Thinking about course design

I have been thinking about designing University courses in an age of open educational resources.

My particular interest at the moment is the combination of data science and sport analytics.

I keep returning to the idea of a ‘pedagogical technologist‘ able to offer ‘structured exposure’ to learners who might not otherwise choose to attend university. I see structured exposure as the key here if we are to offer a service to students in an institutional setting.

My inspiration is Alan Levine.

In 2014, Howard Rheingold described Alan as a pedagogical technologist “an architect of open, connected learning systems that enable students to take power over and responsibility for (and joy in!) their own learning”.

Howard added “Many people have something to say about what to do with the educational opportunities afforded by digital media. Fewer can persuasively articulate a case for specific pedagogies that digital media enable”.

I think Alan does this profoundly well.

Howard observed “while schools no longer have a monopoly on learning because free digital media can be used to learn anything, knowing what to learn, how to learn, what questions to ask, isn’t a given, even with the savvy online self-learner. The role of the instructor has not gone away, but it has shifted …”

This shift came to mind this morning when I read Bharath Raj’s How to play Quidditch using the TensorFlow Object Detection API.

I wondered how I might engage students like Bharath should he want to extend his domain knowledge to sports other than Quidditch as he guided his readers “through creating your own custom object detection program, using a fun example of Quidditch from the Harry Potter universe! (For all you Star Wars fans, here’s a similar blog post that you might like)”.

In his post he noted:

My motive was pretty straightforward. I wanted to build a Quidditch Seeker using TensorFlow. Specifically, I wanted to write a program to locate the snitch at every frame.

But then, I decided to up the stakes. How about trying to identify all the moving pieces of equipment used in Quidditch?

I though any design for learning I might propose would need to be profoundly personal. In this case, I wondered how prospective students might be introduced to object detection in sport using Bharat’s blog post as a problem finding start to a learning journey that encompassed first principles and granular detail.

I thought I might extract some provocations from the post and suggest students go back to some early work by Janez Pers and his colleagues (2002) and on to some of the more recent ‘ghosting’ studies of basketball and football.

This could become a spontaneous hackathon. At the University of Canberra, for example, I imagine this being facilitated by Roland Goecke in ways that underscored the power of structured exposure.

I hope students and teachers would have personal and shared learning journals that make transparent the emerging understanding about big things and small things. In doing so, we would all be moving toward a world that will be rather than a world that was.

I sense that pedagogical technologists are at home in this world of emerging performances of understanding. It is a fallible environment that demands institutions themselves become much more agile and much more imaginative in ways that courses are designed and assessed.

Photo Credits

Music abducted me (Carlos Romo, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Alan Levine on/of the web (Kristina Hoeppner, CC BY-SA 2.0)

A model Fenway Day (Brian Talbot, CC BY-NC 2.0)

#coachlearninginsport: technology, data and pedagogy



Two blog posts last week set me off thinking about technology, data and coach learning.

Both posts came to me through my Medium alerts.

Mark and Audrey

Mark Upton shared his thoughts on “the use of technology and data to help people be their best in sport”. Audrey Watters discussed digital identities and the ways in which “all of us increasingly perform our identities, do our work, play our play mediated through new technologies”.

Mark made a number of excellent points. These included:

  • Any technology that enables people to connect and share on their terms, when they otherwise wouldn’t have, has great potential to facilitate learning.
  • Let the player/coach/employee/team decide what data and analysis is relevant to help them develop and get better.
  • Take care if you are using data to judge/assess/(de)select/reward/punish/compare people .

Mark’s third point raises a fundamental issue about how to support process and growth in learning environments. I share Mark’s concern with atomising performance by coding isolated behaviours in training or competition and sharing them without any reference to context and a commitment to an interdisciplinary approach to performance.

Mark’s discussion of the “psychology of data” and the attempt to control through data are well made. They support, I believe, an encouragement to develop big pictures of performance that value flow and longer-term flourishing.

I believe these are very important issues for coach educators as learning experience designers.

The connection between Mark and Audrey’s posts is the potential of technology to connect and share.

Audrey discusses “existing digitally”. She asks:

If technologies are shifting our industries – and certainly we’re told they are – then how should we, how must we respond – and respond not in the service of “industry needs” but in the service of our own needs?

She aims “to help people think through their use of digital technologies and ascertain how better they can take control of it for themselves”.

I have been thinking about coaches’ personal learning records. Audrey has extended my thinking about how these records might be shared by coaches taking responsibility for their own digital domains. In her words, “Your domain. Your space on the Web. A space you can control.”

Her point is that everything we do in a digital world creates data.


Explicit Discussion

Mark and Audrey address issues that will face coaches throughout their careers.

The availability of data means that we must be very clear about how we address this in our pedagogy … in theory and in practice.

We are part of an accelerating digital world and I am keen to explore how coach educators will support coaches’ engagement with this world.

I think this engagement is central to, rather than peripheral to, coaches’ learning journeys. It would be great to share better practice as to how this engagement is occurring or might occur.

I wonder if this might lead us to conversations about coach educators as pedagogical technologists. If so, this video (33 minutes) of a discussion between Howard Rheingold and Alan Levine might be of interest.

So too might the literature on technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) .

I am delighted that Mark and Audrey set me off on this train of thought.

Photo Credits

Speed and light (Chris JL, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Crossing the ministreet (Janne Hellsten, CC BY 2.0)

Being a Technologist



I am old enough to have experienced PT … physical training in school.

I was reminded of PT this week when Howard Rheingold described Alan Levine as a Pedagogical Technologist.

Howard discussed Alan’s experiences of stimulating and supporting student learning in a thirty minute Vimeo recording.

This PT is a very long way temporally and conceptually from my first PT experiences.

Technology as Practice

I did listen carefully to the conversation between Howard and Alan. I did not hear the term ‘pedagogical technologist’ mentioned explicitly. I do think it is an excellent description of Alan and his teaching.

The conversation between Harold and Alan covered Alan’s work from 1992 to the present day. I found it fascinating to learn about Alan’s development as a teacher and open access practitioner. I admire Alan’s work immensely and I regard his involvement in the development of ds106 as a model for me to follow as I explore open learning opportunities.

Digital Storytelling (also affectionately known as ds106) is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington… but you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need. This course is free to anyone who wants to take it, and the only requirements are a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and all the creativity you can muster.

There is an important message about creativity in Howard and Alan’s conversation. Alan discussed the significance of students meeting in a physical space in synchronous time. He and Harold agreed about the place of structured exposure to ideas and practices. Alan talked about the classroom morphing into a studio wherein students worked creatively in adjacent spaces. Harold amplified this point with his mention of Chris Bache’s work on collective consciousness and Richard Sennett’s discussion of craft as “doing something well for its own sake”.

I think this is the world of the pedagogical technologist. The craft of this technologist is, I think, to support student’s experimenting within an environment that values (and prioritises) sharing. I agree entirely that this practice is shaped by the spirit and attitude of openness.

There are lessons for all of us in Alan’s practice about how to be creative about assessment. I think the daily create part of ds106 that extends students’ reach with low challenge practice is very powerful in creating a culture of exploration. I admire the opportunities students have to modify their assessment tasks if they can be bold and narrate and explain why they have taken an alternative path.

I sense that pedagogical technologists work with students to move beyond unthinking compliance to a reflective response to learning opportunities. This resonates strongly with Alan’s interest in Jon Udell’s narrating our work.


I enjoyed Alan’s discussion of a blogging voice too. He affirmed how important it is for him to blog and I was reassured by his suggestion that finding his voice took him some considerable time. I share Alan’s interest in blogging as an iterative “conversation with myself” to clarify one’s thinking.


Harold discussed serendipitous opportunities afforded by a spirit of openness. Alan talked about some of his experiences that have emerged from sharing and making connections.

I had my own serendipity at the time of viewing the interview. My Paper.Li aggregator brought me a link from Steve Wheeler to his Changing the learning landscape blog post. In the post, Steve reports that ‘a one day workshop on social media and learning in higher education that will be held at the University of Warwick on April 24’.

Steve is speaking at the workshop and shares some of the flyer for the event:

Social media turns the traditional static web into a participatory and collaborative experience. Social media enables individuals to discuss, share, and learn via different kinds of media, such as text, video, photos. The use of social media is increasing within higher education to teach and support student learning. The range of different social media platforms is ever expanding and it can seem quite daunting trying to navigate through this and find effective methods for learning and teaching. This workshop will discuss a range of social media platforms and provide examples of their use within learning and teaching.

I think the workshop would find Harold and Alan’s conversation extremely pertinent. The attraction of the participatory web for me is that we can connect with practice in a spirit of openness. The workshop ‘will look to inspire leadership of pedagogic development of the use of social media platforms’.

I imagine the same issues will be addressed in terms of open networked participatory scholarship.

Pedagogy and scholarship will flourish in institutions that are able to embrace the spirit of openness for pro-active strategic outcomes rather than re-active operational expediency. The visionary institutions are becoming very different spaces for learning.

A second link, shared with me by Darrell Cobner, took me to this quote ‘the true experts, ultimately, only needed one main specialized skill, storytelling, to thrive in social media’ … and thus back to ds106.

This course will require you to both design and build an online identity (if you don’t have one already) and narrate your process throughout the fifteen week semester. Given this, you will be expected to openly frame this process and interact with one another throughout the course as well as engage and interact with the world beyond as a necessary part of such a development.

In many ways this course will be part storytelling workshop, part technology training, and, most importantly, part critical interrogation of the digital landscape that is ever increasingly mediating how we communicate with one another.

ds106 course objectives are:

    • Develop skills in using technology as a tool for networking, sharing, narrating, and creative self-expression.
    • Frame a digital identity wherein you become both a practitioner in and interrogator of various new modes of networking.
    • Critically examine the digital landscape of communication technologies as emergent narrative forms and genres.



It is a long bow to draw to conclude this post, but in the spirit of a personal conversation …

Physical training emphasised order, compliance and whole group participation. Instructors delivered their content in a formal classroom. Pupils attended and sanctions were applied for non-compliance often in the form of ‘punishments’ in front of the whole class.

Pedagogical Technologists are the antitheses of this training model.

Harold and Alan have given me a much clearer sense of how this pedagogy can take place in a structured physical setting as well as in personally driven asynchronous spaces. It is an education model not a training model. It is a facilitation approach rather than an instruction approach. It is profoundly educational in its epistemology and ontology.

It has a lot to share about order and chaos. It is where we will be.

Photo Credit

Frame Grab (Connected Learning Alliance)


Children at physical training in Llanfyllin church school (The National Library of Wales, no known copyright restrictions)