Tag Archives: vle

My vision of a TEL team

package-36804_640Last month I was talking with someone about having a vision for your team.  Now I have discussed how individual academics should use the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) and how institutions should use TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning).  I haven’t previously talked about my vision of what a TEL team is for, so here goes

The Why?

Having recently see this ted talk

I am going to start with “Why” (why have a team, why do these things) and because you should fit your vision into the wider vision of your organisation I will look first at the “Why” for my whole organisation.

For any educational establishment the overall “Why” should be something like – “We believe in creating and sharing knowledge

We are part of the Academic Registry and so need to fit into their vision – fortunately our Academic Registrar recently came up with a new motto “Academic Registry: enabling academic endeavour, supporting the student journey” which is pretty good and nicely maps to the overall “Why” as it is about supporting the creating and sharing of knowledge.

So for the TEL team? “We believe technology can enhance academic endeavour and improve the student journey


Support – although showing what buttons to press can be boring, any TEL team should have a key part of its role being the support of staff when they want to do something with technology.

Provide guidance (using a VLE posts) – this goes beyond support and lays out the different things staff can achieve with technology and why they would want to do this.  The guidance should look at “meta-level” ideas and show the possibilities/advantages of online

For example,
Sharing – unlike standard written works, online writing can be freely and widely distributed
Collaboration – unlike standard written work, online writing can be simultaneously and collaboratively edited
Multimedia – unlike standard written work, online expression can be enhanced with sound, images and video

Push guidance, TEL staff are experts in their narrow field (the use of technology in education) and they should have the confidence to recommend what other staff should be doing in their courses.  The key word here is “should” and I will come back to this.

Systematic engagement, historically TEL teams have been very good at building “islands of excellence” engaging in deep interactions with a small handful of staff.  This is no longer good enough, my vision would involve working with functional areas (Department/School/Faculty) to identify what is important in their practice and thus what staff in those areas should be doing and use this to provide area wide change.

Lower barrier to engagement and then a gentle persistent push, this follows on from the systematic engagement we would make the change as easy as possible (example dropping the key tools with supporting materials into all courses rather than expecting all staff to create from scratch) and then follow up with awareness, training and support to allow all staff to make those changes.

Coming back to “should” all staff “should” be using technology in the ways suggested, however some will have good reasons why not (they are doing something else/something better) and this is fantastic, however the 2 reasons “I don’t know how”, “I don’t have time” will no longer be relevant reasons because they will know how and we will have made it easy.

Google ecology – our University has given all staff and students gmail accounts.  There is a whole raft of google tools that can be accessed using these accounts.  The TEL team will become expert in this ecology and will support and encourage use of these sharing tools and networks.  As with guidance above the TEL team will show how the google tools fit into the “meta level” ideas and what advantages come from their use. 

Communities of practice(COP) (leading to Personal Learning Networks (PLNs)) the TEL team will seed communities of practice around the different areas of TEL use, this will allow staff to talk to others interested in the same things and allow them to share good practice from their own experience, think of it as crowd sourcing the training (How to get your workforce to love your LMS)

COP/PLN also has wider implications for the students as Don Arnoldy said “the role of education is to prepare the students for participation in the communities they hope to join”. By allowing our student to join and participate in these communities during their degree we are giving them additional tools they need to succeed in their chosen career.

The idea of the connected educator is important to the vision but is too big a subject to cover here – this post by Steve Wheeler would be a good place to get a starting idea of what a connected educator means and this by Helen Crump for a more wide ranging discussion and this regarding students.

Recommendations to students because a lot of TEL teams don’t directly support the students and because every single VLE course may be completely different, it has been hard to provide recommendations that make sense to all students (example – you should regularly check the discussion boards in your course and provide thoughtful replies to the posts of other students – doesnt really work if the instructor doesn’t use discussion boards).

However by taking a step back and looking at the activity rather than the tool we can make recommendations (example – you should regularly discuss the course with other students and provide thoughtful responses to their posts – this would work even if they were chatting on Facebook) particularly now cloud tools allow students to share/collaborate even if the instructor hasn’t provided a tool in the VLE.

A clear set of recommendations to students about how they can use technology to support their learning should be a key deliverable for any TEL team.

Release early and iterate, TEL is a fast moving field – however Universities can be quite slow moving beasts.  The tendency to want to make sure something is as good as it can be, sometimes results in it never happening.  My TEL team would act, releasing things as soon as they are “good enough” and then going back and improving them as many times as required.

And that, in a nutshell is my vision for a TEL team

Supporting collaborative learning through technology

Part of my job is providing training sessions for academic staff and one I deliver is “Supporting collaborative learning through technology”

This works well face to face but I also want it available online. So……

First have a think about what collaboration is, use this document to write down

  • What you think collaborative learning is
  • What collaborative activities your students do as part of your class.
  • What ideas you have for an online collaborative task

In the F2F class we would now have a discussion about the following points (you may like to think of short answers as it will help you later on)

  • what it is you want your students to do collaboratively
  • how long it will take (effort and time)
  • what (if any) marks are associated with it
  • how the students will be organised

Working Together Teamwork Puzzle ConceptNow it is fairly common when asking your students to do collaborative work to split up into groups, most VLEs have some form of group functionality.  My VLE is Blackboard and the instructions on creating groups can be found on Blackboard help here.  If you have lots of students you may want to use the Batch Groups Tool.

Using the instructions (find them for your own VLE if you are not using Blackboard) create a group and put you and one student into that group.  You should see a lot of tools available for that group as tick boxes below the group description – leave them all ticked for now and finish making the group.

In a little aside we are going to look at why the internet and some of the tools associated with it make collaborating so much easier now (and yes a lot of you should already know this – the video is 6 years old)

At this point we are going to have a look at the tools available inside the VLE and these are Discussion Boards, Blogs and Wikis.  In Blackboard (and in most VLEs) these tools allow students to post a chunk of html using a WYSIWYG editor so they can add text, pictures, video, flash etc – pretty much anything you can do on the internet.  The key difference in these tools is in how they layout these “posts”

Discussion Board – someone posts (Question), others reply and their replies (Answers) are posted below the first post.   Over time you build up a list of initial posts (Questions) and clicking on a question will show you it and all the replies (Answers) to it.

Blog – someone posts, others can comment on the post.  Each new post stands alone, posts appear down the screen starting with the most recent and going down to the oldest post.  Students often respond to a previous post by making a brand new one of their own (maybe with a link to the first post if it is a fair way down the list).

Wiki – someone posts, this creates a new page.  You can create as many pages as you want and link them together.  Students can edit any post/page and so work together to create the pages.  You can also make comments on pages.

I think the first 2 are very similar and are used for talking about the collaboration (with discussion boards being more formal/organised).  Wikis by contrast allow students to actually work on something together.  At this point you want to consider what tools your students need (and they may need more than 1!) and if they are going to have them for a group or for the whole class.

Beyond the VLE

Now most of this is looking at Google tools (because my Uni has GAFE) but you can do similar things with Microsoft SkyDrive.

You can share & collaborate on all google drive files, you already used a Doc at the start of this session – how about this article on presentations? (has a nice video tutorial at the bottom – I used the instructions on the video to embed my presentation below)

There are also lots of other types of files you can share and collaborate on – lets go to drive – click “Create” and then “connect more apps”.  As you will see there is a lot to chose from, what I particularly like is if you add an app to your drive, share a file of that type with someone else – when they open it, it automatically asks if they want to add that app to their drive.

Students can share with email address OR share “anyone with link” – can put links in the “Group Blog/discussion board” that you gave them in the VLE.

In the session we would have a discussion about the ownership and retention of evidence of work
You need to consider that when you use things outside of your VLE (ie the google tools), the person that creates them tends to have ownership and this person is often the student. This means the students can continue modifying and improving whatever has been created.
You do need to think about what you are going to keep as evidence and how you are going to get it (example google sites – you cant download the websites that are created in it)

For the adventurous

There is google sites – make your own webpage (and collaborate doing it)
Youtube – make and share videos, comment on them (can use some of the Blackboard options (blog/disscussion etc) to allow students to link/embed in the course
And for the really brave Google+ (which has Hangouts!)
Finally although its a secondary school class check out this blog post for more Googly ideas

If you do use G+ 
My Uni does not (yet) provide staff with the ability to get g+ from their work email.
The alternative is to setup a G+ from your personal gmail (this has the advantage that you can take your network of contacts with you if/when you move jobs)
To get yourself to a flying start you may want to read this http://www.scribd.com/doc/120588609/What-the-Plus (its more about how to get the most out of G+ personally rather than for teaching but you will find it helpful (and your students might too))

Followup and Consultation

Of course, if this was my face to face class you would be now have an outline of what you were going to do (based on the various discussions), I would book a follow up session where I pop’d into your office to look at what you had setup and to discuss any problems and the next stages.  Of course I cant do that on the blog (but if you work where I do feel free to ring me) however if you are doing collaboration with your students and want some advice then add a comment and I will see what I can do for you.


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.


Teaching using a VLE #5 Sounds like learning

One of the things I used to run into when trying to get teaching staff to experiment with teaching and see how tech could help was the “Curriculum”.  Basically on a 10 week course they would have a couple of 100 “things” to tell the students and so they would give a lecture that covered all the “things” for that week, they had told the students, their job was done – they didn’t have time in the lesson to experiment because that would mean they didn’t have time to mention all the “things”.

Now I must admit that I don’t run into that problem anywhere near as often these days, but if you are wondering how to free up some time in your face to face sessions one of the easiest is to look through your session and choose 1 “thing” to tell your students outside of class.


Then you simply record an audio file and put it on the VLE, your students can listen at a time that suits them.  This should free up about 5 minutes to do something a bit creative with your students.

This audio file I recorded talks about some of the things you should consider when making  your audio file.

Some of you at this point might be wondering about the technical “how” of recording some audio – if you have a smart phone or a pc headset then you have all the kit you need.  The internet can tell you how

  • “how can I record my voice” returned over 300million hits on google
  • Audacity is an open source free software allowing you to record and edit sound
  • In this case I used Audio Boo (because they have an android app as well as a webpage – so I can use either my phone or my desktop)

As with all advice I try to link it to educational research showing a benefit to students/results/learning outcomes.  You can see some research into short podcasts here and here  and the affects of pre-lecture podcasts here, you can easily find more materials yourself using google scholar.

And remember – try to make your new spare 5 minutes fun and interactive!  If it goes well (or horribly badly) why not share it with others in the comments below.

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 http://dllearner.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/catching-up-with-octel-week-5-new-role.html

Beyond Digital Literacy to Digital Leadership http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/3902

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 http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/3721

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.

#octel Active learning session


Ok so I am going to borrow/rework an idea from someone I did some teacher training with a few years back (cheers Rob Hawkins!).
In the original, Rob told his A level students “you work for a university and have just landed a big research grant to look into stem cells” the students had to go off research, plan and record on their phones a 5 minute radio interview explaining to the public what their research was and what they hope to achieve/find out. When the students had finished they bluetooth’d the recordings to Robs phone. Oh and if you ask a bunch of A level students to work in groups of 4 you can pretty much guarantee that they have at least 1 smartphone.

So lets try to do this in an online environment.
I am assuming all your students know of the common webspace to go to (vle, mooc home page, class website etc). I am also going to use google docs and hangouts but you could use wikis and other conferencing software (skype)

My question will be research into the effect of neonicotinoids on bees (it has been in the news recently so is topical and fits my “env chem” background). Obviously you should choose something from your curriculum if you decide to try this.

So I will put up a bit of preliminary reading on the question and some initial links to news stories.
You need some way to split your students up into groups of 4, if control is important to you then most vles allow you to create groups and assign students to them.
I am going to be a bit more flexible and have a place where students can post that they are starting a group and comment that they would like to join. This will allow students to form their own groups.

The first task for the students will be to research the subject and to share any useful links on a google doc shared with the group.
Next they will have to plan out/script the 5 minute “interview”. Again this should be done on the google doc but it would also be good if the group used a google hangout so they can do some face2face planning.

The final stage will be to use a published hangout to do the interview and record it to youtube

The finished youtube video should then be posted on the course site OR sent to the lecturer. I will get my students to post it so they can see the work of the other groups.

There we are one active learning experience and I even have anecdotal evidence it works (thanks Rob)