Good Reads from 2019: Our NIDL Top 10 Open Access Journal Articles

This the fourth year that our NIDL team has produced a list of top 10 “good reads” from open access journal articles published over the course of the year. Even though our list for 2019 is a little later than previous years (see 2016, 2017 & 2018) partly due to the demands of hosting and managing the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning in November, and because we wanted to include a number of journal issues published quite late in the year, we hope you find our selections both useful and valuable for your professional reading.


As we have previously mentioned, this exercise originally began as we wanted to share more of our good reads internally amongst our NIDL team, and encourage greater awareness and critical engagement with relevant research and professional literature. The decision to limit our selections to open access journal publications was primarily a reflection of our commitment to openness and more specifically Open Science. Although we decided after the first year that other people might find our list of top reads useful, one of the major benefits of this exercise remains the wider nomination process, which again generated a long list of articles and the internal debates, discussions and disagreements generated as we refine our selections.

It is important to note, therefore, that not everyone’s best read makes the final cut and our selection criteria are biased towards major literature reviews, journal articles reporting new and emerging areas, and papers addressing important gaps in the literature. What really counts as a good [open access] journal article remains fertile area for wider discussion, as putting aside our selection criteria, this depends in many respects on your perspective and particular interests.

Before we share our top reads for 2019 it is important to note a couple of methodological considerations and report a few wider observations about the sample.

Firstly, a number of our final selections (n=2) were made openly available before the article appears in a particular journal issue. This means that in some cases the article may not be formally published until 2020 but we made the decision to still include the work in our 2019 sample. Secondly, there appears to be a growing trend amongst more traditionally closed (restricted) journals to publish selected open access articles or in some cases special open access issues. Irrespective of the “open” status of the journal, if the article was freely available then it was open for nomination. Over 80 articles were originally nominated for consideration before our long-list was refined down to around 40 articles, with a short-list of 25.


In terms of the final selection, once again our No 1 article for 2019 appears in the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology.  This is the fourth year running that our overall “best read” has appeared in AJET, which speaks volumes for the quality of the journal and more specifically the work of the Editors and Reviewers. This year AJET is also the only journal to have more than one article (N=2) in the top 10 and notably our 2019 selections reflect a more diverse range of academic and professional journals. In total, 8 journals contribute to the final list of our top reads, with 6 appearing for the first-time; and two articles appear in what are usually considered more restricted publications. There are some notable journal omissions from the final list such as EDUCAUSE Review,  Journal of of Online Learning, Open Praxis, and Research in Learning Technology but all of these publications were represented by very good articles in our short-list. Lastly, 7 articles have more than one author, with 50% of the selections arising from the work of three or more co-authors.

Top 10 Reads from 2019…

Mindful of the above points, we debated this year whether we would single out our selected articles in rank order. While the specific rankings is one of the most contentious aspects of the exercise we decided to continue this practice to maintain consistency with previous years and to give credit to those articles which clearly stood out and were well above the cut-off line, especially given that many excellent reads do not appear in the final top 10 selection. We may share some of those in our longer short-list in a follow up blog post. In the meantime, our selections for 2019 appear below, with a few brief notes to describe each article and help explain our choices.


No 1  – Harris, J., Foulger, T. S., Huijser, H., & Phillips, M. (2019). Goldilocks and journal publication: Finding a fit that’s “just right.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 35(4), 1-10. Available from

This article stood out due to its focus on ‘getting your work published’ and target audience of early career researchers and doctoral and postgraduate students. It provides practical advice about what to consider when developing a research and publication profile and establishing yourself within a research community. The article has a creative title and is valuable reading for anyone seeking to share their research and learning innovations more widely in the journal that’s “just right”.

No 2 – Lambert, S. (2019). Do MOOCs contribute to student equity and social inclusion? A systematic review 2014–18. Computers & Education, 145. Available from

This article was selected as it provides a systematic review of the literature with a timely focus on equity and social inclusion. The size of the sample is impressive and notably in contrast to existing literature, the review found that ‘there was a flourishing of multi-lingual and Languages other than English (LOTE) programs and those addressing regional socio-economic disadvantage’. The blending of MOOCs is another notable feature along with the conclusion ‘MOOCs which aim to widen participation in education are an alternative global practice that exists alongside more commercial MOOC offerings’.

No 3 – Stone, C., & O’Shea, S. (2019). My children … think it’s cool that Mum is a uni student: Women with caring responsibilities studying online. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 35(6), 97–110. Available from

This article continues the focus on student equity and widening participation through online learning. It provides a contemporary review of the literature related to the emergence of the female mature-age learner and reports on the gendered nature of university participation. Notably, the article highlights the ‘largely invisible yet emotional and time-consuming additional load that many women are carrying and discusses the importance of this being recognised and accommodated at an institutional level’.  Once again the paper underscores the value of listening to the student voice and developing in partnership with learners more inclusive institutional cultures.

No 4 – Knox, J. (2019). What does the ‘Postdigital’ mean for education? Three critical perspectives on the digital, with implications for educational research and practice. Postdigital Science and Education, 1, 357-370. Available from

This article examines what the term ‘postdigital’ might mean for education through the discussion of human-technology relationships. It appears in the first issue of a new open access journal that provides another space for a growing number of publications exploring the implications of education and research both in and for the postdigital age. The work offers a very readable analysis of postdigital thinking and related definitions and goes on to provide three different perspectives on shifting relationships with digital technology, with specific relevance for educational concerns. If you are relatively new to postdigital thinking, then this paper offers both a critical as well as accessible starting point.

No 5 – Spilker, M., Prinsen, F., & Kalz, M. (2019): Valuing technology-enhanced academic conferences for continuing professional development. A systematic literature. Professional Development in Education. Available from

This article explores a very interesting topic by offering a systematic search for and analysis of the state of the art concerning research (1993–2018) on technology-enhanced conferences for academics’ professional development. It provides good reading, particularly given the high number of conferences in the field and that attending such events is an accepted form of “academic citizenship” and often taken for granted as valuable professional development. The paper builds on Jacobs and McFarlane’s (2005) view that ‘little attention has been paid either to developing a theoretically informed understanding of conference practice as knowledge building, or to assessing the extent to which conferences are successful’. We partly selected this paper as last year it provided uesful food for thought and evidence-based research for our decisions in designing the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning.

No 6 – Zawacki-Richter, O., Marin, V., Bond, M., & Gouverneur, F. (2019). Systematic review of research on artificial intelligence applications in higher education – where are the educators? International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 16:39, 2-27. Available from

This article offers precisely what the title suggests and was hard to overlook given the current level of hope and hype surrounding the potential of AI in higher education. Notably, the results show that ‘most of the disciplines involved in AIEd papers come from Computer Science and STEM, and that quantitative methods were the most frequently used in empirical studies’. It follows that the paper concludes by reflecting on the lack of critical reflection of challenges and risks of AIEd, the weak connection to theoretical pedagogical perspectives, and the need for further exploration of ethical and educational approaches. A seminal read for educators, computer scienists and those making predictions about the futiure impact of AI on higher education.

No 7 – Selwyn, N. (2019). What’s the problem with learning analytics? Journal of Learning Analytics, 6(3), 11-19. Available from

This article adopts a sociotechnical perspective (i.e., shaped by a range of social, cultural, political, and economic factors) in summarising a number of emerging concerns about the learning analytics movement as it becomes increasingly implemented and entrenched in both mainstream and educational technology discourse. As one has come to expect from Neil Selwyn, the paper reminds us of the need to be critical and offers a valuable critique of the burgeoning “data economy” in educational research, policy and practice. It concludes that,above all, learning analytics researchers need to talk more openly about the values and politics of data-driven analytics technologies as they are implemented throughout educational contexts.

No 8 – Pozzi, F., Manganello, F., Passarelli, M., Persico, D., Brasher, A., Holmes, W., Whitelock, D., & Sangrà, A. (2019). Ranking meets distance education: Defining relevant criteria and indicators for online universities. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(5), 42-63. Available from

This article explores a notable gap in current university ranking systems and so-called league tables. In the absence of global rankings for online providers—for better and worse–it offers a participatory approach based on a Delphi study to define a set of criteria and indicators suitable to reflect the specific nature of online distance education. The intention is to help evaluate and rank online higher education institutions more appropriately than in current practice. The paper was selected as we anticipate there will be further developments in this area in the next year or so as the provision of online education increassingly transcends national borders.

No 9 – Bond, M., Zawacki-Richter, O., & Nichols, M. (2019). Revisiting five decades of educational technology research: A content and authorship analysis of the British Journal of Educational Technology. British Journal of Educational Technology. 50 (1), 12-63. Available from

This review article appearing in a traditionally closed journal celebrating its 50 years of publication is hard to overlook as it reflects on five decades of educational technology research. What makes the analysis more interesting and arguably useful is a comparison to a previous meta-analysis of articles appearing in Computers & Education. Common themes identified over the past 50 years include the evolution of teaching and learning in distance education, the emergence of instructional design, misunderstanding between practitioners and learning designers, issues of pre and in-service teacher education and technology uptake by educators and students, including the confidence to do so, the technology skills of educators and students, as well as a lack of institutional support to provide space and time for training and integration to occur.

No 10 – Clinton, V., & Khan, S. (2019). Efficacy of open textbook adoption on learning performance and course withdrawal rates: A meta-analysis. AERA Open, 5(3), 1-20. Available from

This article builds on a growing body of research investigating the use and development of open textbooks. It particularly stands out for and makes a useful contribution because of its focus on learning performance and course withdrawal rates. Notably, the meta-analysis of the literature found there were no differences in learning efficacy between open textbooks and commercial textbooks. Moreover, the withdrawal rate for postsecondary (higher education) courses with open textbooks was significantly lower than that for commercial textbooks. In many respects the findings raise more questions than answers, which is partly why we selected this article interest in open textbooks continue to grow.

The NIDL’s 5th Birthday Bash

This week the NIDL team celebrated our 5th Birthday Bash, with DCU’s President, Professor Brian MacCraith joining us along with around 70 staff and colleagues. We were also delighted that a number of invited guests and friends of the NIDL were able to attend, including Seamus Fox recently retired Head of Open Education.

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3 Unts.jpgThe NIDL set out with a mission to be a world leader at the forefront of digital models of education to help transform lives and societies. Three separate but integrated units now make up the NIDL and our 5th birthday event gave us the opportunity to openly reflect on our progress in striving to realise this ambitious mission. More specifically, we took the chance to share a few reflections from over the past 5-years and then report some exciting new and forthcoming developments in the pipeline.

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Professor MacCraith traced us back to the history of how the NIDL came about and the launch on 28th November 2013 by Ruairi Quinn, Minister for Education and Skills, and Lord David Putnam, Ireland’s Digital Ambassador. He then referred to the successful launch of DCU Connected and Loop in August 2014 and touched upon a number of other early initiatives, including in 2015 the launch of Ireland’s first Horizon report on the future impact of digital technologies on higher education, and in 2016 the Next Generation Digital Learning Research Symposium hosted in The Helix to help build a stronger research culture in the area.

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DCU’s President also noted the appointment of Professor Deirdre Butler as DCU’s second Chair in Digital Learning in the Institute of Education and her leadership in establishing the Lego Education Innovation Studio and more recently role in the launch of the Mindcraft Studio in partnership with Microsoft Ireland. The NIDL’s strong relationship with Institute of Education staff was also reported as a valued feature of our work, with particular reference to the development of the new Digital Learning strand in the Doctor of Education (EdD) programme.


AE1A0069.jpgOther highlights noted by Professor MacCraith included the launch of DCU’s learning portfolio (Reflect) which now has over 12,000 students regularly using the platform. He also singled out the NIDL’s role in supporting DCU’s University of Sanctuary initiatives noting the launch of a number of scholarships for online study for refugees and asylum seekers. The establishment of the Ideas Lab in 2017 was also noted as a significant new development in the NIDL to help foster an even stronger culture of innovation in new digital models of education.

DCU’s President concluded his reflections by referring to some of the key facts and numbers over the past 5-years. Overall he reported that:

“The NIDL and its staff has become a highly valued feature of the DCU community. The achievements reported today validate DCU’s decision to take a national initiative to develop our leadership in this area of growth both nationally and internationally.”

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Each of the Unit Heads then shared some of their own brief reflections followed by Professor Mark Brown, NIDL Director. Mark referred to some important cultural differences and the importance of not taking ourselves too seriously and having fun along the way!


cu0a0145Professor MacCraith returned to the podium noting that the NIDL’s good work does not stop here. He shared a number of new externally funded initiatives, including two major HEA grants through the new Innovation and Transformation Fund along with a National Forum funded project to support professional development of DCU Connected part-time online tutors. On a related note, The President also updated staff on DCU’s decision to establish a Teaching Excellence Academy, develop a new postgraduate qualification in Learning Transformations and implement an internationally recognised Teaching Fellowship Programme in partnership with AdvanceHE.

cu0a0271Also announced was a major new European funded project (€2.2m) led by the NIDL in partnership with CASTEL and CARPE aimed at developing transversal skills and digital assessment strategies in the area of STEM education. Lastly, Professor MacCraith congratulated the NIDL for its work in continuing to foster a strong culture of research and scholarship. He reported the new Editor-in-Chief role and strategic partnership with the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education published by Springer. And finally that the NIDL will be hosting the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning in the Convention Centre in November 2019.

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In summary, DCU’s President reported that the NIDL has achieved a great deal since it was first established as a key initiative in DCU’s Strategic Plan. It continues to play an important role in helping DCU to realise some of our high-level strategic objectives over the next 3 to 5-years. He congratulated the NIDL team for their work, which was commended in last year’s Institutional Review, and finished with a number of thanks, including the valuable role students have played in challenging us to develop new transformative models of digital learning.


Mark Brown thanked the President for his strong support over the past 5-years and singled out the important role Billy Kelly, DCU’s Deputy Registrar and Dean of Teaching and Learning has played in the development of the NIDL. The event finished with Professor MacCraith cutting the NIDL’s special 5th birthday cake before participants then mingled over refreshments and a slice of cake.


Note: a copy of the supporting slide-deck used during the event can be viewed on Slideshare.