This is a quick summary of a meeting that occurred on Saturday 27 June 2015 at the university's London regional centre. The aim of the meeting (or session) was to think about a thought experiment, namely, 'what should the perfect OU Live session look like?'
If you've stumbled across this post via a search engine, then I should (perhaps) say something about what OU Live is: it's a tool that tutors can use to deliver on-line tutorials to their students. Think of it a bit like Skype with a whiteboard and a bunch of other useful controls (such as a 'happy face' button).
This session was attended by around twelve experienced associate lecturers, all of whom had used OU Live quite extensively with their students.
This, in essence, is what they said a perfect Computing/ICT session might look like. (One point to bear in mind is that other disciplines might run slightly different sessions - but more about this later!)
Setting the scene
Firstly, the moment we click on our OU Live room, OU Live should open in an instant. There should be no delay! We don't have to download anything extra (or enter any really annoying administrative passwords). The Java software, which we need to run to use OU Live, should always work perfectly. We should never have to upgrade it!
With the perfect OU Live session, not only will we have a perfect internet connection (which will never go down), our students will have a perfect internet connection too! Our connection will be really fast (with little or no latency), and none of our students will be connecting up to our session whilst travelling by train. An important point is: there will be no delays.
We should also assume that all students have their own microphones and headsets, all of which are perfect. This means that there is absolutely no feedback. Of course, our own audio setup works perfectly, and there are no other software products battling to use our computer's audio channel.
The perfect time, length and group
We decided that the perfect time for the perfect OU Live session would be towards the middle of a module presentation (or, roughly half way through). This means that, of course, everyone is making pretty good progress, and all students are now familiar with the OU Live interface. Also, everyone has, what I call, good 'mic hygiene'. This means that students don't leave the microphone switched on (so other students can't speak!)
One important thing to say about our 'perfect group' is that they're all willing to interact; they're all engaged. No one has kids in the background vying for attention, and there are no cats jumping on keyboards.
A 'perfect size' for an OU Live group would be considered to be around 10-12 students. Since there would be no technology problems, there won't be any drop outs. Also, everyone arrives exactly on time. There will be no one arriving half way through the session asking, 'what have I missed?', or 'could you just go over that bit?'
Ideally, all the students who turn up would belong to our own tutor group. This way, we know who they are and what their learning needs might be.
Our view was that our perfect session should last anything between 60 and 90 minutes.
(One thing that we didn't talk about was the best time to hold the perfect tutorial)
The perfect preparation
Preparation can be considered from two different perspectives: the tutor's side, and the student's side. A tutor might prepare by, perhaps, doing a practice run through. A tutor could also post a copy of a draft agenda on a tutor group forum.
Of course, in a perfect situation, all students would read the OU Live session agenda, and take the time to prepare for the session, which might mean having read sections of module materials, and having some questions to ask the tutor at the OU Live session.
Another thing that we could do to help with our preparation is to ask all our students in advance what topics they would like you to cover. Since every student reads every message you post on the forum, you're able to design a session that is just for them.
The perfect OU Live tutorial structure
Since we're running 'the perfect session' in the middle of a module presentation, we can dispense with the idea of running any icebreakers: all the students should know each other already.
In our perfect session we would present a short introduction which relates to a set of really clear learning objectives. This would be followed with a series of short interactive activities (say, around three). These activities, of course, would be entirely appropriate for OU Live.
Since we (of course) would have planned out everything (and have a backup plan!) we would know how long each activity should take (also, in a perfect world, we would have run the session before, so we know what to expect!)
Towards the end of our tutorial, we would ask all students if they had any questions about what has happened. We would then do a quick recap of what has happened, and remind everyone about the next TMA cut-off date. We would also say something about what is going to happen in the next OU Live session (or module activity).
The perfect use of OU Live features
During our session, we chatted about the perfect use of various OU Live features. One thing we discussed was the importance of polling, i.e. asking our students to respond during a session; students clicking on the 'tick' or the 'happy face' icon. One suggestion (which was apparently given as a part of Blackboard training, the company that has created OU Live) is to poll students every 20-30 seconds. Polling will allow you to keep the students engaged; it enables you to check whether everybody understands all the points that you are making (which is important since there's an obvious lack of visual cues).
Even though all students will have perfectly working microphones (with no crackle, delay or feedback), the text chat channel is still considered to be useful. Students can ask for clarifications. It can also be used to share links and other resources. (Such as links to the OU study guides).
During our activities, we might want to use breakout rooms. Of course, all our breakout rooms will work perfectly! (There won't for example, be a situation where one student has a microphone and another hasn't) We would be able to set a timer and move between different rooms, checking on what is happening in each of the sessions.
One of the things that we can't do in breakout rooms is to make a recording. A related question is: 'should we record our perfect OU Live sessions?' Different tutors have different opinions about this. On one hand, a recording of an OU Live session becomes a useful (perfect) resource (that could be potentially referred back to, perhaps during the revision period). Alternatively, if we record a session, students might argue that they don't need to turn up. Also, if students know they're being recorded, they would be reluctant to speak. (This is clearly an issue that is going to be debated for quite some time; there are clear arguments either way).
All tutors have used the application sharing feature of OU Live to show students how to use features of the programming tools that they need to use. In the case of TU100, this is the Sense environment. In the case of TM129, this would be RobotLab. Sharing an application can allow the tutor to ask students some questions to determine whether they understand certain concepts. It can also be used to demonstrate what happens when you run some code, and also how to begin to use different debugging strategies. You might also give control of the application to students, so they can demonstrate their skills.
Of course, in a perfect world, the application sharing feature is really responsive! (One comment was that, in the real world, we might use quite a small window, since this uses less bandwidth)
After the perfect session
At the end of the session, you would post a copy of the slides to your tutor group forum, and share any other resources. A tutor might also post a number of follow up questions or activities, and the date and time of the next session.
Closing thoughts and acknowledgements
Before running this meeting I had never explicitly asked myself the question of 'what does a perfect OU Live session look like?' Instead, I had worked on instinct: trying something out, and then reflect on whether it seemed to work or not.
I found it really useful to hear everyone's opinions and views about what makes a good session.
During our meeting, I remember there was a conversation about OU Live examples. I've managed to dig out the resource I was once told about. It's called: Teaching with online rooms (OU VLE). The page contains a set of different OU Live examples that have been created by tutors who are working in different disciplines. For those who teach programming and computing modules, the 'writing and running simple code' is a really interesting link. The other resources about level 1 and academic referencing, and study skills are useful too.
I would like to personally hank all the tutors who attended this session for their contributions: everyone who was at the London region on the afternoon of Saturday 30 June contributed to discussions and ideas that led to the writing of this quick blog. Thank you all!