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Enrol on ocTEL – Open Course in Technology Enhanced Learning – start date 28th April

16/04/2014 in About this course, Course information

The Open Course in Technology Enhanced Learning (ocTEL) is back! Starting on the 28th April 2014 you will be able to participate in this free online course designed to help you better understand ways to use Learning Technology for teaching, learning and assessment. The course has undergone a revision and now is shorter (six weeks plus induction week) and we are working on incorporating new features including Open Badges for accreditation. Register now at

Below is an outline of the course to give you a sense of the timings and content. ocTEL doesn’t follow a traditional format and whilst we’d love everyone to complete ‘the course’ you can drop-in for the material and events most useful to you. Ultimately our aim is to help you make connections between people and knowledge to aid your personal development. ocTEL is also an ideal opportunity to consider the connection with your existing skills and experience and Certified Membership of ALT (CMALT).

  • Week 0: TEL & the future (induction) – 28 Apr 2014

  • Week 1: Concepts and approaches – 5 May 2014

  • Week 2: Learners and learning – 12 May 2014

  • Week 3: Materials, platforms and technologies – 19 May 2014

  • Week 4: Support, feedback and assessment – 2 Jun 2014

  • Week 5: Leadership, management and keeping on track – 9 Jun 2014

  • Week 6: Enhancement, review and evaluation – 16 Jun 2014

The course is designed, written and supported by members of ALT on a pro bono basis. All its content depends on our community and your expertise, experience and know-how. You can contribute resources,become a tutor or help run one of the live sessions. You can also contribute to discussions, use the #ocTEL tag to share your own content across the web.

All content of the course is published under a creative commons licence (CC-BY), which means that you can re-use it, share it and re-mix it.

More information

See the ocTEL platform:

Register for the course:

Watch a short film about the 2013 course:

Promoting the course

If you’d like to help promoting the course to make sure there are plenty of participants to share and learn with then click here to tweet the text below:

Registration is open for the Open Course in Technology Enhanced Learning (#ocTEL). 28 April 2014 #altc

Feedback from ocTEL session at ALT-C

18/09/2013 in About this course, Course information

Our evaluator, Rachel Harris, has posted a short report on last week’s session at ALT-C. James Little also did a great job of providing a Twitter commentary with photos, which you can read back via the #octel tag until more tweets knock it down the timeline. Here are the slides that Rachel, Martin Hawksey and I presented in the second session. (We linked previously to Martin’s account of his own separate session on the ocTEL technology.)

The final slide was intended to provoke comment from the participants in the session in the event that they had little to say. As it happened, there was plenty of feedback and we didn’t need it!

There was quite a bit of feedback from ocTEL participants who classified themselves as “dropped-out”, saying that the beginning of the course was too overwhelming. (This was even after factoring out the effect of a fiasco we had in the first 36 hours or so with an email list that got out of hand with volume of messages.) We found that ocTEL participants retained the sense that not completing amounted to failure, despite our repeated counsel that that was not the case. In response, Roy Williams asked “Why do people talk about being overwhelmed?”. If you go to a conference, you accept the fact that I can’t go to all the sessions and have meaningful conversations with everyone. It is not particularly overwhelming. If people looked at MOOCs in the same way as conferences, then they might feel less overawed. In jest, we floated the idea changing our name to ofTEL, the open festival of Technology Enhanced Learning, the world’s first MOOF.

Some people did the course just out of interest to experience a MOOC, but that is not likely to be ocTEL’s audience in long-term.

If we’re serious about extending the reach of learning technology in HE and of ALT, then do we have to accept that a full-blooded “MOOC baptism”, as I called it, might not be the best way of doing that?  One person was glad that they had decided not to persuade the mainstream academic staff to do ocTEL, because they could have been very disorientated by it.

The advice we gave at the start, (for example, “This is a professional development course, and its designers trust you, as a professional, to make your own judgements about what learning activities are useful to you and which you can skip. The reason there are so many options and alternative ways of spending your time is precisely to give you choice and control over selecting a path that feels right for you.”) was not sufficiently well communicated to learners.

What can we do to address this, short of repositioning the whole course and making it completely un-MOOCy? One option that occurred to me is to get people to go through a pre-course classification (n.b. not qualification — the course would still be open) whereby we describe different behaviour profiles (they might be called “gentle explorer” “occasional sampler” and “in at the deep end”, for example) and ask participants to say which profile they think they will most closely follow. Of course this would be non-binding, but it would force them to reflect on what would be a realistic ‘commitment’ for them to make, as well as underlying the legitimacy of the “occasional sampler’ route. We might even have different badges for them?

I should stress that these thoughts are all personal reflections, intended to encourage further comment, rather than any official ALT policy. As it stands, we remain hopeful, but not yet certain, of an opportunity to run ocTEL again early in 2014. To keep up with developments, please watch this space.

ocTEL at ALT-C 2013

06/09/2013 in About this course, Course information

If you took part in ocTEL, you probably couldn’t help noticing that the Association for Learning Technology, which runs the course, also runs an annual conference — known as ALT-C. Video clips of  talks at previous ALT-Cs are liberally sprinkled through the course materials.

Next week ALT-C 2013 takes place in Nottingham. ocTEL will feature in a couple of the formal sessions, as well, I hope, as in informal conversations in the bars and corridors around the conference. If you’re at the conference, please come along, ask questions, give feedback and generally get involved.

First up, Martin Hawksey, ocTEL’s technical architect/engineer/everything, will present his thoughts on creating the backend of the horse course in his session, Horses for Open Courses. If you’re not sure what to expect, Martin has provided some notes and also linked to his presentation slides.

Towards the end of the conference, I’ll be chairing a session — with Martin and hopefully other members of the team — that situates ocTEL in the context of ALT’s objectives as a charity and the role it might have enriching the broader learning technology community of practice. ALT now has a quite considerable array of open resources — via its (not a comprehensive list and in no particular order) Open Access repository, YouTube channel, wiki, Open Access journal, What Research Has to Say About Practice series — but the challenges that come with a back catalogue like this include (a) maintaining awareness of it and getting it used and, relatedly, (b) keeping it fresh and current. I’ll be asking how an open course like ocTEL can best meet these challenges. I’ll also be showing this video, produced by Joseph Gliddon as part of his participation in ocTEL.

I’ll link to the presentation slides after the session, but for now I’m holding them back to build up the… drama.

Living and learning in the open

09/08/2013 in About this course, Course information

Now that ocTEL has been over for a few weeks, we in the team are at leisure to look back on it with rose-tinted glasses. The sky didn’t fall, no animals were harmed, and a few participants even had some complimentary things to say about the course. But for now I’m fighting off the urge to copy and paste those things into this post.

Rather than giving you positive spin about the course, we’ve published all the data we have about participation in the course under an open licence. This follows our original publication of our market research data last year. We hope this will be useful to people doing research on patterns of participation in MOOCs and similar online courses. It also gives you the chance to dig around behind the scenes of what went on in ocTEL’s first run and tell us it what respects it was a success and what areas we ought to be paying attention to in any future runs. Please do.

Being transparent about our data is part of ocTEL’s (and ALT’s) commitment to openness. We’ve also updated the licensing details for all ocTEL materials for clarity of attribution, which is a challenge for work with so many contributing authors — a challenge that we’ve had to meet with the slightly-less-than-ideal solution of attributing everything to ALT as the single, persistent denominator. This screencast about ocTEL by Martin Hawksey provides some broader context related to this commitment.

This was prepared as part of ocTEL’s submission to the Reclaim Open Learning innovation contest. They set a limit of two minutes for the screencast, so that’s why you hear Martin talking so fast. (As for the dark fringes of the images, reminiscent of Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Killing, the explanation may lie with the struggles Martin tells me he had with Windows Movie Maker.)

We are still planning to publish an evaluation of ocTEL, by Rachel Harris, in a month or two.

Understanding Learners’ Needs – Week 2 Wrap-up

30/04/2013 in Course information, progress report

The week’s activities began with a good deal of interest and comment relating to the four ‘Readiness questionnaires’. Most comments and posts related to the limitations of this mechanistic approach to identifying learners’ needs. Colleagues identified that differing degrees of self-awareness amongst students, previous experiences of learning (whether face-to-face or online) and the mood of the moment are all likely to impact upon how the questionnaire would be completed and the value that students would place on the automated feedback that they receive.

We were then delighted to welcome Helen Beetham as our guest for the Week 2 webinar, which was enjoyable, informative and as promised provocative at times.  You can view the recording of Helen’s webinar, and can also view Helen’s slides.

During the webinar we considered the purpose of asking students about their preparedness for online discussion, and considered other approaches to identifying learners’ needs which focus less on student deficit assumptions and more upon understanding what students actually ‘do’ in terms of their practices.  Webinar participants were divided about the various ways that learners are willing to engage with technology, which led Helen to suggest that we should be very wary about making any grand statements about learners’ needs and preferences.  Instead, we should be prepared to recognize the situated nature of learning and make opportunities to speak to students about their use of technology, helping them to imagine different learner and digital identities. Read the rest of this entry →

Expectations taster

29/04/2013 in About this course, Course information, Evaluation

Last week we asked you to tell us what your expectations are for taking part in ocTEL. If you haven’t already, please do add your views via the expectations questionnaire!

We are really hoping to hear from more of you, but from the responses so far, here’s a taster of what the ocTEL community looks like, and what you hope to achieve.
Pie chart of location of respondents
As you can see from this pie chart, most respondents are based in the UK.

The majority also indicated that they work in Higher Eduction, but some cover other sectors including the NHS, private and third sectors. Over half are learning technologists or lecturers, but other roles such as manager and teacher are also represented.

We’re also interested in what experiences participants had prior to taking part in ocTEL. Responses so far suggest most have some experience of using technology for teaching, and of using social media (SM) for their own learning and for networking. Perhaps reassuringly for the course team (!), there are also participants who have joined ocTEL with a view to broadening their understanding in these areas. In the words of one respondent “I know I have big gaps in my knowledge regarding pedagogical theory and instructional design. I’d like to start ‘shading in’ these areas and find out what else I need to know for the future.”

Read the rest of this entry →

Meet the team

16/04/2013 in About this course, Course information

With apologies for the fact that it’s twelve days into the course before we’ve made this available, we now have an ocTEL team page on the site. Here you can see photos and bios of the people who have played a part in putting the course together. ocTEL is very much a virtual team — we’ve had one face-to-face meeting in the seven months of the project — so in some cases this is as much as I’ve ever seen of my colleagues too.

The writing and tutoring of ocTEL are being provided without charge, so I hope everyone will at some point extend some thanks to those who have given their time for this. You can see who’s done what on the Course Materials page. The webinar presenters throughout the course are also gifting their time. The management, administration, technical infrastructure and evaluation are being supported through the Leadership Foundation in Higher Education, and we’re grateful to them as well. For more details see our About page.

Not included on the team page yet are our many volunteer support tutors on the course. So let me add a big thank you to the tutors who have taken part so far: Sue Barnes, John Davies, Clare Denholm, Devampika Getkahn, Doug Gowan, Sarah Horrigan and Ruth Johnstone. Later on you’ll be meeting tutors with surnames in the second half of the alphabet! We’ll add all the names to the team page in due course.

Big questions and learning the ropes

12/04/2013 in About this course, Course information, progress report

Here’s quick overview and recap as the induction part of ocTEL draws to a close and we approach the start of the main course next week.

The aims we set for this part were for you to

  • have a sense of different Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) contexts and some of their strengths and weaknesses
  • understand the range of prior experiences and expectations of the course participants, including those from different cultures, and the implications of these for this form of TEL
  • achieve basic confidence in navigating, discussing and otherwise participating in the ocTEL course.

One of the main activities was to frame a ‘big question’ about Technology Enhanced Learning and there’s been a great array of these. Diana Laurillard gave us a classification of them in her webinar presentation:

Participants' big questions

Diana Laurillard’s analysis of the TEL questions raised by participants

Thanks also to Tom Franklin who provided a more fine-grained analysis of questions posed via the JiscMail list (simple version below, or more comprehensive version on Tom’s blog):

One of the observations I’ve made in commenting on a few of the blog posts I’ve seen is that our suggestion that you come up with a ‘big’ question has led many of you (not unreasonably) to frame your questions in general and abstract terms that could be applied to the whole sweep of Higher Education and the role of technology within it. That’s fine, but big questions can also be personal and concrete ones. For example, your interest in peer assessment and support is a big issue for you if you see this as the only way that you can make your new course work effectively. So don’t be afraid to frame your questions in personal and local terms, as this will mean that, if you hold the questions in mind as you work through the rest of the course, it will focus you on practical ideas that you can apply in your day-to-day practice.

We also encouraged you to introduce yourselves to others, and this has demonstrated both the diversity of experience among participants and the enthusiasm for TEL-related professional development. The diversity was a lesson for us as course designers as well, as we saw the Death by Acronyms forum topic emerge. We will be reviewing all the materials for the rest of the course to ensure we are not too blinkered by the UK-centric origin of ocTEL.

Some questioned whether it was really such a good idea to encourage a thousand people to introduce themselves to each other. In the process of the introductions and the sharing of big questions, a lot of ‘discussion traffic’ was generated and some people felt overwhelmed (indeed some may still do so). The JiscMail list is probably where there’s been most evidence of people being uncomfortable with the communication channel (and I’ve said what we would do differently, with hindsight). We’ve taken the lessons for this course, but hopefully there are also lessons in terms of the strengths and weaknesses of different communication channels that have broader implications for TEL. Meanwhile, the JiscMail list seems to have established at least temporary equilibrium (many unsubscribed in the early, busy days as numbers fell from around 800 to just over 700, but they’re now back up to 790+ as we welcome new registrations).

I hope some of you will feel that, over the last nine days, you’ve got some new insights about what works and doesn’t work for you, as in Sandra Huskinson’s message:

Experimenting has been interesting via the different channels of communication. I’ve found I get replies relatively quickly via all forms of media. Keeping tweets short is a challenge. The learning in either format is good although things are limited in twitter useful links are posted. I don’t think there is a ‘best’ for reflection, challenging or learning as I found each format did this in its own way.

In case you’re a bit of a numbers and trends geek, here are a few figures on the different channels of ocTEL communication as of the time of writing (mostly taken from our Course Reader, which is the best way to track all ocTEL discussions) :

Please be assured that no one person is keeping on top of all of this activity! ocTEL deliberately gives you the choice of which of these channels to use for each activity, according to what you feel is most convenient and rewarding. I’ll be interested to see the trends in how these figures change over the coming weeks.

If you’ve read all the way down to here, thank you, and I hope you feel you’re getting the hang of it. That basic confidence really is the one most valuable thing you can carry forward into the rest of the course.

The materials for Week 1, TEL Concepts and Approaches, will be emailed round on Monday. If you’re eager to get under way with them, they will be available on the website some time on Saturday morning (UK time), under Course Materials.


What we’re learning from you about communications in large online courses

05/04/2013 in About this course, progress report

In this course we encourage you to communicate with each other via several channels, including your own blogs and twitter accounts, and we provide some guidance about when and why to use them. We let you, the course participants, choose which one you prefer.

One of the main purposes of this induction part of the course is to give people time to explore the possibilities of different features and benefits of the different channels. We give you time to ‘settle’ before the course gets underway in earnest.

What we’re finding is that the email discussion list (JiscMail) is both the most and the least popular channel. It’s the one that most people have gravitated towards for introducing themselves and sharing their work on initial activities. That means that there have been a lot messages circulating (good), but also that some people have rapidly felt overloaded (not good) and have opted out.

(For help on getting just one daily digest from the JiscMail list, or opting out, see the FAQ.)

By comparison, the web forum that people can use for posting introductions is relatively un-used, although other forums are starting to get lively. no one has used that channel.

About 80% of you opted into the email discussion list when registering for the course. As some decide that this is not for them, this may fall to 50% or less of active participants.

Whatever channel you choose to use, you won’t miss out on important communication from the organisers. We post all course content and messages from the organisers on the main ocTEL website and send one email at the start of each week directly to each participant. If the email discussion list is used by just a minority (rather than the majority) of participants, we believe it will still be useful.

It’s part of the process of large group dynamics evolving and finding an equilibrium. It’s why we included an induction period in the course design. At the same time, we acknowledge that managing communications in large groups is a challenge for everyone. For help on how to manage the different channels, please go to the FAQ.

There are also some interesting questions and positive points that emerge from this in terms of online learning:

  • with a large, open course – with participants from around the world and in different professional roles – how do you make visible the other participants and their activity?
  • can the introductory process ever be non-chaotic (in the sense of chaos theory, rather than shambles)?
  • how do nudge people towards ‘pull’ or more passive communication channels like forums (which require the hassle of new login procedures as well as unfamiliarity) instead of the convenience, for senders, of email?

Course begins: looking forward to your feedback

03/04/2013 in About this course, progress report

ocTEL starts today. Like the English first class cricket season, which begins tomorrow, play gets under way at the civilised hour of 11.00 British Summer Time. Like cricket, it’s best if you don’t rush.

We’ve put a lot of planning and preparation into the course, but we’ve retained a lot of flexibility and minimal central control. So when 900 people starting using multiple discussion channels, things are going to happen that we probably haven’t prepared for. Please give us your feedback, and sometimes a little of your patience as well, when this occurs.

We’ve deliberately stretched the first induction module to be more than a week long. Hopefully that means you can take your time. If you get stuck or confused at any point, you have time to recover without feeling pressured. The main thing in this first session is to get a feel for the different ways of communicating with each other and with the course. With that in mind, here’s an introductory screencast about how to login (more help here). Thanks to Martin Hawksey for this — Martin has built pretty much all of the course infrastructure.

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