This is an archive of the 2013 version of ocTEL.

Drivers and constraints #ocTEL 5.1

How do course dimensions drive and influence our use of technology? Hill et. al.(1) provide a model of the different factors at play here, identifying four key areas:

  • Logistical: student numbers, class/programme duration etc.
  • Practice-based: activity type, participant expertise, existing practice etc.
  • Pedagogical purpose: pedagogical plan and guidance to instructor (from template?).
  • Participation: contact environment and extent of web work.

Which of these considerations is the biggest driver towards your adoption and choice of technology?

Thinking of our distance learning masters, participation is the most important driver – the course is online, so we have no choice but to adopt technology to deliver it. However in terms of which factors affect the choice of technology, then I think to date practice-based factors have had the biggest influence. How the course looks, in terms of its structure and its delivery have all been modelled on existing f2f programmes, because that’s what we know, and so is our biggest source of knowledge and experience with which to model something new. Choosing which types of technology to use to deliver different parts of the course was very much a case of finding the best out of an available set of tools to model a particular form of f2f delivery. Here logistical factors play a constraining role – the number of students, technical capability of those students, and tools available to us within the institutional VLE, all restricted the set of options from which we were choosing. The last one of those three logistical constraints isn’t identified by Hill et. al., but in my experience it’s particularly important.

How do these dimensions change each time you run the course and what effects does this have on technology choices (e.g. ‘scale/capacity’ of certain activities for class size, physical location of activity)?

Now that the course has been developed and has been running for a few years, and we’ve gained experience of delivering a full distance learning programme, we’re able to pay more attention to the pedagogical purpose. Having found tools within the initially available set that fit with a pedagogy based on f2f experience, we can now think about redesigning aspects of the course that don’t work so well, thinking clearly about a specifically online pedagogy. We’re still constrained by logistical factors, but perhaps we now have more confidence to overcome those wherever possible if necessary.

(1) Robin K. Hill, Jill W. Fresen and Fawei Geng, ‘Derivation of electronic course templates for use in higher education’, Research in Learning Technology 2012, 20: 18665 –

Teaching Fellow and Online Learning Specialist at the University of Leeds

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