4. Producing Engaging and Effective Learning Materials

This is Week 4 of ocTEL and the focus of this week is how we best respond to the new possibilities of the Internet age: being able to find existing learning resources that are freely available but with limited warrants of quality; and being able readily to create and share our own resources. The fundamental question is: how can we take advantage of technological developments in order to create and source relevant learning resources for our students?

Effective learning resources can have an important impact, including:

  • allowing students to work at their own pace and review areas they need to.
  • giving students different/alternative explanations where they are struggling with particular topics or where they are struggling with the expert explanations they receive from their lecturers.
  • providing a richer learning experience by expanding the range of expertise which students will confront.
  • providing a range of materials in different media formats to suit students’ different learning preferences.
  • saving staff time by resolving student questions and queries.
  • saving staff the time and effort needed to produce their own materials (and ensuring we do not waste time reinventing the wheel).

This week’s aims

By the end of this week, we aim for you to be able to:

  • identify appropriate digital resources, including text-based,  multimedia and interactive, for particular learning contexts.
  • identify major issues (and relevant strategies to resolve them) regarding how we can address a range of student requirements re access and accessibility.
  • identify basic principles of open educational resources (OERs), including licensing and reuse.
  • access OER repositories to use existing resources and share new materials.
  • critique features of digital learning resources.
  • explore a range of options for creating new digital resources.

If you only do one thing…

Look for a resource in an area which is important in your teaching in one of the following resource banks (ideally, choose one you have not used before):

Now search for the same topic area in one of the following

On your blog or via Twitter (using #ocTEL tag), on this forum topic, or via the JiscMail list, please share your answers to some of the following questions:

  • How easy was it to find a relevant resource?
  • How could you incorporate this resource into your professional practice?
  • Which source did you find more useful (and why) – the ‘official’ resource bank or the open search?
  • Are there any limitations to the use of your preferred resource for your learners (e.g. copyright licence; login requirements)?
  • Would your own students agree that the resource you prefer is accessible?

Come and join the live webinar

This week’s webinar runs at 12:30 UK time (GMT+1) on Wednesday 8 May. You will be able to access it from half an hour before the start via this link.

This week’s webinar focuses on effective learning resources and aims to offer a range of opinions and perspectives on the following key questions:

  • What do we mean by ‘engaging and effective learning materials’?
  • How do we find them and how do we evaluate them?
  • If we cannot find ‘ready-made’ materials to suit our purpose then how do we best create/assemble/stitch together materials to plug the gap(s)?
  • What are the pros and cons of using OERs and what do we need to know about them to use them effectively (e.g. licensing and copyright issues)?

After a brief introduction, there will be four ten-minute responses, each of which will respond to some or all of these questions and identify important issues for all staff who want to make more effective use of the growing range of online learning resources. Our presenters are (in order of presentation): Peter Hartley, Sarah Currier, David Walker and Panos Vlachopoulos, and finally Chris Pegler – see more about the presenters. We will then have some time for questions and discussion.

If you are planning on taking part in this session, we have assembled a short quiz on sources and resources (not more than 10 minutes to complete), which we would like you to complete a day or two before the webinar. This will give us an idea of your starting point.

Activities for this week

Activity 4.1: Comparing resources

(30 mins to 1 hour)

Take the perspective of a learner and spend some time using:

On your blog or via Twitter (using #ocTEL tag), on this forum topic, or via the JiscMail list, please respond to at least one of the following questions:

  • What elements of these do you think are appealing to different kinds of learners?
  • What kinds of learners, if any, would they be inappropriate for and why?
  • How do each of these resources differ from that of the resources we’re using in ocTEL?
  • What ways can you see to improve the effectiveness or potential reach of these resources?

Activity 4.2: Evaluating a resource in your area

(30 mins to 1 hour)

Evaluate a learning resource you would consider using in your teaching and learning practice (this could be the resource you found in the introductory activity this week).

On your blog or via Twitter (using #ocTEL tag), on this forum topic, or via the JiscMail list, please respond to at least one of the following questions:

  • How do you decide when a resource is worth adopting?
  • What criteria did you use to evaluate this resource?
  • What are the advantages and limitations of this resource?
  • How could you incorporate this resource into your teaching?
  • How will this help your learners?
  • Are there any limitations to the use of this resource for your learners?

Activity 4.3: Creating your own materials

(30 mins to 90 mins)

Have a look at one of the following tools (choose one you are not already familiar with) and consider its application in your context:

On your blog or via Twitter (using #ocTEL tag), on this forum topic, or via the JiscMail list, please respond to at least one of the following questions:

  • How easy was it to understand how this tool worked?
  • How quickly and easily would you find it to use?
  • How could you apply this tool in your own teaching?
  • What does this tool  offer that has advantages over your current practice?


  • Post your thoughts on the “resources” question #ocTEL
  • Have a look through the course forums and make a contribution
  • Join the webinar/watch the recording
  • Tweet about #ocTEL and find other participants on Twitter

Resources and more for future reference

Sources on OER and re-use:

Notes and commentary

In the days before the Internet became established as a major source of information for many of us and for our students, one of the frustrations of teaching was the search for good learning materials which we could recommend to students and which would be readily available in the (typically resource-stretched) institution’s library. These days of scarce and limited resources are gone, although some students will still have  problems of access and accessibility re online materials which need to be resolved.

A Google search on virtually any topic will deliver thousands if not millions of leads – the search for relatively scarce resources has become the search for the really useful items in an ever-increasing mass of information. We are now suffering from ‘information obesity’ – “Finding information is no longer the problem, but being discriminating, filtering it out, and managing it is difficult” (you can follow up this quote and the underlying issues  via this seven-minute video by its author, Andrew Whitworth, and via his blog). How can we help our students cope with this? How can we make sure they are looking at ‘good’ resources? How can we help them become more effective and discriminating as learners?

Many academics are concerned about the validity of materials which students can find online. Perhaps the most obvious example is the debate over Wikipedia (see this example). This debate has generated several interesting studies (e.g. Head and Eisenberg, 2010) and there is even some advice on this in Wikipedia itself. As well as ensuring that students are directed to a wide range of credible sources, some institutions are making particular efforts to discover what online materials students are using and relying on – as in the Dynamic Learning Maps initiative at Newcastle University.

As well as this explosion in readily available information, we can also create and distribute our own materials in a whole range of new formats, ranging from the now commonplace presentation slides and/or word-processed handout posted on the VLE through to podcasts, animations or multimedia. New software tools have simplified the process of putting materials together and many of these are freely available (or relatively inexpensive) and fairly easy to use.

The use of digital resources can bring particular advantages, including their ease of access and availability (although we need to be careful to ensure that this is achieved for every student) and the ability to update and edit quickly and efficiently.

As a short introduction to this area, there is an expanded version of Peter Hartley’s input to the webinar, which includes some personal examples to illustrate the range of resources and tools we now have available to support our teaching. The availability of resources can also give us new options in our teaching – for example, see the discussions of the ‘flipped classroom’ where students work through resources before they come to the class session rather than the lecture introducing the material for students to explore further in their own time. The lecture can then become more of a workshop/seminar session.

What’s coming up next?

Next week’s topic: Platforms and Technologies, starting 13 May.