You are browsing the archive for David Jennings.

Featured post: mixing it up and making new links

11/05/2013 in Course information

We’re going to experiment on ocTEL by featuring a few of your contributions to the course each week. These may be posts on blogs, forums or any of the discussion spaces that we track in the Course Reader. These will be contributions that point to new directions or linkages between different parts of the course. We’ve had to design ocTEL as a linear sequence, but there are many cross-cutting themes, as well as new connections — sometimes latent in the material — that you may spot as learners in a way that we as course authors may have missed.

Our first featured post, Jim Pettiward’s thoughts on Week 4, combines Jim’s thoughts on two of the weeks activities, and has a sceptical vein through it:

look at the Horizon (HE) Report in 2006 and you’ll see ‘Educational Gaming’ – Time to adoption 2 – 3 years. Look at the 2013 (HE) report and you’ll see ‘Games and Gamification’ – Time to adoption 2 – 3 years. In my view, this underlines the fact that with a few exceptions, gamification of learning is something that is often talked about but rarely implemented in any coherent way (in Higher Education)

Read the rest of this entry →

Understanding Learners’ Needs – Week 2 Wrap-up

30/04/2013 in Course information, progress report

The week’s activities began with a good deal of interest and comment relating to the four ‘Readiness questionnaires’. Most comments and posts related to the limitations of this mechanistic approach to identifying learners’ needs. Colleagues identified that differing degrees of self-awareness amongst students, previous experiences of learning (whether face-to-face or online) and the mood of the moment are all likely to impact upon how the questionnaire would be completed and the value that students would place on the automated feedback that they receive.

We were then delighted to welcome Helen Beetham as our guest for the Week 2 webinar, which was enjoyable, informative and as promised provocative at times.  You can view the recording of Helen’s webinar, and can also view Helen’s slides.

During the webinar we considered the purpose of asking students about their preparedness for online discussion, and considered other approaches to identifying learners’ needs which focus less on student deficit assumptions and more upon understanding what students actually ‘do’ in terms of their practices.  Webinar participants were divided about the various ways that learners are willing to engage with technology, which led Helen to suggest that we should be very wary about making any grand statements about learners’ needs and preferences.  Instead, we should be prepared to recognize the situated nature of learning and make opportunities to speak to students about their use of technology, helping them to imagine different learner and digital identities. Read the rest of this entry →

Keep moving (and skipping, if necessary)

26/04/2013 in Course information

At this stage of the course most of you will have felt at some point that you are “behind” in some way because you have not done all the scheduled activities.

There is no such thing as “behind” on ocTEL. Let us remind you of the advice we gave at the very beginning of the course.

One of the features of this kind of course design is to present you… with a range of options that can seem over-stimulating at first… Always remember that these are options: you don’t have to do them all.

Read the rest of this entry →

Approaches, concepts and a few new faces

19/04/2013 in Course information

Here’s a brief round-up of the first week of the course. This week was all about TEL Concepts and Approaches, but we also welcomed a number of new faces and quite a few who had missed the induction period. So welcome to all!

This week the aim for you was to:

  • become familiar with a range of concepts and approaches relevant to TEL
  • start reflecting on how these could be applied with your students
  • get a feel for what learning technology is and what learning technologists do
  • contextualise your approach within a wider field of theory

and many of you engaged with these aims by reflecting on the five stories about how technology has enhanced learning and the questions Liz Masterman was thinking about in this week’s webinar.  At time of writing there have been 56 posts on the forum for Week 1’s Powerful and relevant TEL approaches. Imogen Bertin “couldn’t pick one” so started one topic about five stories. Eric Mazur’s talk and the flipped classroom stimulated a really interesting discussion as has the Sugata Mitra video and the theme of collaboration.

Read the rest of this entry →

Meet the team

16/04/2013 in About this course, Course information

With apologies for the fact that it’s twelve days into the course before we’ve made this available, we now have an ocTEL team page on the site. Here you can see photos and bios of the people who have played a part in putting the course together. ocTEL is very much a virtual team — we’ve had one face-to-face meeting in the seven months of the project — so in some cases this is as much as I’ve ever seen of my colleagues too.

The writing and tutoring of ocTEL are being provided without charge, so I hope everyone will at some point extend some thanks to those who have given their time for this. You can see who’s done what on the Course Materials page. The webinar presenters throughout the course are also gifting their time. The management, administration, technical infrastructure and evaluation are being supported through the Leadership Foundation in Higher Education, and we’re grateful to them as well. For more details see our About page.

Not included on the team page yet are our many volunteer support tutors on the course. So let me add a big thank you to the tutors who have taken part so far: Sue Barnes, John Davies, Clare Denholm, Devampika Getkahn, Doug Gowan, Sarah Horrigan and Ruth Johnstone. Later on you’ll be meeting tutors with surnames in the second half of the alphabet! We’ll add all the names to the team page in due course.

Big questions and learning the ropes

12/04/2013 in About this course, Course information, progress report

Here’s quick overview and recap as the induction part of ocTEL draws to a close and we approach the start of the main course next week.

The aims we set for this part were for you to

  • have a sense of different Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) contexts and some of their strengths and weaknesses
  • understand the range of prior experiences and expectations of the course participants, including those from different cultures, and the implications of these for this form of TEL
  • achieve basic confidence in navigating, discussing and otherwise participating in the ocTEL course.

One of the main activities was to frame a ‘big question’ about Technology Enhanced Learning and there’s been a great array of these. Diana Laurillard gave us a classification of them in her webinar presentation:

Participants' big questions

Diana Laurillard’s analysis of the TEL questions raised by participants

Thanks also to Tom Franklin who provided a more fine-grained analysis of questions posed via the JiscMail list (simple version below, or more comprehensive version on Tom’s blog):

One of the observations I’ve made in commenting on a few of the blog posts I’ve seen is that our suggestion that you come up with a ‘big’ question has led many of you (not unreasonably) to frame your questions in general and abstract terms that could be applied to the whole sweep of Higher Education and the role of technology within it. That’s fine, but big questions can also be personal and concrete ones. For example, your interest in peer assessment and support is a big issue for you if you see this as the only way that you can make your new course work effectively. So don’t be afraid to frame your questions in personal and local terms, as this will mean that, if you hold the questions in mind as you work through the rest of the course, it will focus you on practical ideas that you can apply in your day-to-day practice.

We also encouraged you to introduce yourselves to others, and this has demonstrated both the diversity of experience among participants and the enthusiasm for TEL-related professional development. The diversity was a lesson for us as course designers as well, as we saw the Death by Acronyms forum topic emerge. We will be reviewing all the materials for the rest of the course to ensure we are not too blinkered by the UK-centric origin of ocTEL.

Some questioned whether it was really such a good idea to encourage a thousand people to introduce themselves to each other. In the process of the introductions and the sharing of big questions, a lot of ‘discussion traffic’ was generated and some people felt overwhelmed (indeed some may still do so). The JiscMail list is probably where there’s been most evidence of people being uncomfortable with the communication channel (and I’ve said what we would do differently, with hindsight). We’ve taken the lessons for this course, but hopefully there are also lessons in terms of the strengths and weaknesses of different communication channels that have broader implications for TEL. Meanwhile, the JiscMail list seems to have established at least temporary equilibrium (many unsubscribed in the early, busy days as numbers fell from around 800 to just over 700, but they’re now back up to 790+ as we welcome new registrations).

I hope some of you will feel that, over the last nine days, you’ve got some new insights about what works and doesn’t work for you, as in Sandra Huskinson’s message:

Experimenting has been interesting via the different channels of communication. I’ve found I get replies relatively quickly via all forms of media. Keeping tweets short is a challenge. The learning in either format is good although things are limited in twitter useful links are posted. I don’t think there is a ‘best’ for reflection, challenging or learning as I found each format did this in its own way.

In case you’re a bit of a numbers and trends geek, here are a few figures on the different channels of ocTEL communication as of the time of writing (mostly taken from our Course Reader, which is the best way to track all ocTEL discussions) :

Please be assured that no one person is keeping on top of all of this activity! ocTEL deliberately gives you the choice of which of these channels to use for each activity, according to what you feel is most convenient and rewarding. I’ll be interested to see the trends in how these figures change over the coming weeks.

If you’ve read all the way down to here, thank you, and I hope you feel you’re getting the hang of it. That basic confidence really is the one most valuable thing you can carry forward into the rest of the course.

The materials for Week 1, TEL Concepts and Approaches, will be emailed round on Monday. If you’re eager to get under way with them, they will be available on the website some time on Saturday morning (UK time), under Course Materials.


What we’re learning from you about communications in large online courses

05/04/2013 in About this course, progress report

In this course we encourage you to communicate with each other via several channels, including your own blogs and twitter accounts, and we provide some guidance about when and why to use them. We let you, the course participants, choose which one you prefer.

One of the main purposes of this induction part of the course is to give people time to explore the possibilities of different features and benefits of the different channels. We give you time to ‘settle’ before the course gets underway in earnest.

What we’re finding is that the email discussion list (JiscMail) is both the most and the least popular channel. It’s the one that most people have gravitated towards for introducing themselves and sharing their work on initial activities. That means that there have been a lot messages circulating (good), but also that some people have rapidly felt overloaded (not good) and have opted out.

(For help on getting just one daily digest from the JiscMail list, or opting out, see the FAQ.)

By comparison, the web forum that people can use for posting introductions is relatively un-used, although other forums are starting to get lively. no one has used that channel.

About 80% of you opted into the email discussion list when registering for the course. As some decide that this is not for them, this may fall to 50% or less of active participants.

Whatever channel you choose to use, you won’t miss out on important communication from the organisers. We post all course content and messages from the organisers on the main ocTEL website and send one email at the start of each week directly to each participant. If the email discussion list is used by just a minority (rather than the majority) of participants, we believe it will still be useful.

It’s part of the process of large group dynamics evolving and finding an equilibrium. It’s why we included an induction period in the course design. At the same time, we acknowledge that managing communications in large groups is a challenge for everyone. For help on how to manage the different channels, please go to the FAQ.

There are also some interesting questions and positive points that emerge from this in terms of online learning:

  • with a large, open course – with participants from around the world and in different professional roles – how do you make visible the other participants and their activity?
  • can the introductory process ever be non-chaotic (in the sense of chaos theory, rather than shambles)?
  • how do nudge people towards ‘pull’ or more passive communication channels like forums (which require the hassle of new login procedures as well as unfamiliarity) instead of the convenience, for senders, of email?

Course begins: looking forward to your feedback

03/04/2013 in About this course, progress report

ocTEL starts today. Like the English first class cricket season, which begins tomorrow, play gets under way at the civilised hour of 11.00 British Summer Time. Like cricket, it’s best if you don’t rush.

We’ve put a lot of planning and preparation into the course, but we’ve retained a lot of flexibility and minimal central control. So when 900 people starting using multiple discussion channels, things are going to happen that we probably haven’t prepared for. Please give us your feedback, and sometimes a little of your patience as well, when this occurs.

We’ve deliberately stretched the first induction module to be more than a week long. Hopefully that means you can take your time. If you get stuck or confused at any point, you have time to recover without feeling pressured. The main thing in this first session is to get a feel for the different ways of communicating with each other and with the course. With that in mind, here’s an introductory screencast about how to login (more help here). Thanks to Martin Hawksey for this — Martin has built pretty much all of the course infrastructure.

Guide to discussion and collaboration spaces

28/03/2013 in About this course

Discussion and collaboration are central to the experience of ocTEL. But it’s a challenge to arrange the online discussions of 850+ people (that’s how many registrations we’ve had for the course at the time of writing). We want to make things as simple and easy to use as possible. However, we also want to provide maximum flexibility to suit individual preferences and to make it possible to manage many conversations for small groups at once – which makes it hard to keep things simple.

There are three main ways you can take part in ‘asynchronous’ (not real time) discussions in ocTEL:

  • post in your own space, for example, your blog on twitter
  • if you don’t have a blog or just prefer email, participate in a jiscmail list for the whole course
  • for ‘specialist’ interest items or working in smaller groups and learning sets, use the web forums

In your own online space

How does it work?

  • You tell us about your blog or twitter account, via the registration form (if you forgot, or if this has changed since you registered, please email
  • Whenever you write about the course, you include in the #ocTEL (not case sensitive) tag in your blog title or tweet.
  • We pull everyone’s ocTEL blogs on one page on this site as well as providing some aggregate views of tweets (links to come when these are live).
  • You can browse and read them from there, and ‘star’ individual discussions  if you want to keep following them.
  • We will indicate the most read and most popular items on the site and via daily ‘digest’ emails.
  • (We can aggregate anything with an RSS feed and the #ocTEL tag – if you’re also producing material in another space, please let us know by sending the feed address to – unfortunately Facebook does not provide RSS feeds).
  • If you’re slightly technically-minded, Martin Hawksey has done a screencast of this and the discussion aggregation system — a more user-friendly overview is coming soon — and has also blogged about the design approach.

When and why?

The idea is that you should write about your participation in the course in the place where you feel most comfortable and are used to writing. The course is not designed to be separate and sealed off from the rest of your life, but to be part of your life, intertwined with your other interests. This approach to online courses being distributed across the open Internet rather closeted behind virtual walls was pioneered a few years ago one or two of the early open courses.

Jiscmail list

How does it work?

  • You indicate you’d like to join this list, via the registration form (if you forgot, or have changed your mind, you can apply to join via the web interface).
  • We will add you to this list just before the course starts.
  • You can choose whether to receive every message from the list, a daily or weekly digest, or whether to participate via the web only on the list page.
  • From there you send, read and reply to messages just as you would with any other list.

When and why?

If you don’t have a blog or twitter, and don’t want to get one, this is the channel to use. Some discussions work better with the ‘push’ approach of email (for example, if quantity of responses is important) so anyone can choose to start topics there. Many of the main activities in the modules will have dedicated ‘threads’ where you can discuss your take on the activity.

Web forums

How does it work?

  • You will be sent login details after you register for the course.
  • Log in and edit your profile details if you wish. (If you have difficulties logging in, see the FAQ.)
  • Visit the forums. You may now post new topics or reply to existing ones.
  • Forum discussions are lightly moderated by ocTEL tutors.

When and why?

As we were designing the course, we realised that many of the activities could be overwhelming unless there was some way to set up discussions with a tighter focus, either in terms of people – small groups and learning sets – or in terms of topics – niche interests that might run across several modules.

This also gives us the opportunity to set up Q&A forums for the course, such as the Help, I’m Stuck peer support forum.

Additional shared spaces


The weekly webinars (every Wednesday, mostly at lunchtime in the UK) are the one ‘live’ part of the course where we have a guest contributor who presents some ideas relevant to the theme of each module and then leads a discussion. This is also the only part of the course where the technical requirements go beyond the ‘lowest common denominator’ web browser and Internet connection. If you haven’t used Blackboard Collaborate (previously known as Elluminate) before, it might be worth checking your technical setup to see if it will support Collaborate, and checking the support information.


We have an open public group on Diigo for sharing bookmarks related to the course. You can join the group and add your bookmarks there. If you prefer to use Delicious, that’s fine, just use ocTEL as a tag and we will pick it up in our bookmark aggregator. If you’re using another bookmark sharing service (with an RSS feed), please email and we’ll see if we can pick that up too.


Large scale online discussions are an example of ‘complex adaptive systems’, which means no one can predict how they are going to turn out. It’s unlikely that things will turn out quite how we planned them.

ocTEL tutor support: what you can expect

21/03/2013 in About this course, Uncategorized

Online learning in ocTEL is designed to encourage participants like you both to engage actively with the concepts in the course and to reflect on what you are learning through discussion. So learning conversations are central to the course. We will help you get the most from these conversations through a combination of

  • support from peer learners, for which we rely on you to self-organise using the communicated channels we provide, and
  • support from tutors who facilitate conversations with a range of feedback techniques.

ocTEL tutors, like the course authors, are volunteers. We’ve had an encouragingly large number of offers of help with tutor support, mostly from within the Association for Learning Technology community (and including many with CMALT accreditation), and we’re very grateful for this enthusiastic response.

In most cases, there will be different tutors in each module of ocTEL. There will be at least one ‘specialist’ tutor and three or four support tutors. They will monitor and take part in ocTEL discussions on the jiscmail list for participants, and on blogs, tweets and other forums (as long as you use the #ocTEL hashtag). The kinds of contributions they will make to discussions may include:

  • summarising key points in a conversation, drawing out alternative perspectives;
  • encouraging reflection on particular issues and how these may relate to your own experience;
  • questioning and sometimes challenging assumptions;
  • suggesting other resources and people that you may want to look up to explore an area further;
  • providing further explanations to complement the course text and materials.

Specialist tutors are more likely than support tutors to make the latter kinds of interventions, but there is no hard-and-fast distinction. All tutors in ocTEL are here to facilitate, not to assess. They will mostly be ‘non-directive’ and, though they may express opinions, they’re not here to give marks out of ten. In other words, tutors are very much the ‘guide on the side’.

We hope the arrangements we have put in place will provide you with timely feedback and support as you make your way through the course, whether this is from tutors or peers. Please bear in mind that tutors are volunteers, have limited time available, and deserve to maintain a work-life balance. We are organising the tutors with the aim of providing at least 10 hours tutor support for each week-long module. If you divide this among, say, 300 participants, it’s clear that you should not expect a great deal of individual attention from tutors. Tutors may be available to respond during evenings and weekends, but this is at their discretion.

We very much hope you will have no cause to complain about the support you receive during your participation in ocTEL. If you do, please email with details of exactly what has gone wrong, and some indication of how you would like us to solve the problem. You should normally get an acknowledgement of your complaint within one working day.

Note on technical support

Tutors are there to help you with your learning on the course. They are not there to solve technical problems. When the course starts there will be a Help button on the menu bar above. That will route you to sources of technical help, both among fellow participants and from the core project team from the Association for Learning Technology.

Skip to toolbar