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Kim Aling

ocTEL MOOC Week 2: Online Learning Questionnaires

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Several universities use questionnaires to assess learners' readines for online learning. They are simple diagnostic tools completed online that give immediate feedback.

The characteristics questionnaires have in common are:

  • Asking about computer skills and readiness to use computers

  • Looking at independent learning skills and ability to be self directed

  • Looking at willingness to communicate with others via online means

These three elements cover the main aspects of online learning, use of technology, need for self discipline and independence and willingness to use online and electronic forms of communications with peers and tutors.

However, it might be useful to gain a better insight into the types of tools learners are familiar with, for example do they use social networking tools, wikis, blogs? This would be further evidence of the level of digital literacy.  However, if these are learners who are completely new to online or distance learning they may not have an accurate view of the issue of isolation and what distance learning is really like.  They may not also fully understand the particular nature of asynchronous computer mediated communication.  It is a particular skill be be able to use forums effectively and to learn at a distance. These questionniares may not be accurate if people have never undertaken an online course and don't really know what to expect.  
The OU does not have such a questionnaire, though distance learning is explained on the website. However, this might be a good diagnostic tool to have for prospective students particularly now that we do use technology at a fundamental level and students are expected to use a computer. We are also expecting students to pay quite a lot of money for courses now so it's vital they are encouraged to make the right choices. A questionnaire would both help prepare students for the level of technology used and the level of independent learning expected and give the university information of the level of preparedness of new entrants, perhaps highlighting where additional training might be needed and indeed where it could be embedded in modules.


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Kim Aling

ocTEL MOOC Activity 1.2 My Practice

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Edited by Kim Aling, Wednesday, 24 Apr 2013, 11:09

My Approach

Teaching with the OU has always followed a flipped approach where the students work through course material in their own time and then come to tutorials, f2f and online, where they use discussion to explore the ideas further and assimilate learning.  Here is where their misconceptions are cleared up and their ability to apply ideas to other contexts developed. 
Within a matrix of individual to social' and 'autonomous to directed my teaching methods tend to lie strongly towards the social and towards the autonomous:

Teaching matrix, social to individual, autonomous to directed

My technique is to use groupwork and discussion to come to groups responses and then a plenary. Sometimes I use flipchart paper so that they can write down their comments and then swap with other groups to add their comments. I use guided questions to get students thinking about specific aspects of the material and then to think deeper or apply it in new situations. Therefore it is less autonomous, though the responses are not right or wrong, but need good argument, which, for me means it's not totally directed.

If I wanted to shift into another quadrant, such as individual and autonomous I could provide students with stimulus materials and questions and let them explore for themselves and come back with responses.  This would work as on online activity using Elluminate, break out rooms and allow students to roam slides as they wish.  Breakout out rooms could contain different activities around different aspects of some material with weblinks, information etc.  Students could be asked to choose a room, work through the materials and create a response with a word limit that they can put on a slide and add to a response room. There would still be room for some social learning as we could review all the answers at the end giving learners the opportunity to take more away.  I'm keen to explore the opportunities for learning that Elluminate/collaborate offers by allowing participants the freedom to explore materials in their own way. 

I did this recently in a TMA briefing session where students came into the Elluminate room and with 'follow moderator' switched off and asked to navigate to the page for their TMA option.  There they found some questions designed to get them thinking about how to answer the assignment question and they were asked to add one of their own.  They had previously been told to think about a question to bring to the session.  When the session started the boards and students were put into break out rooms to discuss and respond to all the questions. Back in the main room later all students were able to contribute to both assignment options and extend the responses. These kinds of session require quite a bit of prep in terms of the materials provided, making sure it's relevant, covers several aspects of any idea and stimulates a range of responses.  However, it has the potential to result in a very good learning experience.



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Kim Aling

ocTEL MOOC How technology has enhanced learning

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Edited by Kim Aling, Thursday, 18 Apr 2013, 09:16

Eric Mazur’s talk was based on the flipped classroom idea that students get the information in their own time via readings and recorded lectures and then the hardest part of the process, assimilation of that knowledge, in undertaken in the classroom with the teacher via questioning and working together to discuss ideas and construct meaning.  Students defend their answers by pair discussion.

Sugata Mitra, who pioneered the hole in the wall experiments in India, argues that small groups of children can teach themselves.  The optimum group size, he suggests is  4-6.  Any bigger and it becomes chaotic.  Everyone adds their idea and through discussion and experimentation they develop understanding.  He ran an experiment with school children getting 10 years olds to do GCSE questions, where they worked towards the answer and achieved a high average score .  Several weeks later they were retested and had retained much of the information.  This suggests there is power in discussion and working together to assimilate knowledge.  However, he argues there is still a place for the teacher to set the rules and pose the questions.

George Siemens talks about the importance of building social networks in learning so that it is an ongoing process.  He argued the course material in the MOOC they developed was a conduit for developing a community of practice.  He also stressed the importance of PLEs - people building their own suite of tools on the internet to suit them.  Their course encouraged use of a variety of methods to interact beyond the module tools. The internet globalises knowledge and creates opportunities for distributed learning unlinking people from single institutions and allowing engagement with the global knowledge base using experts from all over the world.   It allows a global discussion and pooling of ideas - eg the development of understanding of the SARS virus with data passed on across the world so that work continued 24/7 and pooled different expertise.

In my own field of teaching with the OU these ideas resonate.  Students with the OU work through course material in their own time and we encourage discussion between students through forums and in online and face-to-face tutorials to help them develop meaning and understanding.  Online and face to face tutorials are used to help students understand the material rather than deliver material.  My preferred method of conducting tutorials is to use stimulus material to pose questions which small groups discuss to come to a group answer which is fed back to a class discussion.  It is amazing what students find and how often I see the ‘aha’ moment, as Mazur calls it.  Redistributing groups between activities also helps to create new learning as different combinations of people create new ways of working.  Siemens ideas are interesting from the point of view of the freedom that the internet creates for education.  The fact that students can now develop their own suite of tools, or Personal Learning Environment separate from any institution frees up their learning and puts the power back to the learner.  The idea that learning becomes a global process without institutional boundaries is quite liberating.  However, as Siemans suggests how we change the existing structures to incorporate this and break down the barriers created by competition is another topic for discussion.

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Susan Barnes, Thursday, 18 Apr 2013, 13:51)
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Kim Aling

ocTEL MOOC: Effective channels of communication

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Experiment with and/or reflect on different ways of communicating with fellow ocTEL participants. These include Twitter, your blog if you have one, the ocTEL JISCMail list [octel-public@jiscmail.ac.uk], the ocTEL forums, the chat window in the webinar. Try and use at least one channel of online communication that you haven’t used before (or don’t use regularly), and try and find out why other people like it.

·         What forms of reflection, challenge and learning do each of these do best?

·         How do they support relationship forming and community building? Is that important for learning?

·         Which do you prefer and why?

Communicating with others is an important part of any distance learning course as it has to replace the face-to-face contact you would usually have with co-learners and provide a channel for learners to create their own meanings through discussion.  Any form of communication have to be easy to work and easy to manage to reduce frustration and de-motivating emotion.  It need to be easy to navigate to keep up with discussions and to allow a timely response. 

The email option was an early form used in the course and it was clear from responses that this caused a lot of problems for participants in terms of managing the sheer numbers of emails in the in boxes.  This is not an efficient means of discussion with large group sizes and it’s difficult to keep a track of the flow of discussion.

The forum is a better form as discussion threads can be kept together and the flow of discussion is more clear.  The danger with forums is that contributors write too much.  Forum posts should be relatively short and restricted to one or two points which provide a good focus for replies and means that people can quickly catch up with unread posts and don’t have to read essays.  However the forum style use by this course is fairly basic and it is not conducive to easy navigation:

·         Unread posts need to be more clearly highlighted in a thread, eg in another background colour

·         There need to be more that 3 levels – parent and two replies. So that an single argument can be kept together

·         Small groups need to have separate forums so that they can have several threads of discussion.  As the course matures the small group thread are going to be unmanageable

Twitter is a poor medium for meaningful discussion but useful for sharing material.  Using an ocTEL hashtag we can quickly share ideas and resources.

Blogging is my preferred method of dealing with these activities as it gives me time to reflect on what I’m saying.  People also have the option of reading my blog or not and to comment or not.  Longer and more considered answers can be put here.

The chat box in the webinar is an excellent source of back channel discussion and many of the most interesting discussions I have had have been here.   They are always stimulated by a current question and encourage a lot of comment and debate.  The ability to embed hyperlinks also makes it a rich resource. 

It’s difficult to find a channel of communication I haven’t used before or use fairly regularly.  But the main features of a good one are ease of use, being able to keep up with discussions quickly and able to generate meaningful discussion.

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Kim Aling

ocTEL MOOC activity 0.2

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·         What characteristics do you think the participants in this course have in common?

There is a wide range of participants and not only from HE.  There is a growing number of FE participants and people involved in professional training, such as nursing.  People are from both educational institutions and commercial companies.  There are people across the world.  However, we are all involved in TEL in some way and we all have an interest in elearning, sharing our ideas and learning more. We are a community of practice, albeit a very large one.

·         In what ways might they be different or atypical of other groups of learners that might be important or relevant to you?  

The reasons for doing this course are diverse, but I suspect that many are here because they want to learn more about TEL or they want to see what it’s like to participate in a MOOC.  I’m doing this for both reasons. My typical learners are OU students and in the main they also want to be involved in a course to learn more about their subject.  As with OU students we are also fitting this in around other commitments.  As with OU students there is a certain amount of independence expected.  However unlike the typical OU student the level of support of much less and so the level of independence is much more.  The course material is easily found and we know what to do, but the communication aspect is much more chaotic, at the moment.  Not for us the structured forums in tutor groups and a friendly supportive tutor presence.  I suspect moderation of the ocTEL forums is a full time job for several people, if moderation is undertaken.  This course possibly represents a community of practice better than an OU course as it has attracted people from within a particular set of field from education.  Students on OU courses are often following different qualification pathways. Some courses are undertaken because they are mandatory, which can mean interest is much lower. The ocTEL participants have gradually divided themselves into sub-groups of specific interest, such as the distance learning group and the FE group, which will be interesting to watch to see if distinct groups do develop and good discussion takes place.  At the moment there’s little discussion, few replies to posts.  People are still testing the water no doubt.

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Kim Aling

ocTEL MOOC Week 0 reflection on Diana Laurillard's talk

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The big questions being asked by ocTEL participants were mainly on pedagogy and strategy.  They surrounded ideas about how we can use TEL more effectively, how can we encourage use and how can we tell that it’s making a difference. 

Diana’s view was that one driver of technology is the growing worldwide demand for HE which she calculated required a 1:25 teacher:learner ratio. The argument is that technology will help to make this possible.  MOOCs for example can cater for 1000s of learners with few teachers.  However, the question is do are they effective for learners.  Though many may register the evidence is that retention and achievement are low.  More guided courses are needed to ensure greater levels of achievement which need more tutors, thus the 1:25. 

My view is that technology can provide a means to widen all education globally, including HE. The costs of technology are falling and projects in the developing world mean that computers getting into classrooms resulting in better education of children and adults where previously ancient text books and poorly trained teachers were the only resource. 

I’m still unsure of the value of MOOCs to improving education.  They seem to cater for the highly independent learner and for people with a good educational background.  I’m not sure they will widen participation or support the increasing demand for HE. The OU model of distance learning, for me, provides a better model: small groups, structured courses, a high standard of module materials, good use of a range of online tools. The model can be adapted for larger groups, but there needs to be recognition that there is a limit to group size before a feeling of being part of a group and of being supported is lost. As an independent learner and one who is very used to online courses and working with technology I have found the ocTEL MOOC relatively easy to get involved with, but there are a lot of participants who are immediately finding the experience of being in a group of over a 1000 quite difficult.  My advice is make it easy for yourself – join a small group or two and stick with them.  You can still discuss the week’s activities but you will feel part of a group, get to know a few people and it will be less daunting.

One question that was raised was the issue of assessment in MOOCs or large group courses.  Obviously assessment is important to the student so that they know they are learning something and they can get feedback to help them improve.  For me this is the most important aspect of education.  Not only does feedback have to be timely but it has to be effective and a key skill of any tutor is the ability to give good feedback that guides the student to improve. How is this achieved on a MOOC?  Diana suggested peer marking and electronic marking.  Both are fine for a straightforward grade, but neither can give the quality of feedback necessary to help learners improve.  

I think eventually the MOOC will disappear, it will need to be smaller – perhaps a LOOC (Large Online Open Course).

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Kim Aling


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I've signed up to do this MOOC on Technology Enhanced Learning.  Firstly to see what it's like to do one of these course and secondly to get involved in the discussions with like-minded people and share experiences.

My first impression was the shear number of emails of introductions from what could be 1000 participants.  I quickly switched to digest view so it is more manageable.  Secondly, I checked out the LOs and activities for this week.  It is not unlike some of the MAODE modules I have done, though without the tutor group.  I signed up to a couple of small groups in my areas of interest which will hopefully replicate the tutor group feel. 

Anyway the first activity is to think about the big question in TEL.

The biggest question is in what ways does technology enhance learning?  Does it improve understanding of a subject? Does it make learning more authentic?  Does it improve motivation?  Does it make learning more interesting?

I’ve worked for the OU as a tutor for 12 years now and used several different technologies to help learners, from telephones when I first started to plethora of online tools developed over the past 5 years including forums, blogs, online tutorials, Google apps, Moodle, email, Twitter, internet and still not forgetting the telephone.  I would argue that it has changed the way OU students learn and made them less isolated.  The old image of an OU student alone with his/her books in the attic is shifting to a more social form.  This does actually pose some problems as some students still wish to study in this way and eschew contact with their peers.  Technology has made it easier to support students and quicker to help them when they have problems.  Electronic submission of assignments means richer feedback and faster feedback. Technology has also made sharing resources easier now that students can post links to items of news to discuss with others.  For those that want to get involved, learning is a richer experience.

More lately TEL has come to FE.  In what ways has it enhanced learning?  This is trickier as it has had to be integrated into a traditional system of f2f teaching and, arguably, a more teacher-centred system. However, the students themselves have involved technology with the use of computers and the internet and computer use at FE is ubiquitous now.  There are pockets of innovation where teachers are involving their students in forum discussions and encouraging reflection through blogging.  Teachers are gradually making more use of the VLE so that students can access materials and learn outside of the classroom.  However, use of technology is developing slower here, though I know some FE colleges are much further advanced.

I think both experiences have demonstrated that it is both the attitude of the institution and the students as to how far technology is used in teaching and learning and how far it is then able to enhance learning.  I would be interested to hear others thoughts and experiences. 


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