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The reality of online tutorials

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I had a tutorial yesterday that I thought was interesting for partly positive and partly negative reasons.

There were two students.  One said she was a "stay at home mum" and had a one year old at home and no microphone and the other said he needed to disappear at times to do answer some questions about his work. 

There were times when one or the other disappeared (they told me when this was happening) and I sometimes had to check that at least one of them was there; otherwise, I would have been speaking to myself. 

However, despite the unexpected nature of the set up, it seemed like a successful tutorial - one student said he understood some key content of the course at last (in an email sent later) and the other student seemed happy with it.  Of course, this might just be politeness but she asked many questions so seemed very engaged.

I suppose this shows how flexible we often have to be when teaching distance students as there are many things they are trying to juggle in their lives.  However, the unpredictability does not preclude opportunities for learning.


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"Brexit" - a taboo word in OU management discussions?

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 22 Nov 2017, 17:10

There is a great deal of activity in the management of the Open University at the moment and there is a very complex array of "workstreams" working on "transforming" and "redesigning" the way the university works and as a tutor, I hear about them through messages and meetings such as the AL Assembly last weekend.  However, the issue of Brexit and its effects on the university does not seem to be mentioned often enough.

I would think Brexit will have a very significant effect on the Open University (and probably all other British universities as well).  A first effect will be on the many EU staff in the university and their morale and retention in a hostile environment.  A second will be on the recruitment of students.  A colleague commented on how she has fewer students than before from Eastern and Central Europe.  The atmosphere around Brexit and hostility towards EU citizens might have led to a less positive attitude towards the UK in general and UK universities in particular.  A third effect is the reduction in EU research funding.

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Speaking and listening skills for distance learners

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My contribution to the BBC "Go the Distance" course is now available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zqfdrwx

An expanded (and probably more useful) version is available at Open Learn at

http://www.open.edu/openlearn/education-development/education/patrick-andrews-on-academic-talk

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BBC course to support Distance Learners

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 24 Oct 2017, 15:39

The BBC now has a course on being a distance learner and it provides perspectives from distance learners and tutors.  It can be found at

http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/gothedistance/about

I think I will be appearing in week 3.
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Dialect map for the UK

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 28 Sep 2017, 09:16

I have just come across the following website, which has useful information about dialects in the UK - MacKenzie, Laurel, George Bailey & Danielle Turton. 2016. Our Dialects: Mapping variation in English in the UK [Website]. http://tiny.cc/OurDialects. I found it at http://projects.alc.manchester.ac.uk/ukdialectmaps/

I was interested to see that "batch" is used for a bread roll not only in my birthplace of Coventry but also Liverpool.  It seems surprising that two cities that are quite separate should use the same word but I suppose there must have been some common origin.

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An interesting, sceptical article about EMI

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I have just come across the following article:

http://digital.elgazette.com/august-september-2017/emi-special-staff-get-really-worried-and-fear-being-mocked-by-their-students.html

This seems to resonate with my experience of working wth teachers from China.  As the article says, the lecturers are often brilliant in their fields but feel insecure about their English.  I think and hope the course helped the teachers build their confidence and realise that they can communicate in English but, of course, they still have room for development and they will still be anxious.

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Course on EMI

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As this is a relatively quiet part of the year with my OU teaching, I am working for the University of Reading with some university lecturers from China who are intending to teach through the medium of English from next year.  Their home institution specialises in architecture and most teach courses in related areas like engineering, urban planning and materials science.

The first day was spent finding out more about their needs and current levels of English.  Unsurprisingly, their levels of English (and confidence) vary quite markedly.  However, when I said I realised that many of them might feel they are stronger at reading and writing, their relief was palpable.  I also tried to reassure the group that many of them will feel much more confident at the end of the course.

I am looking forward to finding out more about the group and how we can help them to feel confident about what will be quite a daunting change to their practices.

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MOOC on EMI 2

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Sunday, 23 Jul 2017, 14:20

I have taken several MOOCs as a student as well as being a moderator on one.  The most recent has been the MOOC on EMI.  I quite enjoyed this but there were also some aspects that I feel less keen on.

The course was relatively small and it was possible to engage with other students and many of these were engaged and had different and interesting perspectives. We were able to make use of "collective intelligence".

It was just moderated by the two lead educators.  They were very responsive and I was surprised that they were able to reply to so many comments.  I assume that they must have been given time to do this.  There are other courses where the moderators are much less visible.

I do not really like the "mark as complete" button at the end of each activity.  This seems to imply the learning has finished but in fact, it is often important to go back to the activity (eg to respond to comments on what I had posted).

I also find the quiz items either trivial or the answers could be unreliable - I suppose this is inevitable with "objective testing" and this is the only way to cope with the size of the course.

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MOOC on EMI

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I have started studying a MOOC on English as a Medium of Instruction for Academics (https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/emi-academics/1/todo/8341)  The first week has been interesting in seeing the variety of concerns that practitioners have.

It is also good to see that the course makes heavy use of input from Kristina Hultgren, who works for the OU.  This shows how this university is doing important work in the field of Applied Linguistics.


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MOOC on English for Academic Purposes

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An OU MOOC on English for Academic Purposes will be offered next month:

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/learning-english-academic-purposes-first-steps?utm_source=newsletter_broadcast&utm_medium=futurelearn_organic_email&utm_campaign=fl_june_2017&utm_term=05_06_2017_first_name_there_s_a_course_for_you_starting_today

There are also due to be some SPOC (Short Private Online Courses) to follow for more specific academic needs.

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A critical article on English in Dutch universties

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I am interested in the use of English as a medium of instruction and the following link is to an article criticising the widespread use of English in Dutch universities (estimated at 60%)

https://qz.com/992742/dutch-universities-are-accused-of-abandoning-their-own-language-to-attract-lucrative-foreign-students/

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Brexit effect on the role of English

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An interesting view of the implications of Brexit on the English language:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/may/05/brexit-english-is-losing-its-importance-in-europe-says-juncker

I suspect he is overstating the effect it will have but clearly Brexit will have a negative effect on Britain's role in the world.

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Material writing and task design

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 28 Apr 2017, 14:06

I am currently writing some materials for a SPOC (Short Private Online Course) on English for Academic Purposes (EAP) on the theme of technology.  I have been very busy doing it for the last two days (this posting is an attempt to clear my head in the middle of doing it).

One thing I have noticed is that some days the kinds of tasks I write are very different from the ones of the day before.  For example, yesterday I was using a number of tasks where learners work things out for themselves (inductive) whereas today I have been explaining more and asking learners to then try exercises (deductive).

I wonder whether the mixture is confusing or helpfully varied.  This will be something to think about as I consider revising the materials when they are finished.


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Universities and Brexit

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The Open University management have been relatively quiet about the effects of Brexit on the university although a statement was released on March 30th - https://msds.open.ac.uk/tutorhome/news-messages-unified.aspx#ns1

It seems that the process is beginning to do immense damage to the British university sector (and, as far as I can tell, the whole economy).  The following story of job losses at universities in South Wales seems to reflect broader trends:

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/education/university-announces-139-job-losses-12820580

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Open University AL development days

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 13 Mar 2017, 06:41

I attended the AL development event in Bristol this weekend.

The first session looked at how the OU is shown in some online videos made by ex-students.  These were an interesting view of how students see the experience.  One was made by a young woman who was very positive and she expressed how hard she had to work and that although she had the chance to attend tutorials, she never had the time. 

The second session was led by David Knight and he was given quite a hard time by ALs who felt they were undervalued and that some changes are imposed too quickly.  He was brave to come in some ways and coped as well as could reasonably be expected considering the disquiet about OU management.

The smaller sesions were both good and I went to a session on academic practice/plagiarism and one on mental health.  I particularly felt that the session on mental health was thought provoking.  It was pointed out that most mental health conditions are a matter of reporting and that many might be undiagnosed.

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Student perspectives on Brexit

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I mentioned before that students on a Business Communication course are referring to Brexit in their own work.  These students are working in a variety of businesses.  It is striking that none of them see Brexit as being positive but are also assuming a "softer" Brexit than the government seems to be promising.  It makes me wonder whether businesses are being complacent about the likelihood of a "hard" Brexit or whether the government is presenting the worst possible case scenario seem likely so that voters will be "impressed" when it does not happen.

Assignments are certainly more interesting this year, which is perhaps the only positive of the referendum result.

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mindmapping app

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I have been writing some materials for an online course and have been experimenting with the online mindmapping tool  http://mindmapfree.com/

So far, I have found it easy to use and think it could be useful for many students.


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The topic of Brexit in assignments

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One of the courses I teach on is LB160 Professional communication for Business Studies and for their final assignment, students need to write about issues that are important to their businesses.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Brexit is a topic that has been mentioned as a threat to the businesses they work in.  As mentioned in an earlier posting, it looks like Brexit will have profound effects on the Open University and it also looks like it will on many other businesses in the UK.

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Group tuition and attendance

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It seems that the Group Tuition Policy has led to quite a lot of students signing up to tutorials but the number that attend seems not to have changed.  For example, for a tutorial last night, I had more than 10 on my list of attendees but only 3 attended - a similar number to the same tutorial last year.

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Plagiarism checks

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 19 Dec 2016, 18:23

I have recently been asked to do some work as a plagiarism consultant for one course.  This involves checking the Turnitin and Copycatch results for the module.

Turnitin compares assignments with published work, websites and blogs etc.  There are quite a few assignments that came up with relatively high scores on the Turnitin site but when I looked at them, this was mainly due to including source texts in an appendix so these are not considered plagiarism.

Copycatch compares assignments with other assignments.  Again, there were some assignments highlighted but the matches were largely due to similar collocations and technical terms.  Of course, those that had source texts in the appendix also matched each other but this could be dismissed as a false positive.

So, my first impression is that the risk of plagiarism is taken seriously but the scale of it is quite small on my course.

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 30 Mar 2017, 18:57)
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