#ocTEL Activity 5.1 Course dimensions

This activity is based on a consideration of how course dimensions as identified by Hill et al (2012) may influence technology use.  The table from the paper is shown below – I’ve included it as it’s under a creative commons licence which allows remixing.

Table 1.  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    

I think I would add a couple more dimensions when I consider my own practice.  

Logistical – class diversity – e.g. which programme(s) are the students on – are some majoring in my subject, are others studying related subjects but accounting is not their core one?, what nationalities do I have in the class – impact on cultural norms, language skills etc

Logistical – level of study.  Hill et al (2012) mention UG vs PG etc but what about UG level – I would have different expectations regarding independent study of level 1 than level 3/4 UG students.

Logistical – what about pedagogical affordances of the available technologies? I think the ped-tech link works both ways (i.e. both ped first then tech, and sometimes tech first then work out ped!).  Sometimes I am constrained by what the available technologies can do.  By available, I mean those that are feasible, cost-efficient (hopefully free!), institutionally supported or at least compatible with our VLE, stable for use over a period of time, not too fiddly or offputting for me or the students etc).  Sometimes I have an idea about something I want to do in my teaching and then set about looking for a tool/combination of tools that will support this use.  This is where I sometimes set brainteasers for our learning technologists – although I’m not that innovative, so normally someone has done what I want to do.  I don’t kid myself that I’m a trailblazer – after all, I’m a risk-averse accountant!

I found the ‘extent of web work’ an interesting factor.  I do consider this – but it may not be set at one level for a whole course, so I would want any template to be sufficiently flexible.  In the past, I’ve taught blended courses which don’t have both tracks of f2f and distance learning running in parallel, but instead they start off distance, then there’s an intensive f2f section, then it goes distance again. 

I like a fairly blank VLE template (sort of basics+)- which, happily, is what my institution goes for.  I find this leaves me with plenty of flexibility to enhance my VLE site to scaffold the uses I want to put it to during my courses.  There is support if any teaching staff want to do something beyond the basics – our blended learning team will make suggestions based on the pedagogical uses we articulate in discussion with them.  I guess the philosophy is implicitly based on the 3Es framework.  

Now to the actual questions we were asked to consider in this activity!

Which of these considerations is the biggest driver towards your adoption and choice of technology?

I can’t break it down into which is most important for me- they all interact.  Although the logistical ones are pressing, I tend to think about what I can then do in spite of logistical constraints.  So, that one does not dominate my thinking.  There is a thread of philosophy in my courses – about developing digital literacy and independent study skills, enrichment of core content with supplementary resources etc, so I think there are common themes in terms of the participation consideration.  Also, they are all delivered from within an institutional Blackboard VLE, so platform does promote some consistency/constraint (depending on whether you are glass half full or glass half empty about this aspect!)

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)?

They do change – and I have repurposed materials for different courses, with different contexts e.g. the relative size of the f2f/distance components within the blended learning mix.  During the ash cloud a few years ago, I was prompted by circumstance to learn about how to do screencasting because so many of my students were stranded overseas close to exam time and needed to attend a virtual class, asynchronously as they were in multiple time zones.  This emergency meant I started to use this technology and have returned to it many times since!  So, there is serendipity as well.

How does this relate to the learning activity dimensions you may have identified in Activity 1.2?

I think the considerations discussed above probably overlay the 4 dimensions social, individual, directed and autonomous – these impact on each of the pedagogical dimensions.  It’s a bit like a giant cauldron, with more ingredients going in there as I get more granular on the course design.

So, for example, within the logistical, I have a final year class.  Therefore, I would expect that the position along the spectrum directed to autonomous is more over towards autonomous than directed, given the level of study.  So, there have been some more directed workshop activities, and some which were less directed and more open – I’ve explained that you get out what you put in to these!  I try to reward students who have gone beyond the course constraints and found their own examples etc in the assessment criteria on the course.

#ocTEL Activity 3.1 Theories of active learning – connectivism

I chose to review connectivism because it’s a theory I have become increasingly aware of as I have read various articles and blog posts by George Siemens, as I became interested in the emerging concept of MOOCs.

What is connectivism?

“Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual….[It] is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations.” (Siemens, 2004).

The basic tenet is that even learning theories which acknowledge social aspects of learning, such as social constructivism, do not fully address the idea that learning may happen outside the individual, and that in the digital world, an element of learning is learning from others’ experiences (as expressed e.g. through social media) and being selective about which sources of knowledge and who you choose to listen to (David White – see earlier post – expresses this as being selective over who you allow to take up your mindspace!)

Reflection: relationship to how I learn

I used to think that I ploughed my own furrow with regard to my learning process, and it was an intensely individual and private process.  This may be a function of having done little groupwork up to my undergraduate studies.  I returned to this during professional exams – when the training was very traditional, involving lots of practice drill-type exercises, particularly in the middle level papers.  However, when we got to the final case study, it was all about group preparation, synthesis and application of knowledge – very different, without this being expected at the start by myself and my peers!  With hindsight, we weren’t very well prepared in terms of our expectations of the professional exams…

However, on reflection, I did and do recognise that elements of my learning were not within me – for example, I was taught to listen to others’ corrections in ballet class, and then process these to improve my own work.  I return to this maxim from time to time in my teaching – especially during a revision period like now.  I encourage my students to listen to others’ questions and the answers both f2f and on discussion boards.

Siemens acknowledges the increased accessibility of information and ‘knowledge’ in his article about connectivism – it seems to prompt a different kind of learning.  In some subject disciplines and contexts, it is about knowing where to look and who to contact to develop one’s own knowledge – an individual cannot know it all, but technology can help with the pipeline (as described by Siemens).  I’ve been exhibiting some connectivist tendencies on ocTEL – I’ve been storing up resources using Delicious for future use – I know I will want to return to some later, rather ‘just in time’ learning.  I don’t like instrumental learning – I used to soak things up like a sponge, just for fun, but I do recognise that not everyone is in it for the joy of learning, and this is not necessarily a problem, although I find it sad, like Ramsden (2003).

Reflection: relationship to my practice

As I have become increasingly interested in, and pursued studies in educational technologies, and led online and blended learning courses, I have gradually recognised the power of connectivism to develop my learning and teaching.  I think for me, that Twitter has been the gamechanger – the ability to share links in particular, and then bookmark for later. I’ve been doing this for my students, with the hope that they use up the store during their revision!

Reflection: activity design

One interesting issue I sometimes face in my teaching is how to make best use of a guest lecture (either virtual or in person).  Trying to build wrap around activities is sometimes a challenge, even though the lecture itself will always be aiming to be relevant to the course.  Sometimes the links between what is said and the course syllabus need to be made more explicit for students, before and after the session.  So, I can see that some activities such as following the guest lecturer on Twitter and retweeting relevant tweets (exhibiting selectivity skill) plus following others who follow/are followed by the guest lecturer etc.   The learning from the benefit of others’ experience can be powerful in a guest lecture, as can the ability for myself and the students to make a contact with a key figure in industry.


Siemens, G. (2004) Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age [online].  Available from: http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm (accessed 6 May 2013)

Ramsden, P. (2003) Learning to teach in higher education.  2nd edition, Abingdon, Routledge Falmer

#ocTEL #diglit Week 2 Themes in learner needs: thoughts and resources

I chose to look further into digital literacy, as I already have an interest in this theme.

ocTEL suggested resource 1: Rheingold talk (2009) on 21st century literacies

Key points (my thoughts in brackets):

  • Need to get beyond skills into attributes, also limited unless collaborative (socio-constructivist view point)
  • Critical consumption of internet resources – looking at who the author is, others linked to them, sources used – detective skills.  This skill evolves over time so doing 1 session on it won’t work – need to keep revisiting
  • Attention – even good students do multitasking and this reduces attention on teacher – multitasking not necessarily bad but have not learned how to manage it yet
  • Critical thinking – misunderstood?  Schools fear it as it may lead students to criticise authority?  He is pessimistic re capacity of schools for change – but also concerned about learning outside school and whether this will evolve student attributes (not clear what he does suggest!)
  • Collaboration – linked to collective action, social capital (getting things done without official channels) (what if students don’t want to do this?  Why does he link collaboration with activism – what about collaboration in educational activities, which he doesn’t discuss?)
  • Network awareness – different types of networks have similar characteristics – refers to pre-digital-age sociology literature to help understand what happens on line.  Reference to personal learning networks
  • Using Twitter – don’t necessarily follow all who follow you and vice versa, be selective about who you allow to ‘take up your mindspace’, ‘sample the flow’ ie don’t necessarily have to read everything (unlike email)
  • Teacher’s role – linking digital and non-digital literacies (is this a false division, I wonder, but I like the idea of being signpost/guide/foundation builder)
  • Technologies and literacies co-development (seems pretty obvious!)

Some interesting ideas, but thinking critically, I have the following points:

  • Conflation of political activism with collaborative activities – he was using collective action, examples of protests organised on social media as an example, but I think this confuses the picture.  This is not an educational use of technology – unless in say politics!  I find the conflation of the two unhelpful- and it oversteps the boundaries of education in my view
  • Some of the pedagogies he showed in his class – e.g. moving chairs into a circle are pretty obvious – nothing exactly earth-shattering here, so I think there is some ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ here…
  • Not clear (as above) where he thinks these attributes should be developed – he did not discuss the fact that if it is left until students enter HE, it may be too late as they may be too ‘fixed’ in their digital strategies and preferences.  I felt this thread was left hanging
  • However, notwithstanding these concerns, I do think there is some useful material in his Educause article (2010) about the attributes.

ocTEL suggested resource 2: JISC digital literacies project website

So much stuff on here, that I have just taken a quick tour and bookmarked for later.  However, Helen Beetham also linked to this project in the week 2 webinar.  I found the page by theme helpful in orientating myself in the vast range of resources available.

I am interested in discipline-specific digital literacies, as the iPads pilot I am coordinating at work is grounded in our discipline.  Therefore, I had a look the Professionalism in the digital environment – prIDE project hosted by the University of Bath, part of which has constructed digital literacy frameworks for each faculty – accounting sits within the School of Management at Bath so I looked at that one.  These use Beetham’s pyramid developmental model (as shown in the webinar slides or here) with tailoring for the discipline.  However, the one for management I found a bit underdeveloped – some good basics here but lack of linkage, synthesis and higher-order skills in my view.  I wonder if a good output from our project might be to do a more evolved map with more synthesis, for accounting and finance?!!?

Other resources on this theme

  • Digital literacy and information framework – the Open University.  Quite keen on this and it’sfamiliar from my studies with the OU!
  • Skills@Library from the University of Leeds – http://library.leeds.ac.uk/skills.  My favourite resource so far is the sources evaluation checklist – not purely based on digital, but I think could be tweaked using some of the Rheingold material.   I’ve used this quite successfully in class this semester.  There is a student and lecturer page on learning in a digital age.

#ocTEL week 2 – readiness for online learning

Call me a geek, but I do love a questionnaire!  I have just completed the Penn State University Online Readiness Assessment and the University of Houston Test of Online Success.  I think I’m pretty set up for online learning from the results of these questionnaires, but then I have been an online learner for a number of years, so I would have expected that the results would suggest I can cope!

I think such questionnaires are interesting – they combine some basic questions about access to computer and basic competences with some of the more complicated aspects such as flexibility, how committed one is to putting the time aside to study online, and some questions about how self-regulated one is as a learner, and about study patterns and attitudes to face to face vs online.  This serves to emphasise just how complex the various dimensions are, and how deep-seated I think attitudes and preferences might be in this space – i.e. it’s not just about ‘digital literacy’ or competences.  That’s only the start.

I’m thinking about using some of the questions from these tools to survey incoming students as part of a bigger project.  I want to understand experience, attitudes and competences.  Not much to get to the bottom of, then! However, I think the questionnaires can easily be gamed – students know what the ‘right’ answer is so we can’t treat the results as absolutely reliable.

This activity did bring home to me the fact that we (by that I mean myself and colleagues) do assume certain qualities/abilities in our students, but probably don’t make these explicit at the start of university and the start of different levels of study.  Perhaps we need to spend some more time on this.  I have started to cover this area in my introductory lecture for each course – perhaps we need to do this more widely.

Links to the two questionnaires I mentioned above:

https://esurvey.tlt.psu.edu/Survey.aspx?s=246aa3a5c4b64bb386543eab834f8e75 (Penn State)

http://distance.uh.edu/online_learning.html (Houston)


#ocTEL week 1 – My Practice

I’ve been considering my approach to teaching using this matrix.  I vary my approach depending on the cohort, subject and context.  For example, in accounting, there is some emphasis on technical proficiency, which can prompt ‘individual, autonomous’ self-testing and drilling approaches.  However, I am currently teaching a current issues module to final year undergraduates, and am placing more of an emphasis on discursive skills, hence group discussion activities and open questions.  

I came into HE from a professional training background, so I do tend toward traditional approaches, albeit facilitated with technology.  I can’t decide if institutional constraints and student resistance/unfamiliarity with new ways of doing things are really stopping me from using more innovative approaches, or whether I am just making excuses!  

Next year, we’re going to run a new module using a business game, in which the students will have some direction but also some autonomy in running a business within the game, in groups of 4.  So, there are dual skills and content learning outcomes.  It will be a new experience for me as well as the students!  

Considering my current course further, it’s a blended learning approach.  I have sought student feedback formally halfway through teaching and again at the end of the course, and informally when students come and see me for appointments.  There is a significant element of information absorption, so I use a traditional lecture format for this, plus a range of supplementary resources including screencasts, weblinks, ebooks, journal articles and tweeted links via the VLE.  Application of the knowledge is important, however, and this guides my approach to the workshops which accompany every week’s lecture.  I have structured this with some preparation work, which is then built on and extended in class.  There have been informal opportunities for students to work in pairs and ‘buzz groups’ within the class.  However, there is individually assessed coursework and a summative exam.  

For me, as long as there is balance in the approaches across a programme of study, then you don’t necessarily need to have a balance within each module/course.  

#ocTEL Visitors and residents – David White workshop

I attended a workshop run by David (from the University of Oxford’s continuing education department, where he co-manages the TALL (technology-assisted lifelong learning) research and development group) yesterday.  Thought-provoking stuff, not least because the subject is closely linked to my big question for #ocTEL, and my musings on digital expectations gap!

‘Visitors and residents’ relates to a concept developed by David and Alison Le Cornu regarding students’ (and teachers’) online activities (not exclusively their educational activities, but with an educational focus).

David explained that he views online behaviours as a continuum.  At one end there is visitor activity – where the web is used like a toolbox, thinking happens offline and the user ‘goes in’ to the web to do their task (e.g. searching for info on Google).   At the other end there is resident activity – where the web is used to connect with people, and where a lasting footprint will remain of your activity (e.g. a social media profile etc).  I like the idea of continuums not binaries, and I feel this is more sophisticated than Prensky’s digital natives and digital immigrants – and doesn’t make assumptions based on age, technological skills etc.

David got the participants to map them selves on the visitors and residents continuum, for each tool we use (e.g. Twitter, VLE, LinkedIn, Facebook etc) – emphasising the point that a person may exhibit visitor characteristics in one tool, but resident in another.  Some tools might lend themselves to residency (e.g. social media), but you could use those as a visitor (e.g. reading a Twitter feed but not posting yourself would be a visitor type characteristic).  My very rough map is attached – I was taking notes on my tablet but my drawing skills weren’t up to this so I had to resort to pen and paper!

The workshop raised interesting questions (based on interview transcripts from a range of UK and US HE students and staff) about the tensions for students between the convenience of Google, patterns of habit regarding information searching, cultural norms (e.g. is a book more authoritative than the internet?) and relatively basic critical evaluation skills in the majority – not surprising, due to speed of expansion of the information space and fact that these skills are not often taught pre-university, but implicitly expected in HE.

He suggests we need to foster these skills more explicitly, pre-HE and throughout a student’s time at university.  I couldn’t agree more, and have been trying to do this with my students… but deep pedagogical shifts are needed. He’s positive about this, and suggests that now information is much more easy to find than in the pre-digital age, this can free us up to spend more time on critical thinking.

He suggests formal education is predicated on the visitor characteristics, and while there isn’t an implied superiority of resident over visitor, one of the roles of HE would be to inform and engage students in resident behaviours as well as visitor ones -i.e. scaffolding flexibility among learners, as this is likely to be demanded in the workplace of the future.   We pondered whether subject discipline might affect the behaviours – and there is a strand of the project that will investigate this.  There are also tensions in the interview findings about collaboration, plagiarism, and appropriate strategies – avoiding a learning ‘black market’ and developing good academic practice in this area.


David White’s homepage:


Visitors and residents paper (2011): http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/viewArticle/3171/3049

Visitors and residents project


AKShepherd student engagement v_r mappin040

#ocTEL week 0 Activity 0.1 My Big Question

My question is ‘How do we use technologies to enrich teaching and encourage our students to use them to enrich their learning, while still respecting individual differences and preferences?’.

I suppose I have been grappling with this for a while now (see the ‘Digital Expectation Gap’ post earlier on this blog), but haven’t expressed it in words.  I seem keener than most of my students on using technology in an educational setting, and keener than some of my colleagues.  

I think we should not make ‘digital natives’ assumptions – students may prefer not to use technologies in their studies,  or may lack experience or skills in so doing.  Just because they may use a certain technology in every day life, that doesn’t mean it crosses the bridge into use in their studies.  I find this issue very interesting, and I wonder how I can open up their minds to some of the affordances of the technology, so that their choices are informed.  There is some overlap between this and cultural shift among teaching staff, I think.  Old habits die hard!

#ocTEL week 0 – Introduction

A bit of a bumpy start to my ocTEL experience…I returned home from holiday last night to find a completely clogged up inbox, as I had not realised I needed to switch my email receipt settings so I get the digests and not all the individual emails (in common with a number of fellow participants!) I could not find my ocTEL registration email (in my junk folder), and had to do a lot of sorting out to get up and running. Anyway, I think I’m ready now!

I started this blog recently to capture various strands of work I’m doing on educational technology (or technology-enhanced learning, to use a more up to date term). I teach accounting in the business school of a large Russell group university, but I have been interested in educational technology for a while now. I can see its power to enrich teaching and learning and challenge our students.

My undergraduate studies (not in accounting) were not particularly technology-enhanced, as they were quite some time ago! However, I designed a web resource for fellow students as my final year project, so that was my earliest experience. At the university where I taught previously, I was introduced to Blackboard, and taught on a face to face course with about 1,000 undergraduate students registered. We decided to make the experience ‘blended max’ by leveraging as much from Blackboard as we could to help us manage the scale of the course. However, noting others’ rather ‘trial and error’ approach, I decided I wanted to understand more about the pedagogical affordances of the various technologies that were available, to try and use them in a more focused way. So, I enrolled on the Open University’s Online and Distance Education postgraduate programme. I have got a lot from this programme, not least the experience of being an online distance learning student and all that that entails. I also found this useful in my role as module coordinator for a large online distance learning MBA module. I took a pause in my studies on changing jobs last year, but I plan to resume with my final course towards the MA later on in 2013. In the meantime, when a colleague mentioned this MOOC in an open meeting at my university, I thought it might be interesting, not just for the content and making connections with fellow participants, but also for the experience of being an MOOC student.

So, I guess I have a moderate amount of previous experience both as a student and in using technology enhanced learning (TEL) technologies and pedagogies in my teaching. However, still plenty of capacity to learn and develop further!

#ocTEL MOOC – open course in technology-enhanced learning

I thought I should practise what I preach so I have registered for a MOOC run by the Association of Learning Technologists. It starts this week,and 780 people have registered so far. If the introductory materials are borne out, it appears that the constructivist, open-access principles of Stephen Downes and the other early MOOC advocates are being followed. I look forward to this experience, but I am conscious that the audience for a MOOC on TEL may be atypical of the audience for other MOOCS, so I am not expecting it to be a truly authentic MOOC student experience!

Digital expectation gap

I read with interest ‘An Avalanche is Coming: Higher Education and the Revolution Ahead’, a report released by the Independent Public Policy Research (IPPR) thinktank earlier this week.  While it is worth noting that the three authors work for Pearson, a company which has well-publicised intentions of moving into the HE space as a provider (building on the publishing and media footprint it already has), and there are a number of Pearson-related examples cited in the report as evidence of this revolution, it does contain some thought-provoking content.

However, the assertion I was most struck by was the statement that, in the post-revolutionary ‘mass universities’, which will have an emphasis on blended and online delivery, ‘the variety of courses and learning opportunities will extend far beyond what is offered at a traditional bricks and mortar college, allowing students to customise and build their learning according to their personal interests and passions over a period of time that suits them best’ (p.57).  Having taught face to face, blended and fully online distance learning courses, and been a distance learner online myself at postgraduate level, I think that potentially invalid assumptions are being made here about there being high and consistent levels of digital literacy among current HE students.  As with other aspects of life, there is a broad spectrum in attitudes, preferences and the extent to which students are (and can be) self-directed learners in an online context.

In audit theory, there is a well-established concept of the ‘expectation gap’, i.e. the difference between what the general public think a financial audit consists of and what it actually consists of.  This led me to consider further, is there a ‘digital expectation gap’, in terms of educators’ views of students’ preferences and skills relating to online and blended learning being significantly different from reality?  There is a small but expanding volume of educational research which suggests that this type of expectation gap does exist.  We cannot assume all our students will adapt to a blended or online model, without support in developing digital literacy and scholarship skills, or that they will indeed want to.  Thus, although the report cautions universities against being overly cautious in the face of potentially revolutionary change, these changes need to cater for the spectrum, otherwise a  number of students will be left out in the snow.



Barber, M., K. Donnelly and M. Rizvi An Avalanche is Coming: Higher Education and the Revolution Ahead [online].  Available from: http://www.ippr.org/publication/55/10432/an-avalanche-is-coming-higher-education-and-the-revolution-ahead (accessed 17 March 2013)