Archive for the 'Authoring' Category

Activity level design and learning design tools

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

One of the challenges in working in the learning design/pedagogy planning tools area  is that the most practitioners we encounter don’t want planning tools, they want content creation tools that work seamlessly with their delivery environment.  Or they say they want planning tools, but when you clarify their requirements they want is really all around content creation.

Liz Masterman and I were discussing representations of activity level design, when we had one of those realisations that make you wonder why you have never seen it before – and suspect that perhaps it was obvious to everyone but you – that at the activity level, design is most often done within the delivery tool.  I may plan a face to face teaching session in Phoebe or (getting back to basics) Word, but usually I work out the details of the specific activities of a face to face training session in PowerPoint as that is what I use to present it to the students in class.  With online courses again I am far more likely to start writing straight into the wiki itself when working out how I want a wiki based activity to work and what instructions I need to give students around it.

I would be interested if others would agree with this?  If it is not just me, then for projects such as Cascade and LDSE  this has implications for where it is best situate guidance and support, where planning and support tools have a role to play, and where they are just adding an unnecessary additional tool into the process.

Course author diary: reflections on Ancestral Voices as it runs

Monday, February 9th, 2009

January 2009

The taught version of the course is underway. In spite of the recession, a respectable number of people signed up for it, some of whom have taken courses with us before (I confess to  posting shameless plugs in the forums of other online courses during Michaelmas), and some for whom it will be a first foray into online  study. I lurked for most of the day on which the course was launched, feeling both delighted that Ancestral Voices was going out into the world, but also unwilling to let it go. In my capacity as academic director of the online courses, I do look in and sample posts frequently, to make sure that there is consistency of amount and kind of tutor response, and that things are running smoothly, and to try to anticipate and help with potential problems. I should also admit that I’m tending to spend more time on Ancestral Voices than with other courses, whether I was their author or not, and much more time than is strictly necessary. This is partly because of the volume of posts and partly because of their quality. The course and its tutor seem to be generating exactly the kind of student response one hopes for in an online course. That is, not of the post-and-run kind, but conversations and discussions involving several students at once, with engaged and reasoned responses.

I think Nicolay, the tutor, knows when to hold back rather than leap in, to allow space for this to happen. To an extent, the course is running itself, with Nicolay on hand to add further information and clarification as required. This makes me wonder whether an asynchronous forum or forums could work with the freely accessible and downloadable version. Some teachers will download the course and use it alongside their own forum, of course, which will be fine, but I wonder whether a general public version could work with discussion forums – if the department could resolve any legal and support issues to its satisfaction? People would arrive at different times, and be way in front of or behind others, but if there were enough people involved at any one time, that would not matter, just as many forums (for hobbies and special interests, for example) have topics with posts going back a long way in time that still attract new messages.

I particularly like the way in which the present students are not just opining but are putting forward reasoned arguments and responding to others’ posts with reasoned arguments. I hope that continues. As I follow them through the course, I feel that I am learning with them.

Mosaic Author Diary

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Here are some more reflections on the Mosaic  project from the course “author” Sandie Byrne:

12 August 2008
Marion and I spent some time looking through an online archive of images from the Ashmolean’s Anglo-Saxon holdings, looking for illustrations for the course material. We selected some reliquaries, jewellery and weapons, but the archive didn’t include the really spectacular artefacts I would like participants to be able to see, so we shall have to widen the net. I hope that the British Library will grant permission for us to include links to its holdings.

30 September 2008
TALL have been busy with the development of other projects, and the obtaining of permissions is turning out to be a mammoth task, so the course isn’t built yet.

15 November 2008
I’m so pleased that Nicolay Yakolev has agreed to be the tutor for the taught version of the course. His doctorate was in Old English, and he has published a lot of interesting work on the subject, but more importantly, I think he will be friendly and accessible, understanding of the way some people feel intimidated by Old English, and sensitive to the needs and learning methods of different students. I think he will appreciate the course, and I hope will enjoy teaching it.

20 December 2008
Sarah Mann has sent me a link to the course on DevMoodle, so at last I shall be able to see how ‘Ancestral Voices: The Earliest English Literature’ looks on screen. The web content has not been embedded yet, so will appear as links, and there will be instructions and reminders for TALL on the course build, so I won’t quite be seeing the final form – the way users will see it – but I should be able to get a good idea. The Oxford, taught version of the course launches on 14 January, Sarah is away until 5 January, and other courses launch that week, so she and other TALL colleagues are going to have a busy 9 days.

26 December 2008
The course is looking good, with a very few minor errors that can easily be rectified. With the online material linked rather than embedded, it’s hard to imagine the effect that will be created by, for example, the full-page illustrations of Saxon homes and dress, or artefacts such as weapons, and the amazing gold- and other metal-work. Having those on the pages of the units that users first come to will, I think, make such a dramatic impact, and bring home the point that Anglo-Saxon culture was much more rich, diverse, and sophisticated than we might think.
The audio files in the course will, I think, make a big difference. I remember how difficult it was to get a sense of Old English from books alone, and poetry should always be heard as well as read. The inclusion of Stuart Lee’s film is a bonus, too. In a sense, the more media the merrier, in the cause of making Old English literature accessible.

Course Writing Diary

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

We are still having problems with Sandie’s access to post to this blog, so here is her dairy for the last few months

2 April 2008

Searching for useful Anglo-Saxon and Old English websites to use for the MOSAIC project has been illuminating. As well as the better-known academic sites and databases, I’ve come across a number of sites produced by people not affiliated to an educational institution or publisher or such. Some of these are large, complex, and beautifully illustrated, clearly the work of dedication and devotion. I’m including a number of these in the course, and listing others for further exploration, because the enthusiasm is infectious and I hope that in looking at them participants will see that learning about the Anglo-Saxon world can be a great pleasure, and fun. One site contains photographs of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ villagers going about daily tasks, and includes detailed descriptions of the villagers and their respective occupations. That should be very useful for participants writing the diary’ of Anglo-Saxon life activity I hope to include.

10 April 2008

I’ve amassed a huge collection of possible existing online material on Anglo-Saxon history and Old English literature to use for the MOSAIC project. The problem will be in making a selection so that the course is not dauntingly huge, and the amount of required reading is of a practical length. Also, there is quite a lot of overlap between some sites. I might want to include one section of one site but to leave out others because they contain the same sort of material as another. I hope that when we start to contact the site owners and to clear copyright that they will allow partial as well as complete use of their respective sites.

20 April 2008

The units are coming together and I’ve managed to prune each one so that the required reading and other activities are comparable in amount (words) and duration (i.e. total study and participation time) to the other courses we run at this level. There is a difference between the structure of this course and the other (literature) courses I’ve written. The writing of the literature courses always comes before the production of the live online course, and follows a structure that I am familiar with and a set order. For this course, writing and production are chicken and egg. In the literature courses, participants read course materials I have written, follow links to external materials, and read textbooks. Activities might be reading, discussing, or writing criticism. In this course, there will be no textbook and in a sense all the activities are reading – reading online material. As I don’t know which sites will be embedded in the course so that they follow my introductions and links seamlessly, which will open in new windows, and which will be accessed by participants clicking on links, I don’t know where reading the course ends and reading as an activity begins. Also, of course, I’m still writing under the assumption that we shall be given permission to use the sites I’ve chosen, and that may not be the case. The thing to do will be to stay flexible and regard what I’ve written as a succession of drafts – starting points from which we can work but which will change and develop over time.

1 May 2008

Tact will have to be employed in the negotiations with copyright holders. Some of the websites that I’ve included in the units have minor mistakes of spelling, punctuation and grammar which I’d like to correct before they appear in our course, but I’d hate to give offense. I hope that the copyright holders will regard this as just another stage in production – an extra copy-edit – since we all make mistakes, and typos are hard to spot in one’s own writing.

10 May 2008

I think that the ten units now comprise a coherent course. It moves from introducing the Anglo-Saxon peoples at the points of their various arrivals in the British Isles, to their culture, their language, their literature, their dominance over the country and its establishment as England, and finally the loss of that dominance. I would have liked to have set the scene more, with information about post-Roman Britain and the Romano-British, but there isn’t space. I have included some resources on the Vikings and Normans, and I hope that participants will be inspired to work both backwards and forwards from the period covered by the course. The other thing I must do is make sure that my introductory and linking text has some good illustrations, copyright permitting. Working with lavishly illustrated websites, it’s easy to forget that some will open separately, and I don’t want my words to look like the boring grey bits that people will skip!

5 June 2008

Meeting with Marion and Tom in the TALL office. Marion has brilliant ideas for the design of the course and the different ways in which the external materials will work. Most can be incorporated or open in new windows, and we shall be asking for permission to set up some mirror sites. It will be important to have the larger database-type sites (lexicons, dictionaries, lists) available to participants but not fixed in position so that they have to be navigated before the participant can move on, so those will open out of the introductory and link material. Tom is working on obtaining permissions, and has already produced a list of my suggested external sources and their respective owners. It’s huge!

Writing a sample unit

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

I’ve produced a draft of the first unit. The problem was the sheer amount of information I wanted to include, and the number of websites on the subject. I want to make available to users as much as possible, and to help users to be aware of the length of Anglo-Saxon history, the diversity of Anglo-Saxon peoples, and the richness of Anglo-Saxon culture, but not to overwhelm them or so drown them in choices that they don’t choose any. I have selected sites to include on the basis that: they are informative; they are accurate (usually moderated in some way); they are accessible (don’t require existing knowledge, or translations; have a readable style which suggests an infectious enthusiasm); they are well designed and illustrated; they don’t repeat material used elsewhere in the unit; they have good links to other resources. I’m keeping a list of sites which cover the same material, though, in case any of those I have chosen reject our advances.


Marion Manton has talked to me about the ways in which we can organise the site; how we can incorporate such a wide range of different kinds of material, and maintain a narrative thread that will lead users through it. I need to make sure that I produce the units as a kind of marked-up script for TALL, distinguishing between the different sources of material, and identifying copyright holders, and indicating such things as where pop-ups might be needed to define terms, and which text goes with which illustration (and vice-versa). I’m using different fonts and indents, making editorial comments and recommendations in square brackets, and studding the pages with yellow highlighting. I hope it make sense!

Finding more content for Mosaic

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

I’ve been organising my Anglo-Saxon and Old English ‘finds’ into groups broadly corresponding to the unit divisions I plan to have on the course site. There will be some overlap, of course, but it’s helpful at this stage to have an idea of how whether there are roughly equal numbers of resources for the history, archaeology, language, literature, and other aspects of the subject. There are some excellent sites from which I want to use a lot of material. I hope we can get permission. Peter Barker has produced a great user-friendly online introductory textbook, Stuart Lee has introductory lectures as podcasts, and a virtual tour of British Museum holdings, and there are three very well illustrated ‘Anglo-Saxon’ daily life sites which would really help people to imagine what it felt to live in that period. The only resource I have not been able to find is the Hwaet! Anglo-Saxon/Old English site produced by Professor Catherine Ball, It used to be hosted by Georgetown University, but though it is referenced on practically all Old English portals, it no longer seems to exist, and Professor Ball no longer seems to be at Georgetown. It was such a good, wide, scholarly but accessible, and fun site that I would be very sorry not to be able to resurrect it in some way. The wonderful wizards of TALL are going to help me to look for it.

Finding reusable content

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

I have been looking at online resources on the pedagogy of online distance learning, and portals to accessible, free educational material. Some of them are a little disappointing. Many lead to broken links, or to chains of other lists of links, many of which turn out to be dead ends. Online resources for Anglo-Saxon culture and history, and Old English texts, however, have proliferated, and many are very good indeed. Catherine Ball’s website, formerly hosted by Georgetown, which I hoped to suggest that we incorporate, has gone, but Peter Baker’s Introduction to Old English has a range of resources ideal for our purposes, and Dr Stuart Lee, of Oxford University Computing Services, has produced a wonderful and accessible online Old English coursepack , and has posted a lecture series as webcasts. There are also readings of Old English texts and a good selection of translations for comparing and contrasting, and some stunning photographs of artefacts and archaeological sites. The difficulty (aside from obtaining copyright permissions)will be in choosing between them. I hope that the authors of the sites I ask to include will see the value of bringing the information and teaching together, and making it freely available.

Mosaic – an authors perspective

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

TALL has invited me to be the author of a short online course for a new project, MOSAIC, which will bring together, reuse, and provide guides to, existing material on the web. This seems like a very worthwhile project, as there is so much material online now that looking for specific information, and distinguishing between authoritative and unmoderated, and useful and less useful, sites can be daunting, and I’m guessing that a lot of very good sites which happen not to come up close to the top of a Google or other search are left languishing and unvisited.  There are excellent portals, lists of links, and bibliographies, but in the case of the subject of this course, Anglo-Saxon history and culture and Old English literature, the more accessible and unscary to the non-academic or non-specialist they can be, the better.

I’m very pleased to be asked to write this course.  Old English is very popular with those undergraduates and graduates fortunate enough to be able to study the subject (even with those who initially resisted but, in the days when it was mandatory, had to read it), but I think is considered difficult and obscure by those who have not read English, and even by English students whose institutions’ courses begin after the period.  This course will be accessible in all ways: it will not require prior knowledge; it will provide translations in Modern English of Old English texts; it will stake participants through the history of the Anglo-Saxon peoples in England (to use modern terms) step-by-step; it will allow participants to work at their own pace; it will bring to participants’ attention websites they might not otherwise have discovered, or have had access to; best of all, it will be free for anyone to use, anywhere, anytime. 

I hope that the course will dispel some of the myths about Old English literature that seem to linger among people who haven’t ha d the chance to read it, such as  that it is all about fighting or swilling mead after fighting. Old English literature is so varied, and the language of the texts so powerful , vivid, and evocative, that it should be available to everyone. Of course, translations and modernisations are not the same as the texts’ original language, but there are a number available for free legal download which give a sense of the metre, alliteration and other sound-qualities of the originals. It will be important to offer a selection of translations, and to encourage participants to think about the issues involved in translation.

Since Old English grammar is usually cited as the thing that puts people off trying to learn to read the texts, it will be important to make very clear that this is not a course that requires participants to learn the language. Equally important, however, will be offering participants the opportunity to have a taste of the language, and to get a sense of the ways in which it differed from Modern English (as well as the ways in which dialects spoken in Saxon England differed from one another). Fortunately, there are recordings of readings of Old English texts online, and I’m hoping it will be possible to commission a short recording of our own of the sounds of the alphabet. Obviously, our knowledge of the sounds of Old Englishes is a matter of scholarly surmise, but in discussing a culture that was largely oral rather than literate, it is vital to have a sense of the forms in which the narratives of that culture were transmitted.


Using online resources will mean that the website can be illustrated with and contain links to some of the fabulous artefacts and art of the Anglo-Saxons, some of which (such as the carved crosses and other religious artefacts, and the weapons and armour) illuminate elements of the texts. It also means that we can show what the manuscripts looked like when the oral narratives were committed to written language.

The books and more recently films of The Lord of the Rings, and the recent film of Beowulf have brought some elements of Anglo-Saxon culture into modern popular culture.  I hope that will lead people to our website.