SYDNEY IDEAS: Education and Social Work Dean's Lecture Series

The field of education has seen significant changes in the past several decades resulting from advances in the learning sciences and learning technologies. Collaborative, inquiry-oriented pedagogies are promoted as more aligned with the knowledge creation capacity building needs for 21st century education. Instructions and instructional resources are only one part of the requisite support for this mode of learning. Effective learning requires appropriately designed learning environments (physical, digital and social) and learning experiences to achieve different targeted outcome goals. Advances in learning technologies, pervasive connectedness, the myriad forms of support for user-generation and sharing of content, as well as data analytics and visualization technologies have brought exponential increases in the modes of learning, assessment and feedback. These have brought deep changes to education as a profession.


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Two presenters juxtapose their projects to highlight new insights into research involving school-university partnerships.

Self-Directed Learning in Science, by Prof. Nancy Law, The University of Hong Kong.
This is a University-School Project that focuses on network-based capacity building and knowledge co-creation on learning and assessment design, as well as architecture for learning for scalable innovation.

Thinking Like Scientists by Dr Louise Sutherland, leader of I-Science program, The University of Sydney.
This project examines how different participants (scientists, science teachers, teacher educators and preservice science teachers) value aspects of a science-based artifact produced by high school students.



All children deserve the best possible start in life. Working within a risk and prevention paradigm, many services intervene early, supporting parents’ to cope with adversity. The problem is that telling parents what to do doesn’t work. Partnership models aim to address this, but come with their own challenges. Professionals can retreat from their expertise for fear of being a ‘bossy expert’ and undermining partnership.

This seminar will report findings from a 3-year study across three Australian States, involving over 100 professionals and parents in diverse services. It takes a cultural-historical perspective, framing partnership as a mind-expanding encounter in which professionals and parents collaborate on complex problems. The presentation will reveal the diverse forms of expertise involved, providing answers to questions such as: How can we help parents escape from impossible situations where motives to care for their children pull them in opposite directions? How can professionals guide parent’s learning what they can’t know what is to be learned in advance? Why is the difference between goals and ‘what matters’ to parents so significant? And how can professionals cope with the need to work with incomplete, fragile and uncertain knowledge about those they are trying to help?



Many researchers argue that students must be meaningfully engaged in the learning resources for effective learning to occur. However, current online learners still report a problematic lack of attractive and challenging learning resources that engage them in the learning process. This endemic problem is even more evident in computer-supported online learning (CSCL) because these environments generally lack authentic interactivity, user-empowerment, social identity, and challenge, thus having a negative effect on learners’ self-motivation and engagement.

This talk will address specific methodologies – including learning analytics, gamification and emotional awareness – for overcoming these and other limitations found in CSCL, based on both highly interactive systems and innovative learning strategies. The knowledge extracted from the collaborative interaction is used to assess participation behaviour, knowledge-building and performance in order to provide feedback and evaluation of the collaborative process. Experiences gained from applying these methodologies to real contexts of CSCL will be shown and discussed.

Santi Caballe is an associate professor and researcher at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), where he is an academic director of the postgraduate program in the area of software engineering. Dr Caballe is an accredited full professor with the Catalan University Quality Assurance Agency. He is affiliated with the Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications of the UOC, where he teaches online courses in the area of software engineering and conducts research activity on eLearning, distributed computing and software engineering. He has supervised four PhD theses so far as well as many master's theses.


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This seminar will present the work of a study in which the relationships between epistemic stance and culture were examined. Epistemic stance is a personal theory one holds in relation to knowledge and knowing. The framing of the study and methodology were informed by critical realist ideas. This added to the richness of this quantitative exploration of potentially formative cultural communities and experiences for academics. Over 500 PhD students and academic staff from four universities across eight disciplines participated. The cultural variables explored in relation to epistemic stance were: gender, age, discipline, institution, status, ethnicity, religion, and parent socioeconomic status. Findings indicate that we need to look beyond current discipline to understand groupings within academia. It will be good to discuss the possible implications for how we approach multidisciplinary work, which is at the core of the Centre for Research on Learning and Innovation.


Rachel W

Assessment is central to all forms of education and there is now a wealth of research examining the impact of assessment on learning. In the last two decades research has highlighted how assessment can work to drive learning; but also the negative consequences of some forms of assessment.

So, in this era of rapid innovation and technological development why has assessment been so slow to change?
Why do assessment systems remain such a polarising aspect of education systems? And, how can our understanding of child development and learning science improve students’ and teachers’ experience with assessments?
In this talk I will consider research evidence and developments in assessment models to make an analysis of the current aspirations, trends, challenges and areas in need of caution in assessment. I will provide a brief review of:
- the assessment challenges facing Australia
- key shifts in the history of assessment and how these relate to our developing understanding of learning
- some innovative assessment approaches from around the globe
- assessment approaches with potential to empower learning in students and educators
I argue for the need to take student-centred approaches to assessment; integrating our understanding of cognitive progressions and recent insights into emotional development to optimise learning.

Rachel Wilson is Senior Lecturer in Research Methodology, Educational Assessment & Evaluation. As such she has broad interests across educational evidence, policy and practice. She has a particular interest in early childhood education and she has recently published a book on Emotional Development, co-authored with her father. She also has an particular interest in trends in educational participation and standards. - See more at:

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Intelligent Virtual Agents for education, training and health

This talk will provide an overview of the types and uses of Intelligent virtual agents. Intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) have been a growing area of research within the field of Artificial Intelligence in the past 20 years. An IVA is a piece of software, generally considered to be autonomous in some way, that imitates the behaviour of a human or animal and is embodied within a virtual environment. A primary aim in the field of virtual agents is the creation of believable characters that are useful in their situated paradigm (e.g. games, narratives, education,assistive computing, etc.). There is a significant body of work in the area of believable characters which may be known as pedagogical agents, embodied conversational agents, artificial companions, talking heads, empathic or listening agents depending on their function, level of sophistication or the particular research focus such as emotion and appraisal systems or language technology. The talk will provide an overview of the field, including my research concerning IVAs and memory, emotions and collaborative learning for applications such as debriefing and reminiscing, border security officer training, scientific inquiry and science education, real estate assistance, museum guidance, and adherence to treatment advice.

Deborah Richards is a Professor in the Department of Computing at Macquarie University. Following 20 years in the ICT industry during which she completed a BBus (Comp and MIS) and MAppSc (InfoStudies), she completed a PhD in artificial intelligence on the reuse of knowledge at the University of New South Wales and joined academia in 1999. While she continues to work on solutions to assist decision-making and knowledge acquisition, for the past decade, her focus has been on intelligent systems, agent technologies and virtual worlds to support human learning and well-being.

Event details
When: Wednesday 24 May, 11:30 am - 1pm
Where: Room 612, Education Building A35
Brown Bag: Attendees are welcome to bring their own lunch

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When elite sports professionals train, everything from their breakfast to the millimetres and milliseconds of their training routine, and the technologies that support them, are fussed over by experts: no expense spared for optimum performance! In the research world this is completely different. The way we do things is more likely to be based on personal habits, intuitively formed, rather than a rational and research-refined process. All the while, researchers face an increasingly competitive professional landscape that demands much more in less time. So, might academics have something to learn from Olympic sports coaching?

In this workshop, the presenter will share some practical ideas and technological tools that can be flexibly applied to help researchers work with knowledge more effectively. For example, research tells us that humans remember surprisingly little of what they read. Given how important reading is to academic research, the presenter will suggest technology-enhanced strategies for long-term understanding and remembering of important details. He will also discuss ways researchers can help themselves make deep and relevant connections that support their research. Workshop participants will be shown how to use free Spaced Repetition Software to help absorb their readings more deeply, as well as make connections and gain insights. The presentations will conclude with a demonstration of epistemic games (AKA: knowledge games) that can help structure the way participants think about issues in their research and possible alignments with the literature.


Following this link for further details, and for registration.

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Convenor: Prof. Peter Reimann, CRLI

Communication and collaboration competences are mentioned prominently amongst the graduate attributes of the University of Sydney, they are also listed as essential skills on job descriptions world-wide. However, how to systematically develop such competences remains largely unspecified, and how to assess them is a matter of wide-spread and contentious discussion.

In this workshop, instead of providing ready-made solutions that can be too generic to be directly applied to discipline-specific teaching, we aim to collectively develop a number of educational design patterns. These patterns will provide answers to two guiding questions: (i) how to develop collaboration competences, and (ii) how to assess them for formative purposes -providing students with feedback. As first suggested in architecture (Alexander, 1979), a pattern describes an effective solution to a recurrent problem embedded in a specific context. In education, where solutions take the form of learning designs, we speak of pedagogical design patterns and of assessment design patterns.

We are proposing design patterns as an appropriate means not only for documenting current teaching and assessment practices, but also as the basis for initiating and sustaining a process of continuous improvement and innovation. Patterns are descriptive and they have the potential to guide knowledgeable action. In order to achieve these aims they need to be developed in a participatory manner involving all stakeholders, so as to capture multiple areas of expertise that can lead to the development of new practices. To this end, after the workshop, we will provide an online platform where the patterns we develop will be made available for further refinement.

Teaching staff—with an interest in developing graduate attributes in the areas of collaboration, communication and leadership—will benefit from participating in this workshop.

Event details
When: Friday 19th May 2017, 1-5pm
Where: Room 221, The Educational Design Research Studio (EDRS), Education Building (A35).
Please refer to map for further directions.


The increasing availability of data about the interactions occurring in a learning experience through technology mediation offers the opportunity to explore new ways to support students. However, having a comprehensive set of data points is far removed from effective support actions. Learning is influenced by a large variety of factors and variables. Research areas such as learning analytics need to take into account both theoretical and contextual factors to achieve improvements on a learning experience. In this talk we will explore how this connection can be established and discuss current research initiatives in this space.


Linked (Open) Data is a technology and a political initiative designed to facilitate general access to high quality data from diverse domains. It is a movement which inherits technologies from the Semantic Web effort, and to some extent grew out of some frustration with that initiative. I will discuss some of the background and the current state of the art in the linked data initiative. I will describe DBpedia, an automatically extracted linked dataset from WIkipedia. Finally I will demonstrate an iOS application I developed for using linked data in an educational tool, which has highlighted some of the frustrations with the current status of linked data.


Csaba Veres
I am an Associate Professor from the University of Bergen at the Department of Information and Media Studies, and associated with the Centre for the Science of Learning & Technology (SLATE) at UiB.

I received my Ph.D. in Psycholinguistics, where I was interested in the way semantic representations were computed in sentence comprehension. But my interests were more broad, encompassing everything to do with conceptual structure and how it is learned, and especially the way this interacted with language. In the years following my Ph.D., I drifted away from Psychology and into Computer Science, where I have maintained my interest in semantics and language through my work with semantic web technologies. I prefer working on practical rather than theoretical issues, which is one reason I drifted away from theoretical, experimental cognitive psychology. My focus has been to discover ways in which linguistic knowledge can be used in semantic web applications. This has given birth to a number of applications including semantic text markup and tools which support full blown ontology construction through natural language. I have also been working on what we call Social Semantic Information Systems, which aim to bring semantic technologies into social web applications.

You can also find Csaba on his website and Twitter.


The Sydney Research Excellence Initiative (SREI) — SREI 2020 is a new program to help Sydney researchers test new ideas, push disciplinary boundaries and identify ways to scale up their research.

Closing date for applications is Friday 5.00pm 21 April

This Scholarship (stipend) is offered to current Higher Degree Research (HDR) candidates from the University of Sydney to support their participation in the SREI 2020 project "Understanding and facilitating learning in emerging knowledge co-creation spaces", within the Centre for Research on Learning and Innovation (CRLI). Recipients will work as a part of a multidisciplinary team implementing one of the following six seed projects:

  1. Knowledge co-creation in health and medical technology innovations
  2. Boundary crossing between learning technology research and the educational technology industry
  3. Knowledge co-creation in school-university partnerships
  4. Knowledge practices in learning analytics
  5. Learning for the workplace through innovation and knowledge co-creation
  6. Research dissemination via knowledge co-creation



Reflective Writing Analytics can be thought of as simultaneously working across two epistemic domains: the psychosocial domain that encompasses aspects like personal disposition, cognition and the pedagogical context; and computational domain which includes machine representation, analysis and feedback of analytics to the user. How do we work effectively across these two domains for the benefit of learning and teaching? This is a core question underpinning the research we undertake at the Connected Intelligence Centre (CIC), University of Technology Sydney (UTS).

In this first half of this session, I will present some of the ways that we approach Reflective Writing Analytics at CIC. I will highlight some key characteristics of the psychosocial and computational epistemic domains and outline some of the challenges in bringing them together. To illustrate these ideas, I will draw on examples from our recent work in analysing reflective writing for the purpose of providing actionable feedback to students.

In the second half of the session there will be the opportunity to discuss as a group how similar approaches to those used at CIC might be currently, or in the future, assist the work of those present. By sharing ideas, and raising questions it is hoped that we can harness the collective intelligence of the session, sparking ideas that are helpful for your own work.


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The research in this presentation reports on real-time longitudinal intra-individual data collected in mathematics and English lessons, every school day, across four school weeks. A total of 113 boys and girls in Year 7 from two Australian schools participated.

Using mobile technology (e.g., smart phones, laptops, tablets) to capture intra-individual real-time data, a four-level model was explored, consisting of between-lesson (within-day) ratings at the first level (up to 2 lessons per day), between-day ratings at the second level (5 days per week), between-week ratings at the third level (4 weeks), and between-student ratings at the fourth level (thus, 40 possible time points per student). Multilevel modeling showed substantial between-lesson (within-day) variability in motivation and engagement (M = 34%) and substantial between-student variability (M = 62%). There was not so much variability between days (M = 2%) or between weeks (M = 2%).

We propose the study offers insights for motivation and engagement theorizing (particularly around stability and developmental issues) and technological and logistic guidance for collecting real-time data. Furthermore, these findings derived from boys and girls in two schools replicate those from a previous study (also discussed in this presentation) conducted among a small sample of boys.

The findings again show that every minute of every day for every student matters. To the extent that this is the case, there are policy implications for daily school timetabling, teacher training to better support motivation and engagement through the school day, and the use of mobile technology to monitor students and enable responsive pedagogy and intervention in real-time.



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The current excitement in schools around Makerspaces, robotics, and STEAM education is underpinned by substantial research in how students can learn about Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics, in a connected, collaborative, interdisciplinary approach. The investment in innovative learning spaces, and resources such as 3D printers and electronics provides us with an opportunity to change the way we think about teaching and learning in STEAM disciplines. 

Dr Kate Thompson is the head of the Creative Practice Lab (CPL) at Griffith University. The CPL combines teacher education, digital technologies (including robotics and digital fabrication), with state-of-the-art video recording and online collaboration systems (including a newly designed Virtual Internship). The CPL aims to provide opportunities to engage with innovative research, and to engage in research partnerships with schools to understand pedagogical approaches to STEAM in face-to-face and online environments.

Kate will present stories from her research, including the OLT-funded STEP-UP project, connecting school students, STEAM experts, and in-service and pre-service teachers. This work allows us to understand those moments in which students connect their knowledge and skills across the STEAM fields to answer questions, solve problems and create products. 

Kate will discuss the implications for teacher practice and preservice teacher education.



Professor Peter Reimann

The widespread availability of learner-related data has the potential to empower students, teachers, parents and school leaders by providing critical insights into the learning process. However, fostering a culture of data-informed learning and teaching in schools remains a significant challenge. This is in part due to capacity: Teachers are by and large not prepared for advanced data practices, and teacher education providers are currently not well prepared to develop that capacity. Research on developing data literacy for teachers, research so far has focussed mainly on three aspects: 1) analysis of the components that make up this literacy, 2) analysis of existing teacher education programs, and 3) studies on professional development programs conducted with in-service teachers. After an overview of the state of the art, I will address questions regarding What to learn and How to learn about data literacy in more detail, focusing on pre-service teacher education because very little is known at this stage about how to design for and support the learning of education students.

Event details
When: Wed April 12, 2017, 11.30am– 1.00pm (this is a brown bag seminar, attendees are welcome to bring their lunch)
Where: Room 612, Education Building A35
This seminar will not be available online or recorded.
No need to RSVP, just come on the day.


What are the benefits of providing peer feedback (online) and how can it be made even stronger?

Questions of effectiveness and quality of peer feedback and peer assessment have been very actively discussed from the perspective of the receiver of feedback, however the benefits for the provider of feedback messages have received much less attention, at least in Higher Education. But the benefits could be substantial: The process of peer feedback engages students actively in learning, helps develop self-management and judgment, strengthens the capacity for self-assessment, helps develop subject knowledge, enables students to receive feedback faster and promotes social interaction.

Understanding the benefits to the student providing the feedback is becoming more important as the opportunities for engaging in peer tutoring and peer assessment practices explode in the online space. In addition to designed peer learning practices we need to consider informal peer help and peer tutoring episodes.

Peter will give an overview of recent research on the online provision of peer feedback in relation to research on peer feedback and peer tutoring more generally. He will speculate on how learning benefits for the student provider of online feedback might be increased, based on explanatory models for the learning from teaching effect. He’ll end with some thoughts on how technology can help, not only with providing peer feedback, but with the learning that arises from providing feedback.

Prof. Peter Reimann is the co-Director of the Centre for Research on Learning and Innovation (CRLI) at the University of Sydney, (formerly the CoCo Research Centre), in addition to having continued involvement in European Commission funded projects in IT research and development for learning. His primary research areas include cognitive learning with a focus on educational computing and the development of evaluation and assessment methods for the effectiveness of computer-based technologies. Current research includes the analysis of individual and group problem solving/learning processes and possible support by means of ICT, and analysis of the use of mobile IT in informal learning settings (outdoors, in museums, etc.).

Event details:

7 April 2017
12 – 1pm
Room 218, Level 2 South,
Fisher Library


At CRLI, we run a weekly seminar series hosting local and international experts who present research on learning and educational innovation in an informal setting. Seminars run on most Wednesdays in semester.

Upcoming seminars in 2017:
A glance of this year's seminar
12-Apr-2017—Peter Reimann
26-Apr-2017—Andrew Martin
3-May-2017—Kate Thompson
17-May-2017—Andrew Gibson
24-May-2017—Deborah Richards
31-May-2017—Kathryn Bartimote-Aufflick
7-Jun-2017—Learning Analytics Research Group (LARG)
14-Jun-2017—Rachel Wilson
28-Jun-2017—Maria Souza e Silva
2-Aug-2017—Louise Sutherland
9-Aug-2017—Nick Hopwood
20-Sep-2017—Tom Carey
4-Oct-2017—James Dalziel
1-Nov-2017—Learning Analytics Research Group

Please note we are in room 612 of the Education Building. We are always looking for more speakers, topics and ideas. If you would like to suggest a seminar topic, propose a speaker (including yourself) or provide feedback, we would love to hear from you at

When: Wednesdays, 11.30am. Seminars usually run for an hour followed by a 30min Q&A session.
Where: Rm 612 of the Education bldg. (Unless otherwise specified in the seminar's description page).
Brown bag: You are welcome to bring your lunch to these events.

Are you a visual learner? No? Perhaps you are an auditory or a kinaesthetic learner? The idea that people differ in what modality they learn best in, and that knowing this should influence how one is taught is known as "learning styles". This idea is one of the more enduring "neuromyths" in education. Earlier this week, thirty leading researchers in neuroscience, psychology, and education signed a letter to the Guardian strongly condemning learning styles approaches—"No evidence to back the idea of learning styles".

The idea of "learning styles", however, is not the only neuromyth that makes its way around our education system. Paul Howard-Jones reviewed the broader issue of educational neuromyths in the prestigous neuroscience journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience in 2014. One of the findings discussed was that of a survey of practising teachers in five different international contexts. These teachers were asked about various neuromyths and whether they believed them to be true. The table below is taken from this paper, and shows the results of this survey.

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And while on the subject of the brain, we were asked a question about how our brain decides which words to use. For example, as I type this now, why am I choosing to use these words, rather than different ones?

First of all, we still have much to learn about the brain, this issue included. However, one generally accepted idea is that our brains work to constantly gather evidence in order to better understand and make predictions about the world our bodies inhabit. This, as various arguments go, is what our brains evolved to do. So, much of our unconscious decision making about which words we use is governed by our brain picking up subtle contextual cues in the environment that bias it toward certain decisions.

Mathematically, neuroscientists sometimes use what is called a drift-diffusion model to analyse this phenomenon and how it might correlate with certain brain signals.

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A drift-diffusion model. The horizontal axis represents evidence gathered over time and the vertical axis represents nearness to a decision boundary (Zhang & Rowe, 2014)

To make this more concrete, I thought up an analogy on my walk into CRLI this morning. Imagine the situation of two people walking along a footpath towards each other. When deciding who walks on what side, in Australia, we have a leftward bias influenced by our traffic laws. But what happens if these people are already quite close and just happen to be walking on their respective right-hand sides? Our brains, here, recognise it is easier to stick on the side we are already on, and this overrides our natural tendency to veer left. In this instance, our brains are gathering spatial and movement information from what we see and hear to decide where we walk, and this is also influenced by cultural context. Back to the word choice example, I might normally write one word on a blog (cultural and experiential biases) but I might subconsciously choose another one influenced by what I might have been reading that day. At a higher level, it is similar to how we have ideas. For example, my walk this morning influenced the ideas I talked about in this blog.


Howard-Jones, P. A. (2014). Neuroscience and education: Myths and messages. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 15(12), 817-824.

Zhang, J., & Rowe, J. (2014). Dissociable mechanisms of speed-accuracy tradeoff during visual perceptual learning are revealed by a hierarchical drift-diffusion model. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 8(8), 69.

In the last couple decades, one of the most talked about ideas in education has been that of the "flipped classroom"—see for example In a traditional classroom, we receive a lecture on a topic, then get practice in applying the topic for homework. A flipped classroom "flips" this structure. In other words, we watch a video of a lecture at home and then practice and apply the concept in the classroom. The advantage of a video lecture is that one can pause or rewatch sections of a video if one fails to understand, all without time pressure or peer pressure (e.g. not being confident enough to ask a question). The advantage of 'homework' in the classroom is that the teacher can more actively support the students during formative stages of applying a concept and intervene more immediately when needed.

Despite a growing interest in flipped classroom models of learning, there has been very little research that has empirically evaluated its efficacy. And despite its prominence in the popular consciousness, there are a number of educational researchers not so convinced of its claims to "revolutionise education". So given this, an international team, including CRLI core member Abelardo Pardo, has taken a critical look at this issue in a new paper in the journal The Internet and Higher Education. Working with methodologies from the field of learning analytics, they identify 4 different learning strategies and 5 different student profiles that tend to occur within flipped classroom teaching. Having a finer grain of analysis, as offered here, enables educational researchers and designers to better understand and improve how we might use flipped classroom teaching.

See the original paper for details.

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Two representations of student activity patterns for A) students performing above the 90th percentile, and B) students performing below the 25th percentile

And as a bonus piece of good news, Abelardo has just been appointed a "Senior Fellow" of The Higher Education Academy: a professional institution promoting excellence in higher education. The Senior Fellow distinction is given to individuals that demonstrate a thorough understanding of effective approaches to teaching and learning support as a key contribution to high quality student learning.

About Us

The Centre for Research on Learning and Innovation (CRLI) aims to provide a focus for the university’s research on learning and innovation. Formed from CoCo and the STL research network, we have strong roots in Education, with substantial involvement from Engineering & IT, Science, Health Sciences and Medicine.

About the Blog

Research by the University's Centre for Research on Learning and Innovation (CRLI).