Educational Technology & Interaction Design

I lead the educational technology subgroup at Open Lab, Newcastle University. My aim is to design next generation digital technologies that can help students become better learners, critical thinkers, and citizens. To achieve this, students must be actively engaged in their education; and the strategy that I believe can make this happen is providing them with a curriculum that is relevant to their interests, needs and their future career opportunities. 

My current research focus is exploring the concept of commissioning (as used in community services) in the context of education to help achieve the goals of a community driven curriculum and strong school-community partnership.

Commissioning can only be effective if, in addition to a commissioning platform, there are enough tools to support the creation of more innovative educational resources, tools to feedback into how these resources are being used (to provide grounds for improvement), and more innovative approaches to teaching/engaging students with such content. I am a researcher and an EdTech Entrepreneur and I am working now on putting all these pieces together. 

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A postscript to my previous post

posted Oct 13, 2016, 8:40 AM by Ahmed Kharrufa   [ updated Oct 13, 2016, 8:43 AM ]

Having attended DML2016 where many of the projects presented looked at informal learning, I realized that in certain contexts, there is an element that precedes motivation and engagement  (see my previous post) and is even more fundamental: opportunity. In other words, I am extending my learning activities' boundary back even further to start with opportunity rather than motivation and engagement.

The opportunity to learn must not be taken for granted and, for many already motivated learners, the greatest contribution technology can make is to provide such opportunities.

That's it! I said its a postscript.

Thinking out loud: Doing research at the boundaries of learning activities

posted Sep 29, 2016, 8:21 AM by Ahmed Kharrufa   [ updated Sep 30, 2016, 5:46 AM ]

When talking about educational technology research, what normally comes to mind is software and hardware to help students in knowledge acquisition, literacy and numeracy, or as with my research, support students’ collaboration and higher level thinking skills. The more work we do with students and the more studies we run I am getting more and more interested in two other aspects that are at the boundaries of such learning activities, mainly motivation and evaluation.

If, to begin with, a student is not motivated to engage with an activity, then no technology no matter how great will be of any use, unless the use of the technology becomes the motivation. From this perspective, I started getting more interested in the idea of exploring the potential role of technology in increasing students’ motivation and engagement.  That is, motivation/engagement becomes the key (or at least a key) design objective with learning happening as a result of students engagement, rather designing for learning, hoping that student will be engaged enough to benefit from the technology at hand?

On the other end, evaluating the outcome of any technology intervention, or any innovative teaching approach, has always been a challenge for teachers and researchers. Post-test and pre-test measures are fine for tasks that only require memorising information or basic numeracy/literacy skills, but not when developing skills such as collaboration, critical thinking and reflection. Worries about students’ attainments in standardized assessments is, in many cases, a limiting factor to creativity in teaching or to adoption of new technologies in the classroom. From this perspective, I am also getting interested in the idea of exploring the role technology can play in recognizing and evidencing students’ development when engaging in such activities.

If students are motivated and engaged in a learning activity, and teachers are freed from the burden of having to worry about assessment and evaluation, then…well, anything can happen!

While my current focus on commissioning in education can play a significant role in motivating students by engaging in activities that are more relevant, and my work on tools to help teachers recognize and evidence students development is showing promising results, I am still curious to look into ways were technology can play a more direct role at both ends of learning activities: motivation and evaluation. Just thinking!

 

Commissioning in education

posted Jun 12, 2016, 4:44 PM by Ahmed Kharrufa

Using the notion of commissioning in education is one of the the main research agendas in our educational technology subgroup. However, commissioning is a very general term that is used in a variety of ways. Below, I will try to explain what I mean when I say commissioning in education and especially as it applies to the general commissioning platform that we are working on.


In the North East as well as in most other regions, there is a wealth of intellectual, social, and physical resources that are under-utilized, and in some cases not utilized at all, despite their great potential to contribute to improving the learning experience and social capital of students. A number of initiatives have been made by individuals or organizations to link schools and businesses, public sector, and nonprofit organizations, for example, but these are done at a small scale requiring a significant amount of coordination. And such initiatives have usually proven to be very successful with benefits to all the partners involved, but due to the amount of coordination effort required, they remain as small initiatives lasting only for a limited period of time. Our goal is to build a platform that can play a major role in building school community partnerships with minimum manual coordination to ensure scalability and sustainability. It is an ambitious goal with many challenged, but that’s what makes it interesting and worthy of being a major research project.


Accordingly, the platform needs to support the following main features:

  • Allow any individual (including students) or organization who has identified a need for a project; human, social, or physical resource; learning resource; or even data/data collection to express their need in the form of a campaign.

  • The platform needs to provide tools and channels to help in promoting such campaigns with the aim of collecting enough endorsements to validate the need and support for any proposal.

  • With enough supporters gathered, the platform must provide the mechanisms to formalize any requirements and, when applicable, to contribute to the preparation/provision of the required resources.This stage will vary largely depending on the proposed idea.

  • Because of the possibility of contributing more resources/options than needed, the platform needs to provide the means to automatically, or manually build usable deliverables (such as project proposals, a curriculum, a learning resource, etc) for the beneficiaries to choose from.


The main roles identified here are those of the idea proposer, supporters, contributors, and users/beneficiaries. Any person/organization can play any of these roles. That is, while a local organization can commission a school to carry out a certain project based learning activity that has an educational benefit, the students/school can commission the community members to contribute resources or collect data needed for some school projects for example. The platform must therefore allow for a reciprocal relationship between the schools and their communities.

The figure below show an example scenario of how the commissioning platform can be used.


We are still in the early stages of this research, but if this is something that you are interested in, please get in touch and I will be happy to explain this further and discuss any potentials for future collaboration on this project.


Recognizing and Evidencing learning and learning behaviours

posted Jun 3, 2016, 12:47 AM by Ahmed Kharrufa   [ updated Jun 5, 2016, 1:21 AM ]

In November 2015 I published a post on LinkedIn on Appreciating the value of skills: Evaluation beyond subject specific knowledge. Now I am leading a team to develop a tool that can help teachers reflect on, recognize and evidence students learning and learning behaviors. This led to the development Group Spinner. Group Spinner helps teachers, and students, identify positive observable behaviors and tag them to inform the creation of a 'radar chart' that can help visualize students development over time. We are still at the early stages of testing it, but initial feedback has been very positive. I will try and post updates the development of this tool and hopefully we can share the tool publicly at some point in the near future. 

Assignments: From passive presentations to engaging digital activities

posted Jun 3, 2016, 12:25 AM by Ahmed Kharrufa   [ updated Jun 5, 2016, 1:22 AM ]

I recently published a post at UKEdChat on the value of providing tools for students to return their assignments as interactive/engaging digital activities (Read the post).

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