How do interaction design degrees relate to the UX profession?

Authors: Nick Kelly, Jess Greentree, and Sam Hobson

Okay, so you want to have a career as a UX designer. You know that you need to develop the necessary skills and get to the point where you have a portfolio. Something that is confusing for many people entering this world is the question of “what do interaction design (IxD) degrees have to do with the UX profession?”.

A lot of universities around the world offer degrees in IxD—how useful are they for people wanting to get into the UX industry? In this article we take a look at the way that IxD degrees around the world are promoted by universities and show some patterns in what they offer. This is helpful for understanding what you’re likely to find within an IxD degree.

How does IxD relate to UX?

In short, the term UX is used more often in industry and IxD more often within universities in many countries, yet they refer to similar sets of skills. UX design includes the entirety of user experience yet definitions tend to be a bit confusing: they focus upon the extents of UX (what it covers) rather than upon its limits (what lies outside its scope). I’m sure you’ve seen some kind of Venn diagram about the area of influence of UX. These suggest that professional UX designers are required to be across an improbable number of areas: from marketing to computer science, architecture, human factors, and sound design.

IxD is more clearly defined in academic literature, but the term isn’t used widely in industry. IxD is ususaly defined as “shaping digital things for people’s use” (Löwgren & Stolterman, 2004) or “the practice of designing interactive digital products, environments, systems, and services” (Cooper et al., 2014). We like to define it as “designing for dialogues between people and complex things”, because the skills for interaction design are useful regardless of whether you’re working with digital.

Every country has its own culture around interaction design and UX design. In Australia, we’re in a situation where you can find hundreds of jobs that are looking for a UX designer and hardly any that say they are looking for an interaction designer. Yet nearly all of the degrees are badged as interaction design degrees or majors. This is a confusing situation for many—the IxD degrees are useful for UX but it’s hard to find anybody telling you how it works.

What’s in an interaction design degree?

We analysed a selection of interaction design degrees across USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, Table 1.

There are four patterns that stand out within these descriptions of interaction design degrees:

  1. Many of the degrees explicitly mention the fact that they will help people to gain entry into the UX profession
  2. Many will teach you how to design for emerging technologies and list off technologies you will work with, such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), internet of things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI).
  3. Many emphasise that you will learn general design skills, such as creativity, systems thinking, creating experiences for users
  4. Many reference the fact that we don’t know the kinds of design that will be needed in future and that an IxD degree will help you be ready for it and shape it

Should I study an degree in interaction design?

In an interaction design degree, your studies won’t be as focused as they would be in a UX-specific qualification. There are plenty of non-university UX qualifications that can be found online that can provide a much cheaper and faster way to gain skills and develop a portfolio if you’re really clear that you’re just wanting to get a job and enter industry.

What a good interaction design degree will do is fulfil all four of these promises. You’ll be taught explicitly about the UX industry and how to thrive within in, through assistance with critical steps like developing a portfolio and learning the skills any employer would expect. You’ll be exposed to a range of technologies that you might otherwise not get the chance to try out—at the moment, for example, many universities are giving students the chance to experience designing for augmented reality. You’ll also gain a much broader understanding of how to design in a way that isn’t dependent on any particular tool or technology. These are the universal skills for interaction design: tools and methods for working with complexity, designing for dialogues between people and things, and how to develop a process that involves researching, prototyping, and testing. You’ll be introduced to ways to think critically about technology that will be useful in a changing world. There is no right answer as to whether an interaction design degree, a UX degree, or a non-degree qualification is right for you. The aim of this article is to resolve a common question of “what’s the relationship of the IxD degree to the UX profession?”

About the authors:

Nick Kelly, Jess Greentree, and Sam Hobson teach interaction design at the Queensland University of Technology, Australia. Nick is a Senior Lecturer in Interaction Design. Jess is currently studying a PhD in interaction design. Sam is currently studying an MPhil in Interaction Design while working as a designer in industry.

Emily Carr University of Art and Design (Canada)Bachelor of Design (Interaction Design)Are you excited to work at the cutting edge of design, creating meaningful experiences with emerging technologies? The Interaction Design program places you at the centre of new creative practices such as strategic design, information architecture, game design, creative coding, visual + sound design, and behavioural insights.

Learn human-centered design methods and make sense of complex problems for more-than-human centered contexts. Choose your own path and learn to design games, services, medical applications and interactive spaces, using hybrid technologies as basic as pen and paper, or as sophisticated as virtual reality.
California College of the Arts (USA)Master of Design (Interaction Design)Build the most in-demand design toolkit in the world today: systems thinking, design leadership development, and iteration and collaboration skills—all with measurable social impact.
Sheridan College (Canada)Bachelor of Interaction DesignIn response to high employer demand, Sheridan has developed Ontario’s first four-year interaction design honours bachelor’s degree. Our unique, multidisciplinary interaction design program cultivates a big-picture perspective and diverse set of skills, laying a foundation for interaction design careers and fostering entrepreneurship.

What you’ll learn
Design theory and process.
Visual communication and visual culture.
2D and 3D design.
Digital media design and production.
Physical computing and sensors.
Programming a variety of devices.
Business practices and entrepreneurship.
Glasgow School of Art (Scotland)Bachelor of Interaction DesignThe Interaction Design programme at The Glasgow School of Art combines technology with visual thinking and creative problem-solving. As a student of Interaction Design, you will learn to work with creative code to generate engaging interactive digital media for a wide range of platforms. You will graduate with a diverse range of skills enabling future career opportunities in interactive art, design, motion graphics, app development and more.

We are characterised by actively engaging with creative coding and digital culture. The course is highly experimental allowing students to develop their own approaches within an art and design context. We consider our materials to be computers, cameras, sensors, lights, motors, projectors, networks and more. By framing the use of technology within a creative context, students learn practical and technological skills as well as how to articulate creative ideas and meaning behind work.
Quinnipiac University (USA)Bachelor of Arts (Graphic and Interactive Design)Graphic and interactive design merges creativity with technology. From designing innovative mobile apps to crafting eye-catching websites, this field offers you the opportunity to express your unique creative vision.
University of Technology Sydney (Australia)Masters of Interaction DesignInteraction design is concerned with designing interactive digital products, digital environments, systems, and services that can satisfactorily meet the needs and desires of the intended users. The Master of Interaction Design prepares and equips students with up-to-date theoretical knowledge and requisite practical industry-standard skills in this rapidly advancing field.
Concoran School of Arts and Design (USA)Bachelor of Fine Arts (Interaction Design)Shape new technologies and design solutions for problems that matter and make the world better. Our Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interaction Design (IxD) focuses on building compelling relationships between people and the systems around them. We focus on design in the context of technology, the designed world and the natural world. Moving beyond screen interfaces, Corcoran IxD is an incubator for design-based problem solving and the development of interactive spaces, products and services. Imagine, prototype and create concepts that ultimately shape people’s everyday interactions with the world.
Queensland University of Technology (QUT) (Australia)Bachelor of Design (Interaction Design)How we interact with our devices, with apps and websites is constantly evolving. As an interaction designer you can shape that evolution. Removing complexity. Making interactions more intuitive. Creating responsive media. In many ways, optimising the experience and putting people at the heart of design.
London College of Arts (England)Bachelor of Interaction Design ArtsBA (Hons) Interaction Design Arts is a multidisciplinary design course, working with multiple mediums to craft purposeful communication and experience. Students are encouraged to actively play as they pursue projects through a core methodology of research, testing and iterative prototyping.

This is a practice-led course that explores the communicative potential of physical experience. Focusing on the relationships between people, designed objects and experiences, students will work with interaction, narrative and moving image, alongside processes such as design prototyping, film-making, coding and physical computing.

You will develop a personal perspective from which to answer complex design problems, embracing approaches such as critical design and exploring design for social change.
University of Queensland (Australia)Master of Interaction DesignInteraction designers play a vital role in creating digital products that are useable, uncomplicated, and human-centred. If you’re looking to develop advanced knowledge about the design process for interactive products – this is the program for you.

Interaction with electronic devices is a major part of our daily lives. From early childhood onwards we are connected to the internet, telecommunications and networks of computer-based technologies. The emerging challenges in this radically evolving field are not so much with the nature of new technologies, but with their design. How should these technologies be experienced in our lives? How can they support and enhance our everyday practices? What should they help us become? These programs train students to address these issues through the design of new interactive technologies.
University of East London (England)Bachelor of Arts (Design Interactions)Studying on BA (Hons) Design Interactions, you will be at the forefront of future-focused design. You will experiment and develop emerging technology such as AR/VR (XR), AI, game engines, electronics, sensors, Internet of Things (IoT), ‘Big Data’ and robotics. You will play a role in shaping the world around us with free thinking ideas and opportunities.
Victorial University of Wellington (New Zealand)Bachelor of Design Innovation (Interaction Design)The goal of interaction design is to create products that enable people to achieve their objectives in the best way possible. Often the products are apps or websites, but can also be games or physical interactive products. It’s one of the newest and fastest-growing fields of design and has a big overlap with User Experience (UX) design.

Studying Interaction Design, you’ll learn how to develop and use design strategies to bring together words, visual representations, physical objects or space, time, and people’s behaviour to create digital systems and interfaces that improve aspects of human life. Interaction designers envision how people experience products and bring that vision to life in ways that feel inspired, refined, delightful and even magical.

As a student on this programme, you’ll gain a broad understanding of the tools and concepts driving the discipline. You’ll cover topics that investigate the human condition, such as design psychology and design for experience (UX). You’ll explore the latest technology in areas such as web and game design, healthcare design, and design of interactive installations. Interaction design offers pathways to learn coding; from advanced to just enough to help you communicate your design to developers and other disciplines.

Interaction designers are social and empathetic, and they enjoy working in groups. They have an understanding of people’s backgrounds, interests, and cultures. If you have an interest in improving the quality, health, and efficiency of human endeavours, Interaction Design is a great study option for you
ArtCentre (USA)Bachelor of Science (Interaction Design)Every technology interaction you experience in a day—from using mobile apps to playing games to wearing smart accessories to engaging with other digital environments—has been designed to maximize user experience (UX). By pursuing a bachelor’s degree in interaction design at ArtCenter, you will gain strategies and skills for creating person-first interactive environments and prepare to enter a burgeoning field of highly sought-after professional digital designers.
Table 1: Analysis of interaction design degrees around the world
Design Research

Interaction Design (IXD): How should we define it?

How should we define interaction design? There have been plenty of attempts to do this in the literature, most notably by Jon Kolko in his 2010 book Thoughts on Interaction Design. Defining IXD is difficult because it means different things to different people.

I have taught a subject, DXB110, Principles of Interaction Design for four years. With two of my fellow teachers–Sam Hobson and Jess Greentree–we have thought long and hard about this question of definition. A definition needs to work for describing the industry (“what interaction designers do”) as well as the academic domain (the study of designing for interactions). It needs to be relevant for the past and the future as well as for today. It’s a tricky problem.

We have come up with some criteria for what a definition of IXD should do, analyzed a number of definitions of interaction design, and proposed our own definition. All of that is described in a journal paper that is still under review. I look forward to sharing that once it’s published.

We’ve developed a very short version of that work to use in our teaching that is much more accessible. It addresses the question: how should we define IXD?


  • Kelly, N., Hobson, S., & Greentree, J. (Under review). Interaction Design (IXD): An invitation for a definition, IXD&A
  • Kolko, J. (2010). Thoughts on interaction design. Morgan Kaufmann.

Education Research

Methods for studying teachers in social network sites

I recently published a review paper with Bernadette Mercieca and Paul Mercieca in BERA’s journal Review of Education. This paper looks at how 96 different studies by researchers all over the world have analysed teacher activity within social network sites. These are sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many others. What it shows is that there are serious and systemic methodological concerns in how researchers are studying teachers within these platforms.

You can read the full paper online here or access the article directly on my eprints.

The essence of the findings are that any researchers looking at teachers within social network sites should:

  1. Report on the specific qualities of the groups of teachers that they are studying, including its size, origins, privacy, thematic focus, regional focus, and platform
  2. Consider re-using existing frameworks for analysis (such as the ACAD framework of Goodyear & Carvalho, 2014)
  3. Consider re-using or building upon existing coding schemes or research instruments and publish such schemes and instruments with their work to permit them to be re-used in future (a description of instruments that might be re-used are included in the paper)
  4. Consider the sampling methods adopted and ensure that sampling is described in detail with all limitations made salient, with particular attention being given to self-selection and to recruitment within the platforms being studied.
  5. Consider the claims being made and ensure that they are specific with respect to the population that they apply to and the conditions under which they are likely to apply

Of all of these, number (4) is the biggest concern in my opinion. Many studies use self-selection during recruitment; where that self-selection is taking place within a group that is already self-selected by being on that platform. As in, say, teachers using a Twitter hashtag are only a small proportion of all teachers, and then to just sample the teachers who respond to your survey really doesn’t say much about the population of all teachers. Yet many papers seem not to take care with the claims (point (5) here).

The paper also includes a summary of all of the key themes that are addressed with respect to teachers in social network sites (or social media as people sometimes refer to it still). This is Figure 2 within the paper. It shows an abstract model of relationships between domains of change, observable teacher behaviours (within social network sites), and the outcomes that have been hypothesised as resulting from these behaviours. Arrows in this figure do not presume causality; they represent relationships that may come to be understood through future research

This provides a useful map for those studying teachers in social network sites to place their work within a broader framework.

There is also a useful appendix in the paper that lists all 96 studies as a database, with information about each one. This will be useful for any researchers conducting similar reviews in future.


Goodyear, P., & Carvalho, L. (2014). Framing the analysis of learning network architectures. In The Architecture of Productive Learning Networks (pp. 66-88). Routledge.

Kelly, N., Mercieca, B., & Mercieca, P. (2021). Studying teachers in social network sites: a review of methods. Review of Education9(3),


What is the metaverse? A definition

I’ve recently published an article on The Conversation about the metaverse and what it means. I wanted to follow that up with a short and more accessible piece explaining “what is the metaverse?”

The metaverse is best understood through the idea of extended reality.

We all live in the physical world which we experience through our different senses. Humans have for years been able to design new experiences for humans through technologies that add things to our senses.

These designed experiences over the top of the physical world constitute extended reality and most notably includes augmented reality and virtual reality.

We can augment reality by overlaying something on top of it, and the game Pokemon Go or some fun video filters to add facial features or age you are great example of this. This is already used for purposes in the construction industry and in education.

We can also create virtual worlds of many kinds, where sci-fi visions of completely immersive virtual reality are at one end of the scale but many popular games like Fortnite or Roblox give an idea today of just how popular virtual worlds can be. There are many niche uses currently around, like in education, training, and entertainment.

The metaverse then is a vision of what our world might look like if all of these different extensions to reality were to come together into a single online world. For example:

  • Facebook gives us a model of a single persistent persona which goes into different groups and has different interactions. What might this look like if Facebook became spatial?
  • Games like Fortnite or Roblox give us an idea of how people might choose to spend large chunks of time online, to interact within virtual worlds, to overlay the virtual on the physical
  • We’re used to cryptocurrency through things like blockchain, what happens when we start having virtual markets of space, as is happening in Upland and Decentraland (and in Second Life before them)
  • We all know what it’s like to have work meetings through Zoom, what would happen if that was more like a persistent 3D virtual world? That’s what Facebook is trying to do with their Horizons project
  • Augmented reality is already creeping into our lives through things like real-time translation or augmented wayfinding.

To be clear, I’m super critical of the vision of the metaverse being promoted on the basis that:

  1. It’s a continuation of our current trend of the virtual world eating the physical world. The internet and its infrastructure are already estimated at 4% of global GHG emissions. How much would this go up if we embraced the metaverse? That’s not including the estimated 1% of worldwide GHG emissions that are created through cryptocurrency.
  2. Where we put our attention matters. There is no good end to this path of trying to make our lives more full of dopamine and convenience. An alternative path tries to think about ways that we could use these technologies to create better societies–as a part of design for social innovation
  3. It’s ontologically monotheistic (to use Andrew Pickering’s term). The metaverse is a thoroughly colonial project of creating a reality that can then be enclosed and entirely dominated. It posits a single reality within which we can live our lives–what John Law calls the One-World World. And that’s fundamentally wrong.

What is the metaverse? A high-tech plan to Facebookify the world

Original article here

Wacomka / Shutterstock

Nick Kelly, Queensland University of Technology

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg recently announced the tech giant will shift from being a social media company to becoming “a metaverse company”, functioning in an “embodied internet” that blends real and virtual worlds more than ever before.

So what is “the metaverse”? It sounds like the kind of thing billionaires talk about to earn headlines, like Tesla chief Elon Musk spruiking “pizza joints” on Mars. Yet given almost three billion people use Facebook each month, Zuckerberg’s suggestion of a change of direction is worth some attention.

Read more: Mark Zuckerberg wants to turn Facebook into a ‘metaverse company’ – what does that mean?

The term “metaverse” isn’t new, but it has recently seen a surge in popularity and speculation about what this all might mean in practice.

The idea of the metaverse is useful and it’s likely to be with us for some time. It’s a concept worth understanding even if, like me, you are critical of the future its proponents suggest.

The metaverse: a name whose time has come?

Humans have developed many technologies to trick our senses, from audio speakers and televisions to interactive video games and virtual reality, and in future we may develop tools to trick our other senses such as touch and smell. We have many words for these technologies, but as yet no popular word that refers to the totality of the mash-up of old-fashioned reality (the physical world) and our fabricated extensions to reality (the virtual world).

Words like “the internet” and “cyberspace” have come to be associated with places we access through screens. They don’t quite capture the steady interweaving of the internet with virtual realities (such as 3D game worlds or virtual cities) and augmented reality (such as navigation overlays or Pokémon GO).

Just as important, the old names don’t capture the new social relationships, sensory experiences and economic behaviours that are emerging along with these extensions to the virtual. For example, Upland mashes together a virtual reflection of our world with non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and property markets.

Upland is a kind of ‘metaverse’ property-trading game based on real-world addresses. Upland

Facebook’s announcement speaks to its attempts to envision what social media within the metaverse might look like.

It also helps that “metaverse” is a poetic term. Academics have been writing about a similar idea under the name of “extended reality” for years, but it’s a rather dull name.

“Metaverse”, coined by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, has a lot more romantic appeal. Writers have a habit of recognising trends in need of naming: “cyberspace” comes from a 1982 book by William Gibson; “robot” is from a 1920 play by Karel Čapek.

Read more: Do we want an augmented reality or a transformed reality?

Recent neologisms such as “the cloud” or the “Internet of Things” have stuck with us precisely because they are handy ways to refer to technologies that were becoming increasingly important. The metaverse sits in this same category.

Who benefits from the metaverse?

If you spend too long reading about big tech companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, you might end up feeling advances in technology (like the rise of the metaverse) are inevitable. It’s hard not to then start thinking about how these new technologies will shape our society, politics and culture, and how we might fit into that future.

This idea is called “technological determinism”: the sense that advances in technology shape our social relations, power relations, and culture, with us as mere passengers. It leaves out the fact that in a democratic society we have a say in how all of this plays out.

For Facebook and other large corporations, determined to embrace the “next big thing” before their competitors, the metaverse is exciting because it presents an opportunity for new markets, new kinds of social network, new consumer electronics and new patents.

What’s not so clear is why you or I would be excited by all this.

A familiar story

In the mundane world, most of us are grappling with things like a pandemic, a climate emergency, and mass human-induced species extinction. We are struggling to understand what a good life looks like with technology we’ve already adopted (mobile devices, social media and global connectivity are linked to many unwanted effects such as anxiety and stress).

So why would we get excited about tech companies investing untold billions in new ways to distract us from the everyday world that gives us air to breathe, food to eat and water to drink?

Metaverse-style ideas might help us organise our societies more productively. Shared standards and protocols that bring disparate virtual worlds and augmented realities into a single, open metaverse could help people work together and cut down on duplication of effort.

In South Korea, for example, a “metaverse alliance” is working to persuade companies and government to work together to develop an open national VR platform. A big part of this is finding ways to blend smartphones, 5G networks, augmented reality, virtual currencies and social networks to solve problems for society (and, more cynically, make profits).

Similar claims for sharing and collaboration were made in the early days of the internet. But over time the early promise was swept aside by the dominance of large platforms and surveillance capitalism.

The internet has been wildly successful in connecting people all around the world to one another and functioning as a kind of modern Library of Alexandria to house vast stores of knowledge. Yet it has also increased the privatisation of public spaces, invited advertising into every corner of our lives, tethered us to a handful of giant companies more powerful than many countries, and led to the virtual world consuming the physical world via environmental damage.

Beyond the one-world world

The deeper problems with the metaverse are about the kind of worldview it would represent.

In one worldview, we we can think of ourselves as passengers inside a singular reality that is like a container for our lives. This view is probably familiar to most readers, and it also describes what you see on something like Facebook: a “platform” that exists independently of any of its users.

In another worldview, which sociologists suggest is common in Indigenous cultures, each of us creates the reality that we live in through what we do. Practices such as work and rituals connect people, land, life and spirituality, and together create reality.

A key problem with the former view is that it leads to a “one-world world”: a reality that does not permit other realities. This is what we see already on existing platforms.

The current version of Facebook may increase your ability to connect to other people and communities. But at the same time it limits how you connect to them: features such as six preset “reactions” to posts and content chosen by invisible algorithms shape the entire experience. Similarly, a game like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (with more than 100 million active users) allows limitless possibilities for how a game might play out – but defines the rules by which the game can be played.

The idea of a metaverse, by shifting even more of our lives onto a universal platform, extends this problem to a deeper level. It offers us limitless possibility to overcome the constraints of the physical world; yet in doing so, only replaces them with constraints imposed by what the metaverse will allow.

Nick Kelly, Senior Lecturer in Interaction Design, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


My teaching philosophy

I was recently asked to write my teaching philosophy in under 500 words. This is what I came up with and I wanted to share it as a part of the general conversation here around education and design:

My teaching philosophy is grounded in three understandings, that: (1) learning is sociocultural and relational in nature; (2) active, experiential, and authentic learning produces intrinsic motivation; and (3) a skilled educator can only produce the conditions for learning, not the learning itself.

  1. Humans develop their cognitive abilities within a social and cultural context and through interactions with other beings (Vygotsky, 1978). While we can learn directly from experience (constructing cognitive connections in the Paigetian sense), it is through our relationships with other beings within a cultural context that we learn how to learn and what we care about learning. Knowledge is thus constructed by learners who are socioculturally individuated. By the time I teach a student they are already complex, empathic beings who will construct new knowledge from within this socioculturally constructed understanding of the world—and when they learn from me or their peers it will be filtered throughthe qualities of the relationships between us/them.
  2. Humans feel intrinsically motivated to learn when their basic psychological needs are met (Deci & Ryan (2000). This involves feeling competent for learning (we are motivated if we have the necessary abilities or prerequisite knowledge), relationality (we are motivated if we feel that learning will connect us to other humans); and autonomy (we are motivated when we feel we can learn in a way that is in harmony with our beliefs about the world). This leads me to use active, collaborative, authentic learning tasks in my teaching that respect students’ existing knowledge, that give them opportunities to collaborate, and that are experiential. Intrinsic motivation improves student engagement, enjoyment, and learning outcomes.
  3. As an educator, I conceive of myself as being able to influence learning in two ways (Goodyear & Dimitriadis, 2013): (a) through my design for learning; and (b) through my behaviour at learntime when interacting with learners in a learning environment. In my design for learning I am able to design the setting for learning (set design), the social relationships that are fostered (social design), the knowledge objects used and epistemic approaches supported (epistemic design), and for student autonomy (design for co-configuration).

Further, I side with Paulo Freire in his suggestion that pedagogy is never neutral: it is either politically conscious (i.e., aware of power relations within society) or else it implicitly supports the status quo (Freire, 1970/2013).

In summary:

The students that I teach come to my units as complex humans with their own knowledge, culture, ways of socialising, and ways of learning. I want to create the conditions that support each student in their learning. Active, authentic, experiential, and collaborative learning will support student engagement, motivate them, respect their knowledge, and help them to achieve learning outcomes. Doing that requires diligent design for learning, and care in the way that I relate to students in my class. This form of pedagogy supports my belief in a just and democratic society, as does the content that I choose to engage with in teaching the necessary skills, mindsets, and methods.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The” what” and” why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological inquiry, 11(4), 227-268.

Freire, P. (2013). Pedagogy of the oppressed (pp. 131-139). Routledge.

Goodyear, P., & Dimitriadis, Y. (2013). In medias res: reframing design for learning. Research in learning technology, 21.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Creativity Design Research

An artwork that changes the meaning of text

I have recently published an artwork that changes the meaning of any text that you put into it. Please read the associated conversation article for further information.

The artwork was featured in the Kyogle Writers’ Festival, in the Roxy Gallery.


How do you design and facilitate an online community of teachers?

Teaching is a relational profession. Online networks and online communities make good sense: helping teachers to help one another. Yet history shows that good intentions in creating such communities often lead to poor outcomes.

There are just so many variables involved:

  • Having a focus for the community
  • Involving existing communities
  • Taking the right approach to facilitation
  • Understanding the need for long-term thinking and for sustainable approaches
  • Choosing the right technology for the community
  • Fitting in with teachers’ expectations

And that’s just naming a few of them!

In an academic paper, me and some colleagues use TeachConnect as an example to talk about some design principles that are useful for anyone trying to develop their own online community of teachers. It speaks to the big questions that anybody trying to get a new community off the group is likely to face.

The original article is posted on the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology website. You can also just download the whole PDF of the paper from my website, as the AJET journal is fantastic in that they use a creative commons license.

A summary of design principles (from the literature) is:

  • Start small with a core group (e.g., 10 – 100 users) and make it a strong community that embodies the values that are desired for the network. This serves two purposes. Firstly, it is a useful barometer, as if the community relies on being big to function then it is unlikely that it will ever grow to the desired size. Secondly, as the community grows in membership, the values held by this core group are the values that are likely to be perpetuated, so it pays to give close attention to details within a smaller group (Shirky, 2010).
  • Understand what motivates the members and make sure that the learning network provides for this motivation (Kraut et al., 2012). Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation ought to be considered as ways to encourage users to engage with the community. Intrinsic motivation can be addressed by ensuring that users have autonomy (freedom to act in a way that they find harmonious), connectedness (a human connection), and competence (no need to learn new skills to participate) (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
  • Any platform has a set of default options in set design, social design, and epistemic design, for example, default alerts, privacy settings, and display options. These defaults ought to be used wisely to promote social connectivity and the types of knowledge that it is desired to be shared (rather than defaulting all settings to being closed) (Kraut et al., 2012; Shirky, 2010).
  • Recognise that there will be many types of engagement within the platform and cater to these different types of engagement—there will be lurkers (Woo, 2015) as well as active participants and champions (Shirky, 2010).
  • Have as low a threshold for active participation as is possible. Require a bare minimum of activity from users for them to have contributed something to the platform. This contributes to their engagement and presence within the platform and makes future contributions more likely (Kraut et al., 2012; Shirky, 2010).
  • Be prepared to make changes as the network grows and to be responsive to what the community is asking for (Shirky, 2010). Changes need to be made quickly in response to the needs of teachers. This is in keeping with the principles of DBR (Barab & Squire, 2004).
  • The epistemic design of the community should focus on supporting authentic context and activity. The knowledge held in the community should pertain to real problems and issues that teachers actually face in schools (Herrington & Herrington, 2004).
  • Avoid ambiguity about roles within the community. Aim for clarity about who within a group holds the domain expertise and whose words should be attended to (Lin et al., 2008).
  • A barrier to co-creation of knowledge can be present through overly diversified foci, with members having different interests or disagreeing on the characterisation of a problem (Lin et al., 2008).
  • Members can fear criticism from other members of the community, preventing them from sharing knowledge (Lin et al., 2008). Anonymity can mitigate this. Hur and Brush (2009) similarly found that anonymity and lack of physical accountability is one of the reasons why teachers were looking online for support, noting: “the analysis of interviews and observational notes suggested that online environments provided places where teachers could safely share issues that they could not share with local school teachers” (p. 293).

And then, building on those, and using TeachConnect as an example we arrive at three crucial design principles that cannot be ignored:

  1. It is critical to understand the social norms within the teaching profession (and allow this to influence UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) design).
  2. Teaching is a highly context dependent profession and the social design needs to reflect this.
  3. The platform needs to have an inherent simplicity; speed and reliability should mirror user experiences with best-of-breed platforms.

There’s much that can be said about each of these, but I recommend reading the whole article to find out! It uses Goodyear and Carvalho’s ACAD framework for talking piece by piece about the considerations for social design, set design, epistemic design, and design for co-configuration. I really recommend this approach as a way of making sense of something that is really quite complex.

Key References

Goodyear, P. & Carvalho, L. (2013) The analysis of complex learning environments. In H. Beetham, & R. Sharpe (Eds.), Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: Designing and delivering e-learning. Abingdon: Routledge.

Kelly, N., & Antonio, A. (2016). Teacher peer support in social network sites. Teaching and Teacher Education, 56, 138-149.

Kelly, N., Russell, N., Kickbusch, S., Barros, A., Dawes, L., & Rasmussen, R. (2018). Online communities of teachers to support situational knowledge: A design-based study. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology34(5).

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Why do teachers leave the profession? Factors affecting early career career teacher attrition and retention in Australia.

I recently published a paper, along with co-authors Marcela Cespedes, Marc Clarà and Patrick Danaher, that does some important research to help address this overarching question of why Australian early career teachers leave the profession. It focuses on the complex relationships among preservice education, early career support, and job satisfaction, and how these impact upon intention to leave the profession. You can cheat and jump to the whole paper here [open access] which should be relevant for anyone interested in early career teacher attrition and retention.

The paper is asking four key questions:

  • How (if at all) does the kind of preservice education a teacher receives relate to early career teachers’ intentions to leave the profession?
  • How (if at all) does the early career support received relate to early career teachers’ intentions to leave the profession?
  • How (if at all) does job satisfaction relate to early career teachers’ intention to leave the profession?
  • The sub-questions of: are any kinds of preservice education or early career support associated with increased job satisfaction for early career teachers?

The abstract of the paper sums it up, and then I’ll unpack some of the key findings from the paper:

This paper investigates the complex factors that lead to early career teachers (ECTs) deciding to leave the profession. It extends prior studies to show the associations that different elements of preservice education (PSE), early career support, and on-the-job satisfaction have with the intention to leave the profession. The study uses data from 2,144 Australian ECTs to explore these relationships. Results highlight the importance of teachers’ collegial relationships with their peers, and replicate prior findings showing the significance of mentoring and induction programs. Results show that elements of job satisfaction are strongly associated with intention to leave the profession, leading to a number of implications for achieving the twin goals of higher teacher retention and job satisfaction.

Key definitions and notes on data sources and analysis

I should add that we define early career teachers as those in their first five years. The data come from the Staff in Australia’s Schools Dataset and I am grateful for the Australian Data Archive for making this dataset available to me (see the paper for the exact data item).

In all that follows note that we had an excellent sample size thanks to the SiAS (2,144 early career teachers), but note also that our data come from 2010. All of the findings below follow use of regression to account for the possible influence of demographics, such as rural/provincial/metro, primary/secondary divide, and catholic/independent/state school systems.

What we found

There were a real mix of findings in response to these questions. I’ll just highlight the key ones here:

  • How (if at all) does the kind of preservice education a teacher receives relate to early career teachers’ intentions to leave the profession?

We found that there were two factors in preservice education that were significant in that they were associated with teachers who did not want to leave the profession: feeling prepared for working with other teachers, and feeling prepared for teaching diverse learners.

It follow that perhaps (although I note that the research is only preliminary evidence to support this idea) one way to improve teacher retention is to focus on these two areas in teacher education: working well with other teachers, and teaching diverse learners. It is interesting on this note that Diane Mayer and her team in the Studying Effective Teaching project found that collaboration and collegiality were not well taught in teacher education programs.

  • How (if at all) does the early career support received relate to early career teachers’ intentions to leave the profession?

In keeping with the literature we found that having a helpful mentor (not just any old mentor!) and enabling structured discussions significantly predicted ECTs’ retention. We were also able to look at the statistical relationship between having these kinds of support and the likelihood that a teacher intended to leave the profession. As it says in the paper:

…for those with helpful (rather than unhelpful) designated mentors, the odds of staying in the profession were between 35% and 122% higher. There was a smaller effect, of between 11% to 96% increase in the odds of ECT responding “no” to intention to leave, when designated mentors were helpful when compared with not received mentoring

Once again, this suggests that schools and school systems should focus upon providing these areas of support. This is not a new findings, but it provides strong empirical evidence to support something that was already demonstrated by people like DeAngelis and Ingersoll, and shows that it holds true in the Australian context.

  • How (if at all) does job satisfaction relate to early career teachers’ intention to leave the profession?

It is fairly a obvious proposition that teachers who are satisfied with their jobs are less likely to want to leave the profession, and that’s exactly what we found. What makes this interesting is that we looked at which areas of job satisfaction mattered the most, as well as looking at how they impacted the odds that a teacher wanted to leave the profession.

Firstly, we found that those who were overall satisfied with their job were between 4 and 9 times as likely to not be intending to leave the profession (i.e., we infer that they were more likely to stay).

Secondly, we found that the areas of job satisfaction that mattered most (see the paper for the full list of areas of job satisfaction considered) were:

  • the amount of teaching required
  • the amount of clerical/administrative work required
  • what teachers were accomplishing with students
  • the value that society places on teachers’ work
  • the relationships with parents/guardians

This is interesting, because it supports existing research into which areas of the job matter most for retention, and contributes to the solid empirical foundation. It supports the idea that trying to improve teacher retention cannot be achieved by extrinsic rewards like salary alone.

Rather, it speaks to the notion that teachers need support for intrinsic motivation. I hope in future work to analyse these findings through the lens of Self-Determination Theory (Ryan and Deci, 2000) as I believe that this finding is all about teachers needing to have their basic psychological needs supported, namely:

  • Support for teacher competence (having enough time and training to achieve everything that needs to be done)
  • Support for teacher relationality (structures that support relationships between teachers and with parents as a key part of the job)
  • Support for autonomy (having enough time and freedom to do the job in a way that is true to teachers’ beliefs)


DeAngelis, K. J., Wall, A. F., & Che, J. (2013). The impact of preservice preparation and early career support on novice teachers’ career intentions and decisions. Journal of Teacher Education, 64(4), 338-355.

Ingersoll, R. M., & Strong, M. (2011). The impact of induction and mentoring programs for beginning teachers: A critical review of the research. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 201-233.

Kelly, N., Cespedes, M., Clarà, M., & Danaher, P. A. (2019). Early career teachers’ intentions to leave the profession: The complex relationships among preservice education, early career support, and job satisfaction. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 44(3).

Kelly, N., Sim, C., & Ireland, M. (2018). Slipping through the cracks: teachers who miss out on early career support. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 1-25.

Mayer, D., Dixon, M., Kline, J., Kostogriz, A., Moss, J., Rowan, L., . . . White, S. (2017). Studying the effectiveness of teacher education. In D. Mayer, M. Dixon, J. Kline, A. Kostogriz, J. Moss, L. Rowan, B. Walker-Gibbs, & S. White (Eds.), Studying the effectiveness of teacher education: Early career teachers in diverse settings (pp. 13- 26). Singapore: Springer Singapore.

Education Research

We need to take teachers’ basic psychological needs seriously: Examples of research supporting teachers’ self determination

This post is based on a seminar presented to the Globalisation and Education and Sociology Policy (GEPS) group at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

The need to take teachers’ basic psychological needs seriously.

“In my talk today I am arguing that we need to take teachers’ basic psychological needs seriously. The talk has three parts. First, I will talk about why it is so important that we create an environment in which teachers can flourish. Then, I will talk about what I mean by basic psychological needs. Finally, I will give some examples from my work that highlight what this kind of work might look like…”

This post is placeholder for the article that looks likely to be published elsewhere resulting from this seminar.

The slides for the presentation can be found on slideshare:

Educational policy and teachers basic psychological needs: Creating the space for teachers to collaborate from nickkelly