Monthly Archives: June 2013

#ocTel is over, I am now brilliant – just don’t ask me to prove it

In the final week of #octel we looked at evaluation and feedback and this was also a chance to look back at the course and see what we had learnt and if we had answered our big question.

Looking back over my Blog posts I feel that I have learnt a fair amount and have crystallised a few thoughts that I was playing around with, however looking back over the course materials I am not sure that what I learnt was always what the course had planned to teach me.

My question is – is that particularly a bad thing?  and then with brilliant timing John Graves posted to the octel g+ group this speech from Stephen Downes, which reassures me that no its probably not a bad thing.

Looking back to my Big Question – “How do we get staff to engage with and create a culture of TEL that improves learning” have I come up with an answer?  Well no I haven’t but I would be surprised if I did, I expect that question is likely to be my life’s work.  I do however think I have a few more fragments of the answer, so I will take that as a success.


As for evaluating the octel course itself, was it a success?  What about MOOCs in general how can their success be measured.   We were given a nice ocTEL badge to say how brilliant we are, but was that what I took the course for?

I wonder if there is a danger in mistaking the qualification for the learning?

notapipeThis is not so serious when its a course taken for interest such as ocTEL, but for a lot of education the stakes are much higher, as you will see from this article Riot after Chinese teachers try to stop pupils cheating, valuing the results much more than the process can cause problems.  This article by Professor Sugata Mitra about Allowing the internet in exams would sidestep some of the cheating issues and is more likely to measure what students can do (as a result of their learning).  So is the success the network – going back to the Downes speech earlier, I would say it probably is.  In which case ocTEL was successful for those that engaged, we formed a community and learnt a bit and then moved on (some brief engagement and brief learning, some longer engagement and more learning – most with some level of success).

This is a fairly rambling post, but that is because I had a number of ideas bouncing around left over from the course – and that (to me) is probably the most important success.

Sometimes you have got to take the risk of failing #octel

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
― Michelangelo Buonarroti

As you have probably guessed I have gone “off piste” again this week.  The #octel mooc is looking at project work, success/failures and risk management and how particularly when technology is involved you need to plan and plan well.  Now I must admit that if you are unfamiliar with project planning then this will be really helpful to you – however at my University we are all over this topic, I do this stuff all the time.

In fact as an institution we are reaching the stage where our requirements and committees and approval routes are having a negative effect on our ability to be “Agile” and move at the speed required to keep current with modern technology as well as raising the cost of our projects.

So I am going to put the opposite argument and say we should put our effort into doing more things and expect some things to fail.  Rather than putting so much effort into avoiding failure that we can only deliver a few things.

This TED talk explains why that is now the correct way to do this.

Crazy Guy

Oh – you should still do some project planing, so you know what it is you are trying to achieve!  Also this is Education and thus affects peoples future, so if what you are doing is going to get people killed or cause them to fail the course – do avoid those risks!  But if its a risk like a lesson going wrong – do it, Jump!

I should point out this is not a criticism of my institution – all institutions that are like us (big, existed a long time, successful, good reputation) will have similar problems.  In fact we are taking steps to avoid the problem with an innovation fund so that we can just do stuff because it looks like a good idea.  I want to call it the “It might fail, fund” but sadly a more sensible name will probably be chosen.

The case for social spaces in VLEs and outside VLEs

At my work we are planning our summer upgrade of our VLE, this year Blackboard have included social networking in the VLE.  Our team is currently debating if we should switch the social tools on, I am very much pro switching on and below is a copy of my initial thoughts which I shared with the team.  I thought it might be of some use to others of you thinking about these things 🙂

You will find these 2 recent blog posts helpful in setting the background to why social is a key part of the (modern?) learning experience

VLE as preparation for web

Beyond Digital Literacy to Digital Leadership

Potential issues (like all institutions we have a duty of care to our users so this has to be taken seriously – however it should not be used as an excuse to do nothing)

All users have their details stored in the cloud (Blackboard have the normal safeguards – datahaven rules?)

Until they click on “Edit my Profile” students can not be found on the system by anyone.  Once they click edit they will be created default as private

  • students can only be found by others enrolled on the same course or organisation – they will see name, placeholder photo and can send a message to them.

There are other options from hidden (no one can find or do anything) to visible to all blackboard cloud users – this includes Blackboard users at other institutions.

A simple awareness/training handout/video should be sufficient to make students aware of the issues.


Everything in one place (Red Number!)- All course (blackboard tool) posts go to the feed in “My Blackboard” dropdown.  If social is on then any post from spaces or students you are following end up here as well.

We should encourage students to use the spaces function – its like having a coffee after a lecture, create a space, invite a couple of people and post your thoughts & links.  No need to become facebook friends.  You can close a space if you are finished with it or keep it in case you wish to talk more.

If there are particular students you want to work closely with you can follow them (with their permission) and so will get all their profile posts.

When you go to Blackboard to do academic work then your academic conversations will be waiting for you.

Comparison of purpose of different social networks

  • Facebook is for friends
  • Linked-in is for getting Jobs
  • Blackboard social is for learning
  • Google+ is for connecting to people around particular interests.

It is highly likely that what you are studying is an interest and as such you may wish to use google+ instead of/as well as Blackboard social.  You will be kept up to date on your google+ posts in exactly the same way as for Blackboard social – its just the red number will be on your Gmail page instead of your Blackboard page.

Similarly posts by people you follow will show up in your G+ feed just like they do in your Blackboard feeds

You can also create Google+ communities that work in much the same way as Blackboard spaces, and again post in your communities will turn up in your feed.

While we are looking at social we should consider student blogs

Inside Blackboard they can use the learning object blogs (I bet there will be Blackboard Blog in cloud function at some point in the next year…)

Outside they could use something like wordpress

Here are reasons our students should blog

Again like social they would start within Blackboard and move out as they become more confident.

Wild Waves Water Park poolThink of paddling pool and ocean – our students learn to blog and socialise and make initial mistakes in the safe environs of the VLE before moving out into the wider web as their studies progress and their confidence and understanding of their subject and digital literacy increase.  By the time they leave they are confident representing themselves online and if “googled” will show positive reflections on their expert subject instead of (as well as?) drunken pictures on facebook.

So they asked me to put my course on-line, now they’ve sacked me! #octel

Warning run away

I was looking at the #octel video on the Saylor Foundation and my first thought was – oh there are no lecturers at all.

This made me realise that a fear that academics have been telling me about for years has finally happened.  To learn more we conducted this interview with a frightened academic …

We had to write “elements of the …  approach that you think could be applicable”  and “problems you might anticipate with the approach” now I am a learning technologist and for the things I actually teach then Sue has already written an excellent post.

So instead I am going to think about how the approach would work for academics at the University I work for.  To simply offer what Saylor offer; a well designed course of materials with no academic contact would not be acceptable to our students (particularly with no certification).

However used as part of a course I think the approach has potential.  A well designed course which uses open content where possible that students can work their way through would work well with the flipped classroom model.  Our students could study the readings and then discuss them and work on problems in lecture time (see Eric Mazur for an idea of how this works).  Putting it online and sharing “CC by” would also be good for sharing, the academic community and the reputation of the University (I would have to check how happy the Uni would be with this approach!).

The value added of a University is the contact with brilliant minds (the lecturers and other students) how much better is that contact if it is a conversation rather than a boring monologue.  Content can clearly be found on the net for free, so simply providing content will not be sufficient (even if the person providing it is brilliant – because there is also brilliant stuff for free on the net).