This is an archive of the 2013 version of ocTEL.

1. TEL Concepts and Approaches

We’re looking at TEL concepts and approaches this week, which can be easily overlooked in favour of technology when technologists and managers bring new tools onto their campuses. Imagine you were teaching a course and thinking about how you might make it better with a little help from technology (perhaps you don’t have to imagine). The challenge for this week is to work out what doing your course or learning opportunity feels like. If you are new to the theories underpinning TEL, this may be a chance to ‘ground’ yourself within the learning landscape by exploring the examples in this week’s resources. If you are not new to this it is an opportunity to talk about specific theories that interest you, the approaches they take and the outcomes they achieve.

This week’s aims

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

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

If you only do one thing…

Here are five stories about how technology has enhanced learning. Pick two that interest you. Review the evidence we’ve provided and decide which one you think is more powerful and relevant for you. Write down and share why you feel that way. Then find someone else who has argued for a different example. Discuss with them, and see if you can articulate and settle your differences.

  1. How Eric Mazur brought peer instruction into the lecture theatre using simple ‘clicker’ technology in his lectures – watch Mazur’s 2012 keynote from 18 min 25 sec for about three minutes
  2. How Sugata Mitra designed a physical and social environment around computers so that young children would self-organise and teach themselves new skills through peer interaction and ‘emergent learning’ – watch Mitra’s 2010 keynote
  3. How Stephen Downes and George Siemens pioneered the development of massive open online courses where the participants’ knowledge and understanding is developed and co-created by articulating ‘connectivist’ links between resources and people on the web – watch Howard Rheingold’s interview with George Siemens from 1 min 27 sec for 4 minutes 10 secs and from 17 min 47 secs for 1 minute 50 secs
  4. How Margaret Cox and colleagues developed technology that could simulate the tactile and visual experience of drilling a tooth, so that dentistry students can achieve mastery before they are set loose on our teeth – watch the HapTEL video from 25 seconds for four and a half minutes and the HapTEL booklet (PDF)
  5. How Helen Keegan devised a full Augmented Reality Game (ARG) with a fake identity that unsettled her Advanced Multimedia students and gave them a truly vivid experience of the power of social media and digital identity – watch Keegan’s spotlight talk from 12 min 2 sec for 25 minutes

(If you’re feeling ambitious, or have more time, you can either review three of the stories or, better, find more evidence about the two you have reviewed and see how it colours your original view.)

Please share your ideas on your blog or via Twitter (using #ocTEL tag), on this forum topic, or via the JiscMail list.

Come and join the live webinar

Join our weekly webinar at 12.30 British Summer Time on Wednesday 17 April. In this week’s webinar the main presentation will be led by Liz Masterman, Academic IT Services, University of Oxford. Liz will draw together some of the key themes that have emerged from her research interviews with lecturers, staff developers and learning technologists, in which she explored the different ways in which they engage with technology-enhanced learning. These themes include the role of theory, accommodating students’ varied needs and preferences, reusing and sharing learning materials, and the relationship between institutional and grass-roots initiatives in promoting TEL. In the discussion that will follow Liz’s presentation, participants will be encouraged to reflect on the relevance of each theme to their own practice.

Activities for this week

Activity 1.1: Champions and critics of teaching machines (45-60 mins)

Watch this 6 minute video on Teaching Machines, presented by B.F. Skinner (exact date is unverified but believed to be in the 1950s). To put it in historical context, you may find it useful to skim this short history of instructional design, which is itself a historical artefact from the early years of the World Wide Web.

Pick one or two of the following thinkers or approaches and read a bit about them, starting with the resources linked. What would they like about the Teaching Machines approach? What would they oppose, and what alternatives would they propose? Explore the notes made by two or three of your fellow participants. What patterns do you detect?

Please share your ideas on your blog or via Twitter (using #ocTEL tag), on this forum topic, or via the JiscMail list.

(We will be returning to learning theories in more depth in Week 3.)

Activity 1.2: My practice

This activity has two parts and is all about your practice. In the first part, you’re going to focus on your approach, while in the second part you will think about a course you have taught or are teaching.

My Approach (60-75 mins)

Reflect on where your learning activities lie on a matrix of ‘individual to social’ and ‘autonomous to directed’ learning. To do this, you may find our learning activity graph useful.

When you have visualised your learning activities in this way, try to imagine how you might shift the activities into another quadrant.

  • How could you achieve your learning outcomes if the activity were conducted differently?
  • Would this be an improvement? If not, why not?
  • What technology would you require if you did things differently?

As well as sharing your own ideas (on your blog or via Twitter, on this forum topic, or via the JiscMail list), please read others’ contributions with a view to suggesting other ideas that might help them.

My Course (60 mins)

Put yourself in the shoes of a student on a course you might be teaching, and share your ideas – via the same channels as above – concerning

  • 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.


  • Post your reflections and contributions #ocTEL via your blog, Twitter, the online forums or other channels
  • Join the webinar/watch the recording
  • Tweet about #ocTEL and find other participants on Twitter

Resources and more to watch, read and research

What’s coming up next?

Next week’s topic: Understanding learners’ needs, starting 22 April.