This is an archive of the 2013 version of ocTEL.

#ocTEL introduction and ‘big question’

imageSo ocTEL starts today and I already feel that I could get lost in it (in a good way). Starting as I mean to go on here is my introduction and ‘big question’ for the first of the induction activities:


My main experience with TEL so far is as programme coordinator for an online distance learning (ODL) masters programme in Applied and Professional Ethics at the University of Leeds. The programme is delivered via our institutional Blackboard VLE, mainly through bespoke HTML documents and asynchronous discussions using the Blackboard forum tool. I teach on the programme, and developed most of the materials and exercises in partnership with academic colleagues.

Things I like about TEL and ODL in particular:

  • Accessibility – we have students on our programme who would not be able to study masters-level philosophy if this programme didn’t exist. They are based worldwide, are usually working full-time and/or are balancing other responsibilities.
  • Conversations – relatedly, because of the diverse range of students we get some great conversations happening, and we all get to hear about a more diverse range of experiences than we would on a F2F programme.
  • Exciting – I like playing around with the T in TEL, mainly because it’s fun!
  • Open – this mainly applies to the TEL community – I like working in a sphere full of people keen to share ideas. It’s much less competitive (in my experience) than academic philosophy, which is my background.

Things I like less:

  • Distance – the flip side of the accessibility point. It’s harder to communicate with learners at distance. Although of course technology makes communication possible where it wasn’t at all before, so this is a complicated one.
  • Clunkiness – I hate clunky discussion fora, too many layers of clicks, bad layout etc. Not that I’m not guilty of some of these issues in my own design. Especially frustrating is being restricted by tools that you can’t escape.

Which leads to the ‘big question’:

Reflecting on your own work experience and ambitions for developing your teaching, what is the most important question about TEL for you?

Initially I thought this would be something along the lines of ‘how can I make sure my online is as effective and engaging as F2F teaching?’, but this assumes that F2F teaching is the right model to start with. This doesn’t seem quite right, so I think my question really is:

How can I exploit the opportunity presented by TEL, edTech, eLearning (whichever acronym works best) to design and deliver effective and engaging online distance learning?

And in particular I’m interested in the interactive elements of ODL – the discussions. Our learners are busy, and often struggle to keep fully engaged with the course discussions. I’m keen to reflect more on how we can improve the structure or design of these to help them engage more effectively.

Teaching Fellow and Online Learning Specialist at the University of Leeds

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