Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

Animoto Alicante Summer School!

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Animoto animation of the Spanish Summer school last week - what a great experience! Test for you - what has the duck got in it’s mouth????

El pescado peligroso y el muchacho

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008


alicante 1



The “boy” and the dangerous fish
Ok for those of you who don’t speak Spanish the title might be a bit challenging and even for those of you who do you might be wondering what on earth I am on about. I have just returned from the most amazing experience as a student on a summer school in Alicante. This blog is primarily about work – research etc. but I wanted to post something to reflect on the experience as I think it is relevant both in terms of an example of a learning experience AND the issue of technology-mediated learning versus face to face support. I’ve blogged a few times before about this. The title translates “the dangerous fish and the boy”, which was the nickname for two of my fellow students Gerald and Anthony. Can’t remember why they were called that but there you go! 


alicante 2It was a fantastic experience and I feel I have learnt more in a week that on the whole course. I wanted to reflect on why it was such a good experience and why I feel it’s being so useful. I think there are a number of factors. Firstly the intensity of it, non-stop immersion in the language. We all totally freaked out when we arrived Saturday to be confronted in class solely in Spanish. I got off to a bad start when I was asked “Donde vives?” (where do you live?) I replied that I liked fizzy water, tea and wine. Oh dear, oh dear… Secondly there is no doubt about it the tutors (Judit, Rosa and Fernando) were fabulous – energetic, sympathetic and able to react to what was happening in the class. Thirdly the contact with other students – sharing war stories, finding out that I wasn’t the only one who tended to do nothing and then work like mad just before an assignment was due, sharing learning strategies, figuring out street signs together. How sad is it when a group of you get really excited when you understand a street sign and realise it’s using the imperative? And what do you reckon “melon piel sapo” means? A fellow student M.A. and I had great fun trying to find out from a shopkeeper. The answer? It’s obvious! “Melon with the rough skin of a frog”! Fourthly the chance to practice – to talk!!! Languages are not dry academic subjects, they are conversational, living – you can only learn so much from books. As I have blogged before I think LXZ194 is a great course  - the materials, activities and audio tracks are excellent, BUT I have really missed having contact with other students. That shared camaraderie is such a critical part of being a student and more importantly I think a really key part of the learning process. So what does this mean in terms of technology-mediated learning? I am afraid there is just something about face-to-face learning that can’t be replicated online. Don’t all shout at me about second life etc, etc. Yes I think you can do a lot in audio or video conferencing, or immersive 3D worlds but I still think there is something unique and special about face-to-face interaction. For me the week was a learning-fest of sound, vision, contact, interaction… that together just made such a difference in terms of my level of Spanish and equally importantly my motivation for learning. It’s even made me want to continue to go on and do the next course in February! Mind you I haven’t done the exam for this course yet… Anyone out there thinking about learning Spanish I thoroughly recommend the course (and that’s honestly as a student not as an OU employee) BUT I recommend you sign up for the additional summer school as well – it’s worth every penny.  

Reflecting on learning

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

flashcardsI’ve been working quite abit this weekend on my Spanish course. I am getting behind and need to put some effort into it. Had fun using a set of flashcards associated with the course and using these as a basis to create a vocab mindmap using the Freemind mind mapping software. How sad am I? Also was sent a great link to an online dictionary. mindmapvia a tweet. At the same time I have just asked the students on our H809 course how they are finding things so far. It’s really interesting to reflect on the learner/teacher thing. The students who have responded so far have been positive overall about the course, but are finding it tough going. They have also been discussing the balance of activities on the course and in particular the role of the discussion forums vs. their blogs. h809Opinions as you might expect are mixed. Some students like the reflective nature of blogs, others don’t and prefer the more targeted discussions which are possible in the forums. We wanted the students to get a feel for the technologies so that they could then make up their own minds on the different affordances of the technologies and their own personal preferences. Reading their discussions on this in the forums and their blogs they sure seem to be doing that! In terms of my own learning - how’s it going so far? Nerve-wrecking in short. Being a student again is such an emotional thing! I’ve been close to dropping out,  even reduced to tears, and in contrast felt great when I’ve got a good mark in an assignment or when I feel I am making progress. So what do I think are the different aspects of learning and their impact on me? I think there are four main things, listed below - along with my reflections on my own experience with these:

  1. The content and activities - I have to say the materials for the course are superb, beautifully constructed and pedagogically excellent. There are a nice blend of different types of activities - reading, writing, listening, speaking. The pace is good, the exercises well structured and of about the right length, the quality of the audio files is great. 
  2. Structure - one of the reasons I wanted to do the course was to be given some structure, to be forced to do something within a timeframe. The course is doing that for me - my study calendar drives me, the periodic assignments force me to work at a certain pace. I have been wanting to learn Spanish for years and have numerous audio cassettes but have never got very far. 
  3. Accreditation - not really important for me, I don’t need this professionally, but relates to point 2 - ie forcing me to work towards a goal within a given timeframe.
  4. Support - on the plus side the feedback I’ve received on my assignments has been excellent - detailed and helpful. Now the negative. One of the other reasons I joined the course was to be part of an online community with other students. I can see that that’s happening in our H809 course - the students are supporting each other and the tutors provide excellent overall support and guidance. On my Spanish course communication is via an audio conference, Lyceum, once a fortnight, and that’s the problem - I can’t access it, which means I have no communication what so ever with the other students, and no chance to practice my speaking with others. Pretty major problem for a language course!! I am not technically stupid and use alot of other audio and video conferencing systems as part of my job - I used Eluminate on Friday in a video call with Canada. But despite many, many, many hours of trying and hours on the phone to the help desk, I still can’t get in. I’ve been amazed at how emotional I’ve been about the whole thing - really really upset and really really angry. It’s sobering to be reminded how tough being a student is - I think we forget that sometimes as teachers. 

Total immersion

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

Really interesting approach being adopted by Michael Wesch for his Digital Ethnography course, where he and his students/fellow researchers have created a shared online collaborative space and set of tools. It sounds great and I’ll be interested to hear how effective it is and what the participants reflections on it are. I think understanding the technologies through the technologies themselves is crucial - you don’t “get” this web 2.o stuff just by reading it - you have to be immersed in it to understand how it can or might change the way you do things. In a much more humble way we are trying to do elements of this in our H809 course which is about research with and through technologies. The students are using forums, blogs and wikis and it’s fascinating to start to see them reflect on their experiences so far now that they are a third of the way through the course. They have just started a great discussion on this in the forums sharing their views on using these tools. 

The ABC of academic discourse

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

Andy Powell picks up on the debate about blogging and academic discourse. Very relevant at the moment with respect to the research course we are running (H809) where the students are using blogs to reflect on readings and discuss things! I like his reordering of my suggestion for the role of blogging into a simple ABC:  A-academic paper, ailment B-blogging, C-conferences!! Soooo challenge for you… what about academic discourse D-Z???? ;-)

Harnessing web 2.0 for learners

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

Great summary of ideas from George Siemens on using social networking to improve the learner experience. The first is 

 Create a class blog…have students blog   

We have got students blogging as part of our new H809 course and it’s great to see their posts and comments on each others’ blogs. I have set up a folder of RSS feed alerts with the blogs and we have a summary of the blogs in the course wiki, but it would be interesting to hear from the students how they are finding using the blogs on the course and how they are managing to keep alert (or not!) to postings.  

Revisiting CMC research 20 years on

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

In the first week of our course, H809, we asked students to read quite an old paper from 1989 by Hiltz and Meinke ‘Teaching Sociology in a Virtual Classroom’ (Hiltz, S.R. and Meinke, R. (1989) ‘Teaching sociology in a virtual classroom’, Teaching Sociology, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 431–46.). We then asked them to reflect on a series of questions about the paper:

  • Questions: What research questions are being addressed?
  • Setting: What is the sector and setting? (e.g. school, higher education, training, informal learning)
  • Concepts: What theories, concepts and key terms are being used?
  • Methods: What methods of data collection and analysis are used? (e.g. the number of participants; the type of technologies; the use of interviews, surveys, observation, etc.)
  • Findings: What did this research find out?
  • Limitations: What are the limitations of the methods used?
  • Ethics: Are there any ethical issues associated with the research?
  • Implications: What are the implications (if any) for practice, policy or further research

It’s been fascinating reading the students’ blogs and seeing their different interpretations of the paper - some like it, some don’t and also their reflections on the questions. They have come up with a really rich set of views and perspectives. A number have also reflected on how the paper compares with current research, parallels with work on implementing VLEs for example; others have related the paper to their own practice or research that they are currently doing. It’s so great to see such a vibrant community developing already on the course! I’m going to learn lots reading these blogs over the next 20 weeks!!!

Good advice

Friday, February 8th, 2008

Sarah Stewart is undertaking an interesting month of daily challenges for her blog - lots of interesting posts about this, but I particularly like her advice picked up from Michele Martin on reasons for blogging:

  • blog to add value to yourself
  • think about the process, not the finished product
  • do not fixate on getting huge audience, but rather concentrate on developing quality relationships with readers [sounds like ‘quality parent time this one…]
  • don’t be afraid to make mistakes

On our new course which has just started - H809 - it’s great to see people beginning to set up and use their blogs. There has already been some interesting discussion about the worth (or not) of blogging in a learning context and its relationship to other dialogic mechanisms. I will be really interested to see how the debate develops around the course, for the students individually as a reflective tool, between the student and also more widely - with the tutors, course team and the blogosphere more  generally. Is the use of blogs for learner purposes any different from its use in other circumstances - such as part of a research community??

New course about to start!

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

maodeWe’re just about to go live with our new masters-level course ‘Practice-based research in educational technology’ or as we at the OU affectionately call it ‘H809′. This is part of our Masters in Online and Distance Education. This is the first course I have been involved with producing at the OU. As many of you will be aware teaching at the OU is team-based. Course production and delivery are separated; so a team of academics produce the course, whilst a different team help deliver it (in OU speak this is called ‘presentation’).Students are guided through their studies with the help of associated lecturers or tutors. It’s been a really interesting experience being part of the team producing H809. The course is chaired by James Aczel. His vision was to produce a course about researching in this area - taught through the research itself, therefore the course is primarily based around a series of key readings representing different facets of research and methodology in this area. We will be using discussion forums for structured debates and we also want to encourage students to keep a blog, so that they can get a feel for what it is like to be part of the online research blogging community! The tutors role is vital. They will provide support to the students, help monitor the online discussions and keep an overview of students’ progress. We have an excellent bunch of tutors supporting the course, who all have extensive experience in the field.  Further information is available via courses in IET and the MAODE.  

Fostering the research community

Sunday, December 16th, 2007


Constellation of practice in e-learning research (Image from flickr
George Siemen’s post about the role of blogs in teaching has prompted me to write something about the way we are planning to use blogs on a new course we are starting in February as part of our masters programme. The course is affectionately known as H809 (codes… it’s an OU thing….) or to give it its full title ‘Practice based research in educational technology’. The focus of the course is about researching with and about technologies. Rather than giving the students lots of content on research methodologies and how they are being used in e-learning and in studying the impact of technologies in education, we have decided to adopt a more innovative approach to the delivery of the course. We want the students to “experience” e-learning research, for them to become members of our research community. This fits very much with Wenger’s Community of Practice ideas and his views on identity and constellations of practice.   So instead of “dry content” and our views on what e-learning is about, we have designed the course around a series of seminal research papers which encapsulate some of the key features of e-learning research. We want the students to get a feel for the changing nature of e-learning as a research field, the predominant educational theories and perspectives which underpin it and examples of methodological innovation. But many of the students who are likely to take the course will be researchers or practitioners in the field themselves.  So we want to ensure that we can capture and build very much on their expertise as well. Soooo to the role of blogs in the course. We will be asking each of the student to keep a reflective research blog as they work through the course and will be encouraging them to read and comment on each others blogs. We want them to experience the role of blogs in a research context and for them to reflect on their own views of how blogging offers a valuable, alternative communication channel for academic discourse. Hopefully they will find the experience rewarding and maybe even keep on blogging after the course has finished!