Research Projects

Current Research Projects

Designing learning interactions: learning design patterns, learning platforms, staff and student identity and online learning. A series of papers arising from the Evaluation of the Degrees@FutureLearn Project undertaken with Deakin’s Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning:

    • Evaluation meets research: methodological issues in evaluating higher education projects
    • Developing learning design patterns in online learning
    • Student identity and figured worlds in online learning

First publication from this project is available here: Bearman, M, Lambert, S, & O’Donnell, M 2020, ‘How a centralised approach to learning design influences students: a mixed methods study’, Higher Education Research & Development,

Why don’t systematic reviews of MOOC research tell us what works? a research overview that analyses 24 systematic reviews of research related to Massive Open Online Courses published since 2013. A series of papers which looks at what these systematic reviews, which synthesise the research from studies published over ten years, tell us about both the current state of systematic reviews in education and best practice approaches to MOOC design, delivery and research.

Digital Mindfulness: a systematic scoping review.  what might the practice of mindfulness contribute to an understanding of living in a digital attention economy? This research explores the relationship between mindfulness and contemporary digital experiences in order to scope an emerging new concept in the literature: digital mindfulness. In tandem with the research is a practice based component: the design of a FutureLearn Free Open Course.

Professional Resilience: Building Skills to Thrive– book project based on successful FutureLearn MOOC (15,000+ enrolments) which links contemplative practices and 21stcentury skills literature

Previous Research projects include:

UOW Curriculum Transformation Project  Associate Professor Margaret Wallace, Dr Marcus O’Donnell, Ms Anne Melano, Associate Professor Romy Lawson.

Curriculum renewal is an essential part of developing agile teaching and learning structures that respond to what Ronald Barnett (2000) calls the “age of supercomplexity” – one in which the pace of change is fast and unabated. He challenges academics to develop a curriculum that is appropriate for such an environment which he calls “Learning for an unknown future” (Barnett 2004). Barnett and others (Barnet 2011; 2013 Ryan & Tilbury 2013) suggest that such a curriculum is based on:

      • Integrative learning rather than siloed disciplinary skills;
      • Promoting creativity and imaginative, active, problem solving;
      • Addressing compelling ideas or “wicked problems”;
      • Inspiring curiosity and ongoing self-directed learning.

The UOW Curriculum Transformation Project (CTP) adopted an action research process (McNiff 2013) developed through a series of stakeholder consultations and a process of grounded theory development in which the educational experience of key academic staff was explored in relationship to broader pedagogical and educational theory. This process was designed to maximize the possibility of successful supported change through carefully addressing known impediments to and pre-conditions of change within the higher education sector (Pennington 2003).

Further information

UNESCO Internet Study: Privacy and Journalists’ Sources led by WAN-IFRA Research Fellow Julie Posetti

Is it possible to keep journalists’ sources confidential in the digital age? What laws exist globally to support journalists’ ethical obligation to protect their sources from unmasking? To whom do these laws apply? How are legislative protections being adapted to digital realities? And what are the potential consequences of this shifting landscape for acts of investigative journalism? These are some of the questions to be interrogated in a significant study being undertaken by the World Editors Forumfor UNESCO, under a project funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

Further information

Teaching & Learning Research

2011 ALTC Research Grant, $120,000, Professor Stephen Tanner, Marcus O’Donnell, Professor Kerry Green & A/Prof Trevor Cullen: Graduate qualities and journalism curriculum renewal: balancing tertiary expectations and industry needs in a changing environment

In one of the few published analyses of journalism education in Australia Burns’ (2003) concludes that  the major approaches to Journalism education in Australia “have changed little and slowly since [their] introduction …[and] modern research…suggests that there have been few developments in the way journalism is taught”. While the researchers believe this is a contestable view on a number of levels, we do believe that the sector has been slow to respond to both changes in the industry and changes in the tertiary sector and that this must be quickly redressed. This is particularly important given:  (a) the need for university programs to be able to adapt to technological change, and the implications the latter has for the way in which Journalism and Journalism education are both undertaken; (b) the ongoing debate about graduate qualities and attributes; and (3) the increased focus on academic standards expected to flow from the introduction of the Gillard Government’s TEQSA reforms. Through a series of broad-based interviews with senior Journalism practitioners and educators, and a national audit of University-based Journalism programs, this project is designed to identify the issues that need to be addressed if Journalism curriculum renewal is to be constructive. In doing so, it seeks to make explicit:

      • the assumptions about curriculum that are held by key journalism educators within Australia;
      • the assumptions about curriculum that are held by key members of the media industry who employ our graduates;
      • how the exigencies of the wider higher education sector shape these assumptions; and
      • the ways that the exigencies of rapidly evolving media-change help shape or alter these assumptions.

As Fraser & Bosanquet (2006:282-3) have pointed out, this kind of project is much more than merely an interesting analysis. It is in fact “pivotal to bringing about effective curriculum development, as the curriculum conceptions that we hold ‘emerge from and enter into practice’ (Cornbleth, 1990, p. 12).” They go on to note: For any kind of informed and planned curriculum change in the sector, it is essential that the academic community have the commitment to develop a shared language and understanding of curriculum. This involves a recognition and exploration of ‘the interdependence of the elements within the complex phenomenon we call curriculum’. It also requires a debate between the university and industry over the meaning and relevance of key performance indicators such as graduate qualities.

The final report and more information about this project is available at the project website

UOW ESDF Grant, $30,000, Latufeku, Elmers and O’Donnell, Aligning Academic Standards and Graduate Qualities in the Creative Arts

Australian universities are currently engaged in a number of important intersecting curriculum review and quality assurance process. These include development of university-based Graduate Qualities and development of national, discipline-based Threshold Learning Outcomes.  A variety of methods such as various forms of curriculum mapping and benchmarking have been developed to trace and measure these and other outcome markers. There is considerable overlap between these measures and process and their implications for the delivery of better teaching and learning, more integrated curriculum and more deeply skilled and employable graduates. However it is increasingly apparent that identifying, clarifying, measuring and promoting these markers of quality will play a vital role in the evolution of rigorous curriculum standards in the next few years. In a widely quoted section[1] of a 2009 discussion paper the Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) noted:

“Higher education’s strategic importance to Australia’s economic and social prosperity makes it imperative that our institutions have robust strategies for demonstrating students’ academic achievement. Domestic and international expansion demands more transparent and relevant measures. To enhance equity and excellence, institutions need to demonstrate that their graduates have the capabilities that are required for successful engagement in today’s complex world.” (AUQA 2009)

This project will address how to address this need. It focuses on how to integrate UOW Graduate Qualities with newly developed national Threshold Learning Outcomes for the creative and performing arts (CAPA) developed by the ALTC Standards Project. This will (a) enhance current assessment and curriculum delivery in the performance and visual arts disciplines of the Bachelor of Creative Arts; (b) develop tools for successful curriculum mapping that trace and measures these standards; and (c) engage staff and students in a deeper understanding of these process.

One of the key themes that emerged in this research was the need to build “resilience” through experiential practice based models.

PhD Research

Contemporary Apocalyptics: crisis and revelation in the sphere of public imagination. Case-studies in journalism and popular culture in a post-September 11 environment.

My thesis examines a number of political, journalistic and popular culture texts in the context of what film maker Tom Tykwer (in Maher 2002) has called the “aesthetic memory” of September 11. These texts include, the speeches of President George W. Bush, elements of popular evangelical culture, daily news and investigative journalism, the television series 24 and several mainstream and independent films produced or released in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It explores the way these texts relate to deeply embedded Western cultural narratives of the apocalyptic and identifies some of the ways this apocalyptic myth is being reimagined in contemporary cultures and particularly how it has contributed to a new “war on terror” discourse.

The contemporary apocalyptic is a dynamic hybrid form that can best be understood as a set of dialectical relations across a number of cultural sites, forms and modes of representation and is most likely to emerge not as a stand alone mythic form but as part of a cluster of mythic stories. The apocalyptic is not merely a vision, myth or narrative form but it draws its evocative power from a unique interaction between its symbolic and material forms. The apocalyptic is “a network of discourses and practices in social and political use and circulation” (Stewart & Harding 1999: 290) and it is made visible in places and bodies.

This thesis argues that an apocalyptic “system” or set of political strategies is both the underpinning and product of apocalyptic mythic traditions and that both the apocalyptic vision and the apocalyptic system are constructed through particular symbolic and physical geographies or zones. This investigation is framed as an investigation of contemporary spheres of public imagination a term which acknowledges that the dynamics of contemporary mediascapes (Appadurai 1996) have moved beyond the purely rationalist Habermassian model of public discussion.

The hybrid, baroque structure of the apocalyptic calls for a particular approach to textual analysis: a nomadic reading (Braidotti 1994) that privileges intertextuality and connections across texts, genres and forms. Although the dynamics of the contemporary apocalyptic narrative and its connections to a war on terror discourse can most acutely be seen in the Bush era, the apocalyptic narrative remains a powerful part of contemporary media and political cultures in the post-Bush era. It remains both a way of thinking that is strategically deployed by a range of politicians, creative producers, and religious communities.

Download Introduction (pdf)

MA Research (Minor Thesis completed 2003)

Myth and meaning in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend: an analysis of narrative journalism

This is a study of the narrative journalism in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Saturday magazine supplement, Good Weekend. I argue for a broadly cultural model of journalism. Theories of narrative and myth provide a structural framework in which to analyse the journalism produced byGood Weekend. I argue that Good Weekend feature stories can be read against a series of six myths and that this engagement with culturally resonant storylines contributes to a magazine identity that is congruent with both its editorial and marketing imperatives. The study aims to contribute to research on magazine journalism in general and weekend newspaper magazines in particular both of which have been under represented topics in journalism studies.The study also aims to contribute to the theory on myth as a heuristic device in journalism studies. Although there have been a number of studies on news and myth there have been surprisingly few on myth and narrative journalism. It is also the contention of this study that much of the work on journalism and myth has been poorly formulated and that this area of journalism studies needs to be more rigorously theorised.

The study analyses the features of the Good Weekend against a typology of six mythic types: The quest; the new world/other world; home; the family drama; the alchemist; and the trickster.

Download: Theory chapter on myth (pdf)

Download: Case Study 1: The young prince’s nightmare: a myth of family drama (pdf)