Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Investigating the Elizabethans

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

Last term we launched our new course Investigating the Elizabethans.  I could tell you about it here, but I think Janet our wonderful course author does a much better job in the video below.

ALT-C 2016

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

csof2ohxyaa04az-jpg-largeLast week I was lucky enough to go to ALT-C for one day only – representing TALL as a former winner of Learning Technology Team of the year (yes I am in the photo if you look carefully…)  One day was too short, but even in that time it worked as a great place to catch up with colleagues and find out about more about what is happening across the sector.  I am not going to manage a full summary here but would point you towards the ALT YouTube channel, which has all the keynotes and many other presentations.  Now to catch up on the days I missed.

OxTALENT Awards 2016

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016


Last night the University of Oxford celebrated the innovative use of digital technologies to support teaching, learning, research and outreach at its annual OxTALENT award ceremony. This year’s competition had a strong field of over 70 entries submitted by staff and students in the following categories:

• Use of WebLearn to support teaching, learning or outreach
• Innovative teaching with technology
• Academic podcasting
• Outreach & engagement
• Research posters
• Data visualisation
• Student IT innovation

As always, it was a pleasure to meet up with colleagues old and new from learning technology teams around the University and to see examples of digital projects undertaken by groups and individual staff and students across a wide range of the University’s academic departments, museums and supporting service. The University’s new Vice Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, was a guest speaker and in her closing address highlighted the importance of digital technologies for sharing the extraordinary resources of the University and the talent we have in teaching and research.

TALL would like to congratulate all recipients of the 2016 OxTALENT awards, in particular Professor Simon Benjamin, winner of the Innovative teaching with technology category. TALL helped Simon to realise his vision for teaching his first-year course on Vectors, Matrices and Determinants using a flipped classroom technique comprised of DIY videos and self-tests by providing an open Moodle platform, which enabled him to easily collate his teaching resources and to contribute to the University’s mission for global outreach by releasing his videos under Creative Commons and sharing them widely.

Further information about Simon’s course can be found in the Innovative teaching with technology post on the OxTALENT blog and details of all the 2016 winners, runners up and recipients of honourable mention can be found in the OxTALENT 2016: Roll of Honour.

Communicating accross cultures and the great dictators

Monday, May 16th, 2016

While we have been very busy in TALL in the last few months, this has not been reflected in this blog, something we hope to address in the near future.  In the meantime let me tell you about our latest new courses, Europe of the Dictators and Inter-culturally Speaking.

Europe of the Dictators is your chance to understand more of the dictators that dominated early 20th Century history, from Lenin and Mussolini to Stalin and of course Hitler.   This fascinating course is full of sources and resources (such as the Pathe news reel below) from contemporaries to the latest analysis.  These really bring the topic to life and help you understand this period of history.

The rise of the Dictators in Europe in this period are clearly not something that better communication accross cultures could have addressed alone, but it is a skill that would have helped then, and does help now in a world of global interaction.  Our new course Inter-culturally Speaking will introduce you to both the theory and the practice of communicating with people across the world, equipping you with understanding and skills that will be invaluable to anyone working in a global environment.  We have certainly learned a lot from developing this course and know we’ll use this in practice as we continue developing new courses for our worldwide audience.


Six new courses

Friday, 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 (



Thursday, 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

Thursday, 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.


Seven secrets to successful public engagement via social media (plus a diagram)

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

The Maths in the City is a public engagement project that, in short, went really well. There are many factors that contributed to its success and in this post I shall share the secrets behind our effective public engagement through social media.

Diagram time!

The broadcast approach

The broadcast approach

This is the classic institutional mindset, all forms of engagement  being ‘broadcast’ to a public ‘out-there’ from behind institutional lines.



The conversational approach

Our approach was de-centralised and more conversational. The offline activities promoted online  ways to engage and vice-versa. This created a virtuous circle and a kind of many-to-many relationship between all of our activities. This was supported by a project team with overlapping skills and responsibilities (i.e. we all moved ideas and items around the loop). Key to this approach was constantly ‘drawing-in’/responding to opinions and artefacts from the public and the co-production of materials with our group of student tour-guides.  This we felt was a more honest form of engagement and in keeping with the conversational tone of social-media.

This is how we applied our approach (yes, there are seven points):

1) Tone. I went for a fun, slightly irreverent tone while also expressing a wonder for the beauty of mathematics. I adopted this tone based on what I observed to be the majority tone adopted by maths communities on Facebook and Twitter.

2) Content. I only had a basic background in mathematics. However, I found that the ability to find funny and interesting material was more important than depth of knowledge.

Our most popular tweet

This tweet really caught the pure mathematician zeitgeist… 205 retweets! It linked to this cartoon:

In the first year I relied on posts/tweets from others in the maths community, pictures of the project mascot (Maths Dave) and, I am not too proud to admit, Google searches. In the second year of the project, a group of student volunteers got involved and they added a layer of further interest by setting puzzles and teasers for people to solve.

3) Message. The majority of tweets and posts communicated the joy of mathematics and included a push to the project website when relevant. We found that this maintained a sense of community and presence, which in turn led to a swift response to any project-specific news and calls to action.

4) Frequency. In the first year of the project, I tweeted three times a day and posted on Facebook every 1-2 days. Initially, I set aside 15 minutes every morning, lunchtime and afternoon in which to tweet/post content. This time got less as I identified reliable sources for content. In the second year, I visited the project Twitter feed and Facebook page just once a day as student volunteers contributed to content.

5) Critical mass. We wanted to get our follower numbers on Twitter into the hundreds and ‘likes’ of our Facebook page to 100 as soon as possible so that we could get the flow of communication going. In the first month of launching our Twitter feed and Facebook page, friends of the project who had significant followers of their own were asked to publicise the project and encourage their followers to follow/’like’ Maths in the City. They were happy to do so because they were asked by people whom they respected and we had already placed strong content in our Twitter feed/Facebook page.

6) Volunteers. Volunteer students from the University of Oxford were an important part of the project deliverables and we had a pool of talented and motivated students who were passionate about sharing their love of maths with the public. Some of them did not have time to participate in the face to face aspects of the project so our social media channels provided them with a volunteering opportunity that fitted in with their study commitments. Those who joined the online public engagement team helped to double follower numbers in the second year of the project.

Student volunteers working on content for Twitter and Facebook

We meet in the pub because there is free wifi. There’s no other reason. Now what’s the budget code for a pint of bitter?

They could either use the project Twitter account or their own and  if using the project account, they followed some simple guidelines regarding the tone, message and purpose of their activity.  Becoming the voice of the project or interacting with the project under their own accounts seemed to contribute to the volunteers’ sense of ownership of the project.

7)Sustainability. We put a lot of thought into making sure Maths in the City had a life after the end of the project. The student volunteers who have been an integral part of this project are part of Marcus’ Marvellous Mathemagicians, a public engagement team run by the University of Oxford’s maths department. Their social media networks are small so the project Twitter feed and Facebook page will be repurposed so that they can take on the networks established by the project to support their own public engagement activities.


So that’s how we did public engagement through social media. This is part of a series of blog posts which discuss our approaches to public engagement on the topics of; teaching/public delivery of complex material, what makes the public participate in public engagement initiatives and the management/encouragement of volunteers. There’s even an intro post that gives an excellent overview of the Maths in the City project. (Dave White made me say that.) If you find any of these posts useful, let us know by commenting below or dropping us a line on Facebook and Twitter.

Sesame Evaluation – Baseline

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Golden Genie ( / Mustafa Al-ammar ( / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (

Now that we are in our second term of producing OER we are really moving forward with  evaluating our experiences and reflecting on what this means for the rest of the project.  Thus far our main activities have been an initial baseline survey of our weekly class tutors, surveying students and tutors involved in our first pilot in Hillary term, and a focus group of our main stakeholder groups.  We have also been engaging with the OER synthesis and evaluation team and our “evaluation buddy” the FAVOR project.  I hope to blog about all of these over the next few weeks, but for the moment just wanted to revisit our starting point, the weekly class tutor baseline survey.

For this we canvassed the opinions of our weekly class tutors on issues around teaching and learning, technology use, open resources and more. To begin, it is worth noting our tutors teach all subjects (we had responses from 62 tutors covering 23  disciplines), are all ages (with 40%+ over 55), and have teaching experience from under 2 years to over 20. However the vast majority (just under 80%) are employed sessionally on part-time contracts.

In terms of engagement with OER, nearly 40% had heard of OER prior to our project which was higher than anticipated. This continued with nearly 30% having used OER in their teaching and learning and 7% already producing OER.  This may be a function of a self selecting sample but still indicates a relatively high level of engagement.

Generally our tutors felt that OER were ‘a good thing’.  However they were clearly more comfortable simply putting content online rather than making it fully open, as just over half expressed concern about what happens when content is openly released.  In terms of reasons to engage with OER, our tutors self-reported being far more interested in the altruistic reasons for engagement: “it is a good thing to do”, “student learning will be improved” or “[it brings] benefits to the institution”, rather than the potential personal gains, either financial or reputational.  Interest in training was highest in the area of how to find good resources and how best to use them.

On a more pragmatic note, the survey confirmed our initial thoughts that one of our biggest challenges in terms of making content associated with our weekly class courses online and open is the fact that, with the exception of reading lists, those resources which tutors most often currently make available to students in hard copy are often those which cannot usually be openly licensed, such as photocopies of book chapters and journal articles, copies of photographs, diagrams, maps or illustrations and copies of primary sources.  Thus much perfectly legitimate classroom practice thwarts the promise of seamless sharing and openness.

While getting the survey written at the start of the project was not a trivial task, we were able to put reuse in action, using Chris Pegler’s  Oriole survey as a basis for many questions.  There is also no doubt this sort of information was great in terms of understanding  our key audience from the start, as well as specifically helping us shape our communications and training plans.

Photo: Golden Genie ( / Mustafa Al-ammar ( / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (

Learning from OER research projects

Thursday, February 9th, 2012
The iceberg of reuse

Another chance to consider the iceberg of reuse

I recently visited the OU to present on the OER Impact project for the SCORE‘s session on learning from OER research projects.

With proper social media credentials the entire day is on Cloudworks here  this contains both the slides and  a video of all the presentations of the day so you to can experience it as though you were there (although the video is not currently working for me).  If you already think you know enough about our study I would recommend in particular viewing the talks from Alison Littlejohn and Patrick McAndrew talking respectively on the findings from the OER Project evaluation and synthesis and the OLnet project.