Archive for July, 2013

Social Anthropology and World Religions

Friday, July 19th, 2013

This Michaelmas term (as well as offering well over 60 courses you have had a chance to study already) we launch two totally new courses, Social Anthropology: an introduction and Introduction to World Religions.

Boys taking part in a ritual to mark the transition to manhood, Malawi Licensed by Steve Evans under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence

Boys taking part in a ritual to mark the transition to manhood, Malawi
Licensed by Steve Evans under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence

The titles of the units in the social anthropology course alone are enough to make anyone with an enquiring mind consider studying it.  Among them – “Kinship: given or made?” “Witchcraft: is a belief in science any more rational than a belief in witches?” “Gift exchange: is there such a thing as a free gift?” “Ethnicity and globalisation: understanding hyperdiversity”.  I am not sure you will ever see the world in the same way again once you have been exposed to thinking anthropologically.

Our world religions course introduces you to a subject where even the term “world religions” can be controversial. Looking at the major faiths of both the east and west it will help you understand both insider and outsider perspectives and the ways that religions have adapted and changed to meet the challenges of the modern world.

Both courses have some great resources and activities which will really stimulate you, challenging you to work out what you believe and why – if from very different perspectives!


Maths Bridging

Thursday, July 4th, 2013
Mathematical Bridge, Iffley Lock, Oxford

Mathematical Bridge, Iffley Lock, Oxford

We are currently working on a new course with Oxford’s MPLS division to help students coming to Oxford to study Physics, Chemistry, Earth Sciences and Materials ensure their maths is up to scratch.

This has been an interesting project for us in many ways, pushing the boundaries of our expertise in many directions, from Moodle’s handling of maths notation, to online assessment design, to embedding of externally hosted cc licensed videos in our materials.

We have updated our handling of mathematical equation rendering, enabling MathJax in Moodle 2.5 which allows us to include maths notation without rendering all maths formula as inaccessible images or requiring our students to download special plugins to use MathMl. This is a big win for us, as in the past pretty much every option for handling this kind of notation had significant downsides.

In terms of assessment design we have finally included some really useful feedback loops between diagnostic, formative tests, basic course materials and reinforcement and extension materials.  Depending on a student’s answer to individual questions they are directed to materials that should give them a basic overview of a concept, help them study it in more depth, and if they want to, explore the topic beyond the basic requirements.  Each section also finishes with  a short quiz so students can check their mastery and again revisit content if need be. Crucially this supports students who need lots of help, but also lets those who don’t establish they are up to speed and ready to begin their course, without requiring them to sit through lots of unnecessary material. This has been possible due to the excellent efforts of our author in MPLS who has done an amazing job writing content and authoring questions and, more significantly, feedback for the quizzes.  This is not a revolutionary approach, and we have had elements of this in our courses before, but the consistent and thorough application of this across all the materials is really gratifying and something that should result in a much more personalised and targeted learning experience for the students.

Lastly this is also a project that has benefited hugely from OER, in particular the wonderful resource sets developed by mathcentre and mathtutor. These have allowed us to produce a much richer course than we would have otherwise managed, by giving students choices about how they study specific concepts while removing the burden from a single author of writing multiple alternative explanations for each topic.  We are also able to present materials in a wider  mixture of formats than we have the resource to develop alone,  e.g. video, text etc so that students can choose the type they prefer.

From a learning design/OER research  perspective this has been a particularly gratifying experience as it has taken concepts we have discussed and modeled in theory for years, such as diagnostic testing with content linked to results and using  OER to enable greater personalisation for students, and actually implemented them in practice. Which I guess means we had better start measuring impact!

Image: bridge /