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.



Awards season

June 19th, 2014


It is that time of year where Trinity (ok summer) term is drawing to an end, and thoughts turn to Awards ceremonies.   Yesterday at Oxford University we apparently had two sets in one night.  I am sure the other awards were fabulous, but of course we attended OxTALENT, Oxford’s awards for teaching and learning enhanced with technology.

As usual it was great chance to find out about cool things going on in the University with IT, teaching and learning, from academic staff, librarians, support staff, students and more.   Some interesting themes emerged – clearly physicists are the best podcasters here in Oxford (and  if you want to study a course co-written by one of the winners check out our fabulous  Exploring the Universe course). There is also a lot of really great work being done to facilitate transition to university.  The Maths Bridging course we developed with MPLS was a runner up in this category, an indication of strong field with some excellent work from the Bodleian Libraries.

The day after that event it is worth noting Oxford is also doing well in external awards, with a Hoey Lee winning a grant as part of the JISC Summer of Student Innovation for his project to develop a University Proofreading Exchange. That this entered and won, is  no surprise when you see the quality of work in all the student categories at OxTALENT – so congratulations to everyone and I look forward to meeting the winners at future OxTALENT committee meetings.


Psychology and Modern Architecture

February 27th, 2014

This term we are launch two great courses, Psychology: an introduction and Western Architecture: The Modern Era.

Psychology is probably the most requested new online course topic for the Department so we are really excited to have our first course in this subject area.  This is a really great introduction if you know nothing about the subject, but also lets you explore topics in more depth if you are really interested.  Any course with units titled, “Why do we conform and whom do we obey?” and “Why do fools fall in love?” has to be worth some of your time.

However if psychology is not your thing I would also recommend our new course in Modern Architecture. This amazingly visual course lets you explore all the architects you would expect from Le Cobusier, Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright to those you may not have heard of such as Philip Johnson and Rober Venturi.  I promise after studying this you will never look at the (modern) buildings around you in quite the same way again.

So if you want to step into spring with new opinions on everything from Brutalism to theories of reward and punishment you could not come to a better place.


What exactly are your students up to online?

January 6th, 2014

This is probably not a question you want a comprehensive answer to but it would be handy to know how they are using the Web to engage with the learning challenges you are setting.

I’m currently leading a project with the Higher Education Academy which uses the ‘Visitors and Residents’ mapping process to help teaching staff to gain a better understanding of how their students are using the Web for their learning. Successful applicants will receive £1500 to attend two workshops (12 Feb and 7 May 2014). The first workshop will teach you how map your own online practice to set you up to run the process with a group of your students. The second workshop will review the maps generated by your students and provides an opportunity to explore how you might evolve your teaching practice to engage them in new ways online.

V&R map

Simple Visitor & Resident map

The pilot version of this workshop format proved very successful, with a number of institutions going on to run further mapping sessions at their institutions to get an holistic, high level, sense of how the Web is being using in teaching and learning by both staff and students (with the view to informing overall teaching and learning strategy/policy).

Obviously I’m biased but I like to think that the mapping is a pragmatic way of understanding online learning practices which often go undiscussed in education. It has proved to be a good starting point for reflecting on overall approaches to teaching and for informing how best to work with students online: for example, negotiating the complexities of connecting with students in platforms which are based on a ‘friendship’ paradigm.

It’s only a 500 word application process so if you are part of a higher education teaching team in the UK please take a look at the form on the HEA website. The deadline for applications is the 20th of January. Perhaps I will see you at the workshops? :)

Glorious Art for the New Year

November 14th, 2013
La station art nouveau de la porte Dauphine (Hector Guimard)

La station art nouveau de la porte Dauphine (Hector Guimard)

This term I am really excited to let you know about two of our most gorgeous new courses ever, Art Nouveau Across Europe and The Impressionists: Painting Modern Life, launching in Hillary term (January)  2014.  Both these courses are full of wonderful images and a chance to immerse yourself in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century world from which they emerged. In each case you are given a chance to explore the topic in depth, engaging with contemporary sources as well as more recent  academic debate. Find out everything you ever wanted to know about  Gaudi, Horta, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and come to your own conclusion on the strange death of Art Nouveau.  Alternatively explore the world of Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cassat from the origins of the Impressionism  to its evolution with Gaugin and Van Gogh. In either case you  will be stimulated intellectually (as in all our courses) and  especially visually.

Impressionism at the Art Institute of Chicago

Impressionism at the Art Institute of Chicago: Monet


Image credits:La station art nouveau de la porte Dauphine (Hector Guimard) / /by/2.0/ and Impressionism at the Art Institute of Chicago /

Climate modelling for a global audience

October 17th, 2013

As the latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Assessment Report is released, it is a good time to find out more about the science behind it. Over the last few years we have developed two courses through a project in conjunction with the Met Office Precis team and climate scientists here in Oxford, that gaims to encourage the sharing of high quality information about climate science, modelling and the interpretation of climate change modelling experiments.  This project has used online learning explicitly to target students in the developing world, aiming to reach areas where face to face training has not been able to make a widespread impact – although being online they are available to anyone anywhere so everyone can benefit.

To do this we developed a free course ‘An introduction to the science of climate and climate change‘  so far this has see just under 4000 students enrol, and this number is growing all the time. When last analysed we had students from 171 different countries and about 45%  of these were from the developing world.  This has been followed up by a second course ‘Constructing and Applying High Resolution Climate Scenarios‘ which enables small cohorts of fee paying students to learn more advanced content in small groups supported by a tutor. This again has achieved a truly global audience with students from Eritrea to Nepal, definitely reaching people who could never come to Oxford for a face to face course.  With so much of the scientific understanding on climate based around modelling, understanding how this actually works is information everyone can benefit from – and with our second course due to run next  on the 28th October, there is still time to sign up.