Archive for the 'Cascade' Category

Extending opportunities for lifelong learning: Cascade

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Although the Cascade project has been technically complete for over a year, its legacy is definitely alive and well in the Department.  As we are in the middle of extending online assignment submission and VLE support for courses to even more of our offerings, it is timely to be able to share the video case study developed by JISC as part of their publication Learning in a Digital Age – extending opportunities for lifelong learning.  As well as the video below, there is more about the project in the publication itself.


In particular it is a great overview of how we are using technology to continue our historical Departmental mission, something that would not be possible without all the great contributions from our academics, support staff and students.

Book boxes to OER: opening up Oxford

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012
A mountain of book boxes from Rewley House library

A mountain of book boxes from Rewley House library

A couple of months ago while filming a video about our work on the Cascade project with JISC we visited the  mountain of  book boxes that are in the basement of our library.  These are  legacy from the days gone by of the department, when opening up access to Oxford meant traveling around the UK by train, with your TRAVELLING LIBRARY  and giving lectures.

The interior label from an early book box

The interior label from an early book box

It is worth noting that although we now offer many online courses this does actually still happen, with the occasional church hall still hosting a book box as we speak.  There is more about the history of the department on our website, acting as a reminder that exploring how best to open up education is not a new pursuit, and that projects such as Sesame and the generation of OER are just the latest evolution of this work.

Open education week

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

We’ve been publicising open education week to our students this week, letting them know a bit more about what it means and what they might to explore further on our Departmental website.  While we took this chance to tell them about OER and open ed more widely, we also blew our own horn a bit too….

The Department for Continuing Education was one of the first departments to contribute to Oxford’s iTunes U site and Marianne Talbot, the Department’s Director of Studies in Philosophy, has had her lectures downloaded more than three million times with two of her podcasts – ‘A Romp Through the History of Philosophy’, and ‘The Nature of Arguments’ – being global number one on iTunes U. You can listen to Marianne’s lectures and other podcasts from the Department’s podcasts site.

As well as contributing to the University’s open education initiatives, the Department has undertaken research into the use of open educational resources by tutors and students and, where possible, releases the outputs of its teaching and learning projects as OER.

One example is the Course Design Moodle, which highlights examples from some of the Department’s online courses and aims to help teachers worldwide to develop their own high-quality online learning resources.

The Department is also embedding open practices across its work and has just started an exciting new project to create OER as part of the Weekly Classes programme. So far, the project has made available more than 150 online resources from 11 weekly classes and will be openly licensing these resources in the future. For a preview of the sort of material we hope to release see: open.conted.ox.ac.uk/.

VLEs at the heart of curriculum innovation

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

In the latest JISC e-Learning Focus they are discussing VLEs at the heart of curiculum devlivery showcasing among other work our development of Moodle for online assignment submission during the Cascade project.  Inspired by the wordle used in the e-Learning Focus article, I decided to create one from the Cascade final report.  While this is obviously a very simplistic technique it does provide a surprisingly useful overview of the work of Cascade as below.  I think I may be using this again.

Cascade Wordle

Cascade Wordle

Maximizing effective use of technology in new programmes

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Aimed at academic staff developing new courses and e-Learning managers and learning technologists seeking to encourage wider uptake of technology by teaching staff, this case study draws on the JISC-funded Cascade project’s experience of designing tools, systems and resources to enable academic staff to more effectively incorporate the use of technology in new programmes.

Using technology to support new course models that move a programme either fully or partially, online can allow for a much more flexible offerings to students.  However, to ensure this is done in an appropriate and sustainable fashion, staff have to be supported effectively in this process.  This can be done by:

  • Ensuring technology use is considered at the right point in the course design process;
  • Identifying where and how technology really addresses your needs;
  • Providing support and guidance for those designing new programmes and wanting to take a more strategic approach to using technology in order to achieve maximum benefits;
  • Providing information on the cost effectiveness and efficiency of different choices so that those designing new programmes can ensure their course is sustainable.

Read the full case study at:  Cascade Case Study 5: Maximizing effective use of technology in new programmes.

Enabling staff to easily use a VLE to support course delivery

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Aimed at e-Learning developers, this case study draws on the JISC-funded Cascade project’s experience of designing tools, systems and resources to enable academic and administrative staff to easily use a VLE to support course delivery.

This suggests that using technology to support a course delivered either fully online, largely face-to–face or via blended learning, can provide real value to both staff and students.  However, it is easy to do this in such a way that it creates more work without fully delivering on the potential benefits.  Avoid this by:

  • Identifying where and how technology really adds value;
  • Developing tools and procedures that make it easy for all staff to set up and use a VLE;
  • Embedding support within existing cycles of work, wherever possible;
  • Ensuring adequate support and guidance is available to prevent basic barriers;
  • Providing cost- and time-effective options to ensure services are sustainable.

Read the full case study at:  Cascade Case Study 4: Enabling staff to easily use a VLE to support course delivery.

Using technology to support prospective students

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Aimed at staff responsible for coordinating the marketing of courses and managing student enrolments, this case study draws on the JISC-funded Cascade project’s experience of using technology to support the very first stage of the curriculum delivery process by making it easy for prospective students to find the course they wish to study and, where possible, to enrol and pay for their chosen course(s) online.

The project found that to encourage students to choose your institution, you should:

  • Make finding courses as easy as searching on Google;
  • Provide easily accessible information about all aspects of a course and the institution, and offer answers to common questions about what a course involves, both in pedagogical terms and practical ones;
  • Provide testimonials or case studies of previous students’ experiences of studying your courses;
  • Make enrolling on and paying for a course as easy and straightforward as possible, using online enrolment and payment wherever possible.

Read the full case study at:  Cascade Case Study 3: Using technology to support prospective students.

Customizing open source software: benefits and pitfalls

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Aimed at e-Learning developers, this case study draws on the JISC-funded Cascade project’s experience of customizing the Moodle assignment module, to highlight the benefits and pitfalls of working with open source software.

This aspect of the Cascade project had two key challenges: (a) to specify requirements for enhanced assignment-handling functionality in Moodle; and (b) to develop the code itself.  Both proved far more challenging than anticipated.

The experience of the project suggests that customizing open source software to meet the institution’s bespoke curriculum delivery requirements can result in the development of a robust system offering improved services to stakeholders, however there can be pitfalls.  Key recommendations for other developers considering similar projects are:

  • Define the processes involved before working on the development of software; a broken or unclear process cannot have an effective technological solution;
  • Keep all stakeholders informed of what the final result will be, providing updates when the requirements/functionality change;
  • Have everyone concerned with functionality and bug identification use an issue management system from the start of the project;
  • Use version control to manage code, but keep it simple;
  • Learn and work with the norms of the open source community for maximum wider benefit.

Read the full case study at:  Cascade Case Study 2: Customizing open source software: benefits and pitfalls.

Leveraging technology to drive business performance

Monday, January 17th, 2011

As part of our Cascade project we developed a series of five case studies to highlight areas of our work where we had the most interesting or useful outputs.  The first of these looks at the senior management perspective and is titled Leveraging technology to drive business performance.  It focuses on developing internal capability through the application of technology (or e-administration) so that operational and institutional strategy, as well as administrative processes and procedures, are delivered more efficiently and effectively.  The case study covers the following topics: project planning, problem identification, cost benefit analysis, managing organizational change, consensus building and developing a clear methodology for the embedding of project activities, and provides key points for effective practice and a series of recommendations for others hoping to achieve similar objectives.
Read the full case study, at: Leveraging technology to drive business performance.

The importance of piloting for real

Monday, July 12th, 2010

We are currently in the middle of piloting our new online assignment handling system as part of the Cascade project.  While we are finding out all the usual technical glitches, more than anything what testing this with real students, real course directors and real tutors, submitting real assignments has revealed is:

  • how generous people can be in trying a new system for something which is so important to them.
  • how you can think you have thoroughly mapped all processes in abstract but there will always be some aspect which nobody mentioned until it happens in practice.
  • how completely random people can be.

While we certainly did not think our documentation and support assumptions were going to be perfect, with a lot of testing on trial assignments we thought we were probably on the right track, and for most of the process and the vast majority of  students and tutors we were.

However where things did deviate from our expected norms, they did so in unanticipated ways.  I won’t go into the minutiae here but it is certainly making us think about what are the issues you can plan for and design out, and what is going to happen no matter what you do.