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Kim Aling

ocTEL MOOC activity 1.2 My Course

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Put yourself in the shoes of a student on a course you might be teaching,

 •at what points of your course are there opportunities to express opinions and instincts?
 •at what point do you have to absorb information and how?
 •at what points do you work with fellow learners?
 •what percentage of the course is assessed individually or as a group?
What do you think this says about your teaching approach, and what would you like to do about it? How might technology help, or hinder, you in this.

An Open University course is subtly different to courses in traditional university settings and technology plays a central role for our students.

There are opportunities to express opinions and instincts at all points though the course.  Students are encouraged to comment on ideas in the course material via the forum and sometimes it generates discussion. As a tutor I sometimes pose questions to get students thinking more about the material.  Within the material itself there are often activities to stimulate thought and ground theory to everyday life and the more familiar. There is also space to express opinions at f2f tutorials and which take place about every 6 weeks and online tutorials which are  more adhoc. The main difficulty is that students are often reluctant to express opinion as they are not confident in their learning.  The trick is to use real life and everyday situations to represent the theories they study.  Then take them back to the theory and show how their opinions relate to it.

Information is being absorbed all the way through as they work through the course material.  This consists of written material, audio CDs, DVDs and online activities. Activities embedded in the material, encourage students to think about the material, possibly creating tables or diagrams. The online activities build on the written material, reinforcing learning.

Working with others occurs in f2f tutorials on the forum.  Some courses have collaborative exercises embedded, such as a group role play activity on the forum which is then used as the basis of an assignment.  Other courses have collaborative activities creating artifacts on wikis or by sharing documents on Dropbox or Google Docs.

Unfortunately almost 100% of the assessment is individual.  Students are assessed by regular tutor-marked assignments and sometimes by examination, as well as other elements such as their contribution to forums or collaborative exercises. The ability to collaborate is an important skill, both academically and in terms of employability.  It would be good to see more use of groupwork and some assessment of how learners work as a group. 

It's difficult to say how this reflects my teaching approach as courses are designed by others to work in this way. As a tutor I see my role as facilitating the learning and helping with the process of understanding and assimilating the information provided by the course material.  I aim to develop students' skills of critical thinking, developing arguments using concepts, ideas and theories, and communicating their arguments effectively. Technology plays a central role in OU study and tutoring and for distributed learners is vital for communication and the discussion element of learning.

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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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