Monthly Archives: November 2013

Teaching using a VLE #8 Differentiate

Most VLEs will allow you to do some form of differentiation – I always think of it as “You can see this if….”

In the VLE i support (Blackboard) it is called “Adaptive Release” (snappy name huh!) and allows you to show things to students based on

  • Any grade in the course (also includes the option to show if student has attempted that assessment)
  • Membership of groups (or you can add individual students)
  • Date limiting – so only seen at a particular time
  • Have reviewed some other item in course (and ticked a button to say they have reviewed it)

You can also combine all of the above in both AND and OR options (so if in a Group AND got over 90% – can see) vs (if in a group -can see OR if got over 90% – can see).

Reds Split (5933742210)

Now the most basic use is the weekly multiple choice test – low score = extra explaining materials, high score = extra stretching materials.  Which is ok as far as it goes but not that imaginative.

One I like using is to have “If you have reviewed this weeks materials AND its before Wednesday” = provide some extra optional work

Another is a variation on the “Just in time teaching” method where I get students to post a private response (either use a journal or a test with “text answer”) about the subject I am going to be teaching at least 40hours before class.  I then read through the responses – adding anyone who appears to not grasp the subject to a group as I go.  I then make introductory materials and maybe a video available to this group.  That way when class starts I know that everyone is aware of the basics, but I haven’t wasted the time of those who already knew the basics.  The class can then jump straight into an engagement with the main subject.

Interestingly I struggled to find any research into the effects of online differentiation (1 hour on Google scholar and I found nothing relevant) so this might be an area to investigate if you plan to do this with your class.  Of course if you know of any research please drop a link in the comments section 🙂

A Google search of “effect of differentiation on student test scores” found some interesting research but nothing that directly relates to the use of VLEs to provide differentiated materials.


Part 4: How to make Technology Enhanced Learning work for a University – Recognition

Building on my last post on culture change I want to look at how providing recognition for staff will increase the uptake of TEL and strengthen the cultural change.

If someone gets recognition/praise/esteem for something they have done they are dramatically more likely to do something similar.  Similarly others that see them get this recognition are more likely to try doing something similar

33rd America's Cup - Valencia, Spain

Internal recognition – you should by now have a group of staff that you have done a significant amount of work with.  You can provide them with some recognition by writing up what they have done as case studies (and surfacing the case studies on your website/VLE etc) and asking them to speak at any conferences that you organise.

Similarly you might wish to nominate some of them for Teaching and Learning awards if your organisation has such awards (interestingly at Bristol for the past 2 years every single person receiving an award has been someone that has done work with the TEL team – although the awards were frequently for something else they had done).

If you ever have the opportunity mention the work staff have done to their management.  Although it is outside of your control, informing areas about staff who are making a change increases the chance they will be praised for that work and may even lead to them being allocated time to do further work in this area.

Mention their names to others that are planning similar work (“we did this with Dr X last year, have a talk to her I am sure she would be happy to give you some advice”).

External recognition

Of course you can do the traditional things and name check people if you present to external conferences, you might even want to co-publish a research paper on some of the work you have done with staff if you have the academic background.

However there is a more immediate form of external recognition available – blogs, social media and communities

Now there are advantages to being a connected educator, and I hope that by the time you are considering external recognition you have already been encouraging your staff to blog. If your staff are engaging and connecting via a PLN (personal learning network) then they will be sharing what they do – and the first time they get a like/+1/comment they will get a little rush of endorphins because someone likes what they are doing.  The more they do it the more they will get.  You as a TEL team can jump start the process by providing/directing staff to communities to share with so that they have an immediate audience and don’t have to start out sharing with emptyness


Actually this is an area that TEL staff have very little influence over, the decision to make TEL part of your professional practice is either

  • an individual’s decision (“I want to teach well, I believe integrating technology into my practice makes my teaching better, thus using technology is part of my job“)
  • Or an Organisational decision (“This University believes in good teaching and believes effective use of technology encourages good teaching.  So we will discuss TEL in recruitment, promotion and annual review.  Thus using technology is part of everybody’s job“)

What TEL staff can do is make sure the support structure is in place so that when those decisions are made they are a concrete change rather than just an optimistic expression of intent.