When Inclusion Excludes ….

….. A counter narrative of open online education

This is the title of a new paper, co-authored with Mariana Funes and published today in Learning Media and Technology, by Taylor & Francis Online.


Open education aspires to democratize education, promote inclusion and effect change through social justice. These aspirations are difficult to realise in open, online environments, which enable multiple, and often conflicting, perspectives. This paper proposes a counter-narrative that surfaces certain operational norms of the internet and foregrounds their exclusionary nature. We offer an illustrative inventory of some social media interactional patterns to examine communication used in open online education communities. This examination leads us to conclude that language online is subject to a dialectical tension that both includes and excludes. We conclude that a different language is needed in open online educational environments; one that embraces exclusionary structures and strategic ambiguity, as well as the aspirations to further democratise education via digital means.

This paper is the culmination of 17 months’ work with Mariana and many long and wide ranging discussions. I have found the paper really interesting and thought-provoking to work on, and have particularly enjoyed collaborating with Mariana.

The final version of the paper is on the Learning, Media and Technology website – https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17439884.2018.1444638

But in line with  Taylor and Francis’ Green Open Access policy (https://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/sharing-your-work/) we are able to post here the ‘preprint’, i.e. the final, accepted version of the paper, before being formatted by Learning, Media and Technology.  This is virtually identical (bar the formatting and some tightening of reference citations) to the published article.

When Inclusion Excludes MF:JM 280218

We are very grateful to Stephen Downes, Lisa Lane and Carmen Tschofen for reviewing the paper for us before submission and making suggestions for improvement. We also thank the two anonymous reviewers for further detailed feedback, which helped us arrive at the final version.

We would welcome any comments or dialogue about the paper.

Promoting discussion in FutureLearn MOOCs


MOOCs: Back to the Future. This was the title of a lunchtime seminar I attended last week in the Educational Research Department of Lancaster University, UK.

In this seminar Phil Tubman  (PhD student with Educational Research and School of Computing and Communications, and also Senior Learning Technologist in the ISS eLearning team at Lancaster), shared the progress he has been making on his PhD into whether MOOCs are living up to their promises. The title of his talk was chosen to suggest that with respect to MOOCs we currently have our backs to the future. As such we need to turn round and look for ways forward.

Given that he works for Lancaster University Phil is well placed to explore social learning in FutureLearn MOOCs. Lancaster University is a FutureLearn Partner.  Phil is interested in the problems of sustaining discussion in online forums and the role of the FutureLearn platform in this; FutureLearn claims to be a social learning platform.

Phil and his colleagues have looked at discussion threads in forums and found that they don’t include many members and that conversations often do not extend beyond a first reply. These findings are supported by other researchers. Phil and his colleagues have therefore designed an intervention which they hope will increase and improve interaction and social learning in these  forums. This is an interactive word cloud which they have called a Comment Discovery Tool (CDT). This tool displays the top 200 words from a forum thread as a word cloud. MOOC participants can then click on a given word to display all the comments which include that word. The example shown in the seminar was from FutureLearn’s MOOC on Wordsworth. Phil clicked on the word ‘daffodils’ in the word cloud which took us to all the relevant forum posts. Having done this, it would then be possible for the MOOC participant to follow the discussion from there without having to wade through potentially hundreds of forum comments and threads. Phil is continuing to develop this tool for his PhD and is interested in whether and how the comment discovery tool will affect interaction in the FutureLearn forums.

I look forward to seeing how this develops.  Phil and his colleagues, Phil Benachour and Murat Oztok have submitted a paper on this to the Learning Sciences Conference 2018, and a recording of Phil’s seminar will ultimately be posted here – http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/educational-research/news-and-events/seminar-series/