Archive for the 'learning design' Category

OpenSpires and learning design

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

As part of the Oxfords OER project, OpenSpires we are feeding in  our experiences from the  Mosaic, Phoebe and LDSE projects.  Despite  developing Ancestral Voices as an OER, up to now we have been a net consumer of content (both those developed specifically as OERs and everything else on the web that might be used for learning) .  This project is letting us look at it from the other end of the continuum, we are producing OERs what will help people use them?

For a long time I have been suspicious of the model of reuse learning design projects often assume, an unproblematic set of learning objects to be found in a repository certainly does not reflect reality. The LDSE team is definitely grappling with this – recognizing learning content comes in many different forms, that the stuff we use to build our learning experiences is everywhere.  There is also the hugely social aspect of learning design, in a web 2.0 world I sometimes think we overstate this, but all the data we have on reuse and design processes suggests that this is crucial.  So while we need to look at things like UK LOM I suspect that Flikr and YouTube are more important.

Last thought for now – we know academics are busy, they will only engage with these processes if they are easy, lightweight and offer demonstrable benefits to them.

Hurrah for repeat students

Monday, October 5th, 2009

We know we have always had a loyal following of students at the Department for Continuing Education, but what has been especially gratifying in recent years is to see this developing online.  On a purely commercial basis it is great, with about 30% of our students returnees each term it helps our recruitment, but as someone interested in  learning design there are a lot more plus points that this.  It is great to know we are creating something they like – our course designs work, but more importantly we have a group of students who have bought into this way of learning.

This is more significant then it might seem – our students are only a minority internet “residents” the majority are at best “visitors” (see our isthmus work on this) in addition we know they value traditional ideas of teaching and learning – when asked, they want an expert to teach them the course.

This means that online study based around a model of learning through activities, exploration and discussion, as much with each other as tutors, may make for good elearning, but does not meet their expressed preferences and is not  in their comfort zone. Yet it is working and it is our students who make it work.

Our repeast students are improving the experience of study for the whole cohort, by modelling the sort of behaviour that make these courses work best.  They want to discuss, they are happy to contribute (admitted some a bit too much!) and are prepared to support each other.  It is great to go into a course in the first few days and see new students being supported as much by thier peers as the tutor – and it makes our lives easier.

I do feel very strongly that you cannot expect all students to contribute all of the time (being a lurker is not intriscily bad) but this sort of learning does not work unless enough students are happy to join in – so it is great to know that you can rely on our repeat students as much as our expert tutors, wonderful academic authors, and excellent course design, to make courses that work.

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.

Curriculum design, guidance and Phoebe

Monday, June 15th, 2009

I recently demonstrated Phoebe to the curriculum design and delivery projects for JISC (if you are one of these projects you can access a recording of the talk here – otherwise there is an older video of me demoing it here).  Tim Linsey from Kingston University Blogged this and it is interesting to see that his conclusions about where Phoebe might be most useful very much chimed with our evaluations.

After not having done much with Phoebe for a while,  we are seriously looking at how we can use it in out curriculum delivery project, Cascade.  More specifically we are revisiting ways that we can make the Phoebe guidance more usable,  useful and sustainable, both for ourselves and as something that could be consumed by other tools or projects, especially in the context of the LDSE project, but also more widely.

So if you think you might be interested in this, do let us know. The more information we can gather about how people might want to use and develop this content the more likely we are to take it in directions that suit us all.

What is learning content?

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

One of our key findings from Mosaic is that almost anything can be learning content. Yes learning objects are great if they exist, but  in many subjects they don’t, or if they do in about the right quantities to make up about 30 mins of learning.  For our Ancestral Voices course we used about 3 items that the creators would have classified as learning objects, but managed to create a 100 study hours course out of approximately 200 items of pre-existing high quality content from a variety of sources including:

  • Academic articles
  • Media articles (BBC etc)
  • Pod casts
  • Fully online courses
  • Online textbooks
  • Assets – Images/diagrams/maps etc
  • Databases (especially archaeological ones)
  • Sites developed by enthusiasts
  • Academic sites (departmental and individual)
  • Academic project sites
  • Museum sites
  • Blogs

These were not in repositories, usually had no special meta data, but they were discoverable through informed browsing and Google searches. While some of these map very closely onto the sort of content used in teaching and learning for decades, whether online or face to face, many do not.  However what is clear is that, if correctly scaffolded by the course, any content can be learning content.  Many of the discussions currently underway on developing repositories and standards, or more generally on approaches to sharing OERs in the future, work on the assumptions that learning content needs separate considerations , extra metadata and unique locations, something our experience contradicts (see previous posts about this).

Work on discovering, representing and sharing learning designs in particular suggests this is a complex field, and also a very personal one – there is no metadata schema, or standard or representation which can encapsulate the particular value of a particular learning design or item of content to all comers.  Where the value of these lies is individually derived and context specific (See the Mod4L report  for a discussion of this space in relation to learning design in particular).  Thus while improvements to standards and metadata, and development of specialised repositories are not in themselves negative, it seems likely that any benefit accrued by these undertakings is outweighed by the barriers to sharing and discoverability imposed by the extra complexity.  Note that it has been frequently observed that one of the main barriers to academics sharing is not intent (in theory they are happy to do so) but rather the complexity of the actual practice (they are not sure how to, where, don’t have time to consider metadata).  Materials openly available on the web are already found and used (legitimately or not) all the time, tapping into these existing locations and networks, seems more likely to lead to success then additional infrastructure.

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.

Misconceptions about reuse

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

Over the last week I have been participating in a critical friends exercise as part of the Mosaic project with our partners from the RECITE and REGEN-1 projects. It has been interesting to start to see consensus about the realities of reuse, how it actually works in practice and what the opportunities and constraints really are.  As our final reporting for JISC is due soon I will be writing a lot more about this in the next couple of months.  In the meantime it is interesting to see Juliette Culver, who I know from her excellent work on Cloudworks give her take on it all here.

Phoebe updates

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

While Phoebe is still very much a prototype, over the last couple of months we have been upgrading it (or her, is software like ships?) to fix some of the known usability bugs from our last rounds of evaluation.  With so many people planning to use Phoebe in earnest over the next few months, as much as possible we wanted to ensure that the feedback we get helps us to specify development in the future, rather than forcing everyone to tell us about problems we already know about.  With this in mind the following are all now in plac:

  • Implement a search across shared designs
  • Ensure robustness of the view design screen
  • Ensure that terminology is consistent and meaningful to users
  • Allow formatted content to be pasted from MS Word
  • Adding tables, headings, linking to images
  • Allow the adjustment of a text entry box size in template
  • Add links where appropriate to the final outputs of the D4Lprogramme
  • Make it possible to copy and rearrange certain fields in a design
  • Allow HTML codes to be included in the information entered in a design
  • Ensure robustness in browsers other than Firefox
  • Fix general usability bugs in template interface

We have also had a problem with Phoebe displaying the following error “Fatal error: Class ‘MDB2’ not found” – if you refresh the screen it takes you to where you were with seemingly no damage, but we have just migrated servers to hopefully eliminate this.

We are very aware that these sorts of updates and bug fixes are a job which never finishes, and just when we think we have it all working I am sure someone will be able to tell us something else we have omitted, or inadvertently broken by fixing something else.  To this end if you do use Phoebe and have a problem, can you to let us know  by emailing us at and we will do what we can to sort it out.

That Was an Interesting Experience

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

As the piloting activity of the Open Habitat project draws to a close it’s time to gather out data and our thoughts and consider what it all might mean. We have plenty of evidence that MUVEs are a useful for teaching and learning and much guidance and direction to give to teaching practitioners considering taking the plunge. We also have, I think, an overarching message from the project:

“Teaching and learning in virtual worlds is an experience.”

I’m not trying to be facetious or flippant I mean it in the true sense of the term. Taking part of a teaching session in an MUVE is more than simply using a tool or achieving a task, it feels like an event, a particular moment in time when you have the chance to interact with others at a level of intensity which is rarely felt in other online spaces. A teaching session in an MUVE can become a focal event for a significant slice of teaching. A learning design can be created which leads up to and then away from an MUVE session. Much like a traditional field-trip, the teaching can frame the time that students spend out in the field or in this case the MUVE and work generated during that time can be considered upon their return. The ‘otherness’ of the alternative environment can act as a mirror for the students, helping then to reflect on their practice as they see how it is influenced by the virtual world.

Like any immersive experience it is at times challenging for an individual to assess what they have learnt during the experience itself but over time the benefits of being taken out of the comfort of their day-to-day environment starts to become apparent. If you believe that MUVEs are capable of supporting an online culture or beyond that an online society then maybe a session in one is akin to visiting another country. We are socially and psychologically transposed into this new land and whilst not physically transported we are visually represented. Like any exploration into new territories it can be chaotic, alienating, exhausting, and frustrating. There are new forms of communication to learn and new cultural norms to adjust to. It can be intriguing, surprising and occasionally exhilarating, offering inspiration and new perspectives on ideas which may have become stagnant. These experiences with others in these virtual worlds is a form of travel and they do say that travel broadens the mind.

Learning Design at the JISC Online conference

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Last week I facilitated the learning design session (with talks from Grainne Connole and Alan Masson) at the JISC online conference.  Overall it was a great experience (if exhausting) and if you have never been before I would recommend it.  As part of my facilitation duties I summarised the discussion for each day,  taking inspiration from Grainne I thought I would share these here, as it acts both as a good starting point for some of the key issues and a source of links to a lot of interesting resources.

Day 1


From the start of the day when Gilly’s keynote highlighted the importance of curriculum design as a way of dealing with the challenges of the future, this session has seen an interesting discussion, which has touched on themes which seem to be emerging across the conference as a whole. The titles below match up to the discussion threads, under each I have tried to summarise the main discussion points and /or highlight links to interesting resources.

Hello and Welcome

Malcolm Ryan introduced us to the work on defining the skills, knowledge and attitudes required by the e-competent tutor Alan provided a link to the HLM cards which are described in his presentation, along with an indicative recording grid at .

Gilly’s keynote and design There was a consensus that everyone agreed with Gilly’s vision, but that ther real the question was “how” to achieve this. Alan suggested, “not only do we need to provide support, guidance and facilitation, we need to address quite distinct challenges – reflection, planning, design” Grainne added “getting the balance right of getting people to think differently/out of their comfort zone, whilst also not frightening or overwhelming them” Sheena Banks brought up how methods of production can effect design which led to a general discussion on the need for practitioners to see examples from others – both in terms of outputs but also practice. Grainne mentioned how Cloudworks was designed to support this.

Supporting culture change Richard Everett introduced us to the work they have done at Oaklands College (see S1 for more on this) where the aspect of students contributing to the design process was picked up. Academics, while reluctant at first grew more interested as students showed they had valuable contributions to make. Sarah Knight suggested that the JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes ( and would be interested in knopwing more about this work. Richard uploaded the report written by the lead eMentor at Oaklands!enclosure=.eebec11 . Helen also drew attention to the conclusions from the D4L programme here Helen Beetham, “Resource sharing area” #4, 4 Nov 2008 2:13 pm which concluded there was a difference “between skilled self-directed learning (how learners direct aspects of their own learning as they engage with an already-designed curriculum) and skilled educational design (how learning is designed for a particular curriculum or cohort)”. Alan stated he was making a mind map of the discussion which would try and share before the end of the conference.

Changing culture is due to the physical space as well This thread looked at how physical space can shape curriculum design Richard Everett and Grainne reflecting on their experience , including how very practical constraints can affect things. This discussion also started to consider how virtual spaces and especially VLEs also can shape things, and the need for virtual spaces which are not always about learning (Alan).

Tools to support design This thread discussed the tension between visual and text representations with a consensus that these are useful for different people at different times. Other issues raised were Alan “representations are outputs from a process” which it is also important to capture. Sheena raised the issue of over simplification, with Grainne in response “the minute you represent anything by its very nature you are being reductionist because you cant capture everything about a design in one go” Sheena “how far do you think that learning designs can be reusable/shared?” Helen Beetham mentioned the work from the Source project (see figure C1) which also identified the tensions around mediating artifacts around design.

Change is due the virtual space too! This strand revisited the issues around the VLE as an artifact which shapes design, and also considered the tensions between a VLE being pedagogically restrictive and it providing “simple, clear guidance which is useful…So again as always we need to adopt a mixed approached tailored to different needs” – Grainne. The Exe tool was mentioned here by Adam Bayliss.

Sharing learning and teaching ideas Grainne introduced Cloudworks “which applies the best of web 2.0 tools and approaches to enabling teachers and designers to share learning and teaching ideas and designs” and Richard Everett mentioned the pack of cards technique they had used at Oaklands

Change is due to the institutional processes too! Alan Stanley raised this important point, and how accreditation proceses tend to look at the subject but rarely at “what do students actually do on this course” which led to comments on this at the micro level from me and Alan reflecting on how they were looking at this in Ulster. It was noted that the JISC funded Curriculum design projects would be exploring this.


 Day 2

While today felt a lot less intense than yesterday, looking at the total number of messages posted we actually had a similar level of discussion. As before the titles below match up to the discussion threads, under each I have tried to summarise the main discussion points raised today.

Change is due the virtual space too! This strand revisited the issues around the VLE as an artifact which shapes design. Michael Vallance raised suggested “We do not limit ourselves to one solution but look at what a number of tools can do, and do well” I raised the ideas that sometimes “we forget how many students (not just academics) value an easy to use integrated environment that lets them focus on the learning not the technology.” The conclusion from Michael was to u”se the best technology available to do the task required … and not seek that all embracing single solution”

Change is due to the institutional processes too! Today this thread talk moved onto ways we have managed to get the learning technologist perspective into the sign off process for course development, especially in terms of negotiating shared course visions. There was also a brief discussion the differences between working with enthusiasts and the mainstream.

Visualization Designs This theme kicked off the day with Grainne introducing the idea of visual v. textual representations generated from tools such as Compendium LD. Grainne linked to as a step by step guide to creating a learning activity in Compendium LD. Adam Bayliss raised the possibility of Compendium LD for the Mac and Andrew replied he was aiming to have this available by Christmas. EA Draffon introduced a selection of other generic tools. Accessibility was discussed with Andrew Brasher mentioning There was a discussion about text v visual being better for different parts of the design process and Nigel Ecclesfield talked about generic tools that could cope with both modes. I talked about this in relation to the idea of a Phoebe/compendium link up, and also about how the LD tools report had looked at generic tools as well We also talked about visual design being better for activities and textual for course level design – although Andrew Brasher had examples of when this may not be the case. Lastly Alan share 3 representations of a design from Ulster and we discussed ways of taking the same data and showing it in different ways, especially in light of how the Mod4L project identified that most users did not have time to create multiple representations.

Starting day 2 – innovations that really work I started this thread by asking people to share innovations that had really worked. Richard Everett mentioned eMentors (where students teach the teachers to use technology appropriately) eInnovations – a £50K fund that staff (and students) bid into to do something innovative of relevance to the new building, but need culture to allow risk and failure. Grainne mentioned the OU ‘Design challenge’ to get people to design a short course in a day with support various stalls that represented stakeholders such as librarians etc, which raised as a key factor in success. Helen Beetham also mentioned other institutions’ ‘design intensives’ e.g. Brookes, Herts, Leicester. Alan Clarke suggested how Adult and Community Learning has used digital cameras, which led to a discussion of the Molenet project which James Clay was involved in and expanded on. Sarah Knight mentioned the ILT Champions programme for the FE which was reiterated by many, as something that had and was having a long lasting effect on their practice – this years conference is being hosted by James Clay, who shared some podcasts it had created

Cloudworks Juliette Culver introduced the cloudworks tool and the latest thinking here and Paul Baily suggested tag clouds (of this discussion) as a possible feature.