Monthly Archives: April 2013

#octel mooc – Who are our learners?

Having very little time last week I only managed to do the “If you only do one thing” so I took a few of the questionaires

Peeragogy RoadmapGenerally they seemed to focus on technical skills and attitude (ie will you put the hours in if you dont have face to face teaching).  I must admit Im not fond of the big list of radio button questions – its too easy to simply click that you are brilliant at everything and so there is not a lot of reflection.  I think if I was creating one I would describe the areas needed for online learning and get students to fill out a text box with how they able they thought they were, this would encourage a bit more reflection.  You could also get them to look back at their answers later to see if they have progressed.

Also this week the Technology Enhanced Learning team I am part of started looking at reworking our staff development (so the hard work was done by my colleagues and I am just piggybacking).  Have a look at this to see who our learners are and what their requirements might be.  Its a scarily wide ranging list!

Teaching using a VLE #3 Let your students talk to you

The 3rd thing you need to do is to put up some contact details so that students can talk to you.

Young kudu with big ears (Kenya)

The easiest way to do this is to put your email address in the course so that your students can email you.  Its also a good idea to post your office location and office hours (i.e. when you are available to talk to students)

At this stage you have pretty much covered the basics of VLE use.  You can contact your students, they can get all your course materials and they can get in touch with you.  This would be enough to use a VLE to support your face to face teaching and you could add in more advanced things when you were ready for them.

However before you go I would just like to suggest one more thing that might save you time.  Add a blog or discussion board to your course for students to ask you questions  – a lot of the questions staff receive are asked by more than one student, so rather than having to email responses to several students, you simply answer the question the first time it is asked and other students will be able to see the answer. It may also help some students who would not have contacted you but who did have the same question.

You may also find that some of your students are able to answer a question for you, thus saving you even more time.

The only thing to worry about is managing student expectations – if you only plan to check the blog/discussion board twice a week, tell the students this!  Work out how much time you want to spend supporting your students and then plan accordingly, you don’t want to be spending hours of your time on this (most discussion boards and blogs have a “subscribe” function so you can be sent emails when something is posted).

Mooc, Mazur and Mitra – My planned pedagogy #ocTEL

The activity on #ocTEL was to look at a course you were teaching and see how ‘individual to social’ and ‘autonomous to directed’ it was.  Most of what I currently do as a learning technologist is single training sessions rather than a course, so I am veering off topic and instead…

Im going to weave together a few good ideas borrowed from other people to define what I would do to provide an “good” educational experience for University Students.

MolymodsMooc Pedagogy (connectivist)
The first part of this would be to encourage each student to have their own blog
(research show that students can benefit from blogs (editlib) and that they generally are positive about the effect of blogs on their learning (

The second would be to use a social network (depending on class size this could be a particular network or students could choose the one they wish to use)
(The research on social networks show that they provide a lot of benefits associated with informal learning (  and for anecdotal evidence see this blog post by a student on a mooc)

With all students having these 2 tools we would be equipped to harness the key benefits of the cMooc approach even if we were not properly engaged in a Mooc.

Mazur – Flipped classroom

The benefits to student learning of a flipped classroom method have a growing body of research backing them – I particularly like this report for its clarity ( 

As such my plan will be to provide all the materials, notes etc via the VLE and use the lecture time for problem solving and clicker work.  One thing that I might also do is make a couple of short 10 min videos each week to cover the key bits of the lecture that the flip will be replacing.

Mitra – Group Active Learning

Its a 10 week course so I would like to include 2 sessions doing this based on his SOLE toolkit.  However my target audience are University students so I think it needs a bit of tweaking.  Obviously the question will need to be a bit harder, but I would suggest a question from a past exam paper on the topic that will be covered that week would be a good one.   Students bring their own laptops but only one per group can be used. Next lecture theaters are a bit difficult to move around in so groups of 4 at each end of each row of seats, 2 or 3 groups at the front where the lecturer stands and any extra groups in the nearest space outside.  After the 40 minutes everyone comes back to the class and 3 groups are chosen at random to present what they have learnt.  Then all students are given access to a google doc, in the following week they need to add what they have learnt to the google doc and as a class edit it into a coherent whole.

So a standard week would look like this

  • Pre-Lecture read materials and watch short videos (either by other experts in the field or a couple of 10 minute ones created for the course)
  • Lecture short demos of concepts with clicker questions and discussions (the Mazur method)
  • Post lecture students will be asked to write a blog post on topic or addressing a question about the topic in more depth, when done they will share the post via the social network.  They should read the posts of some other students and should be encouraged to make comments.

I would leave the assessment of the unit the same as previously, however I would make a simple change that (for essays etc) 2 days after the submission deadline they should post their work on their blogs and share with other students.  I might even use the peer assessment tools to allocate them all a couple of assessments that they can mark.  I would of course still mark the essays myself but students will then have the learning experience of looking in depth at what other students have done and getting feedback on what others think of their work.

I would release my marks a couple of days after students get the “marks” from their peers.  It might also have the side effect of demonstrating to students how much effort staff put into their marking.

I think this would be a pretty strong structure with repeated learning opportunities and its backed by research into what makes effective teaching, I just need to find a course to apply it to or an academic who is willing to work with me to make some changes to their course.

Developing a growth mindset

Nice post on growth mindset. I reblogged because I thought the practical suggestions on what to do in class were paticularly good.

Class Teaching

mindset bookI’ve decided to use the spring break as an opportunity to catch up on some long overdue reading – starting with ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck.  The theory explored in this book is that there are two types of mindset – fixed and growth.

The diagram below summarises the main qualities exhibited by each one:


It’s obvious to see the relevance of this to us as teachers and Dweck presents a very compelling case for it.  Whilst the theory is interesting, what I’m most interested in is what we can actually do in schools, in lessons, to move more of our students from a fixed to a growth mindset?  This is the real challenge of teaching!

mindset-IconSo what follows is an initial attempt to look at each of the qualities of the ‘growth mindset and some of the strategies and techniques we use as teachers to develop this in students.


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#ocTEL mooc – ponderings “Technology” is a force multiplier and a cost reducer (part 2)

When I did my last mooc (#edcmooc), I started wondering what technology actually was (see previous post worth reading before you read this)

At the end I said I would write a follow up post about what it means when computers reduce the cost of doing something so that is approaches zero, so here we go

Mental Tools “Cost reducer“- so (assuming that you have a smart phone) you have a calculator and spell check always, similarly you can google details about any subject you want (as Seth Godwin said in a recent talk “If something is important enough to memorise its important enough to look up”) and any thought you want to remember can be recorded.  Effectively the cost of knowing something has been reduced to the time taken to search for it (lets say 2 minutes?)

Mental Tools “Force Multiplier” again the calculator, spreadsheets for maths, plus any modelling software for seeing the effects of inputs to systems.  Similarly the ability to write down what you are thinking and edit it again and again allows you to develop your thoughts in a way you would struggle to do in your head (Thomas Edison wrote everything down).

Mental Tools “Storage” text, images, audio and video it is almost a trivial task to record and store anything now.  The only real cost still associated with this is the time cost to store it appropriately and transfer it (again these costs are decreasing)

So each human has the potential to know anything, is able to think at a level “Bare Brained” humans would struggle with and can store the results for reuse at a future date.

We now reach the really exciting change – using other humans as tools via technology!  Before computers we did this by forming a company, appointing a manager, hiring staff and  having meetings all of this took time and money.   Cory Doctorow in his book “For the Win” (click link to find book – Cory is offering it free and its great!) talks about “Coase Costs” (from the work of economist Ronald Coase) where basically a Coase Cost is anything you have to do to organise the work instead of getting on with the work (managers and meetings are often mainly Coase Costs).

What technology is doing is dramatically reducing the Coase Costs of doing something – a beautiful example of this can be found in the comments of this at the bottom of this blog post  by Nat Nelson, a group of academics are making an OER together (there are still Coase Costs they are meeting virtually and planing their work – but the Coase Costs are much lower) , now my institution can be fairly dynamic for a big Uni – but if I was doing this for work I would still be writing the business case for my line manager to approve.  They already have a session plan and some materials.

Using other humans as tools: “Communication” email, texts, mobile, social media – not only can I get a message out but I can harness others to do the same for me.  If you have ever retweeted, liked, forwarded a text or passed on one of the flipping chain emails you have done this.  The ripple view on google+ gives you a great idea of how this works.

Using other humans as tools: “Collaboration” to give someone else an “edit view” on something you are working on is now about 3 clicks in a lot of systems.

Mixed-Node Collaboration Graph

For a lot of them you can both/all edit at the same time, similarly you can (video) chat while doing it or leave comments for later.  Often anyone working on it can bring in others if they want.

There are commercial versions of this – Mechanical Turks (they have up and downsides!).  What I am more interested in is where your like minded community works on it together (see the OER example above).  This can be particularly true in education – the cost to me of giving away my creations/thoughts/session plans is a tiny bit of time posting them.  The potential gains are that other will like/feedback/improve them, plus they are all fairly likely to be sharing their stuff.  Its an easy win for all of us.

Interestingly I came across an idea from the UK Green party in the newspaper the other week, where they suggest a “Citizens Income“.  My initial reaction was “yeah right, that’s pretty impractical”, however thinking about the “Coase Costs” of traditional companies, the ease of online collaboration, the changes coming with 3D printing and the trend toward a information economy – they may actually have had an idea thats genius.  If I get the time I will write a post on it – for now, why do you think it could be clever?

Teaching using a VLE #2 Filing cabinet in the sky

Now this is an interesting one and has been something that learning technologists have been fighting against since teaching using websites first started.

Replacement filing cabinet

When an academic is given a course space the very first thought is “Great I will put all my powerpoints online for my students”.  Because for most VLEs attaching a file is as simple as it is to attach a file to an email it doesnt take long to upload all their lecture powerpoints.

However (although an improvement on not giving students anything) just giving the students the powerpoints is not really good enough.  Below is a picture of one of the slides from a powerpoint presentation I gave a year or so ago

This additional component of Blackboard allows provision of tabs, for example the Blackboard Help and e-reserves tabs, which can be used to target information at particular user groups.<br />similarly modules (html squares) can be visible only to particular groups allowing us to give a very different view of the same tab to 2 different users<br />In addition "organisations" allow Blackboard functionality such as communication and other tools to be used in contexts not directly related to credit-bearing units, e.g. for faculty or programme information or student societies.

Now if you had been in the room and had been taking extensive notes you might be able to say what I was talking about here.  Similarly if you are really familiar with the Blackboard Community System it wouldn’t be to hard to work out.

For anyone else it might be a bit more difficult.  However if I also included my speaking notes either as text or audio then it becomes much easier.

So (particularly if you already have your speaking notes in digital form) you should try to upload speaking notes with any presentation.

The second big mistake is to just dump everything up in one long long page which grows and grows as you add things to it.  Its a very good idea to get pencil and paper and just spend 10 minutes sketching out a rough idea of the structure of your course – you can always change your mind later.  Also don’t have too many levels of folders, clicking “lectures, Maths, Algebra, Polynomials, homework” would be rather annoying for your students.

The last common mistake (although I am seeing this a lot less often these days) is to

  • Create your first item – called “Week 1” attach a powerpoint called pres1 (with speaking notes called notes1)
  • Second item – “Week 2”, pres2, notes2
  • Third – “Week 3”, pres3, notes3
  • etc

The big problem with this approach is that it doesnt tell the students anything about what was covered in that week.  At a minimum give it an appropriate title, ideally include a description so it would look something like this

“Global Warming”
This week we look at the effects of global warming on British weather, why does a warmer planet mean more rain for the UK
Global.ppt, Globalnotes.doc

So in Summary

  • Plan a sensible structure
  • Give things appropriate names and descriptions
  • Remember you are not there to explain things so if something doesn’t make sense on its own add supporting documents
  • If you use something with your students, put it on the VLE so they can find it later

Whats my big question about TEL #ocTEL

I think for me the biggest question has always been – “How do we get staff to engage with this (TEL)?”

Now this does pre-suppose that staff engagement with TEL is a good thing and thus something we want to be doing, but I am just going to say that the educational establishment has decided to pay me (and thousands of others) a salary to do this so I am going to assume it is a proven good thing. (research tends to confirm this as well

Now this is not a new question for me and I have approached it before from a different angle when I created Gliddon’s Heirachy of TEL (with thanks to Mazlow of course) as a kind of mental checklist to see if TEL projects would be likely to succeed.

GH_TELNow I had 1/2 finished this post when I read the omnipresent James Clay’s post on his “Big Question” and realised that by asking about how we “Create a culture…to improve learning” he was asking the same question that I was but in a slightly more focused way.

If you look at the pyramid on the left, I think that we have (in most institutions) reached the stage where the bottom 2 levels have been met for most tech that staff would use.  It is the next level Training/Culture where things get more uneven.

For years I have followed a policy of “Develop the willing” and hoped that those less willing would change their minds as they saw their colleagues succeeding in using TEL.  I want to do better (faster?) than this, so my question is

“How do we get staff to engage with and create a culture of TEL that improves learning”