Guide to discussion and collaboration spaces

Discussion and collaboration are central to the experience of ocTEL. But it’s a challenge to arrange the online discussions of hundreds of people. We want to make things as simple and easy to use as possible. However, we also want to provide maximum flexibility to suit individual preferences and to make it possible to manage many conversations for small groups at once – which makes it hard to keep things simple. There are three main ways you can take part in ‘asynchronous’ (not real time) discussions in ocTEL:

  • post in your own space, for example, your blog on twitter
  • if you don’t have a blog or just prefer email, participate in a jiscmail list for the whole course
  • for ‘specialist’ interest items or working in smaller groups and learning sets, use the web forums or groups

In your own online space

How does it work?

  • You tell us about your blog or twitter account, via the registration form (if you forgot, or if this has changed since you registered, please email
  • Whenever you write about the course, you include in the #ocTEL (not case sensitive) tag in your blog title or tweet.
  • We pull everyone’s ocTEL blogs into  the Course Reader.
  • You can browse and read them from there, and ‘star’ individual discussions  if you want to keep following them.
  • We will indicate the most read and most popular items on the site and via daily ‘digest’ emails.
  • (We can aggregate anything with an RSS feed and the #ocTEL tag – if you’re also producing material in another space, please let us know by sending the feed address to – unfortunately Facebook does not provide RSS feeds).

When and why?

The idea is that you should write about your participation in the course in the place where you feel most comfortable and are used to writing. The course is not designed to be separate and sealed off from the rest of your life, but to be part of your life, intertwined with your other interests. This approach to online courses being distributed across the open Internet rather closeted behind virtual walls was pioneered a few years ago one or two of the early open courses.

Jiscmail list

How does it work?

Note: Messages to the list are publically viewable.

When and why?

If you don’t have a blog or twitter, and don’t want to get one, this is the channel to use. Some discussions work better with the ‘push’ approach of email (for example, if quantity of responses is important) so anyone can choose to start topics there. Many of the main activities in the modules will have dedicated ‘threads’ where you can discuss your take on the activity.

Web forums

How does it work?

  • Log in and [edit_profile_link] details if you wish. (If you have difficulties logging in, see the FAQ.)
  • Visit the forums. You may now post new topics or reply to existing ones.
  • Forum discussions are lightly moderated by ocTEL tutors.

When and why?

As we were designing the course, we realised that many of the activities could be overwhelming unless there was some way to set up discussions with a tighter focus, either in terms of people – small groups and learning sets – or in terms of topics – niche interests that might run across several modules. This also gives us the opportunity to set up Q&A forums for the course, such as the Help, I’m Stuck peer support forum.


How does it work?

  • Log in (or browse public groups without logging in)
  • Visit the groups.
  • Browse and join groups that interest you (if you don’t see a group you like anyone can start their own)

When and why?

Groups are an experimental feature for this year’s course. ocTEL and course like it can be very chaotic and given the distributed nature we felt it would be useful to provide some spaces where participants could, similar to the forums, cluster. Groups potentially can have a different dynamic to forums as there they don’t necessarily need to be topic based.

Additional shared spaces


The weekly webinars (every Wednesday, mostly at lunchtime in the UK) are the one ‘live’ part of the course where we have a guest contributor who presents some ideas relevant to the theme of each module and then leads a discussion. This is also the only part of the course where the technical requirements go beyond the ‘lowest common denominator’ web browser and Internet connection. If you haven’t used Blackboard Collaborate (previously known as Elluminate) before, it might be worth checking your technical setup to see if it will support Collaborate, and checking the support information.


We have an open public group on Diigo for sharing bookmarks related to the course. You can join the group and add your bookmarks there. If you prefer to use Delicious, that’s fine, just use ocTEL as a tag and we will pick it up in our bookmark aggregator. If you’re using another bookmark sharing service (with an RSS feed), please email and we’ll see if we can pick that up too.


Large scale online discussions are an example of ‘complex adaptive systems’, which means no one can predict how they are going to turn out. It’s unlikely that things will turn out quite how we planned them.