#oCTEL Networking with thousands of new people – yikes!

One of the potential benefits of taking a MOOC is that it brings an opportunity to network and learn from hundreds, potentially thousands of people. I think the terminology is ‘social learning’ and follows in part the rhizome effect that the course forms some nodes, but then the roots might go in any direction.

This raises a number of challenges, not least those for the technologists and course designers. As a participant in the OcTEL course, I am still struggling to find my way around the communication methods. This blog is new for me – it’s certainly easy to set up and update, but has been quite one-way so far – maybe I’m not been controversial or interesting enough. I find with the blog I have in blackboard on a course I run that it is often one-way communication too, though students say they like reading my posts.

I haven’t tried twitter yet at all – something next on my list.

I took my name off from receiving direct emails from the Jiscmail list as I hate having an overfull inbox and have a tendency to then miss emails which I really need to be responding to. I know that automatic procedures can be set up to sift specific emails into a separate folder, but they still need reading at some point, even if briefly.

I like the idea of the OcTEL daily news update and I think this is a good way of seeing what people are posting on the course. The page on which the summaries initially appear isn’t very inspiring, with the grey boxes, and it would help if a bit more of the message was shown in the box, before one decided if they wanted to see the full posting.

I’ve seen some postings which also appear to be on a blog based on OcTEL internet page but I can’t find the main place where these are accessed, other than the individual notices I receive by email.

Activity on the Forums has been very limited I think overall – I set up a Forum small group for Tutors in Higher Education, but there haven’t been any discussions over and above brief introductions from a few people. Perhaps things will get going more once the main course starts after this two week induction period. Or maybe the drop out rate has already taken a big hit. I read somewhere that only about 10% of people remain after signing but I’ll let OcTEL worry about that.

In a MOOC I took in the past, the pilot user group decided on using Facebook as the main social platform for communicating with other participants. So far I haven’t found anything better than that experience. The facebook page included a separate space where we could set up documents and files, and lots of different groups, and a wide range of activities and discussions took place. I certainly got a lot from the networking and information sharing that was very easy to do and keep up to date with.

It will be interesting to see how other people are getting on. Part of me still feels that maybe I am not ‘doing this course right’ and that I’m not going to where all the postings and networking is taking place. I know one person has linked to my blog so that is at least one new connection!

Beyond the technology, one of the main barriers I think to more open communication on these types of courses is that we don’t know who to be communicating with, in terms of shared interests, or in terms of people who are going to be willing to get involved in talking back. So I don’t know who I need to be linking up with to get any support, but then I also don’t know in advance what support/networking might be of help to me – so on the basis of trying to stay with an organic pedagogy, I’ll just stick with it, and see what happens.

Any ideas for better linking up appreciated.



who remains to be a slightly less technophobic lecturer in public health.

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My Big Question

rough waves

So what’s my Big Question? Selecting just one question from a head full of many is quite challenging in itself, and much depends on the context I suppose. As I work in public health, I’ll take that as my context. So we know that people with the most healthcare need in the world tend to live in areas that have the smallest number and least skilled workforce to help them. So how can technology be utilised efficiently to provide immediate and longer term learning and skills attainment for people in these area? A key consideration here is access to technology and the virtual world in areas that have some of the worse infrastructure across the globe. And let us not forget the real possibility of man made or natural disasters on destroying an areas’ infrastructure and suddenly disconnecting them from the micro-chip environment – and here too is another example of people immediate access to public health knowledge, information and training of which some could potentially have been accessed and provided over the internet or mobile phone.

So my big question relates to access and access consists of a number of different components I think:

(1) Access to a physical learning portal – like a computer, mobile phone or similar. I am likening this to the pen and paper of traditional learning.

(2) Skills acquisition – unless you know how to use the computer/WWW then how are you going to access any learning opportunities.

(3) Does what you need exist? – have appropriate lecturers had access/resources/commitment to provide the learning opportunity?

(4) Access to the learning environment itself – some of the things to consider here include:

  1. cost
  2. entry requirements
  3. waiting lists
  4. start and end dates or immediate
  5. relevant to your specific needs
  6. in your spoken language
  7. up-to-date / credible

For seven years I have been teaching on a fully online distance learning masters programme in public health (http://manchester.ac.uk/mph) – we have students all over the world taking this course. To enroll for the course, students have had to think about some of the issues above and felt confident that they would be able to meet the minimum requirements to be able to access the learning materials. But we do find that some students struggle because life events take place, consuming their time, or that their local infrastructure changes – we had students unable to post assignments after the earth quake in China; one student who was in the army and got posted to the top of a mountain in Pakistan so had no internet connection until he returned to a lower base; villages have had power cuts and the spare parts needed to arrive took days if not weeks so the internet cafe was not open; students’ whose computer broke and they were not able to use the work computer; and so on.

Whilst computer engineers (not sure what the correct term here is!) can and do develop amazing technology, we have to make sure that it is in reality matched to the context in which it is going to be used. A friend of mine once bought a very expensive car that used petrol at a phenominal rate – he said part joking that he couldn’t afford to use the car because it cost too much in petrol. So a bit like having a great computer at home, but no internet connection (well it sort of makes sense to me).

I ‘d like to hear your experiences and thoughts about my Big Question and to find out more about problems you’ve encountered and any ways to over come them, relating to access.



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Getting Started

Hello, my name is Roger Harrison and I am a senior lecturer on a fully online distance learning course in public health at University of Manchester, UK (www.manchester.ac.uk/mph). I’ve been a course unit leader and tutor on this programme for about seven years now, and developed and written three new units as part of this. The international student base, many working across a range of public health organisations and settings makes the work interesting and highly rewarding at times. From an online learning design aspect, it raises a number of important questions. For example some people wishing to take the course will not have good internet connections, and many will be working and with different time zones for international students – thus the balance of synchronous and asynchronous activity, amongst other things.

Recently I’ve become more interested in pedagogy for online vocational training and have been thinking through a learning aim I’m calling “In Time Learning” which follows on from what used to be called Just In Time learning.

I’ve been a student on two MOOCs in the past and am likely to be involved in writing one hopefully this year as well. I find the number of students on a MOOC quite daunting, because I want to try and read all the postings – of course this is impossible. I also find the more organic approach challenging too – having had so many years as a student and then as a tutor on more structured teaching programmes. But then I suppose a MOOC is structured but just in a different way.

This is my first blog page so apologies if it is not too trendy but perhaps over time I’ll get chance to make it more appealing!

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