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I have been designing, developing and researching educational materials, contexts and practices based on computer technologies since 1978, and as a practitioner in this field, sought to design each more effectively to improve education. In that time I have researched widely across multiple disciplines with a learner-centred focus. My claim for PhD by Practice begins by explaining the story of my developing knowledge, continues with the selection from my portfolio and then sets out my thesis in the form of three analyses to support the design of learner-centred technology-enhanced education.

Introduction - from tacit to explicit knowledge

This section outlines the story of my developing knowledge and links it to my thesis. It explains the origins of the thesis in the development of tacit knowledge in practice and its transformation to explicit knowledge.

The eleven items of practice linked to this claim are denoted by the suffix [Px], and the three analyses which form my thesis by the suffix [Ax].


I have progressed from an individual enthusiastic and creative teacher of Mathematics and Computer Studies at Scott Lidgett School, taking part in developing educational software and practice as a member of the Microcomputers in Computer Education (MICE), to a researcher in the Computers in the Curriculum Project at Chelsea College London [P1] and leader of innovation in education as senior lecturer in Ultralab at Anglia Polytechnic University [P4], taking a full part in a developing research community.

My early work concentrated on leading the improvement of the design of individual pieces of software for addressing challenging learning in the school curriculum, expressed in a design and development tool the Procedure Library [P3].

Curiosity about learning

An interest in user-interface design and mental models through the London Mental Models Group [P2] provided a basis for analysing individual learning based on Norman's ideas (1983a, 1983b). My work on new multimodal learning based on multimedia technology in the Renaissance Project  created a foundation for an Expressive Constructivism model of learning [A1], and an account of how technology enhances such learning [A2], both created to inform design practice.

Commitment to Learner-Centred Education

In this period my increasing awareness of the wider context of education informed a holistic and systemic approach to large-scale action research addressing the development of new systems of learner-centred education online as a Senior Lecturer in Ultralab [P4], and particularly in the projects Ultraversity [P9] and Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry-Based Learning [P10]. Alongside this work, I focussed in on participation, creativity and reflection in learning through a sequence of projects. For participation I helped develop methodologies for self-translation of software to local language and culture [P5] and the development of a new toy in the Étui project [P6]. For creativity I investigated user-generated content for mainstream television in Input CBBC [P7] and advised the QCA on creativity with technology [P8] benefitting further the articulation of the Expressive Constructivism model of learning [A1]. Finally, the exposure to education as systems helped me formulate the third analysis of the learner at the centre of education design [A3].

Leadership and tacit knowledge

My increasingly responsible rôles as a teacher, software developer, media designer, team leader and director led to the development of a broad and deep, but tacit knowledge of the factors which lead to effective design methods and criteria for improving design quality in iterative design cycles. A substantial number of conference presentations, in-house workshops and teaching, at both practical and academic levels, forced me to explain this in greater detail and thus refined my tacit knowledge.

Theory and constructivism

Argyris and Schön (1978) introduced two ideas of theory of action: the concepts of theories-in-use and espoused-theory. Theories-in-use can be seen as driving actual behaviour and driven by tacit knowledge. Espoused-theory is that which is used to explain when challenged, but may not be actually followed in practice. The articulation of these design factors, criteria and models of learning & education in the three analyses  [A1], [A2] and [A3] is a development from theories-in-use. One can arguably improve effectiveness (Argyris and Schön 1978), by making a closer fit between theory-in-use and espoused-theory through reflection, and so an important facet of this thesis is that the analyses developed have been tested, reflected on and improved in practice to enhance their effectiveness and validity.

Furthermore, a recently created critical overview of learning theory for non-academic innovators in a report for the EU project Hotel  [P11], has helped to locate this thesis firmly as a constructivist approach.

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I took up my first professional research post in 1980 to design and develop educational software. This period saw a progression in my practice from a focus on technology to a concern for design & pedagogy and my first attempt to engage with doctoral study.

Table 8: Selected items from the 1980s

Portfolio referenceAimContribution

Originality, Impact and Importance


[P1] Researcher in the Computers in the Curriculum Project at Chelsea College London

To establish design leadership for teams of programmers developing computer assisted learning for secondary age students. I designed and developed many educational programs, guidance documents, course materials and developed analytical models for evaluation of user-interfaces. I exercised nationwide team leadership and national leadership in educational software interoperability. My part: 100% The Computers in the Curriculum project, first established in 1973, was one of only a very few world-leading curriculum development projects in its time to create brand new computer assisted learning materials based on a 'revelatory' approach using simulations (Millwood 1987, 8). There were very few predecessors in the schools sector. It was funded for the first half of the eighties by the UK government funded Micro-electronics Education Programme, absorbing a large proportion of its budget. The materials were widely published internationally through Longman, BBC and others. The work covered a wide range of subjects in the secondary curriculum. (Watson 1987) The project impact on the UK and internationally is evidenced in the Computers in the Curriculum Newsletter No. 6 (Donoghue 1984) Which shows the breadth of engagement, size of the enterprise and the impact being made at conferences worldwide.
[P2] London Mental Models Group To discover new perspectives on the mental models of learners with regard to their use of technology as a tool for developing such models. I participated and contributed ideas to seminars considering models of learning with technology. My part: 5% (project led by the late Joan Bliss) The work to integrate an educational approach to technology, learning, artificial intelligence and mental models was unique, recognised by an Economics and Social Research Council grant for the 'Tools for exploratory learning' project (Bliss and Ogborn 1989) and peer-reviewed publications. It had impact on the design of new modelling software and importance in raising the level of debate at an early stage in the maturation of technology in education amongst the educational research community in London. Joan Bliss' obituary (Ogborn 2011) contains testimony to the significance of this group.
[P3] Procedure Library To improve standards of interoperability in the design of educational computer programmes. I designed the set of procedures and functions, wrote the BBC BASIC and Pascal code and technical guide and co-authored the design guide which included the creation of the diagram and analytical explanations. My part: 50% (with David Riley) The design, code and analysis were new, based on lessons learnt over seven years of using a BASIC subroutine library and the best of graphics routine library literature (Newman and Sproull 1989). The impact and importance was on the development and design of educational software by the Computers in the Curriculum team. My leadership is documented in the Computers in the Curriculum project publications, including Newsletter 6 Computers in the Curriculum Newsletter No. 6 (Donoghue 1984).

In 1980 I sought a position as a university researcher to develop educational resources. I was appointed as the first developer for the Computers in the Curriculum Project [P1] at Chelsea College, University of London. Over the decade I became a project leader in software development, an author of design guidelines [P3] for the team and a teacher educator involved in teacher training. I was responsible for the design and development of many educational packages based on computer simulations, working with teams including practising teachers to offer advice on the pedagogical and practical design issues. In researching human computer interface issues, I was strongly influenced by Donald Norman’s models of user-centred design (1983b). These proved practical as applied theories in my everyday work and formed the basis for my first ideas for a simplified model of the learning process, later developed as Expressive Constructivism [A1]. In this decade I joined the ESRC funded London Mental Models Group [P2], led by the late Professor Joan Bliss and Professor Jon Ogborn, and planned to conduct a PhD supervised by Professor Paul Black to focus on modelling using computers. I took part as a lecturer in the development of a diploma course to retrain teachers for Computer Studies and finally as a half-time lecturer in Mathematics Education [P1]. I co-directed the Modus project to develop computer modelling software for learners to create their own simulations, resulting in the development of Expert Builder and Model Builder software. I acted as Research Fellow on interoperability in educational software for the national Microelectronics Education Support Unit, creating several reports and peer-reviewed publications and was a member of the Software Advisory Group for the BBC Domesday Project. As pointing devices, audio, picture, video and the CD-ROM, became available, I led the technical production and contributed to the educational design of interactive multimedia for higher education in mathematics, environmental science, theatre studies and business studies for higher education. In this decade I began to be invited to academic conferences as a speaker and to take part in international seminar and workshop activity as co-tutor.

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In 1990 I stepped back from an academic research focus and returned to creative practice, developing interactive multimedia materials to distribute on CD-ROM, albeit as a senior lecturer in the education faculty of Anglia Higher Education College. The decade saw the rise of Ultralab, of which I was an informal deputy head, growing from half a dozen to over fifty staff. My practice saw a move from software development to medium-scale action research in pilot projects relating to online communities. I also helped develop an online Masters degree and begin supervising doctoral students.

Table 9: Selected items from the 1990s

Portfolio referenceAimContribution

Originality, Impact and Importance


[P4] Senior Lecturer in Ultralab at Anglia Polytechnic University To develop a collaborative team approach to the design & development of new technology in learning. I was a designer, developer and technical producer of many projects, a lecturer in ICT in Education and a designer and  developer of a Masters level course. My part: 25% (with Stephen Heppell and others) The Ultralab team was distinctive in its structure, ethos and practice, developed on values and principles of inclusion and participation. Its ethos was to directly change the world of education with its action-research innovations and thought leadership. Its work influenced national policy in the UK through Ultralab director Stephen Heppell's leadership in the Stevenson inquiry and beyond through membership of governmental advisory bodies and a regular diet of high-level keynote presentations at conferences.

The Stevenson Report (1997) and my membership of the UK government's Learning Software Task Force.

Further evidence from the full portfolio online:

[P5] Translating software: what it means and what it costs for small cultures and large cultures To clarify the importance of designing in  opportunity for users to localise educational software to suit their own cultural and linguistic environment and thus enhance regional and international uptake I helped design the software methodology for translation and the implementation of it in the 'Work Rooms' software as well as co-authoring the paper. My part: 20% (with Dai Griffiths, Stephen Heppell, Sam Deane and Greta Mladenova) The practice and paper was novel in education at that time and the conceptual thinking was only just making impact in the software operating systems world. Its importance is seen in the way modern software is now developed and content management systems such as Plone have been developed to manage translation as a matter of course. The paper was published in Computers in Education and cited regularly, most recently in 2014.
[P6] Étui To research & develop a toy for use by early learners to encourage learning about learning. I acted as co-developer of the project's ideas about meta-level learning, mentor to the project leader and other personnel, researcher in classrooms and disseminator of the progress and outcomes. My part: 20% (with Andy Simpson, Dai Griffiths, Stephen Heppell and Kris Popat)

The project was unique for its design of a mysterious toy which did not represent existing creatures in order stimulate wonder, inquiry and imagination. As part of the i3 research network, it was shared widely to the European research community and generated much debate about early years learning with technology.

Étui was disseminated at the conferences in 2000 and 2001 of the EU-funded Future and Emerging Technologies i3 network and at an invited workshop titled Children as Participant Designers at FutureLab's inaugural conference Contagious Creativity in June 2002.

In 1990 I joined Professor Stephen Heppell to form a new research centre, ultimately called Ultralab [ P4]. Over seventeen years I offered practical, analytical and evaluative guidance to this large and geographically distributed team, offering research leadership and developing collective knowledge, procedures, values and attitudes for the development of delightful learning approaches.

Early in this decade Stephen Heppell and I began collecting materials to form a National Archive of Educational Computing and we were funded by the National Council for Educational Technology to employ Greta Mladenova to organise the materials

I continued development of new interactive multimedia CD-ROM materials, taking responsibility for production of published learning resources for Teacher Education in the Apple funded Renaissance Project . The possibility to distribute globally  and the development of new materials using Apple's HyperCard led to a realisation that we could allow for adaptation to local culture and languages by the teacher and this became the subject of a published paper, Translating Software: what it means and what it costs for small cultures and large cultures [ P5 ].

The predominant research approach of Ultralab became applied and action research, creating small and large-scale actions involving education in formal and informal contexts. I helped formulate the conceptual framework, manage development and analyse findings in many projects including a longitudinal study of online community as a learning tool Learning in the New Millenium, the University for Industry pilot Online Learning Network, the teachers’ informal continuing professional development online community TeacherNet UK and the creation of a new toy for pre-school meta-level learning, Étui [ P6  ].

This decade saw a heavy load of masters teaching, conference and workshop presentation, which gave me the opportunity to refine analyses of learning and education A1A2A3] and develop them further based on the feedback from audiences and colleagues. 

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In 2000, Ultralab undertook the Talking Heads project with over one thousand head teachers joining an online community of practice, thus marking a move towards large-scale action research. Later in this decade I took on the leadership of Ultralab, participating and overseeing the development of Ultraversity - an innovative online work-focussed degree programme - and later moved to the University of Bolton to help create a university framework based on Ultraversity's success.

Table 10: Selected items from the 2000s

Portfolio referenceAimContribution

Originality, Impact and Importance


[P7] Input CBBC To design the support web site to explore the potential for students' creativity with video to be broadcast. I took the role of co-leader at Ultralab developing the key values, participant action research approach and philosophy, working with the CBBC Future TV section at the BBC.  I took on the visual and information design challenge of presenting templates and guidance in a child friendly web-site whilst maintaining a connection to the CBBC's visual style. My part: 25% (with Matthew Eaves and others) The project was quite new for a national broadcaster to take a serious view of children's digital creativity. Its impact was on the BBC itself in informing its future policies and confirming the research outcomes from earlier Ultralab projects. The final report (Derrick 2003) was edited  by Cathy Derrick, a senior director within the BBC and was circulated to her colleagues to inform them in making sense of user-generated content by young children.
[P8] QCA - An Investigation Into Pupils' Creativity Across The Curriculum To clarify criteria that explain how technology enhances creativity in learning. I joined meetings to discuss and then write a contribution to the committee's report, the 'Features of ICT' section outlining how technology can enhance creativity. This contribution later became the basis for my analysis How technology can enhance learning [A2]. My part: 20% This was a synthesis of my original thinking and other sources including my experience as a designer in discussion with many others. This was newly articulated in print by me for this consultation and adopted by this national advisory body as part of a taxonomy for advice on future curriculum thinking nationally. The brief, my report and the taxonomy are included in the portfolio.
[P9] Ultraversity Project To design and develop a new work focussed online university experience to suit 'those for whom traditional university did not fit'. Initially, as part of a small team, I developed the documents for validation and designed strategy and materials for recruitment in 2003. I then had oversight of the direction of the Ultraversity Project in my role as Head of Ultralab from 2005 to 2007. I frequently took a practical developmental role, creating and designing resources, infrastructure, marketing, research and team collaboration as well as a refining a theoretical stance to champion the values and philosophy of the project. 20% (with Stephen Heppell, Stephen Powell and many others) This project combined unique elements into a completely new fully online undergraduate opportunity. Its impact was felt deeply on the student's lives and on the researchers who made it possible. It influenced a wider academic community that drew inspiration from its success, and continues to be the subject of much interest today as well as a current course at Anglia Ruskin University. Its importance was recognised by newspapers and government ministers at the time. The project helped me enhance the analysis of The Learner at the Centre [A3] in this profoundly learner-centred design. The video and transcripts of the student's own words included in the portfolio evidence the impact on their lives. An account of the project was published in the journal Interactive Learning Environments (Powell , Tindal and Millwood 2008) The Centre for Recording Achievement recognised the contribution and invited me to keynote at their seminar to celebrate 10 years of the patchwork text in which I presented an early version of my analysis of How can technology enhance learning [A2]. A letter from Chris Smith MP outlines the recognition from government. (Smith, 2002).
[P10] Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry-Based Learning (IDIBL) To design and develop a whole university framework for work focussed learning. My role was of co-developer, working closely to establish aims & values, design the curriculum, seek validation, organise, teach & mark work, operate quality mechanisms. I also designed the web site and fliers for marketing, sought meetings with stakeholders to market the course directly, worked with staff to disseminate ideas within the university, undertook research to establish evidence and co-wrote academic papers and made presentations at conferences. My part: 25% (with Stephen Powell and others) The project was based on the experience of Ultraversity, but broke new ground by taking a whole university framework approach. It led to wholehearted adoption by some colleagues, whilst others appropriated parts of it for other courses. Its importance was in recognising the conditions under which work-focussed learning could prosper. The impact of cybernetic theory (Beer 1985) on finding explanations for design success and failure  in systems of education was published in the journal Campus-Wide Information Systems (Millwood and Powell 2011).
[P11] Report on good practice of innovative applications of learning theories in TEL To clarify the accepted learning theories and explain their connection to theorists, disciplines and paradigms. I exercised analytical and visual design skills in the construction of the conceptual diagram and contributed the statements about the complex, contested and dynamic nature of learning theory. I also tidied up and commented on the stakeholder analysis for innovation designers. My part: 80% This work includes a new synthesis of key theorists and their ideas, highlighting disciplinary background. It has been widely reported as part of the Hotel EU project and achieved widespread dissemination and impact. It is intended to address an EU identified problem of educational technology innovators who are actively developing without a full understanding of the scope of learning theory and its problems in relation to technology. The report is a deliverable of the EU funded HoTEL project (Millwood, 2013a). Widespread dissemination and impact is evidenced by the commentary on my blog (Millwood 2013c) and a number of adaptations and translations into other languages.

The new millenium saw a change in Ultralab, and my practice, from medium to large scale, national and international projects beginning with the headteachers’ online community Talking Heads / Virtual Heads, the development of learner’s creativity through multimedia technology for Ultralab's Summer School project and the Children's BBC Input BBC pilot [P7], and many more.

In this period I was invited as consultant to many organisations, but most significantly, to the Qualification and Curriculum Authority's panel to identify the role of technology in creativity and learning [P81]. This work was founded on a more mature form of my learning model of Expressive Constructivism [A1] and helped me to clarify the role of technology in learning [A2]. I was also invited to take part in two Teachers' TV programmes the first relating to innovation in assessment and the second, School Matters - Happiest Days?, to 'delight' in learning related to well-being in school education.

In the middle of this decade I took over as head of Ultralab for two years before joining the University of Bolton in 2007 to further develop Ultralab’s ground-breaking Ultraversity project [P9] as the Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry-Based Learning project [P10].

At the same time, I founded my own consultancy company, Core Education UK, and continued to find national and international organisations, including the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Improvement and Development Agency and UNESCO, willing to employ me for my analytical perspectives [A1, A2, A3], which of course helped them to be tested and refined.

This most recent period permitted substantial reflection, analysis and articulation of ideas through the European Project HoTEL (Millwood 2013a),  peer-reviewed publications (Millwood 2014) and enabled the development of this PhD by Practice.

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[A1] Expressive Constructivism

This model was developed to explain how learning works dynamically in terms of the cognitive activities of expression (what you do to communicate an idea) and evaluation (deciding if the idea is 'right').

A basis for a pragmatic learning theory

The iterative process of production of expressions and their evaluation (described in detail below), I contend, is a model of learning that helps the educational designer make effective decisions. This is achieved by examining their designs using technology to consider how they support either, or both, expression and evaluation. This way of looking at learning was first inspired by the analysis of a single interaction (Millwood and Riley 1988), after (Norman 1983b), extended by a reduction of the four stage cycle (Kolb 1984) and supported by the radical constructivist perspective (von Glaserfeld 1995).

Von Glaserfeld viewed:

Knowledge as mental representation:
1a. Knowledge is not passively received either through the senses or by way of communication;
1b. Knowledge is actively built up by the cognising subject;
2a. The function of cognition is adaptive, in the biological sense of the term, tending towards fit or viability;
2b Cognition serves the subject’s organization of the experiential world, not the discovery of an objective ontological reality.
(von Glaserfeld 1995, 51)

The expressive constructivist model holds that expressions are made continuously as an innate activity of the human condition - as if there were an internal 'fountain' of mental and physical expressiveness. Sometimes such expression is driven by internal motivation and at other times by external stimuli and contexts including social situations, and it can even be argued that it encompasses the imaginative, information-processing basis of perception, which far from being a passive act, can be seen to be a constructivist response in the mind to the raw data arriving at retina, eardrum, inner ear, skin, muscle, mouth and nose (Marr 1982, 329-332).

Similarly the evaluation question, 'is it right?', is frequently experienced (but not necessarily linguistically) as we wonder whether we have understood or articulated well and thus struggle for clearer and better expressions.

Validity and reliability for the practitioner

As a designer, this model has supported my practice by focussing my attention on how to make expression more creative and evaluation more powerful, and has been refined through regular exposure in conference settings. Laurillard's concept of "learning through production" is closely related and it is interesting that Laurillard contends "that this has not been thoroughly researched" (Laurillard 2012, 57). So the model of expressive constructivism relies on the literature cited above and my own experiences and observations in practice for its limited validity and reliability. Nevertheless I have found the analysis to work, and have observed and filmed the expression/evaluation loop in practice, as evidenced in these films transcribed below of children playing at the computer together and engaging in exploratory talk as defined by Wegerif and Mercer (1997):

Figure 6: An example of expression and evaluation in conversation

In this example (Figure 6), Sasha is expressing his thinking about the way the game works explicitly using natural language to his brothers. After several turns through the loop re-expressing on the basis of his own evaluation listening to his own words (although seeking the others' evaluation), eventually his brother evaluates his words.

Patrick - I'll die if I go down there!
Sasha - Like getting damaged. Getting all the way damaged do you mean? Getting damaged.
Sasha - Do you know when you die? You die when you get all damaged, is what it means, when it all gets red or the green turns into red.
Sasha - The red is damage and the green isn't damage. Do you understand?
Sasha - When you get all damaged then you die, is that right Patrick?
Patrick - Yes, yes that's right.





Figure 7: An example of meta-level learning in conversation

In this second example (Figure 7), Sasha explains how he came to know about the game by repeatedly playing a section. This simple meta-level learning shows that he knows something more than the game, that he is aware of his own processes of learning.

Sasha - That's right, when you get down there you can just go from there and then straight down to there without a single damage.
Sasha - And do you know how I know that?
Sasha - Because I tried it several times - that's how I know.
Patrick - That's very good, thanks Sasha!


Figure 8: An example of expression, constrained by programming, and evaluation by computer performance

In this third example (Figure 8), Sasha uses the computer (a small robot) to evaluate his expression of the algorithm for making a zig-zag path like 'steps'. He is constrained to simple statements - move forward, turn left 90˚, turn right and start. He enters the algorithm into the robot and then sits back to watch its execution. If there is a mistake in his expression, it will be indicated by unexpected behaviour by the robot, thus offering a clue to the correctness of his algorithm and mental model. The opportunity to repeat this experience, and make sense of his ideas without interpersonal judgement can provide a useful learning opportunity and also a platform for further engagement with peers or adults.

Types of Expression and Evaluation

In tables 11, figure 9 and table 12, the following types of expressions and evaluations are proposed: internal, natural and formal, each overlapping and extending the other:

Table 11: Types of Expression

Internal expressionNatural expressionFormal expression

Thinking a thought in response to listening, watching or reading.

This kind of expression is thought - made, frequently, but not exclusively, in the form of internal linguistic statements and arguments. Other forms include the imagination of bodily acts, the visualisation of scenes statically and dynamically or the feeling of moods.

Speaking, playing, performing or doing.

These expressions are made outwardly and form part of a communicative act to others (or possibly to oneself, if thinking or acting 'aloud'). There is an extra demand on expression to be coherent, meaningful and effective - some preparation in thought is demanded and in this sense, natural expressions overlay internal expressions, but despite 'natural' linguistic forms, something of the richness of thought may be lost in articulation.


Writing, drawing, proving, planning or computing.

Formal expressions use visual symbols, formalisms, syntaxes and grammars whether in written language, diagrammatic convention, logical argumentation or in programming vocabulary. There is a further demand placed on the individual making such expressions, that of complying with the formalism. As before, formal expressions overlay the internal and natural expressions and at times may be hard to distinguish.


Figure 9: The expression / evaluation loop

As expressions are made, they are evaluated in order to decide of they were 'right':

Table 12: Types of evaluation

Internal evaluationNatural evaluationFormal evaluation

Does it make sense to me?

This is carried out in the mind, considering the expression's quality through processes of recalling memories, analysis and enacting mental models. A major part of this internal evaluation is the imagined response of others to the expression or the applied logic of formal systems, thus anticipating the natural and formal evaluations.

Do other people understand me?

In addition to one's own thoughts an expression may have a response from another, a group or an audience. In the best cases new challenges may be encountered or suggestions for improvement offered. Moral support for continuing the cycle is also possible in natural evaluation.


Does the computer do what I expected?

If the expression has been articulated using formal systems, an evaluation can be carried out if the expression is 'executable' - enacted by computer in the most extreme case or performed by other people in the less formal case of recipe, musical composition or play script.

Whichever kind of evaluations are employed, new expressions are generated - often with improvements in areas identified by evaluation -  and the cycle continued until satisfaction or distraction intervenes. It is my belief that this cycle leads to the improvement of mental models, whether they are of the simplest of factual relationships or the richest of human behavioural situations.

The expression / evaluation model, which I have termed Expressive Constructivism, has been the basis for decision making and a source of directions for improvement in design practice to consider how technology can enhance learning since 1986.

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[A2] How Can Technology Enhance Learning?

Published as a poster in June 2012, this analysis was the culmination of years of developing understanding. It proposes features of the use of computers mapped on to the expressive constructivism model of learning, thus detailing ways in which technology can enhance learning.

The expressive constructivism model of learning directs my attention towards the learner as an active, creative individual who is best served by tools for expression on the one hand and by tools for evaluation on the other.

This notion forms the basis of the following analysis in Figure 10 of key features of technology (the terms in the speech bubbles) that might enhance expression and evaluation.The text connected by dots to each bubble serves to explain the feature.

How can technology enhance learning.png

Figure 10: How can technology enhance learning? (Millwood 2012)

By asking whether a design for use in education exploits these features, we can evaluate design proposals or consider what might be missing when a technology does not seem to work well. The analysis also acts as a framework for decision making when comparing alternative technology choices for their likely effectiveness in learning situations.


These features of technology are closely linked to the concept of 'affordance' (Gibson, 1986) in the context of an animal and its environment.

Hammond (2009) explains and critiques Gibson's ideas and analyses the way in which many authors have attempted to use this concept to make sense of the use of technology in education. Hammond offers the following definition:

[an affordance] is the perception of a possibility of action (in the broad sense of thought as well as physical activity) provided by properties of, in this case, the computer plus software. These possibilities are shaped by past experience and context, may be conceptually sophisticated and may need to be signposted by peers and teachers. However, they may, drawing on intuition and deduction from user accounts, be "perceived directly", and perception of actions can precede internal mental ordering. Perceptions of affordances can, and do, become habitual. Affordances arise because of real physical and symbolic properties of objects. Affordances provide both opportunities and constraints. Affordances are always relative to something and, in the context of ICT, relative to desirable goals or strategies for teaching and learning. Affordances are often sequential and nested in time.
(Hammond 2009, p12)

The analysis of relatively static, immutable environments (and tools) discussed in the literature on affordances does not necessarily extend to the dynamic and extensible nature of the computer, unless we only concern ourselves with the surface physical properties. The computer not only hides its functions behind visual interface hierarchies, thus making perception of affordance challenging, but is almost infinitely extensible and customisable through programming and preferences, thus chimeric. Nevertheless, the concept of affordance serve to remind us of the need to understand the complexity of mental models that learners (and teachers) must develop to be effective in learning with computers and how obscure and diverse the functions available can be.

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[A3] The Learner at the Centre

This conceptual model captures a learner-centred analysis of questions that might be asked in order to make decisions at all stages of a cycle of learning within an educational context.

Focussing on the learner's perspective meant imagining a complete set of essential questions that they need answers to in order to progress in education. Normally these questions are not asked, the answers are simply supplied by the educational organisation. But by taking this perspective, gaps in the designs I developed for educational organisations could be identified and closed in the development process. For example, a design may make provision for formative assessment (7 Assessment, in the analysis) but forget that it may also be important have some means to gain an award (8 Recognition) through summative assessment.

The Learner at the Centre diagram

Figure 11: The Learner at the Centre


Few real learners will articulate such concerns in the form of questions, partly because we usually do not ask them to participate in such issues, but by posing these questions as ‘constants’ we may test future proposals more effectively than starting from the status quo of a current or historical solution. In this diagram, the learner is imagined to be concerned with eight questions, relating to eight areas that an innovator should consider if they wish to make an impact on learning with an invention in technology or practice.
But the issues at the bottom of the diagram – responsibilities and rights – are at the heart of the modern dynamic that education and technology present. Learners’ entitlement to access knowledge was at the heart of the development of the National Curriculum, but we must add to that the entitlement to opportunities for access, creativity and communication and the responsibilities that a free and open education brings.
(Millwood 2009b, 20)

The lists of issues related to each question will form part of a future research & development to elaborate this analysis more fully.

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Validity and Reliability

This section has described a thesis that has developed through practice, and there is a need to explain the validity of this thesis and discuss its reliability.

In qualitative research, much of the debate about validity and reliability depends on triangulation (Golafshani 2003)The analyses presented as this thesis have been exposed to considerable 'stress testing' in numerous projects, many on the large scale and the national stage with many collaborators. In addition they have been shared with colleagues, students  and professional contacts in practice, teaching and professional dialogue. Some have been peer-reviewed in the context of projects deliverables. Thus their external validity derives from this exposure and the critique that has been offered by others leading to improvements and good evidence of generalisability.

In each analysis there is more to be developed in detail and more empirical evidence to be found to make them more rigorous, but there is enough cohesion and precision to make the task of inspiring design proposals and making design decisions possible and indeed effective. In this way I would argue that the thesis has strength in internal validity.

In the sense of truthfulness regarding my contribution, validity has been demonstrated by the triangulation of colleagues agreement, despite concerns about the crudity of percentage measures.

As for reliability, there is doubt about its relevance in qualitative research that is descriptive in nature, such as this dissertation reports, but it can be  argued that reliability derives from validity (Golafshani 2003). This thesis suffers from being my point of view and analysis, and the potential is there for bias. Some of this is offset by the nature of my practice as collaboration (others have had a hand in the development of the ideas) and other aspects can be triangulated through the evidence offered for each portfolio item. Another indicator of reliability is that the thesis is couched in terms that do not depend on particular educational contexts or developments in technology and have stood the test of time in my career.

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This section identifies next steps in my practice and future directions for research and development.

My new post at the time of writing (November 2013) is as Course Director at Trinity College Dublin for their Masters in Technology and Learning. The course provides me with the best opportunity to make use of my background and, in designing and preparing learning experiences for the students, to improve my theoretical analyses in three ways: flesh out the detail; enhance coherence; and provide interpretation with respect to design decisions that educational developers must make.

At the same time, I hope to seek PhD supervision rôles that encourage development of these analyses including correction and extension. This may include seeking empirical evidence to strengthen what I claim is a valid designer's tool-set to have greater scientific reliability.

The other major direction forward is to develop the potential of the National Archive of Educational Computing to become a trusted and rich research resource. This includes continuing to design new software, but based on some of the ideas developed and forgotten over the last four decades which are stored in the archive. The comparison of a modern design with its updated pedagogical thinking against the original material will in itself clarify trends in education, but also provide a basis for critiquing both past and present. This strategy has the added value of providing a relevance, currency and forward direction to the archive which is easy to dismiss as simply backward looking.

In order to achieve this objective, I will need to make new alliances with disciplines I have so far not touched upon and learn about historical interpretation, artefact curation & preservation, cataloguing and knowledge engineering - a challenge I relish!

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"It wasn’t so much a question of whether she had written the truth about herself, or told the truth, or believed that what she wrote and said was true, or even whether they were true things in themselves; the important thing seemed to me that the person who wrote and spoke was admirable, living and complete."  ― The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry, 2008