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    How can you teach online if you’ve never experienced learning online?

    By Matt Jenner, on 20 January 2016

    Distance Learning doesn't need to be lonely. Image Credits; By loungerie on Flikr

    Distance Learning doesn’t need to be lonely.
    Image Credit: By loungerie on Flikr

    Teaching online requires different approaches to a traditional classroom environment (as does the learning). Teachers who are not prepared or do not know what is involved in the development and implementation of an online course will result in “negative outcomes for students and faculty” (Caullar, 2002).  As Open University expert Derek Rowntree (1992) explains, most newcomers to ODL [open and distance learning] need to develop new knowledge, new skills and very often new attitudes and dispositions.  Students and staff need to be oriented to the differences in learning online and the change in role and approach for both the teacher and the learner (Palloff and Pratt, 2002). It’s recommended to provide staff development opportunities in online teaching (ibid) and that should come at a later stage, but I think a crucial step precedes it:

    How can you teach online if you’ve never experienced learning online?

    You must try it. I’d also recommend absorbing what’s around you as well  – talk colleagues already active in this space, look for existing resources and participate in relevant networking events. But crucially; join an online course, or ten, and experience it yourself.

    Learn online: Take a free course

    There is a growing range of free online courses in which you can use to experience being an online learner. The huge selection of free open courses can be searched and filtered by using Mooc aggregators such as Course TalkClass-Central and Mooc-list. UCL has a partnership with a UK-based Mooc provider FutureLearn and has a growing selection of courses. But you should explore other courses too and you should feel free to sign up for any that interest you – even if you don’t complete them (it’s OK!). Closer to home there’s also a selection of courses on UCLeXtend – UCL’s public-facing e-learning platform – which you can discover from searching the Life Learning course finder and filtering (on the left) to Format > Online and Cost > Free.

    Notable courses

    Getting started with Moodle (via UCL Moodle) provides an introduction to UCL Moodle and e-learning and provides the basic skills required to set up a course in Moodle.

    A6postcard_digital (3) (1)Blended Learning Essentials (via FutureLearn) – created in partnership with UCL and University of Leeds, this is a free online course designed to help you understand the benefits of blended learning and how to make more effective use of technology to support your learners.

    UCL Arena Digital (via UCL Moodle) – three short courses with each lasting two weeks. Each fortnight will end with a live online webinar where you can share your experiences with your colleagues on the course. Topics: multimedia, communication & assessment and feedback.

    Teaching online open course (via Brookes.ac.uk) – offered as a free mooc from Oxford Brookes University (and offered as a 10 M-Level credit option, if desired) and is an intensive introduction to supporting student learning in online environments.

    (star) Your mooc mission: try to complete one mooc. Sounds easy? Tell us how you got on in the comments section below.

    Learning from colleagues

    Venturing into the world of distance learning is a bit different to that of face to face teaching and you may want to seek guidance from those who have already trodden the ground before you. Within your department you may know colleagues who are running their own distance learning courses, there should be someone within your wider faculty or school. If not, you could look at UCL’s Prospective Student’s course finder for PGT and filter by ‘Distance Learning’ – then try contacting a course team from there. We also run regularly ‘Forum’ events (sign up to the ‘Distance Learning and Life Learning Network’ below).

    Join local networks, forums and communities

    With representation from all schools the Distance Learning and Life Learning Forum is a community of practitioners from across UCL who are all active in the area of fully online courses and blended learning for taught programmes and CPD/short courses. Or, you may want to form your own departmental, faculty or school-based distance learning groups. These may grow from the ground up, out of teaching committees or via many other ways. Regardless, if you would like UCL Digital Education or CALT to sit on these groups, do get in touch and we can come along too.

    For more information we recommend you sign up to the Distance Learning and Life Learning Forum. Note: This can only be done on the UCL network or via remote desktop/VPN.

    Connect with support teams

    Teams such as Centre for Advancing Learning and Teaching (CALT) and UCL Digital Education have trodden this ground before, and are always happy to hear your ideas, share experiences and help you design, plan, promote, develop and evaluate your distance learning courses. They will listen to your ideas and suggest others to talk to, approaches to take, resources to work through and even courses you can take online to get you started with distance learning.

    Get in touch with them from their respective websites – CALT and UCL Digital Education

    Next step

    So – ready for your mission? If you have any questions you can always contact us, or leave a comment below.

    Note: this page is an excerpt from the UCL Distance Learning wiki which contains more pages on planning, designing, building and teaching on an online course. 

     

    References:

    Cuellar, N. (2002). The transition from classroom to online teaching. Nursing Forum,37(3), 5-13. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/195001677?accountid=14511

    Palloff, R.M., Pratt, K. (2002). Lessons from the Cyberspace Classroom. 17th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/resource_library/proceedings/01_20.pdf

    Rowntree, D. (1992). Exploring Open and Distance Learning. Kogan Page.

    Online courses as digital services; taxes and teachers

    By Matt Jenner, on 24 April 2015

    Fully online courses, with non-matriculated learners, are classified as ‘digital services’ and their income is subject to VAT (currently 20%). This levy applies to the fees charged. You don’t have to add tax if you add teachers instead; but does it all add up?

    Types of learners and courses

    Let’s make the first point crystal clear – we’re talking about non-matriculated learners here.  These kind of courses are generally branded as CPD and Short Courses; anything offered which you learn online but do not become a registered student of that institution or provider.

    The rules affect only fully online courses. If your course is face to face or blended / hybrid / mixed mode delivery, i.e. it has a face to face component, then tax does not apply. Your fully online course might also be known as distance learning – but it means there’s no physical fixed environment in which learners attend and they do not get awarded university credits or a degree.

    Credit bearing degree or Face to face teaching = not taxed. 

    E-services and Digital Services

    There is a UK Gov definition of what constitutes as an ‘e-service’ or ‘digital service’. These are the terms the UK Government use when defining a broad catalogue of things ‘electronically supplied’. The definition of ‘electronically supplied’ “covers e-services which are automatically delivered over the internet, or an electronic network, where there is minimal or no human intervention” (Gov.uk). The definition is not comprehensive, and judgement is required from the provider. And I must add if you’re unsure please consult HMRC on Vat2015.contact@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk or your tax/financial/legal advisors.

    Included on the Gov.uk site is a list of examples to help clarify what might be classified as an e-service, or digital service:

    Service e-service Electronically supplied? Covered by the new rules
    Pdf document manually emailed by seller Yes No No
    Pdf document automatically emailed by seller’s system Yes Yes Yes
    Pdf document automatically downloaded from site Yes Yes Yes
    Stock photographs available for automatic download Yes Yes Yes
    Live webinar No No No
    Online course consisting of pre-recorded videos and downloadable pdfs Yes Yes Yes
    Online course consisting of pre-recorded videos and downloadable pdfs plus support from a live tutor Yes No No
    Individually commissioned content sent in digital form eg, photographs, reports, medical results Yes No No
    Link to online content or download sent by manual email Yes Yes Yes

     

    I think what’s important to note are the two above which are highlighted (and that apparently they are not classified electronically supplied – this bit is important).

    The European Commission provides further clarification on the definition of a digital service in their ‘Explanatory notes on the EU VAT changes to the place of supply of telecommunications, broadcasting and electronic services that enter into force in 2015’ publication (EC – pg. 85).

    Explanatory notes on the EU VAT changes to the place of supply of telecommunications, broadcasting and electronic services that enter into force in 2015- nighttime reading for good teachers :-)

    Explanatory notes – nighttime reading
    for good teachers =*)

    There’s a lot to digest here, but their overview is:

    ‘Electronically supplied services’ as referred to in Directive 2006/112/EC shall include services which are delivered over the Internet or an electronic network and the nature of which renders their supply essentially automated and involving minimal human intervention, and impossible to ensure in the absence of information technology.

    Emphasis added – but it helps make my point; if you’re running online courses just be cautious around full automation. This would be defined as a self-paced, self-assessed (or automatically assessed) course with no critical teacher-based human input (i.e. it’s not automated). The EC are pretty clear that their “explanatory notes are not legally binding and only contain practical and informal guidance about how EU law should be applied on the basis of the views of the Commission’s Directorate General for Taxation and Customs Union” (EC report – P1). Pretty reasonable; we need to interpret and not jump to incorrect conclusions.

    My interpretation of digital services is there’s been a digital transformation to business this millennium and it is right that a TAX is applied to businesses profiting from this. I see it as if you’re selling  something, we want a slice of the profits to prop up the economy – and this is totally fair. For digital services I imagine it’s to do with scale; Apple iTunes can sell a [nearly] unlimited number of MP3 files, no problem. Professor Famous can’t teach an unlimited number of people, at some stage they’re going to crack, the quality will drop, the interactions fail, and something needs to change.

    As the rules are interpretative it seems from the new guidance that if you provide human-based interaction between learners and teachers (or facilitators) then you’re less likely to be classified as a digital service. Surely it’s therefore better to not say ‘avoiding tax’ but instead ‘adding value’ by adding teachers?

    Well, let’s try some simple calculations:

    Income = course fees – expenses (I=C-E)

    I run a course which teaches 20 people, they each pay £1000 (it’s pretty good)

    Example A – Fully online course

    • Fees = £20,000 (20 x £1,000)
    • Expenses = £4,000 (Tax on income of £20,000)
    • Income = £16,000 (£20,000 – £4,000)

    Example B – Facilitated online course

    • Fees = £20,000 (20 x £1,000)
    • Expenses = £4,000 (paying a teacher)
    • Income = £16,000 (£20,000 – £4,000)
    • Bonus – someone just got paid £4,000 to teach 20 people something

    Relax: There’s always tax

    Tax is inevitable, and perfectly acceptable – we need it. The point is you could’ve weighed up paying a teacher instead and likely boosted the learning experience. In Example B less (or more) than £4,000 could’ve been paid to a teacher; so the net income is still reduced – but it’s gone somewhere else. The teacher will still pay some level of income tax, so let’s not get too far into an anti-tax agenda.

    Also the fees could’ve also been much lower, but even at £100 each, the £400 spent on a teacher still seems like a solid investment. It does make checking your numbers a good idea; i.e. what’s a sustainable income required to keep this going / scale accordingly for projected fee:learner levels.

    It’s not avoiding, or saving, it’s enhancing learning with teachers!

    Learning online is lonely

    Learning online is lonely

    Learning with peers, and a teacher is a good thing. There is a vast array of data, research-informed evidence and general ‘feeling’ that teachers are needed. Quite frankly if teachers were not needed, they’d probably have been replaced by computers as quickly as possible. Obviously there is a place for self-directed and peer-to-peer learning; but that’s not the point I’m making – all that good stuff can still exist. This post is merely indicating the situation regarding tax and teaching. Take away the teacher, add the tax. It’s illogical, to a large extent.

     

    Closing thoughts

    If you’re offer online courses as a digital service, and paying VAT, you might just want to reflect on this. If you consider adding in a teacher; it’ll likely improve the dynamic, enhance the learning and maybe even save you some money. But also remember one other thing; this article is written by an expert in education and technology, not a tax advisor. If you take this as tax advice, you need to re-evaluate your sources of knowledge. You should then browse HMRC.org and GOV.UK and speak to experts! Also this post is not the view of UCL – and if it gets me in trouble it might disappear pretty quickly… 

    I wrote this because I was genuinely surprised that tax is a variable factor for online courses. Tax is important, as is good education. I trust being slightly more informed you’ll make the right choices. I’d also welcome a debate on my interpretation of all this.

    Have you met BoB?

    By Natasa Perovic, on 9 October 2014

    Box of Broadcast

    Box of Broadcast

    BoB (Box of Broadcasts) National is an innovative shared online off-air TV and radio recording service for UK higher and further education institutions.

    Staff and students can record programmes from 65+ TV and radio channels.  The recorded programmes are kept indefinitely in an media archive, which currently stores over 2 million programmes and are shared by users across all subscribing institutions. The archive also includes searchable transcripts and one click citation referencing.
    The recordings can be set before or after the broadcast (30 day recording buffer). The programmes can be edited into clips and shared with others. They can also be embedded into Moodle.
    To start using BoB, log in with your UCL user details http://bobnational.net/

    What’s the benefit of MOOCs?

    By Matt Jenner, on 25 March 2014

    Many institutions, and countries, the world over have subscribed to MOOC-mania. There are now millions of registered users, thousands of past and upcoming courses all available from hundreds of partners/providers. But why are they all active in this area? An initial motivator for early adopters was to gain momentum from the MOOC-train, it was a way of actively responding to a new ‘game-changer’ in education. The raising of institutional profiles and reputation might have been enough for some to get involved. As the MOOC landscape has become more crowded, pure marketing benefits may be diminishing. There still remains the fact that running a MOOC transpired to be more than a marketing device, instead a range of additional or ‘collateral’ benefits arose for institutions. Luckily this isn’t just for those who were actively creating courses, observers also gained benefits from the presence of MOOCs.

    As the very large numbers of learners reported by early US MOOCs are unlikely to be repeated there also seems to be a trend towards more targeting of courses to e.g. specific professional or demographic groups. It’s also possible the traditional delivery format of courses has been undermined with MOOCs, as lurkers are in the majority, perhaps this is a sign of disengagement, or the classic early-warning signal that MOOC providers can read data left by lurkers to create new patterns for access to learning?

    Either way, we’ve been keeping up with MOOCs and their associated benefits for institutions who provide them. The table below presents a summary of these benefits from being an active MOOC institution. Data was obtained from top-tier US and European HEIs and we are confident it is not the full picture.

    We’ve also broken it into chunks for this blog post:

    1. Reputation
    2. Innovation
    3. Delivery
    4. Infrastructure
    5. Student outcomes

    And each are provided with a one-liner to give some background or justification for how/why they made it into this selection.

    Reputation

    The reputational benefits for an institution who is involved in running a MOOC

    The reputational benefits for an institution who is involved in running a MOOC

    1.1 Encouraging engagement

    MOOCs don’t just put institution’s names into people’s heads, they actively encourage the staff and students of that institution to interact with the wider public, and visa-versa. Now you could argue the philosophy of a course, and the lack/quality of teacher-learner interaction in some courses but generally speaking, they provide a chance for a learner to engage with that institution/academic/subject/other learners. This is generally considered a good-thing in educational terms, engagement leads to interaction which can lead to some good learning.

    1.2 Targeting alumni

    Alumni can get involved with MOOCs, be it teaching in a course and leading a group with their experience, or simply remaining in touch with the institution by taking some free courses after they graduate. You could argue it’s a unique hook for some institutions as they may find Alumni contact more enriching if they can offer further opportunities to connect with their prior university via the medium of a MOOC. Those who have completed a MOOC, or ‘MOOC Alum’ may themselves return in the next occurrence to facilitate the course or migrate from Lurker to active learner (or the other way around).

    1.3 Outreach

    MOOCs provide a chance for institutions to reach out to a wider audience, potentially a group who may never have the chance to link with it in any other form. Disadvantaged groups, or those located half-way around the world are offered a chance, even if thinly veiled, to connect with otherwise unavailable institutions.

    1.4 Marketing gains

    Obviously this is still an attractive and possible benefit – that hundreds or thousands of people will see your brands and identity. Once registered learners arrive, there’s opportunities to turn them ‘into business’. Not necessarily direct cash, however, which has so far proven to not really materialise from MOOCs.

    1.5 Media coverage

    The hyped-up tsunami! Oh, the humanity! But really, the media seem to be fixated on MOOCs and have somewhat not really presented a great image of what was happening. Either way, if you’re in MOOC-world you’re likely to get some kind of coverage, ideally international media. There’s a downside; if you mess up, people hear about it. Luckily tomorrow’s hype will override this quite quickly. Call me a cynic if you like but this benefit is low down the list.

    1.6 Modern approach

    Not every institution in the world has adapted to online learning and many may be slightly behind the technological benchmarks set by others. Many argue that online learning environments such as Moodle are behind the times, or non-intuitive in how they work. Luckily, to some extent, these new platforms and approaches are offering a new lens in which to support education. They come with some teething issues, but these modern approaches are filtering into traditional approaches and hopefully are creating new in-roads in some new areas.

    Innovation

    Innovation within higher education allows experiments to reverberate back into traditional learning and teaching approaches

    Innovation within higher education allows experiments to reverberate back into traditional learning and teaching approaches

    2.1 Inform diversification strategies

    What? This is all about discovering new ways to do old things. One example is media creation: MOOCs can require a new way to think about an old problem; capture the academic (tip: use a net). Another example is student recruitment, where MOOCs provide a whole new platform for capturing the hearts and minds for potential students. Lastly, they can provide a space to experiment with teaching approaches, for example flipped lectures or the use of OERs. These might all sound normal to you, or implausible – but the general idea is ‘space to play’ and then opportunities to learn, for the institution.

    2.2 Create new capabilities

    How can you facilitate a discussion forum about learning with tens of thousands of people? We’re slowly working this out now, thanks to MOOCs. Or, how can we create high-quality media while retaining academic autonomy? There are some difficult questions for those who have run MOOCs, but thanks to their experiments, new models are emerging which others can learn from.

    2.3 Educational research

    This is one of the primary motivators for MOOC-ing for some universities, to create original research into how people learn. Linked to 4.3 – Creating meaning from analytics, this research is uncovering aspects about online learners that might have been harder to measure in smaller numbers.

    2.4 Enriched online resources

    Making high-quality content for a MOOC means it can be reused for other purposes. Most likely internally, for example raising the offering for blended learning, but also as OERs – where institutions can chose to give all their MOOC content away for free, forever. Creative Commons is playing well here, but some platforms are less friendly about OER. Hopefully time will change on this…

    2.5 Interdisciplinary courses

    Courses can always break beyond the traditional boundaries, but the level of interdisciplinary MOOCs is quite varied. Firstly students in one institution could use a MOOC as an alternative source of learning (or materials/community engagement). Or, courses themselves can quite openly mix up two subjects without the restrictions of how they may fit into a credit-bearing system of an institution. Lastly a course in one subject, but being open to anyone, may attract others who wish to audit or take part in the course, this mix of people can be a catalyst for some interesting experiments, mixing groups up, or asking for their views from within their own specific contexts.

    2.6 Student recruitment

    Perhaps not directly, although some have seen direct conversion from MOOC > paid courses they are in the minority. Learners could start using MOOCs as a place to see how that institution really works but we are uncertain they offer a true reflection of learning and teaching from that institution. Can they be used to tempt/lure potential enrolments? Maybe is the closest answer we have right now, but it’s a possible looming benefit.

    Delivery

    The delivery of a MOOC required a well constructed course and that's not necessarily an easy task.

    The delivery of a MOOC required a well constructed course and that’s not necessarily an easy task.

    3.1 International collaboration

    Being online, MOOCs are available to a [mostly] global community. Some have been locked out of a few select countries due to export laws and related issues – but generally speaking MOOCs are international. Moving also into other languages, and not all being English in the first place, means the chances for international collaboration soon come into play. While currently limiting to discussion-heavy courses and some basic wiki’s it’s likely that this area may mature, and take advantage of linking up a large[ish] group of interested learners all in the same environment.

    3.2 Widening participation

    Not everyone can get into university, many don’t want to and some have too many other pressures (or barriers) to even start the application process. These reasons, among others, can be soothed with MOOCs. By enabling a ‘slide of life’ via the MOOC, they are opening up pockets of institutions to wider audiences. Still a space for growth and a possibility that monetization will be a blockers, but here’s hoping the majority remains open, free and available to the widest group possible. Vocational courses are another bug growth area for some.

    3.3 Beyond traditional markets

    UCL is a London university with global ambition, but we’re not going to build a campus in every country (probably). We can, however, consider how online environments enable us to expand digitally into new markets. And this isn’t a land grab either, it’s just a phrase that for us means we can connect to people otherwise physically inaccessible. In some areas, this is a huge development and opens doors that could never previously could be unlocked.

    3.4 Pioneering platforms

    Much like 1.6 Modern Approach – there are providers out there (you know their names) which are adding to the expanding selection of technological platforms for online learning. They all bring innovation to the table and have been built with large capital investments. This is generally a good thing, as their disruption may echo similar innovation in other areas too, i.e. Moodle. They are also looking to solve big issues, such as how do learning environments scale for big numbers of registered users. These technological stand-offs hold back some other platforms, as some are open source, the wider [tech] community may learn a thing or two.

    3.5 New sources of revenue

    Perhaps not directly as student enrolments, but MOOCs can generate money. The issue now is they tend to cost more to make than they’ll earn back, so it’s not a sustainable financial model right now. Paying a small fee to pass a course may increase in desirability for some, as it offers a chance to do professional or personal development at an otherwise unobtainable/unavailable institution. Many of the big providers recognise that CPD-esk MOOCs (or Small Private Online Courses – SPOCs) are another way to make some moulah. Luckily there are some other benefits to consider as otherwise MOOCs may not be a ‘thing’ already.

    3.6 Translation of resource

    International reach comes in-hand with multilingual support. One easy way forward for a course which is heavily based on media and peer-led activities is they translate well into other languages. The lack of Professor Famous doing anything hands-on with the learners, means his captures can be converted to another language with only minimal load. However, inter-cultural adaption of translated courses may not be so simple, and there’s a few more things to learn here before all courses are just translated into other languages and assumed they’ll work ‘out of the box’. But progress is being made, and these things shouldn’t just be for English speakers.

    Infrastructure

    If we build it - they will come. Unlikely.

    If we build it – they will come. Unlikely.

    4.1 Encouraging open education

    The best, and most terrifying component – should it all be free and open? Perhaps one day we’ll look back and laugh when institutions were holding their cards close to their chest while others were running ‘Wikipedia-a-thons’ to release as much content as quickly as possible. In the end, it’ll all be out there. But it’s OK because content isn’t king! If it was, institutions would not exist. Education is slowly opening up, one piece of content here, one open course there, a digital learning object somewhere else. Opening up is a strength, it shows character and quality like no other.

    4.2 Effective service disaggregation

    One of those titles that sounds great, then you forget what it means. In short; the opportunities to unbundle some of the work. Presume you can’t make a MOOC platform, instead of worrying about it, you lean on an existing one. You get benefits too, an established community struggled with ‘that thing’ before you, the registered users flock to see a new upcoming course and the brand can help push you into new domains.

    4.3 Creating meaning from analytics

    Learning analytics is broadly described as using data collected from learners and using it to better inform their learning experience and/or to improve systems. So far it’s been a nice term, but with a muddy output. Some MOOC platforms have made a conscious effect to integrate the capturing and reporting of data as a priority. This means learner engagement, or activity, can be recorded and used to build models. Linking it to assessments starts to show links between activity and ‘results’. It’s a developing area, and each MOOC learner is a bit of a Guinea Pig running the wheel for a short time.

    4.4 Pedagogical experimentation

    MOOCs offer a low-ish arena to experiment in. Institutions who have run a few courses have learned a lot about approaches to teaching that can directly inform the next massive course, or bring it back into their traditional teaching. One example is the flipped lecture, which in some institutions is becoming quite normal, but for others it’s a real pedagogical innovation that’s stemmed from MOOCs. My view is these institutions make less use of online learning, and therefore they are leaping forward when going to flipped lectures. Blended learning has been a big offshoot for some US institutions, using their MOOC materials and approaches, back in their credit-bearing teaching.

    4.5 Expanded media capacity

    Few teaching staff are immediately comfortable with being captured on video, but they are a large component of many MOOCs. Institutions have had a chance to practice creating and presenting media to convey their subject to a wide and diverse group. Additional functionality such as interactive transcripts or playback speed have added further benefits to media delivery on these courses.

    4.6 Copyright skills/knowledge

    Can you image the shock when that 5 year old PowerPoint with many noncredited  images from ‘not sure, Google?’ was not allowed to go online? Open, publicly accessible content is reducing the perhaps flagrant use of other people’s work as masquerading it as one’s own. Another positive tick.

    Student outcomes

    What's in it for the learners? Quite a lot, I hope

    What’s in it for the learners? Quite a lot, I hope

    5.1 Digital literacies

    A hot topic on UCL’s agenda, among others, is that of digital literacies – and it’s not just for our learners. The notion that someone, perhaps a young person, is digitally equipped by default is a dangerous and alienating assumption to hold. MOOCs offer a chance for individuals to learn more about the digital form for learning and teaching, it may be becoming more comfortable posting in a discussion forum – or being on live video to a group of thousands of people. Either way, MOOCs may provide some additional benefits for some in this area.

    5.2 International experience and globalisation

    How does a learner get to understand what the true make-up of the world beholds? Perhaps one answer is to encourage them to interact via a massive online open course. Just open discussion forums alone, wrapped around a particular topic such as Health or Law, could open up new international perspectives for an individual they may have never had before. Potential inter-cultural exchanges could bring real value to such courses, and it’s possible that this remains a growth area for many.

    5.3 International communities

    Certainly related to 5.2 is the idea of linking up communities from across the globe in the context of a MOOC. There are many types of communities than can spawn from, or join into, a MOOC. Communities of Practice include a collection of people who share a niche interest or professional domain, one that to bring them together physically would be a real challenge. By gathering online, they can share their views on a particular topic and potentially expand their understanding by sharing all they know with others. It could also be more of a social community, where those who share a similar interest can simply join in and be a part of something. Once again, this may be an area of real promise – one to not overlook.

    5.4 Mixing internal and external cohorts

    How could you get your students to understand the wider issues without bringing it directly to the classroom? One way might be to subscribe them into a MOOC. Previous courses have had their enrolled (credit-bearing) students leading discussions, moderating content, creating learning materials and overseeing MOOCs with thousands of registered learners. This kind of interaction could lead to some progressive pedagogical models of learners teaching learners, creating unique opportunities and developing personal qualities along the way.

    5.5 Accreditation and [micro] credentialing

    Certificates and badges spring to life in MOOCs. Badges can be awarded for participation and provide a catalyst for further exploration of a theme or learning tool, for example Bronze, Silver and Gold badges for contributions to discussion forums, or marking assignments. They can even be used to ‘gamify’ the learning, used as markers or rewards as the learner’s progress. Certificates are a little more boring, but sometimes people want to have evidence for their learning, and these can do that – they may also make a little money.

    5.6 Cross/co-curricular opportunities

    Much like 2.5 Interdisciplinary courses – MOOCs provide opportunities for a more casual or flexible approach to learning. One could sign up for a series of MOOCs, pick the bits they like the most and ditch the rest – no-one will question your approach. If anything, platforms will arrive to support it and develop personalised learning journeys for you. This is one example, and as we’re near the end, I presume you get the idea.

    Conclusion?

    MOOCS are not about making money, getting thousands of learners gawping through your wrought iron gates or dreaming of Professor Famous giving them a high grade. Instead we’ve began to uncover the raft of added value, bonus material or ‘known unknowns’ as some might say. The collective weighing of these should cast a huge shadow of ‘money in = money out’ and instead show that they’re another tool in an expanding and richer toolkit for learning and teaching. It remains a good idea to run a MOOC, or ten, and if you can design your approach to try and benefit from some other bits along the way, then I hope you’ll get a richer and more valued experience from it.

    I am also confident we missed a load more out, so if you have some more – or want to argue a point, please go ahead in the comments or on #moocbenefits

    Chronogogy – Time-led learning design examples

    By Matt Jenner, on 15 November 2013

    I recently blogged about a concept called chronogogy; a time-led principle of learning design the importance of which I’m trying to fathom. My approach is to keep blogging about it & wait until someone picks me up on it. Worst case, I put some ideas out in the public domain with associated keywords etc. Please forgive me.

    An example of chronogogically misinformed learning design

    A blended learning programme makes good use of f2f seminars. Knowing the seminar takes at least an hour to get really interesting, the teacher prefers to use online discussion forums to seed the initial discussions and weed out any quick misgivings. Using a set reading list, before the seminar they have the intention of students to read before the session, be provoked to think about the topics raised and address preliminary points in an online discussion. The f2f seminars are on Tuesdays & student have week to go online and contribute. This schedule is repeated a few times during the twelve week module.

    The problem is, only a handful of students ever post online and others complain that there’s “not enough time” to do the task each week. The teacher has considered making them fortnightly, but this isn’t really ideal either, as some may slip behind, especially when this exercise is repeated during the module.

    The argument in my previous post was that if the planning of the activity doesn’t correlate well with activity of website users then it may increase the chance of disengagement.

    Example learner 1

     

    Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Mon Tues

    Learner1

    Task set Reading start Reading finish Contributes to forum Attends seminar

     

    If a reading is set on Tuesday completed by Sunday, the learner may only start considering their discussion points on Sunday or Monday night. This will complete the task before Tuesday’s session, but does it make good use of the task?

    Example learner 2

     

    Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Mon Tues

    Learner1

    Task set Reading start Reading finish Contributes to forum Visitsforum Contributes to forum Attends seminar

    The reading is set on Tuesday, completed by Friday, the learner even posts to the forum on Saturday. By Sunday the come back to the forum, there’s not much there. They come back on Monday and can contribute towards Learner 1’s points, but it could be too late to really fire up a discussion. The seminar is the next day, Tuesday which could increase the chance of discussion points being saved for that instead, as the online discussion may not be worth adding to.

    These are two simplistic example, but they provide further questions:

    • Q: Can these two students ever have a valuable forum discussion?
    • Q: Is this was scaled up would the night before the seminar provide enough time for a useful online discussion?
    • Q: If Learner3 had read the material immediately and posted on the Wednesday what would’ve been the outcome?

    Any students posting earlier in the seven-day period may be faced with the silence of others still reading. Postings coming in too late may be marred by the signs that fewer visitors will log on during the weekend. Therefore, unless people are active immediately after the seminar (i.e. read and post in the first day or two) then any online discussions takes place on Monday – the day before the seminar.

    In this example a lot of assumptions are made, obviously, but it could happen.

    Development/expansion

    If this example were true, and it helps if you can believe it is for a moment, then what steps could be taken to encourage the discussion to start earlier?

    One thought could be to move the seminar to later in the week, say Thursday or Friday. By observing learners behaviour ‘out of class’ (offline and online) it could give insight into the planning of sessions and activities. In the classic school sense, students are given a piece of homework and they fit it in whenever suits them. However, if that work is collaborative, i.e. working in a group or contributing towards a shared discussions, then the timing of their activity needs to align with the group, and known timings that are most effective.

    Time-informed planning

    Muffins got tired waiting for fellow students to reply to his post.

    Muffins got tired waiting for fellow students to reply to his post.

    Knowing study habits, and preferences, for off and on-line study could make a difference here. If the teacher had given the students a different time over the week it might have altered contributions to the task. Data in the previous post indicates that learners access educational environments more in the week than the weekend. An activity given on Friday and expected for Monday seems unfair on two levels; a weekend is an important time for a break and weekends are not as busy as weekdays for online activity.

    If the week shows a pattern of access for online, then an online task could be created around the understanding of access patterns. If online tasks are planned around this, then it may affect the outcome.

    Does time-informed learning design make a difference?

    There’s only one way to know, really, and that’s to perform an experiment around a hypothesis. The examples above were based on a group/cohort discussion & it made a lot of assumptions but it provides a basis of which I wanted to conduct some further research.

    Time-based instruction and learning. Is activity design overlooked?

    In the examples, the teacher is making an assumption that their students will ‘find the time’. This is perfectly acceptable, but students may better perform ‘time-finding’ when they are also wrapped into a strong schedule, or structure for their studies. Traditionally this is bound to the restrictions of the timetabling/room access, teacher’s duties and the learners’ schedules (plus any other factors). But with online learning (or blended) the timetabling or time-planning duty is displaced into a new environment. This online space is marketed as open, personalised, in-your-own-time – all of which is very positive. However, it’s also coming with the negative aspect of self-organisation and could, possible, be a little too loosely defined. Perhaps especially so when it’s no longer personal, but group or cohort based.

    There’s no intention here of mandating when learners should be online – that’s certainly not the point. In the first instance it’s about being aware of when they might be online, and better planning around that. In this first instance, the intention is to see if this is even ‘a thing to factor in’.

    Chronology is the study of time. Time online is a stranger concept than time in f2f. For face to face the timing of a session is roughly an hour, or two. Online it could be the same, but not in one chunk. Fragmentation, openness and flexibility are all key components – learners can come and go whenever they like, and our logs showing how many UK connections are made to UCL Moodle at 3-5AM show this quite clearly.

    Chronogogy is just a little branding for the foundation of the idea that instructional design, i.e. the planning and building of activities for online learning, may need to factor time into the design process. This isn’t to say ‘time is important’ but that by understanding more about access patterns for users, especially (but not necessarily only) online educational environments, could influence the timing and design of timing for online activities. This impact could directly impact the student and teacher experiences. This naturally could come back into f2f sessions too, where the chronogogy has been considered to ensure that the blended components are properly supporting the rest of the course.

    Time-led instructional design, or chronogogically informed learning design could potentially become ever more important if considering fully online courses that rely heavily on user to user-interaction as a foundation to the student experience. For example the Open University who rely heavily on discussion forums or MOOCs where learner to learner interaction is the only viable form.

    Most online courses would state that student interaction is on the critical path to success. From credit-bearing courses to MOOCs – it’s likely that if adding chronogogy into the course structure, then consideration can inform design decisions early in the development process. This would be important when considering:

    • Planned discussions
    • Release of new materials
    • Synchronous activities
    • Engagement prompts*

    In another example, MOOCs (in 2013) seem to attract a range of learners. Some are fully engaged, participate in all the activities, review all the resources and earn completion certificates. Others do less than this, lurking in the shadows as some may say, but remain to have a perfectly satisfactory experience. Research is being performed into these engagement patterns and much talk of increasing retention has sparked within educational and political circles, for MOOCs and Distance Learning engagement/attrition.

    One factor to consider here is how you encourage activity in a large and disparate group. The fourth point above, engagement prompts, is a way of enticing learners back to the online environment. Something needs to bring them back and this may be something simple like an email from the course lead.  Data may suggest that sending this on a Saturday could have a very different result than on a Tuesday.

    Engagement prompts as the carrot, or stick?

    Among many areas till to explore is that if learners were less active over the weekends, for example, then would promoting them to action – i.e. via an engagement prompt, provide a positive or negative return? This could be addressed via an experiment.

    Concluding thoughts

    I seem interested in this field, but I wonder of its true value. I’d be keen to hear you thoughts. Some things for me to consider are:

    • If there’s peaks and troughs in access – what would happen if this could be levelled out?
    • How could further research be conducted (live or archive data sets).
    • Have I missed something in the theory of learning design that is based on time-led instruction?
    • I wonder what learners would think of this, canvas for their opinions.
    • Could I make a small modification to Moodle to record data to show engagement/forum posting to create a more focused data set?
    • Am I mad?

     

     

    Chronogogy – time-led learning design for online education

    By Matt Jenner, on 13 November 2013

    If analytic data suggests there is a ‘heartbeat’ of online activity should this inform learning design?

    Background

    Planning for f2f teaching is largely led by institutional limitations and personal habits. Rooms are booked in 1-hour slots and sessions can only be so-many-hours long. As people can’t stand and talk for hours plus few would sit there and listen for the same period. There’s also only so much time in the day, especially ‘core working hours’. Time for education gets murkier when considering flexible learning, say clinicians who must be in practice between certain times or evening-study students.

    Chrono-based design is as old as time itself

    Chrono-based design is as old as time itself

    In all walks of education, from homework to dissertations, teachers set activities to be completed in student’s own time. Time planning for f2f education is often based on teaching time, set in rooms, schedules, people, slots. Time for learning has to fit into this schedule and is otherwise completed out of these normal hours. Students are expected to complete a substantial amount of personal learning hours – often tied to readings or assessment activities.

    Programmes at higher education institutions are increasingly moving into online environments, many of which are still taught in traditional ways. There remains a large focus on face to face teaching and learning activities such as lecture, seminar, lab & essay led teaching. An increasing number are using online learning environments to provide some supportive or supplementary educational value. Some are ‘blended learning’ where elements of the course must be completed online by the learners. Contact time is altered where some is face to face and an amount is also online.  A smaller number are fully online, where the online environment is driving the course, delivering a structured programme of study via resources and activities.

    Building for these environments is often a process which involves a significant amount of investment for the teachers and learners.

    Teachers

    • Often going alone, designing what works best for their teaching style, their students and making best use of their knowledge of the available tools .
    • Sometimes they may ask for support or advice on best practices, examples, tips and tricks and other approaches improve their original ideas.
    • Some invest additional resource to make larger changes.
    • Courses will always be refreshed over the years, often this comes with a partnership of moving more content online and reworking the existing online content to improve it.

    Learners

    • Need to adapt to different approaches of teaching. One part of their course may be very traditional, others may be more online.
    • Method of delivery may influence enrolment decisions.
    • Work/life/study balance & looking for flexibility built into courses.
    • Increasingly using online environments in their daily life.
    • There’s a digital divide between some individuals, some generations and their digital literacies.

    Through the techtonic [sic] shifts in education the definition of ‘how people learn’ and ‘good teaching’ remains quite similar to that of 50 or 2000 years ago, and yet still quite hard to define. Many have tried, such as Bloom, Dewey, Paiget, Vygotsky, etc & we should embrace their work. However, it remain somewhat marred by the findings and the reality that most teachers are significantly impacted in how they were taught, and would still reflect this back in their own teaching. (Which is an opportunity for the expansion of innovation, if good teachers influence more good teachers.)

    Technology in education has looked at converting the ‘sage on the stage’ to the ‘guide on the side’ for some time. If a good educational experience is about providing agency for individuals to become the best learners they can be, then we need to also reflect that in the design for learning.

    Interaction and engagement are often driving factors

    The design of online teaching and e-learning is often reserved for academic developers, educational technologists and teachers. Designs often cover what will be taught, intended learning outcomes, design of activities, overall structure & any resources required. Design is often overlooked, and many go directly past the planning phase in favour of the building/development phase. This is perfectly acceptable, especially if on a path over a number of years, increasingly using the affordances of e-learning tools to complement their teaching and learning.

    Often skipped, or under-resourced are the steps within the planning phase for a blended or fully online course. This may have more substantial repercussions as skipping design can lead to greater issues later on, which may need to be revisited. Luckily, cyclic design methodologies (whether intentional, or not) are no bad thing. It’s a little chicken & egg and the lack of planning is often due to lack of time across the sector/universe.

    Designing a good structure for the course is often one of the first tasks needed. The rest of the course should hang off the back of a good structure:

    • The structure will, particularly with a fully online course, define what needs doing, and when.
    • This is the guide for the students, the stick, the planner, the measure of success and the motivator to stay on track.
    • When thinking of how much time students will spend on tasks, and when they do the task may have been overlooked.
    • A course overview/week-by-week structure is often where the planning of the chronology of the course starts, stops and the rhythm within.

    Learning design to incorporate time as a critical factor?

    Not factoring in when a learner will engage in an online environment could increasingly become a bigger issue. In an attempt to identify the importance of this issue, this blog post was written.

    Chrono-what?

    • Chrono – time
    • Gogy – lead
    • Pedagogy – to lead the child
    • Chronogogy /  chronogogical – to lead by the time, time-led

    I felt that this might have significance, and anything of that nature would require promotion within the relevant fields for others to rip it apar, to build retaliating endurance into the concept. After looking for time-influenced learning design in conference proceedings, journals and blogs I found nothing on the subject of time-based instructional/learning design or impact. I had to put a term down to then build upon. Sorry if you don’t like it.

    Using captured analytic data to measure ‘visit’ hits & drawing crazy ideas off the back of it

    Learning analytics is an emerging field within education where data is used to inform the success, design and evaluation of online learning. In a simplistic model used here, we have taken Google analytics visitor data for one month to attempt and identify if we can see any trends with correlation to learning design. It’s a crude example, but the whole post is based on answering my ‘is this a thing?’ question (it’s bothered me for around six months).

    Visits per day, as percentages, over three educatioal websites for February 2013
    • Website 1 – Learning Circuits – an interactive educational resource for 8-10 year old children (I made this a decade ago, still going)
    • Website 2 – UCL Moodle – an institutional online teaching and learning environment
    • Website 3 – UCL.ac.uk – the main UCL website, hosting information about the university.

    These data show a regular path of activity for the number of visits to websites across the February time period. The websites are all of an educational nature, but differ in their intended target audiences. Y-axis shows the percentage of the monthly number of visits for that day. X-axis shows the day of the month. The chart clearly shows a rhythm in visits, going up and down in a pattern.

    The websites were selected for two reasons

    1. This is an educational observation (but it may be of interest to others if it rung true on other domains)
    2. These websites were the ones the author had access to for analytical information
    We can study these data and make several observations across all three domains:
    • There is a distinct shape in visits.

      M-shape of activity

      M-shape of activity

    • There is a regular drop in the weekend, both days seeing less than half of the weekday visits
    • Saturday is the lowest point every week. Sunday is rarely much higher.
    • There is a slight drop on Wednesdays.
    • This month shows a heartbeat shape to the number of visits.
    • There is a slight shaping of an M over the weeks, where single websites, or all together, still create this rough M-shape (shown best in blue)
      • Sunday is the beginning point
      • Monday/Tuesday is the first highest
      • Wednesday shows some drop
      • Thursday marks the second peak
      • Friday is often slightly lower that a Monday or Tuesday counter-part, but still holds up the M-shape
      • Saturday is the lowest point of the week.

    Repeating in other months?

    February was chosen as a month in the year as it showed steady visits across three educational, but different sites. Each site has a different busy period, as shown below:

    Overview of the number of users for UCL Moodle and activity over the year.

    Overview of the number of users for UCL Moodle and activity over the year

    Overview of the number of users for UCL Moodle and activity over the year

    Overview of the number of users for Learning Circuits and activity over the year

    Overview of the number of users for Learning Circuits and activity over the year

    Overview of the number of users for Learning Circuits and activity over the year

     (Sorry no raw data for UCL.ac.uk)
    Note: the M-shape persists across these charts. 

    Sticking with February we looked at the same month for the past five years:

    Average of visits, as a percentage, for each day, over five years across three sites

    Average of visits, as a percentage, for each day, over five years across three sites

    This chart shows the percentage of the visits per day of the week, for three websites, over a five year period. The purpose of this chart is to see if the data shown in the first chart, for February 2013, would be repeated over a longer period. The chart is done by day, and not date & the chart runs over fewer days as the first Monday of February would fall on different days, thus shortening the timeframe to evaluate.  The chart shows Saturday having the lowest number of visits over the week, with Sunday resulting in a similar number. The M-shape is less common with Wednesday gaining more visits over a longer time period. The heartbeat over the week, with peaks around Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/Friday remain to show the highest number of visits, especially when compared to weekends.

    Out of Winter, across the year

    Look across a whole year, in this example 2012, we can see if the data is true across all months and not just February.

    One year of daily visits, as percentages, to UCL Moodle

    One year of daily visits, as percentages, to UCL Moodle

    And for Learning Circuits

    One year of daily visits, as percentages, to Learning Circuits

    One year of daily visits, as percentages, to Learning Circuits

    These two charts show the average (as red) of the percentage of visits over the week. There is no longer an M-shape but do continue to show Saturday and Sunday as the lowest number of visits during the week. Wednesday becomes an increasingly common day over the year for number of visits and for Learning Circuits becomes the most popular day. (This might not have been helped by using Mean numbers and a handful of disproportional and high plots in around week 40 in the year.) UCL Moodle has a similar pattern, with one result much higher above than all others – this is the first week of term in September where the average for the month is very low initially, so on comparison that week is substantially higher. No chart exists for UCL.ac.uk – sorry.

    Each of these two charts show the number of visits across two of the sites over a one year period (2012). The intention here is to primarily show that the ‘heartbeat’ of online activity is regular across the year. There are low and high points, but when matched up to the charts above, showing each week’s average, they show that the data analysis, in particular Saturday and Sunday being quiet days, remains true across the year for both domains.

    Quantitative vs qualitative

    I wonder how long you’ve been thinking ‘he’s not measuring this data very well’. Firstly, I accept all contributions to this. Secondly, this is a desk-based observation, not a research proposal. Any next step would be to review a longitudinal study with an online course, proper data analysis and a real methodology. This is just an idea-incubated post I’m afraid.

    Discussion point

    Much like the National Grid boost up the power networks when an advertisement break is coming in the nation’s favourite soap operas, could the same be said for a course designer planning their online learning? Perhaps not providing a boost, but instead being aware, and planning for, peaks of online activity?

    IF, for example, I were planning an asynchronous activity for my learners would I want to set it for Friday and hope it’s completed by Monday? When would be the best time to plan this?

    Most at the moment just set up a week-based activity and hope learners can manage their time effectively around this. However, if the data above can be read into, then more people will be online during the week rather than the weekend. Therefore, it would be best planned over the week, but does this depend on the type of task? What about synchronous activities?

    I appreciate this is half-baked but I wanted to share a few simply observations:

    1. Activity online is clearly displayed in analytical review of web access logs
    2. This activity seems to indicate a pattern of peaks and troughs, of a ‘heartbeat’ of online visitor activity (measured in days)
    3. Has time-led instructional design (I like the terms chronogogy of learning design, chronogogical instructional design or chronogogically informed teaching and learning) been undervalued/overlooked in past learning design models for online education?
    4. Does this have a wider impact for online education, including distance learning and MOOCs?

    Next steps

    I’ve got a few ideas:

    • Talk to fellow educators, technical and less so, ask them if this really has an impact
    • Review course design, basic principles, feed into them the idea of time-based / chronogogical learning design
    • Expand upon this. We have a ‘Moodle archive’ – find a course with an activity like discussion forums and try to match up stored data with analytics information. Does anything correlate? 
    • Build it into a platform and measure the data points over a period of time, for a selection of courses
    • Fester in a basement for six years completing a part-time research project and slowly lose my mind over a somewhat trivial matter.

    Closing

    If analytic data suggests there is a ‘heartbeat’ of online activity should this inform learning design? I’d like to hear your feedback, as I think should. I’m going to keep looking into it, I just wanted to share some early thoughts with the internet and its people.

    edit: sorry, a grammatically-correct friend provided me some advice on lead vs led. People are reading at least!