Week 3 – Materials & Platforms for Learning Technology

This week we’re looking at materials, platforms, and technologies for enhancing learning. We will explore digital learning resources that ‘fit’ with your learners and their different needs, and some technologies to facilitate learners and learning. There is a broad range of digital materials and technologies that you can use to stimulate learning, both online and in the classroom. The challenge is finding the right resource or platform for any given learning context, and determining both the quality and effectiveness of those resources. As an individual instructor, you may be looking for resources to support your individual coursework. If you hold an administrative position, do your choices affect a department or larger entity? For example, selection of a learning management system such as Moodle could be an institutional project, but referring students to a learning community tool such as OpenStudy could be for an individual course.

Learners all have unique needs. Learners and staff with special needs or disabilities may require additional design and resource consideration. Technology expands our capacity to provide personalised and customised learning opportunities. There are also legal and ethical obligations to ensure inclusion and accessibility for all. Users should be consulted on how to best meet their needs, but we should also take the opportunity to help them become aware of all the possibilities and options that are available to them. They may not be aware of recent developments or new tools and resources to meet their needs. Acting early in the design stages generally saves time and money – it’s easier to design in accessibility than try to make a system accessible later. Designing for accessibility from the start leads you to:

  1. choose technology that is accessible;
  2. produce resources that are accessible (e.g. screen-readable docs; transcripts for audio recordings; captions for video);
  3. inform students and staff that there is adaptive tech available to them, either though the institution or elsewhere.

If you have an established practice of creating learning resources and using technology platforms, we invite you to share your experiences with other participants, and take this opportunity to explore a new resource you are interested in but haven’t used yet. If you are new to digital learning resources and technology enhanced learning, this week can provide an introduction and starting point for your exploration.

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This week’s aims

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

  • identify appropriate digital resources for particular learning contexts by reviewing implications for accessibility, learner requirements and implementation;
  • appreciate discovery and reuse issues with open educational resources (OERs)
  • explore a range of options for creating new digital resources;
  • assess the affordances of different learning platforms and their impact on learning;
  • apply your understanding about pedagogical affordances to current trends.

If you only do one thing…

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

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

  • What elements of these do you think are appealing to different learners?
  • What 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? Do they promote social learning, re-use of their materials, or open access?
  • What ways can you see to improve the effectiveness or potential reach of these resources? Effectiveness can be considered as allowing students to work at their own pace and review areas they need to, providing a richer learning experience by expanding the range of expertise which students will confront, or providing a range of materials in different media formats to suit students’ different learning preferences.

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Come and join the live webinar

Presenter: Cable Green Director of Global Learning, Creative Commons

Date/Time: Wednesday, May 21, 2014, 4:00pm BST/8am PDT (timezone conversion | iCal)

This week’s webinar is about learning materials, Open Educational Resources, and the open movement in general, 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)?

Watch the live session recording using Blackboard Collaborate: http://go.alt.ac.uk/octel2014-webinar-recording

Watch the live stream recording of Blackboard Collaborate session on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQTOW8F9FWY

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Activities for this week

Activity 3.1: Creating your own materials

(30-60 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), or on this forum topic, 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?

Activity 3.2: Technology selection

(45-60 mins)

Please read the Methodology and Pedagogical Dimensions sections of Hill et al (2012) paper (full text as a web page, or PDF). The authors identify four groups of pedagogical dimensions to be considered when selecting a template for designing a course web site.

Pedagogical dimensions*

Logistical Practice-based Pedagogical purpose Participation
Size of student enrolment Course activity type Pedagogical plan Contact environment
Duration Participant expertise Guidance to instructors Extent of web work
Academic group Analogue of familiar service
Academic schedule
Academic programme

*Source: Hill, R. K., Fresen, J. W., & Geng, F. (2012). Derivation of electronic course templates for use in higher education. Research in Learning Technology. Retrieved 7 April 2014 from http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/index.php/rlt/article/view/18665/html. Journal published under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC-BY 4.0) License.

Although the authors were considering the selection of a web site template for a course, the same applies for considering the selection of any platform. Think about the identified pedagogical dimensions:

  • Which of these dimensions is the biggest driver towards your adoption and choice of technology?
  • 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)?
  • How does this relate to the learning activity strategies you may have identified in Activity 1.2?

On your blog or via Twitter (using #ocTEL tag), or on this forum topic, tell us you stories about using technology in your teaching, and the platforms you use. If you’re looking for inspiration, have a look at some of the stories from Week 1.

Activity 3.3: What does open mean to you?

(45-60 mins)

By now, you should be aware of the kinds of possibilities for your course and your pedagogical approach that resources and platforms can offer. Let’s consider the ‘means of production and distribution’ for these resources, and what implications they have for education.

Consider this definition of open source and watch this TED video of Clay Shirky (from 2 minutes to 11 minutes) to help you understand how open source developments have changed the way we think about building tools.

Open content is about ownership, freedom to use, re-use, re-mix (mash up, derive), and availability. Open educational resources are free and openly licensed resources that can be used for teaching, learning, and research. Read these definitions (or more detailed here) and watch this short video introduction about open educational resources. Look for commonalities with open source. The open education movement is about opening the doors to education and providing access to education as a basic human right, removing barriers that would otherwise prevent opportunities for learning. Read about UNESCO’s Education for the 21st century initiative.

Apply your thinking about pedagogical approaches and platforms to recent cultural changes in the way learning in higher education is offered, such as through the use of open educational resources, MOOC platforms, and the emergence of open universities (such as the University of the People, Saylor Academy, and Open University). For example, in the case of Coursera (or Coursera’s pedagogy), or the platform for this course:

  • Do they force a certain pedagogical approach? If so, what are the benefits or drawbacks of that?
  • What difference would it make if the platform were open source?
  • How does it differ from past initiatives for open content such as iTunesU or Khan Academy?

Post your thoughts on your blog, via Twitter (using #ocTEL tag), or on this forum topic.


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

Resources and more to watch, read, and research

Sources on OER and re-use:

On accessibility and design

On technology and platforms

Be a TEL Explorer

These activities are additional content, provided to enable you to explore topics that are really relevant to your own practice. Explorer activities are part of the course, so we’d like to encourage you to share your ideas on your blog or via Twitter (using #ocTEL tag), or on this forum topic.

Explorer Activity 3.4: Learning styles

There are many theories about learning styles that define and describe the different ways learning occurs. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory is based on experience and conceptualization. The learning modalities theory examines the pathways through which learners give, receive, and store information through the senses, and consists of three modalities: visual, auditory, and tactile/kinesthetic. Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory states there are at least eight different realms of intelligence and learners use at least one or two for most effective learning to occur. Gardner also states that our culture emphasizes two realms primarily in most learning situations.

Recently, the status of Kolb’s theory has been called into question. Other learning style theories have their detractors, too (see, for example,  Pashier et al (2008) Learning styles: concepts and evidence). There has not yet been a determination on whether learning style theories are valid, let alone which theory is ‘correct’. By drawing on them we are not implying any single theory is valid in all circumstances – we are using them as tools to think with, particularly for distinguishing different learning affordances.

These are only three of many different learning style theories. Review different learning style theories here or here, think about the following three key questions, and post a response to one or more of them online.

  • Considering the learning style theory you selected, reflect on whether you accommodate these learning styles in your teaching practice. Do the technologies you use help you achieve this? If so, how? Or do they hinder it?
  • What tools relate to the specific modalities or dimensions of your selected learning style? Does the situation change if the activity is accessed from a mobile, or done ‘in the field’?What other types of technology works well with activities in these? For example, where do classroom clickers (mentioned in the Eric Mazur story in Week 1) belong? What about social media?
  • Do you agree with the idea of learning styles? Why are they often questioned and criticized?

Respond to some of these questions on your blog, via Twitter (using #ocTEL tag), or on this forum topic.

Explorer Activity 3.5: Evaluating a resource in your area

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

  • How easy was it to find a relevant resource? What feature of the search function was useful to you in your search, and why did that appeal to you? Conversely, what feature was missing or prohibited you from easily finding a resource?
  • Are there any limitations to the use of your preferred resource for your learners (e.g. copyright licence; login requirements)?
  • If the resource’s license and your institutional policy allow use, how could you incorporate this resource into your professional practice? Would you use the whole work as-is, pick-and-choose parts of it, or create a derivative resource from it?
  • If the resource has another institution’s or company’s branding (logo, watermark) will that create conflict with your institutional policies?
  • How will this help your learners?
  • How do you decide when a resource is worth adopting?
  • What criteria did you use to evaluate this resource?
  • Which source did you find more useful (and why) – the ‘official’ resource bank or the open search?

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