ALT-C 2016

September 13th, 2016

csof2ohxyaa04az-jpg-largeLast week I was lucky enough to go to ALT-C for one day only – representing TALL as a former winner of Learning Technology Team of the year (yes I am in the photo if you look carefully…)  One day was too short, but even in that time it worked as a great place to catch up with colleagues and find out about more about what is happening across the sector.  I am not going to manage a full summary here but would point you towards the ALT YouTube channel, which has all the keynotes and many other presentations.  Now to catch up on the days I missed.

OxTALENT Awards 2016

June 15th, 2016


Last night the University of Oxford celebrated the innovative use of digital technologies to support teaching, learning, research and outreach at its annual OxTALENT award ceremony. This year’s competition had a strong field of over 70 entries submitted by staff and students in the following categories:

• Use of WebLearn to support teaching, learning or outreach
• Innovative teaching with technology
• Academic podcasting
• Outreach & engagement
• Research posters
• Data visualisation
• Student IT innovation

As always, it was a pleasure to meet up with colleagues old and new from learning technology teams around the University and to see examples of digital projects undertaken by groups and individual staff and students across a wide range of the University’s academic departments, museums and supporting service. The University’s new Vice Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, was a guest speaker and in her closing address highlighted the importance of digital technologies for sharing the extraordinary resources of the University and the talent we have in teaching and research.

TALL would like to congratulate all recipients of the 2016 OxTALENT awards, in particular Professor Simon Benjamin, winner of the Innovative teaching with technology category. TALL helped Simon to realise his vision for teaching his first-year course on Vectors, Matrices and Determinants using a flipped classroom technique comprised of DIY videos and self-tests by providing an open Moodle platform, which enabled him to easily collate his teaching resources and to contribute to the University’s mission for global outreach by releasing his videos under Creative Commons and sharing them widely.

Further information about Simon’s course can be found in the Innovative teaching with technology post on the OxTALENT blog and details of all the 2016 winners, runners up and recipients of honourable mention can be found in the OxTALENT 2016: Roll of Honour.

Communicating accross cultures and the great dictators

May 16th, 2016

While we have been very busy in TALL in the last few months, this has not been reflected in this blog, something we hope to address in the near future.  In the meantime let me tell you about our latest new courses, Europe of the Dictators and Inter-culturally Speaking.

Europe of the Dictators is your chance to understand more of the dictators that dominated early 20th Century history, from Lenin and Mussolini to Stalin and of course Hitler.   This fascinating course is full of sources and resources (such as the Pathe news reel below) from contemporaries to the latest analysis.  These really bring the topic to life and help you understand this period of history.

The rise of the Dictators in Europe in this period are clearly not something that better communication accross cultures could have addressed alone, but it is a skill that would have helped then, and does help now in a world of global interaction.  Our new course Inter-culturally Speaking will introduce you to both the theory and the practice of communicating with people across the world, equipping you with understanding and skills that will be invaluable to anyone working in a global environment.  We have certainly learned a lot from developing this course and know we’ll use this in practice as we continue developing new courses for our worldwide audience.


New courses for Autumn 2015

August 12th, 2015

Our new courses for Michealmas 2015 are Ancient Egypt: An Introduction and Public Policy Economics two excellent additions to our portfolio.

The first is possibly our most eagerly awaited Archaeology course ever, we have been wanting to offer a course on Ancient Egypt for a very long time, but it has taken us a while to bring it together (we blame Egyptologists preferring digs to course development).  This course is an introduction to the rich and vibrant civilization of ancient Egypt, from royal pyramids, court artisans and powerful pharaohs, to grandiose temples, mysterious gods and foreign invasions.    Full of glorious resources and great activities it is going to make a lot of students happy.

Our Public policy economics course has been written by Diana Coyle who is really great at communicating complex ideas clearly.  This course is for anyone interested in politics and the economy and provides a fantastic insight into the economic thinking that shapes why governments make the decisions they do. With claims and counter-claims dominating the news this course will give you the knowledge you need to evaluate these and work out who you really believe.

Very different topics but equally rewarding learning experiences.

Image:Work found at / CC BY 2.0

From the first civilisation to a global perspective on people and society

April 8th, 2015

Work found at /CC BY-ND 2.0


It is that time of the term where I blog about our new courses and this term I am particularly excited to share our two new courses for Trinity:  The First Civilization: Mesopotamia 3500-2000 BC  and  People and Society: A Global Perspective.  From the civilization that saw the first societies, to ways of understanding society and how it shapes our world today, these courses help you engage with the world in very different ways.  Both will stimulate your thinking and each case they are particularly timely with current news events.

Our Mesopotamia course was a revelation to me, as a normal British school child I knew a bit about Egypt, but I would now argue we should be all be studying Mesopotamia which is at last as fascinating and even more revelatory in terms of the amazing artifacts produced by civilizations so ancient the dates start to seem fanciful.  As stories are emerging of ancient sites being destroyed in the Middle East  this course will help you understand just how tragic this is.

People and Society is a very different course, but again tied to current events, if you live in the UK, by the election.  This course examines many of the sociological assumptions that inform political discourse and will give you new ways to think about the debate, as well as helping you situate it in a global context.

Both these courses were in subjects I did not think I had much of an interest in, but as a result of developing I now know I do – study them and you may find the same thing.


New courses for 2015

December 9th, 2014

Once again it is time for my termly new courses post and this time I am very excited about our new offerings:  Animal Behaviour: An Introduction, Advanced Creative WritingInequality and Labour Markets, Who are the Celts?.

4121248252_236720dd7e_zA creative Celtic animal contemplating inequality?

Creative writing has long been one of our most popular portfolios and so it is fitting that it now sees out first level 5 online course, Advanced Creative Writing. Essentially this is the next level on from the rest of our online courses, equivalent to the second year of an undergraduate degree rather than the first year.  This course really does build on what has gone before, challenging students to take their writing to the next level and start to think about what might be really involved in getting published.

In contrast Animal Behaviour: An Introduction, is the first online course we have developed in biological sciences, but it won’t be our last.  I am really pleased with this course, it mixes the hard science with a chance to look at and analyse the behaviour of animals around you (or online), and put theory into practice. I am not usually the sort of person to watch nature documentaries but even I found it fascinating, if you love animals I can only imagine you will love it.  Lastly I have already been able to impress friends with facts I learnt in the course which has to be a good sign.

Who are the Celts? is a new course from Wendy Morrison who wrote out ever popular Archaeology in Practice.  Like that course, this is another great addition to our Archaeology portfolio filled with fabulous images, resources, activities and more.  I have learnt that the real Celts are not necessarily who you think they are, and this course will give you a chance to find out what this actually means.

Lastly our economics portfolio is definitely enhanced by Inequality and Labour Markets, a perennial economics topic which feels especially relevant at the moment.  If you are interested in the issues around Inequality, this course will allow you to dig deeper than the news and discover the underlying theory that has led to current practice and some of the latest academic research on whether this is a good or bad thing.

Essentially all four of these are courses that would enhance anyone’s life to study for 10 weeks, just pick the one that really interests you, and if none of these quite whet your appetite do look at everything else available at on the Continuing education website.

Image: Work found at BY 2.0

Open Oxford

December 9th, 2014

open projects at Oxford

While MOOCs have been hogging the headlines in recent years, many universities, including Oxford are continuing to produce open content in other forms, such as OER (open educations resources), podcasts, research and even the odd freely available course…

This has now been brought together through the  new Open Spires home page, which also has 3 lovely videos explaining what this is all about. All of these have lots of Continuing Education goodness, featuring academics from the Department, those from other departments with whom we have developed online courses and OER with, and even me – possibly getting slightly over excited about the wonderfulness of Open.  So to hear more about what Oxford and Continuing education are doing in the open sphere check out the videos below:



Electronic Management of Assessment (EMA)

November 5th, 2014


In the last few months JISC have been doing some great work looking at EMA, electronic management of assessment.  This has produced a really useful landscape review and there is more to come. For TALL this has brought back lots of memories of the Cascade project, and in particular our focus area: Online assignment handling. This was a few years ago and it may seem that many of our outputs might be outdated, but it is amazing how much of what we were dealing with remains the same.   In particular the recognition that so many issues in this space are about business processes rather than technology, really resonates with our Cascade experience. Certainly we are still working with colleagues to identify where processes can be improved to make things better for everyone and make using technology to support them even more effective.  A good example of this has been the  time it has taken to agree a universal submission time of day (2pm to ensure there is always support available to students immediately before and afterwards) and identify submission free periods (Mondays, Fridays and 2 weeks a year over Christmas and in the summer). Simple in principle, lots of benefits, but a big change from previous norms.

Our work on EMA in the department has come a long way since the Cascade project. Online submission and feedback is now our default mode for assignment handling (with a very small number of exceptions) and the understanding of staff and students of how EMA works, the real benefits and issues, makes discussion of future options and opportunities a much more valuable process.  It is this last point that ties us back around to the EMA work that JISC is undertaking.  While we have achieved a huge amount in this area, there is no doubt in our minds (and those of our students, tutors and administrators) that we could be doing more – and we have made sure we have participated in consultations to share what we are learning and what we want to know. What it is great to see is that we are not alone! The areas we are grappling with are ones that everyone else is dealing with too.  We will be closely watching this space to see what comes next.

Image found at  /CC BY 2.0

Six new courses

September 12th, 2014













This term see’s the most new courses we have launched for a long time with six new courses to stimulate and engage all lifelong learners out there. These range across the disciplines with new chances for study in a wide range of areas.


We are launching two new courses in  our economics portfolio, covering the area of political economy as much as pure economics.  These are the courses to take if you love watching Newsnight, follow politics religiously and want to understand the academic take on what is happening in the world today. International Labour Migration: Economics, Politics and Ethics, will help you justify your opinion on immigration with the latest research, while Social Policy and Welfare States in the 21st Century will help you understand how the modern welfare state works and what lies behind many of the choices made by governments today.


This portfolio sees the launch of the long awaited Critical Reasoning: A romp through the foothills of logic, written by Marianne Talbot our Director of studies in Philosophy who knows all about reasoning and romping!  This is a chance to find out if your arguments really work and test them against your fellow students.

History to Archaeology and Maths

Our historical courses are expanding in all directions this term, The Wars of The Roses: Power, Politics and Personalities, is our first medieval course (although we have lots from this era in our Literature portfolio….). If the discovery of the body of Richard III in a Leicester car park has whetted your interest in this topic, now is your chance to find out more.

We are now almost joining up at the other end of the medieval era with our latest archaeology course The Fall of Rome.  Written by Steve Kershaw who also wrote our extremely popular Greek Mythology course, this is your chance to find out if Gibbon was right.

Finally we are also taking a historical perspective on our latest Maths course The Great Mathematicians, which traces the history of maths from ancient times to the present day, through following the great mathematicians who pushed it forward.

The team is TALL has really enjoyed developing all of these courses and now we hope you will like studying them just as much.

Image Work found at (



July 3rd, 2014


Over the last few months we have been developing a new tool for Moodle which we have dubbed the InfoMap. This tool allows students to use a map interface to share information which they have attached to a location, thus collectively creating a shared map resource for the course. The initial idea for the tool came from Dr Martin Ruhs, who among his many other academic roles in the University acts as academic director for the Department’s portfolio of online economics courses. Whilst writing his new course  International Labour Migration: Economics, Politics and Ethics , Martin came up with several activities that build on the benefits of having an international student cohort for a course looking at global issues. For example a task that asks students to research public attitudes to immigration in their country allied to the InfoMap interface results in a visual representation of the attitudes to immigration worldwide, allowing students and tutors to see trends geographically represented in a way not previously possible.



The options that the InfoMap provides to create new types of learning activities are already being explored as we design other new courses. For example, we might use it to explore the legacy of European occupation in non-European countries in our new course People, Society and Globalization, or to compare architectural features in great churches in our new course on Medieval Cathedral.  If you are interested in either of these both courses will be availble later in 2015.