2 PhDs: Learning Analytics & Authentic Inquiry

KMi has several studentships for PhDs starting full time in Oct 2012. Two of them are around my joint work with Rebecca Ferguson at the intersection of  learning analytics, deep learning, authentic inquiry and dispositions. You will be competing against many other applicants across all KMi research topics, so show us how good you are!

The first is:

Learning Analytics for Learning Power

and this one, which will shortly go up on the KMi Studentships page:

EnquiryBlogger: tools for reflective learning

Knowledge Media Institute, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
3 year fully-funded PhD (Oct. 2012-Sept.2015), Stipend: £40,770 (£13,590/year)

Supervisors: Simon Buckingham Shum & Rebecca Ferguson


Enquiry-based learning is shaped by students’ interests and driven by their curiosity. As learners engage in an authentic enquiry, they not only acquire knowledge and skills but also develop the values and attitudes necessary for learning [1]. The Knowledge Media Institute (KMi), working with partners, has developed an online toolset, EnquiryBlogger, in order to support awareness and reflection for enquiry-based learners [2]. Writing a blog offers learners opportunities to incorporate many perspectives, develop carefully crafted contributions, reflect and make considered responses [3]. It also provides an environment in which people can observe, articulate and refine practices [4]. EnquiryBlogger extends the core features of a robust, open-source blogging platform, offering four additional tools:

  • Enquiry Spiral provides a graphical representation of the enquiry; clickable links allow learners and teachers to track progress within and across blogs.
  • ELLI Spider provides learners with a pre-defined set of tags to reflect self-perceptions of their learning power. The resulting spider diagram provides a searchable graphic representation.
  • Mood graph reflects users’ affective response to their enquiries. Learners select an emoticon, and the written explanation of their choice is recorded as a blog post. The resulting clickable graph charts changes in emotional state.
  • Dashboards provide educators with clickable overviews, allowing them to see how each enquiry is progressing, which learners are having difficulties and which learners are reporting success and high levels of reflection.

Our strategic goal is to develop EnquiryBlogger, its visualisations and its dashboards to help learners at all levels engage in enquiry-based learning and, ultimately, build their capacity as life-long, life-wide learners.

PHD CHALLENGE: This PhD will fund a candidate to evaluate, design and implement tools for reflective, enquiry-based learning.

EnquiryBlogger is currently being trialed with groups including junior school pupils and Masters students. A key next step is to extend and evaluate these trials, which will drive the design and development of tools to support learning and teaching using authentic enquiry. The current tools provide a basis for the development of learning analytics, visualisations and dashboards that could be deployed in other contexts, for example within other Open University platforms such as SocialLearn [5] and Cohere [6]. A possible outcome is an integrated set of tools and dashboards that can be adapted to diverse situations, that are grounded in a theoretically robust framework, and that offer visualisations with the potential to transform learners’ and teachers’ experience of enquiry-based learning. The PhD will be in collaboration with learning scientists and practitioners in the global LearningEmergence.net research network, who are well placed to provide pedagogical input, user communities and impact evaluations.

Seize the Day!

This is a fantastic opportunity if you are passionate about the future of learning and want to engage with next-generation pedagogy. You may be a great web, widget or app developer, aiming to develop a research career in technology-enhanced learning. Or you may have a background in education, and be aiming to build your skills as a developer alongside your experience as a researcher. Your supervisors will be Simon Buckingham Shum and Rebecca Ferguson, who are active contributors to the field of Learning Analytics research. The PhD will be in collaboration with learning scientists and practitioners in the global LearningEmergence.net research network, who are well placed to provide pedagogical input, user communities and impact evaluations. In particular, this work will be done in partnership with Ruth Deakin Crick, University of Bristol (Graduate School of Education & Centre for Systems Learning & Leadership), whose research into modelling and assessing learning power provides a foundational element for this project.

Open U. is the place to do research in learning technology, this being an institutional mission-critical challenge. The Knowledge Media Institute is an 80-strong state of the art research lab, prototyping the future for the Open University and the many other organisations with whom KMi partners. KMi is renowned for its creative, can-do culture, and its high impact on the OU’s strategic thinking and technical capacity [Locate KMi]. The Institute of Educational Technology (where Rebecca Ferguson is based) is home to world leading research on learning technology, as well as conducting institutional research to inform the university’s core business. You will be part of a comprehensive doctoral training programme in computing and educational technology, participating in a dynamic research community, with opportunities to connect with groundbreaking people and ideas — limited only by your energy and imagination.

To Apply…

  • Contact us if you have informal queries: s.buckingham.shum or r.m.ferguson atsign open.ac.uk.
  • Read the background papers, and research technical approaches which will enable you to locate your ideas within the literature on learning analytics. See for instance the ACM Learning Analytics Conference (2011/2012), and SoLAR resources, and other research conferences around data mining and visualization.
  • Open U. Research website gives an overview of the quality of research conducted here, and the Research Degrees Handbook which will answer many practical questions
  • Draft a proposal outlining how you might tackle this challenge, highlighting which of the above approaches you might focus on, and the skills/experience that you bring (plus any that you recognise you will need to acquire). 4 pages max. This is not a binding document, but shows us how clearly you can think and write.
  • Complete the PhD application form [Word doc]
  • Email these with your CV and a cover letter, cc’ing Simon Buckingham Shum & Rebecca Ferguson, to: Ortenz Rose <O.Rose@open.ac.uk>
  • Deadline 7 June: You will be competing for one of several studentships being offered across all KMi research topics.


[1]     Deakin Crick, R., (2009) Inquiry-based learning: reconciling the personal with the public in a democratic and archaeological pedagogy. Curriculum Journal, 20, 73-92. [abstract] Contact us for a copy

[2]     Ferguson, R., Buckingham Shum, S., & Deakin Crick, R. (2011) EnquiryBlogger – Using Widgets To Support Awareness and Reflection in a PLE Setting. In W. Reinhardt, & T. D. Ullmann (Eds.), 1st Workshop on Awareness and Reflection in Personal Learning Environments. http://oro.open.ac.uk/30598

[3]     Ferguson, R., Clough, G. and Hosein, A., (2007) Postgraduate blogs: beyond the ordinary research journal. In: S. Wheeler and N. Whitton (eds.), ALT-C 2007 Proceedings. http://oro.open.ac.uk/12275

[4]     Efimova, L., Fiedler, S., Verwijs, C. and Boyd, A. (2007) Legitimised theft: distributed apprenticeship in weblog networks. I-know 04, (Graz, Austria).

[5]     Ferguson, R. and Buckingham Shum, S., (2012) Towards a social learning space for open educational resources. In: A. Okada, T. Connolly and P. Scott (eds.), Collaborative Learning 2.0: Open Educational Resources. IGI. http://oro.open.ac.uk/33457

[6]     De Liddo, A., Sándor, A. and Buckingham Shum, S., (in press) Contested collective intelligence: rationale, technologies, and a human-machine annotation study. Computer Supported Cooperative Work. http://oro.open.ac.uk/31052

One Response to 𔄚 PhDs: Learning Analytics & Authentic Inquiry”

  1. I’ve kept a diary since 1975, a blog since 1999 and my OU e-learning blog ‘Mymindbursts’ is after two years approaching the 1000 posts mark. My interest in all things OU had me at the OUBS for a year to March 2012 where I worked in Social Media and Online Communications and where I took the OU MBA module B822 ‘Creativity, Innovation & Change’ that complements the MAODE. I have one final module of the MAODE to go. I have a degree from Oxford and had undertaken all kinds of career, media related CPD and full-time courses. I am naturally attracted to this line of enquiry as this is how I learn, or is it a behaviour? Having a childlike curiosity as a adult isn’t conducive to following a single career. If despite the bank holidays we can have a conversation and applying seems of interest then I will have the documents prepared for Thursday 7th June.

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