#ocTEL Final Week

Well this is going to be a very short post. Not because I am not interested in the final topic on evaluation, but because I am busy preparing two conference presentations I am giving in just over a week. I hope to catch up though on week ten materials, because I am particularly interested in evaluation. My background is in developing randomised controlled trials for health care interventions, and I am encouraged to find some RCTs evaluating technology enhanced learning interventions. So I will be reading some of the materials in this week.

And a big thanks to the ocTEL team – I’ve submitted comments about the MOOC overall. The main things I found was that it was too much for too long. I’d love to have had the time but I don’t. In future, perhaps it would be helpful to break the course down into sections, so that one would study for a few weeks then have a break. But I have certainly learnt some very helpful things overall. Whether I will be able to introduce those into my work remains to be seen.

Thanks too for those who commented on my blog and other postings, and to other students who presented postings for me to read and comment on aswell.



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#ocTEL Week 6 – help and ideas please!

Effective Assessment in a Digital Age (JISC, 2010): consider the following questions.
Week 6 is certainly raising a lot of questions for me, and presenting challenges in terms of my current teaching methods. To be honest, I’m left wondering how effective my teaching actually is and how much more I should be included in terms of teaching and learning methods. Perhaps I am just over thinking – certainly colleagues and students seem to regard the course highly, but I do think I can work on the assessment methods further, formative and summative – but in particular the formative. Some of this will be challenged by our VLE – Blackboard 9, and I don’t know what other assessment methods can be introduced beyond those I currently use.
• How does your assessment approach(es) align with the four teaching and learning perspectives (page 11)? I use a number of assessment methods, formative and summative in my online teaching:
Associative. Learning as acquiring competence: this is developed by encouraging self reflection. The teaching methods also support knowledge transfer. Across the course as whole, and as part of the two summative assessments, they are expected to demonstrate the application of knowledge to a given scenario. They then receive the expert feedback as part of written comments after the assessment is submitted. Questions on the discussion boards also help them to think about the concepts with feedback given by peers.
Constructivist: I don’t see much different between this and Associative learning and assessment, though they are not expected or able to develop learning by means of experimentation and inquiry based tasks. This is mainly a reflection of the subject. The only self-generated feedback is from self-tests.
Social constructivist. A group assessment requires students to work on a small project together, and create a public health demographic poster of a particular country. This means they need to apply understanding and skills of using information sources and selecting appropriate information to display in a way suitable for the public.
Situative. There isn’t really any opportunity for learners to develop their identities through participation in specific communities of practice.

In answering these questions, I am left wondering about the quality of the assessment methods I am currently using.
I would appreciate feedback on this (is this an example of me using Situative perspective!)
The methods I use are as follows:
Discussion boards tasks, which are assessed. Several of these throughout the course. Clear instruction and direction given, and usually expected to apply learning for that week to a particular activity, with a posting of about 250-500 words. The problem I now see with this, is that students only get feedback from the tutor. Few students actually comment on the postings of other students, regardless of whether it is assessed or not.
Self-reflection. At particular points in the teaching, students asked to consider an example in their own work, and reflect in terms of the learning given and how a particular skills set or theory etc, might apply to their work example and what they might do differently in future and why. Problem with this is that students have no opportunity to receive feedback from anyone. And no idea whether they actually do these tasks.
Self-tests. A few opportunities exist to provide straightforward self tests. These work well and give immediate formative feedback. There is no mechanism though to give more questions if students haven’t got the question right the first time round. This could be implemented I think depending on the VLE (Blackboard). I also think I could perhaps introduce some self tests which are based on written examples. I saw in one of the Edinburgh MOOCs that they gave examples of different paragraphs, with sentences highlighted in different colours, and students had to they identify what was “the research question” “the aim”, the”theory” etc. This seemed to work well as a student (i.e. me).
Feedback through learning communities (situative and social constructivist. Problem here is that on this international course, students don’t really engage well with each other. They do seem to like the assessed group Wiki activities, but apart from that there is little discussion with each other, that I as a tutor am aware of. They might be ‘socialising’ outside of the VLE of course. I tried using a blog but few students responded comments, and one got frustrated that she was the only one who seemed to writing any responses to my postings. I think part of the problem is that we haven;’t developed a learning community across the course as whole, and each individual unit is isolated from each other. I would like to see how we can develop a full course social learning community, such as using Facebook, or giving students opportunities to develop ones in their own preferred way. I like the system of the Daily Newsletter in ocTEL, but need to find out if this would work with Facebook aswell. I would then like to link up our social community with other public health courses. Another idea, is to try and link more formally with a group of students on another course but taking a similar course unit. For example, many people in health and social care will do a course unit on evidence based practice – so by linking up students from different universities etc, they would have opportunities for some engaging debate about these principles and the reality of putting them into practice.
So for me the two overriding problems are:
(1) What type of social learning community will be the most appropriate for international students who most are busy professionals
(2) To what extent will the current VLE support this, or is it to be established out of the VLE (my preference) and then what organizational issues would this present.
Oh and of course, how do I then encourage students to socialize within it!
I know I’ve sort of gone off-piste a bit here. But beyond the more traditional online assessment methods, much is then moving towards peer assessment, peer support and feedback and I think this is the challenge I need to work on next.

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#ocTEL: Digital Templates

This week, we’ve been asked to read and reflect on the use of templates for developing online courses. I read the paper by Hill and colleagues (2012), and was perhaps more confused by the fact that this just made common sense to me, rather than it becoming rather a complicated presentation of model. I’ve been teaching on a course which has always had a main template, used by the instructors when updating or writing new course units. The template has proved its value by the fact that it has been used for over twelve years, and by many different instructors. The paper by Hill did make me reflect again on that we don’t make any clear links to the pedagogy and teaching theory from the course design perspective. I doubt the design of the course units would change, in terms of teaching methods etc, even if we did this – using what I have learnt so far on this MOOC, in terms of teaching theories, I now understand more about how and why I teach the way that I do, but have not found much to suggest that what I am doing is not supported by appropriate theories. That been said, I am keen to explore how I can develop more of a social learning community on the course. I am aware that this is my need, and might not be of value to our rather diverse, international community of adult workers. My bias is that by taking MOOCs and taking part in social learning communities online, I have learnt far more, and rather different things, than I had initially anticipated, and often beyond the materials in the course. I’m a great advocate of cMOOCS all round.

I like the idea of having suggested templates, that would have clear links to theoretical theories etc. There is a danger that this might however, reduce the thought that instructors give to their course design, rather than enhance it – they might just try and fill in the gaps without clearly thinking through why they want to do something in a particular way.

As always, there is a great need to work together with instructors and learning technologists part of the design and delivery team.



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How to develop student communities

Hi – below is a rather rough comment I sent to Keith Smyth following his Webinar. I’m intrigued how to encourage my students to interact more on online. I would also like to find out more from other people how I can link them with another student community, as in an example from Keith. Similarly, I wonder how I might develop a community across the course as a whole – currently students work within each of the course units, all at varying points in the part time (some are full time) course journey. So they tend to operate in the course module silo rather than across the course as whole.


Hi Keith, I’m doing the OctEL MOOC and enjoyed your webinar. I’d appreciate your thoughts: I help run an online masters in public health, with students from around the world. I find getting participation/discussion etc difficult and most will only engage with assessed activities (wikis, discussion question) and we’ve tried various things over the year. Secondly, I like the project on communities, and am thinking now about how we can link our students to other students. I wondered why you didn’t consider using something like Facebook or Linkedln (unless you did and I missed it).
All of our students are adult learners, and I think cultural and time issues etc are likely to influence their interest and ability to take part in activities. Some struggle to get internet connection. But aside from the latter, I wonder what ideas you might have to encourage greater engagement. Of course, there is the question why do I think it is important, and yes, I can find pedagogy to support it, but overall, it is considered to be good for students and their professional development.
A bit of a disjoined post – apologies. I need to spend time looking through the work you are doing at Napier more as well as very interesting and helpful.

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#ocTEL Application of Learning Theories

I had a bit of a backlash to this area because learning about theories either confuse or frustrate me. But I have found some value in reading about these, albeit briefly and then thinking about what I do already in my teaching practice. What I would still like to know though is which approach is most effective. I’ve had a got a trying to show a few examples of how I think some of the learning theories are used on my course. I only read the materials on the theories briefly because I’m time-deficient this week! (that’s my excuse anyway)

Theories of Learning and how it reflects what I already do.

I always remember the Pavlov’s Dog experiment, in that the dog is rewarded everytime he does something correct. The learner is seen as a passive recipient to external stimuli.
– Online self tests with immediate feedback. Students enter the answer and immediately receive a reward (or not) if the answer is wrong. They continue until the right answer is achieved.
The mind is like a computer and needs to be ‘opened up’ to be able to understand the learner. Mental processes like thinking, problem solving, knowing, need to be explored in the learner.
– This seems to suggest that a more individual approach is needed. That we need to understand the individual student’s computer. An example of this in action might be:
– Tutor provides feedback after an assignment is marked. This is individual to the student and is an attempt by the tutor to try and understand what might have been doing on for the student in terms of their understanding of the course materials and the application to the assignment.
Learning is an active, contextualized process of constructing knowledge rather than acquiring it. This suggests that individual learners have a more active involvement in their knowledge generation, and that their own context (such as previous experience, reasons for taking the course, or current work or career aspirations) are likely to influence what and how they learn and engage with the materials.
– This is reflected quite a lot in my course materials. Throughout I encourage students to reflect on their own experiences and/or current work questions and how this relates or ‘fits’ with the topic I am teaching. They are encouraged to continue this reflection in the discussion boards and in the assignments.
Social Learning
People learn from one another, via observation, imitation and modelling.
– This aspect is encouraged throughout the course I lead. Students are encouraged to share their experiences of using the course material/tools and their own experiences related to this, usually stemming from their work. Students also learn by observing me as a course leader, and aware of my previous research and healthcare experience – in that I model and reflect and feedback my own experiences and how these relate to the course materials and to what I have been hearing about and from the students.
– Yet this is the area that I find the most difficult to encourage amongst the students on my course. I think several reasons might act as a barrier at times to this:
– (a) student expectations differ – some are signing up for an online distance learning masters course because they don’t want to be having to interact with people directly/face to face
– (b) students are all over the world. Their culture, home and work life and access to resources (broadband etc) will differ and this may impact upon their enthusiasm towards, the practical ability to interact with others more. Some just don’t have the time either and some only do the very necessary things needed to pass.
(c ) from a course perspective, I don’t think we really have it right in terms of developing a more open social learning environment. We use Blackboard, which is a bit clunky, and students can only interact with each other using discussion boards (and sometimes assessed Wikis) within each individual course unit, as we have it set up.

This is an area I am interested in – mainly because my own learning style is a natural network/interacting type person and I learn so much this way, and learn things that are not necessarily a fixed part of the curriculum (I think this is called rhizomatic learning). I would like to try and develop some research on this, as students taking the course I run are based around the world, they are nearly all adult learners / in employment, with a range of experience from quite new, to very experienced and in senior careers. Some will be returning to education after many years away from it, whilst others might have just finished a previous course. Most however, will be new to online distance learning. Thus this heterogeneous student population provides a number of likely barriers and opportunities to social learning. So, if it is given that social learning can be beneficial, then we need to find ways of encouraging and fostering this, with a student group such as mine. – Any funders out their?

Maybe I as an instructor/lecturer need to be doing more to encourage others to have this approach. But then isn’t this me trying to impose a certain learning style onto another student, just because I like it? Perhaps variety is needed in which students have more control about how they engage with the learning materials – what learning theories are their own default, and which the course material allows for.

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#ocTEL – why shouldn’t students with less than ideal ICT skills study online.

Hi, I appreciate it can be frustrating to try and understand the learning experience from the perspective of the student. I have many years experience too, meeting students who enrol for an online distance learning course. Our students have varying levels of ICT or digital literacy skills. This can make one question why they have then decided to enrol on an online course. About a third of our students are based overseas – some of these students have extremely limited broadband activity at home, or none at all. They have to use a local internet café, and even when using broadband at home, power supply problems can make it difficult for them.

So why have they then decided to enrol on a distance learning course? Well lets look at it from the student’s perspective, rather than throwing terms around such as ‘flabergasted’ as has been done in this discussion board a little too easily I think. That someone wants to learn should be encouraged. Many learners, especially adult learners, maybe enrolling on a course to further their career, to maintain their current job, to go into another area or work, or, especially reflecting the points by Knowles, to find out something that they need to know now. If a student took part in a face to face course, we wouldn’t criticise them for having poor oral communication skills, (I hope we wouldn’t), and in good institutions, we would provide support, encouragement and maybe skills development workshops to help them develop these skills. Similarly, we wouldn’t question why someone who had to take a lengthy journey to get to the college had enrolled for the class.

So let us not so easily be open to criticise students enrolled on an online course for not having the ideal level of ICT skills and equipment. What we need to consider, is that is it good enough, at this point in a course, from which their skills can then be developed. And what support do we as learners/learner organisation need to provide. We also need to ensure that the initial information provided for prospective students makes it very clear what the requirements are for taking a course.

It is too easy in education to criticise the student without looking at our role as educators too. One thing I have been encouraged in the past couple of years, with the shift, amongst some at least, in the power balance between student and teacher – MOOCs have opened up a debate about social learning, but there is no reason why these ideas cannot be integrated within education overall. For too long, teachers / educators have sat rather comfortably on their table at the top of the class. Crowd-sourcing on any course like this, quickly highlights how much individuals have to contribute, with the social constructionist pedagogy allowed to shine through.

A slight rant, but with no apology. Teaching students from all over the world, on an online distance learning course for the past ten years, has helped me open up to shift my position towards starting from the perspective of the student, rather than expecting them to jump to my tune. Within an organisational setting this is not so easy, but the more we challenge and question this then hopefully we can shift the relationship. We need to let go of our elitism largely based on fear – and meet the people we teach more on a level.

Here my experience is in higher education and adult learners. I imagine school settings maybe different in some respect.



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#ocTEL Understanding Learners’ Needs – Week Two in the course

Week Two of the ocTEL course and this week the material is looking at the needs of learners. I find this an interesting yet challenging topic because it is so diverse. It is however, probably the most important aspect of teaching – if I don’t understand what the learning needs are of the individual and collective group of students, who after all, are in a round about way, paying me, then how can I do an effective job?

Most of my work is teaching on a fully online distance learning course at postgraduate level. Most of the students are in full time employment, across a wide spectrum and often very challenging work. Our students also have diverse living and social backgrounds, given that we have students from across the globe. There ages differ from probably around 22 years old through to people in their 50s. Some will be new to the area of public health, some will be extremely experienced. Some will be coming back into education after a significant period of time away from it. Some will be new to online learning, in fact most are probably new to this, yet their range of skills in using and appreciating the social learning benefits of online technology are likely to vary.

So already, just from our student base, there is massive diversity! On top of this, the whole postgraduate programme is diverse, with around 18 different modules, different course unit leaders, different tutors and teaching assistants, through to differences in the way assessments are given.

I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

So what does the theory tell me so far? Perhaps the work of Malcolm Knowles has helped me the most or I have found the most relevant to the teaching I am doing. Knowles made a distinction of adult learners with the term “andragogy,”. Andragogy focuses on special needs of adult learners. Knowles identified six assumptions about adult learning: (1) need to know, (2) self-concept, (3) prior experience, (4) readiness to learn, (5) learning orientation, and (6) motivation to learn.

I think ‘the need to know’ is particularly important for two reasons. Firstly, students coming on the course will have existing ‘need to know’ lists, in their mind, and some will be needing to develop knowledge and skills at that point in time to complete a work activity. There is also what I think as a tutor is ‘their need to know’ – thus those aspects or knowledge areas that I am introducing to them in such a way that they will then want to ‘need to know’. My own learning need is very much based on a need to know as I get older. Time is precious and my concentration is easily taken by other things. Therefore I come to learning more with a set of ‘demands’ rather than ‘tell me everything you want’.

The JISC resources on elearning and their research looking at the learners needs was extremely helpful. I do however find it very difficult at times to navigate through the JISC website – and at times seem to get stuck in a loop. There are clearly or have been, many relevant projects, case studies, research and evaluations – but it takes a lot of time to try and work out the most relevant. I did find their downloadable information sheets easy and simple to read. The JISC work seems to be very student centric, and takes much more of a pragmatic or applied approach which is easy to follow and in reflection to the paragraph above, is very much focused towards what a learner (which after all includes me as a teacher) needs to know.

Finally I am looking forward to working through the OER by the University of Wolverhampton “learning to teach inclusively”. Again this seems to be straight forward and does not contain too much theory. However I do like some theory when it is relevant to my needs (again reflecting some of the points Knowles makes about adult learner).

Following on from this, I am still disappointed in the content of this #ocTEL MOOC. Some of the resources I think are poor, and I am sure there is a wealth of online material from the designers to have selected from. Having said that, I am still learning different aspects each week. The only problem is that I am also building up a lengthy DIIGO account of other pages I find along the way to go back to at some point. But as in the Number One Ladies Detective Agency, ‘someday’ never seems to arrive!


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#ocTEL Socrates and Emergent Learning Models

Week One is only half way through, and already my brain is starting to hurt! I’m more of a practical person than a theorist, and easily get lost in articles and debates about theory. It reminds me of when I did my counselling training, and some of the reading material was enough to send me looking for a counsellor! But, in the spirit of working through this #ocTEL MOOC, I’m having a go at the reading this week and trying to make some sense – that is sense that I can understand.

The link to Donal Clark’s impressive set of blog postings about educational and learning theorists was pretty impressive – 50 posts over 50 days on such a heavy topic http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=Socrates

As he notes in his blog, I have been one of those lecturers I’m sure who have mentioned the Socratic Method without knowing anything about it.But I am pleased to find out that Scorates was “ among the first to recognise that, in terms of learning, ideas are best generated from the learner in terms of understanding and retention. Education is not a cramming in, but a drawing out.”

This echoes my own thinking and ways of trying to work with the teaching and learning I provide. I see my role like a gardener at times, simply helping the ideas and aspirations within the students to transpire. Today I was running a workshop for other staff new to supervising our students for a masters programme. I was aware that the more experienced I have become as a teacher, the more I try and encourage others to be curious about a particular area or question, rather than to give them answers. Thus a little like the example of the midwife, which Socrates saw as the role of educators. Of course I wasn’t too keen on then finding out that Socrates was apparently a blatant bully and tyrant at times. Maybe some of my students would see me as being like that.

I then tried reading the link and article to Emergent Learning Models and it was here that my brain really started to ache – maybe it is because it is late, but I did find the ideas on the heutagogic blog hard to grasp


I then found what I hope have been a more helpful diagram of emergent learning theory, http://www.slideshare.net/fredgarnett/fg-ouemergenttable

This suggests a difference between education, which is something that takes place in a formal, institutional/education setting, and learning, which takes place outside of such settings, and often arises from the desire of individuals or groups to learn. This reminds me of the quote “you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink” – which might happen with education as we can’t force anyone to become ‘educated’, despite how long or what tactics we employ within an education system. Yet, if we are on standy to provide the necessary resources, skills development, information, etc etc to individuals and groups who have their own innate desire to learn about a particular topic or activity, then we can provide the drinking vessel for them to drink the water.

Maybe I’m not expressing these ideas very well, but I sort of have my own sense of what I mean (I think anyhow!).

So what does this mean for technology enhanced learning? some of that will depend on the context/setting that we are talking about. If it is within an educational setting, such as school or college, then we need to try and find ways of meeting students at the level the student is at – in other words, not expecting the student to meet my agenda or restrictions, but to bring the learning aims we seek to be achieved by the student, to the place that the student is at. As part of this, we need to find ways to help students become curious and to stir and wake up their own internal curiousity. Similarly, for informal learning, elearning can really come to life, because it provides access to learning at any point in time and brings the greatest breadth and variety of learning tools, opportunities to students across the world.

I look foward to reading other blog postings on these topics and to finding a more constructive and clear explanation than I have been able to provide tonight.


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#oCTEL MOOCs or Serious Gamification

In week one of the oCTEL course, we’ve been asked to look at a couple of examples of learning methods and comment on them and decide which one you think is more powerful and relevant for you.

First I selected the interview of George Siemens, talking about massive open online courses (MOOCs). Along with Stephen Downes, George developed really the current idea for MOOCs, only a couple of years ago. The MOOC concept stemmed from an idea of running conference material in the form of a course, delivered over the web. It followed earlier developments in social learning with the forming of Open Educational Resources, alongside a movement of social/democratic movements for education and an evolving pedagogy of rhizomatic education.

Since the first MOOCs were initially run, much has quickly developed, with a whole range of different courses now being hosted, by various platforms and providers. Using the word ‘massive’ and ‘open’ can easily be challenged, as what determines a ‘massive’ course. Similarly, what does one mean by open. Certainly platform providers such as Coursera can be criticised in that they select which courses they are willing to host – thus filtering what learning potential is available.

I see MOOCs as been powerful in that they provide a potential opportunity for learning that is free at the point of use, to hundreds of thousands of people across the world, at any time. MOOCs have had in excess of 150,000 students taking them, all for free, as part of a single course. Wow – that is a lot of learning taking place. Accepting that drop out rates can be high, that is still a lot of possible learning. Of course, people signing up to MOOCs might not really be engaging fully with all the study materials – but if they are engaging in some way, then they are learning in some way. Who decides what and who and when should be learnt, is a great break away for MOOCs, from traditionally fixed, linear pedagogies, with fixed learning outcomes. MOOCS give greater power and control and autonomy to the learner. For example, it is completely up to me, as a course participant, how much I engage with this oCTEL MOOC and who I decide to engage with through the provided Forum boards, and what links and how I try and develop.

This chaotic way of learning, whilst embedded within a framework, is something new for me to get used to, having spent many years as a student, and now as a lecturer, taking and designing rather rigid, linear courses.

And this contrasts very much with the use of some form of a virtual reality or serious game developed by Helen Keegan. Of course it was welcoming to see a northern speaker and academic featuring in this course, and someone I hadn’t heard of before. But the teaching methods and approach had a very powerful effect on me in that (a) I don’t really understand what was actually done and (b) I felt very unnerved, as was anticipated for the students on her course, to some extent, by the material and delivery methods AND by what appeared to be an experiment on students without their consent. The latter point had to be taken seriously after the project had started as some students seemed to be at least posting signs of psychological distress. But I admire Helen’s work for trying to develop curiosity for learning among her students – which was what the project was designed to do. Year on year, I find that students have less of an enquiring mind, and expect more and more instruction. This is not only frustrating but is sad, especially as access to the virtual world has brought tremendous learning opportunities for those with some initial curiosity at least.

So in a way, both the MOOCs and the use of some form of augmented reality, I find, appealing for learning opportunities. MOOCS allow social learning, and personal learning and networking communities to be naturally developed and games or augmented reality can help students embrace and deploy their innate desire for curiosity, so often squashed by externally imposed, and probably often needless tick boxes and procedures.

The thought of trying to introduce any augmented reality onto the course I teach on sees light years away – opening people up to the possibilities and advantages of OERs, and social learning environments needs to be tackled first.

I am interested to find out what others thought about these examples.




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A New Pedagogy is Emerging…And Online Learning is a Key Contributing Factor | Contact North

A New Pedagogy is Emerging…And Online Learning is a Key Contributing Factor | Contact North.

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