were not fully informed of the implications and that they were participating in an experiment, with none of the affordances of being free to withdraw at any time. But it doesn’t matter because they gave their consent right?

What do the Facebook terms cover?
The authors claim that signing up to a Facebook account constitutes informed consent for this research. At least they made passing mention of informed consent. In another interesting Facebook clinical study looking at using the service as an enhancement to therapy there was no mention of ethical approval within the publication that had conducted research on vulnerable participants.

So, searching through the “Full Data Use Policy” that they refer to, I couldn’t find any reference to the statement made by the authors in their paper, that creating an account constitutes informed consent. Maybe I just missed it, but this hardly makes for users of Facebook being fully or truly informed that research might be taking place?

In all of the terms I could only find ONE mention of the word ‘research’ and how Facebook uses your information:

“for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement”.

It also states to what extent they share their data with others, and I’m assuming here that they shared their data with the researchers in order for them to analyse it and write up the study.

“While you are allowing us to use the information we receive about you, you always own all of your information. Your trust is important to us, which is why we don’t share information we receive about you with others unless we have:

received your permission; 

given you notice, such as by telling you about it in this policy; or 

removed your name and any other personally identifying information from it.”

I suspect the 600,000 odd participants were not invited to provide their permission.

Where does this leave us?
Unfortunately we cannot stop social networks and corporations setting their terms and conditions to suit their commercial needs. I’m not sure whether they can legitimately ‘out trump’ the need for any ethical approval governing research it might undertake because these are legal terms, not philosophical arguments. Facebook can simply amend their terms now to cover research, and make their mechanisms of informed consent more explicit, but academics and publishers can still commit to good quality research? Surely, those researchers who published this week had some moral and ethical conscience, or were they gilded by the prospect of funding and reputation-boosting work?

Academic publishers should surely want to uphold the standards of the articles that they produce, and to uphold the rigours of the peer-review process? Some journals do send papers back that haven’t been ethically considered, and these stances are far more rigours in science and medicine than in other subject areas.

What do the public think?
In all this, nobody knows what the public thinks. We know what opinion makers on social networks think, and we know what some researchers like myself might think. A few conversations with my friends reveals that it is just generally accepted that everyone gathers your personal data anyway. What they didn’t understand were the implications of the research that might have led to risks to the participants.

The situation is that some less ethical corporations allow their socio-ethical boundaries to gradually creep forwards, and it is only when we look back at how far they have been stretched that we get a perspective of the distance of travel. My personal view is if academic researchers and academic publishers do not start contributing to the debate and to govern the quality of research, then who will?

One friend drew parallels with the ‘frog in the pot’ experiment. Don’t worry, no frogs were harmed in the making of the video.






Blog Education Research Open Education

Ethical dimensions of MOOCs

Just completing a research marathon that started last summer looking into open online courses and both the social and ethical considerations for learners.

The work has included:
A systematic review of literature up to 2013 and a subsequent update to June 2014.
Narrative synthesis of opinion articles in the area of study.
Deeper exploration of opinions through a series of interviews.

Some of this work has been presented at conference, including OpenEd13, Utah and OER14, Newcastle with co-author David Kernohan.

I’ve just produced a diagram to summarise the findings to date. I’ve used some of the dimensions of Khan’s 2003 eLearning Framework which preceded open courses in the form we know then today. Many of the original dimensions are still relevant, some need extending, and other new areas for ethical consideration emerge from the results of my work. I hope this gives communities, institutions and those involved with open education on the web some ideas for the types of discussions that are worthy of having, if we are truly going to contribute to open education globally in an equitable and fair way.

Ethical considerations in MOOCs
Ethical considerations in MOOCs

Creative Commons License
Ethical Dimensions of MOOCs by Vivien Rolfe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

Blog Education Research Open Education

MOOC literature. Where are we?

Second Life Literature













Alan just tweeted a tot up of the Second Life education publications profile that came from a paper just out. He made me wonder where we are with MOOCs?

There have been two systematic reviews of MOOC literature – the first by Liyanagunawardena et al (2013) “MOOCS a systematic study” that retrieved literature up to 2012, and the second that I presented at OpenEd “MOOC research on student experience” retrieving literature up to the autumn of 2013.

CC BY Tot up of MOOC literature from two systematic reviews.
CC BY Tot up of MOOC literature from two systematic reviews.


Search strategy ROLFE – keywords targeting “MOOCS +student experience, social responsibility”.

Search strategy LIYANAGUNAWARDENA – keywords broad “MOOC”

Total publications – for both reviews this included peer-reviewed journals, conference, authoritative reports, comment / opinion articles and case studies. For L’s review it also included magazine articles.

Journals / conf. – total numbers of articles in peer-reviewed journals or conference proceedings. At this point these numbers will include literature reviews and case studies.

You can draw you own conclusions. For me having done systematic reviews on education subjects before the low numbers of empirical studies is never much of a surprise, and certainly within the MOOCature in 2014, more studies have subsequently been published.

Of the empirical studies that I found, all were cross-sectional analyses of student opinions though either questionnaires or interview. Only one was a comparative study looking at the experiences of two groups of participants.

Bone of Contention


LIYANAGUNAWARDENA, Tharindu Rekha; ADAMS, Andrew Alexandar; WILLIAMS, Shirley Ann. MOOCs: A systematic study of the published literature 2008-2012. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, [S.l.], v. 14, n. 3, p. 202-227, jun. 2013. ISSN 1492-3831. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 19 Jun. 2014.