#ocTEL Activity 2.4(b): design an authentic learning activity

This activity involves designing an online, authentic learning activity. It was only after I designed the activity that I re-read the instructions and saw that it was meant to be a “short” activity; this one is designed to last for a full year. Nonetheless…


Activity title: “Producing: Practice”

Cohort & rationale: The activity is designed for a final-year university Bachelor’s degree unit in which approximately 10 teams of up to 5 students undertake industry-based projects for a full year. Each team is attached to an individual industry partner with whom it works for the year. The projects are different from internships in that students are working in teams, and they are working semi-autonomously on projects given to them by the industry partner. In this sense, the student project teams work more like consultants or subcontractors than interns. Students are from the Entertainment Industries course, which educates students for intellectual careers in the entertainment sector, working as entertainment Producers. This activity is specifically designed to address a problem in the unit. At present, each team goes off and has its own learning experience, but there is very little peer-to-peer learning and support between groups. There is no peer learning from cohort to cohort, particularly because this is a final-year unit and students graduate immediately upon completing it. Although many of the teams are dealing with similar issues, each team’s learning remains fairly discrete.

The activity: Build/update the “Producing: Practice” wiki

Following the “contributing student approach” (Collis & Moonen 2001), and grounded in Kolb’s experiential learning model, this activity involves students sharing and researching their industry project experiences, and then creating (in subsequent years, updating) a wiki of support resources addressing key issues which arise in those experiences.

Weeks 1-2 Equipping: in these weeks, students watch a video of the unit coordinator explaining the assignment. Students are then given links to the various technologies they may use in their assignment work over the year, as well as links about how best to use those technologies. Students will complete one of the “are you ready for online learning” questionnaires (see ocTEL activities week1) to identify areas in which they require development. Students will be required to pass a short online quiz about the technologies before they can continue in the unit.

Weeks 3-10 each student keeps a blog about her/his project experiences. The blog will be visible to other students, but not to the wider public: it will be hosted on the university’s VLE, Blackboard. For reasons of commercial confidence (most student project teams are asked to sign non-disclosure agreements by their industry partners), the blogs will focus more on generic issues such as time management, communication, research, and management styles. To ensure inclusion, blogs can be in written or video format.

Weeks 11-13 As a cohort, the students will be required to define up to six key issues identified by the blogs. How the students do this will be up to them, although there will be a video from the unit coordinator suggesting ways in which group discussion and decisions can be handled. This will cause students some discomfort; as Panos Vlachopoulos observed this week, shifting learning responsibility over to students can cause discomfort for both students and the instructor. Ideally, this task will empower students to take ownership of the project and to begin to self-direct their learning.

Weeks 14-18 each student will contribute to building a wiki: the wiki will become a resource for Project students. The wiki will provide support and information about dealing with issues students face while doing industry Projects. Each student will select one area of the wiki on which to focus. Each student will be required to make “substantial contributions” to the wiki in the form of links to research papers, links to how-to videos and guides, recordings of interviews with students in the unit, and any other relevant online material.

Weeks 19-20. Students edit others’ wiki entries where useful.


  • 30% blog
  • 20% productive professional behaviour
  • 50% contributions to wiki, including editing

Intended learning outcomes:

Students who complete this unit successfully should have developed:

  • advanced research- and peer-informed professional practice
  • an understanding and identification of many of the key professional issues faced by Project students, and strategies for addressing these issues
  • a network of peers for learning and professional development
  • the ability to communicate in a variety of modes

In terms of the “development of skills and literacies needed in professional practice, and which reflect{ } the nature of the discipline” aspect of this ocTEL assignment, the project is reasonably generic in itself: this type of project could be used in any industry placement/project context. However, the resource produced will be highly profession-specific, giving students a sense of the industry-specific aspects of their future profession. How does communication work in the industry? How does time management work? This learning will complement more generic “prepare for your professional future” resources available. The activity builds students’ capacity for professional reflection, and research-informed practice. It scaffolds their becoming networked peer learners, an attribute which will be highly valuable post-graduation. The wiki becomes a reusable learning object that can be updated and drawn upon by subsequent cohorts.


Technical issues: Some resourcing will be required to set up the initial template for the wiki: the first cohort of students to undertake the project should not have to design the front end of the wiki. Some moderation may be necessary to ensure client confidentiality is not breeched, and to facilitate discussion. Weekly ‘prompts’ may be emailed to students to suggest questions they might address in their blog posts. Pre-unit preparation will involve filming and editing the online video lectures, building the page of possible technologies and technology support links, and including links to the online learning self-assessment material.


Drawback: Ideally, the peer-to-peer learning would take place in closer to real time. With this activity, the wiki is not complete until the end of the semester, when students are completing their projects. I need to consider how I could build a reflecting-in-action (Shon 1983) element into the unit. Ideas, ocTEL?


#ocTEL activity week 2 : approaches to learning

Deep, Surface, and Strategic approaches to learning

  • Have you seen any evidence of these different approaches in online contexts, e.g. in technology-enhanced courses you teach? How did these differences manifest themselves in terms of online learning behaviour?
  • Are you leaning towards one approach in particular on ocTEL, and if so why might that be? Perhaps you are employing strategies from more than one approach?
  • Are learners who tend to take a ‘surface’ approach likely to learn more or less effectively online versus face-to-face?
  • How might we encourage ‘deep learning’ in online contexts

While it is “generally accepted” that “deep learning is the ideal,” I think that this ideal needs to be considered before we all tailor all of our teaching efforts towards achieving this type of learning and learner.

The differentiation between deep and surface learning highlights a subjective perspective on the purpose of academic education itself. I’ll look at Biggs and Tang’s (2007) influential discussion of the concepts here as an example. For Biggs and Tang, tertiary education should be about the acquisition of knowledges, skills, and competencies in themselves: in learning for learning’s sake. This is a subjective value proposition. Biggs and Tang are scornful of the idea that tertiary education might focus on equipping students to work as industry professionals. They dismiss “extrinsic motivation,” in which students are motivated to learn based on strategic outcomes such as employability, arguing that this encourages “surface learning” (2007, 35).

Biggs & Tang’s perspective aligns with a deeper ontological divide over the purpose of tertiary education. On one side of this divide are those who see tertiary education as focussed on graduate employability and the application of learning to problems and situations beyond the university; on the other side are those who see tertiary education as focussed on learning for learning’s sake. Leinhardt et al (1995) refer to this distinction as the difference between “university” and “professional” approaches. The former often characterise their approach as “applied,” while the latter often use the value-laden term “pure” to describe their approach (for example see McCalman 2000; Klein 2000). The same can be seen in the semantics of “deep” versus “strategic” as definitional terms. Writing assessment criteria and then condemning students who work hard to address them as somehow less than “ideal” is a contradictory approach, and one that is frustratingly opaque to students.

In my experience, “strategic” learners don’t just want to please the lecturer and earn high marks just for the sake of high marks: they want to earn high marks in order to boost their employability; they want to follow assessment requirements because they have often been told that these requirements and criteria align closely to key professional attributes. “Deep” learners are great in their in-class enthusiasm, but they can miss the broader point of their learning beyond the classroom: its applications.

In one of this week’s readings, Siemens observes that in an information-saturated environment, knowing exactly what one wants and where to find it are key learning skills: these skills align more with a “strategic” learning style.

In asking students to give online comments on each others’ YouTube oral presentations, all three of these learning styles are evident. Thre are students who do the bare minimum, adding nothing of real value to other students’ videos; students who do just enough to ensure they meet the highest assessment criteria, ofering comments that demonstrate their understanding of the unit material; and students who post lengthy responses full of references to things they’ve learned or read in other units, their own thoughts, and their questioning of the terms of the assignment itself (which is precisely what I’m doing now!). In my experience, the students on the receiving end of this feedback find the strategic material most valuable. In peer learning online, strategic learners can be of high value. I know that in group work contexts, students would much rather work with a strategic learner than with a deep one.

In my own ocTEL approach, I’m taking a combination of deep and strategic approaches, which I think is the ideal combination. If I just took a deep approach, I could bog down, trying to read everything and somehow assimilate it all, make connections, follow up references. This is definitely a temptation, and one against which we were rightly warned in week 0. Without a key outcome or strategic application in mind, I could happily drift around in ocTEL for hours, learning all sorts of things. But I’m also taking a strategic approach: I see the value of the assigned activities, and how they structure my learning twoards useful intended outcomes. I have professional purposes for doing ocTEL–improving my department’s teaching performance, and my own–I use this strategic professional application as a way to manage and structure my ocTEL engagement. I find the badges a very productive way of guiding and rewarding focussed, strategic learning.

In terms of surface learners, in my experience they’re surface learners regardless of teaching medium. There are strategies to assist them with their learning, but these don’t usually boil down to “come to class” or “go online.”

Thus, I don’t think “we” should focus on “encouraging deep learning in online contexts.” I’d prefer to encourage a combination of strategic and deep learning because both are equally valid types and outcomes of education.

Biggs, J., and C. Tang. (2007) Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Berkshire, UK: Open University Press.


Klein, T. (2000) The value of fundamental inquiry: The view from physics. In Coady, T. (Ed.). Why Universities Matter: A Conversation about Values, Means, and Directions, pp. 99-109. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.


Leinhardt, G., et al. (1995) Integrating professional knowledge: The theory of practice and the practice of theory. Learning and Instruction, 5: 401-8.


McCalman, J. (2000) Blurred visions. . In Coady, T. (Ed.). Why Universities Matter: A Conversation about Values, Means, and Directions, pp. 132-43. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.


#ocTEL week one webinar notes, and badges


week-1-check-inweek-1-webinarweek-1-tel-oneweek-1-topic week-1-tel-explorer

Here are some notes from the week one ocTEL webinar:

Kyriaki Anagnostopoulou, University of Bath

-it’s difficult to evaluate learning technologies that are embedded in contexts: how to evaluate them separately from the context?

-learning design as a choreography to the ‘dance’ of learning. At first I thought this seemed prescriptive–“left foot here, right foot here”–until I thought, it depends what kind of dance you’re talking about. First-year choreography is necessarily prescriptive–a waltz–while final-year choreography may be more interpretive dance.

-Ron Oliver’s “tasks, resources, support” model (1999) (Hi Ron!)

-focus on authentic learning: public outputs result in higher quality of student work

-Verpoorten’s 8 learning events model

-Bath Digital Literacies online student self-assessment: student completes self assessment, and is then recommended student and faculty-specific resources to address any challenge areas identified

-technology needs to enhance and add to the learning experience, not to be a clumsy bolt-on

James Little, University of Leeds

-academics feel: “not enought time to catch up!” No real solution offered other than that they should be involved in multiple networks of communicaiton about T&L practice. This doesn’t seem to address the issue, however.

-don’t’ assume the same level of technological ability across the student cohort

-students just want technology to work, not to be an “additional barrier”

-digital resident/visitor rather than native/immigrant concept

-SAMR model: modification and redefinition using technology are transformative; substitution and augmentation using technology are enhancement


#ocTEL activity 1.3: Champions and critics of teaching machines

Pick one or two of the following thinkers or approaches and read a bit about them, starting with the resources linked. What would they like about the Teaching Machines approach? What would they oppose, and what alternatives would they propose? Explore the notes made by two or three of your fellow participants. What patterns do you detect?

First, I like that doing a TEL MOOC has me reading up on Socrates. A good sign that pedagogy is at the forefront here.

Before I read the article I had the typical view of Socratic method: the scholar sitting at the feet of the master, with both asking questions of each other–the scholar asking the master for guidance, and the master asking leading questions in order to make the scholar think. I now know that Socratic practice–as opposed to method–also involved browbeating by the master. I’ll segregate method from practice here and focus on the method.

The idea that “Education is not a cramming in, but a drawing out” sits well with this cMOOC, and aligns with learner-centred teaching. The types of activities we’re doing in this MOOC–critical reflection on practices, dialogic practice, comparing one’s responses to others’–exemplify the “drawing out” approach to pedagogy. I’ve wondered before how this type of learning can be promoted/scaffolded by technology; ocTEL is providing an excellent example.

This interpretation of Socratic pedagogy conflicts with the pedagogy of Skinner’s teaching machines. In the Skinner video, there is no dialogue, no chance for students to ask questions, and no possibility of avoidance of the instructor’s “pre-determined views.” ocTEL participant Intelligent Ideation comes to the same conclusions.

Dialogue in the forums on the Skinner-Socrates comparison centres on the useful point that there is a place for both types of learning, and both types of technology. The trick is deploying the right types at the right points in the learning process.

#octel activity 1.5

I’m pleased to say that I am formally ready for online learning, according to Penn State, San Diego Community College, and the University of Houston. Good thing, seeing as I did the questionnaires as part of a MOOC.

I hadn’t considered using an instrument like this with my students (university students who are largely f2f, with additional TEL). I think I will use a modified version of these checklists before each unit: the instrument won’t only focus on TEL, though, it’ll focus on the skills and knowledge required by the student to succeed in the unit. TEL questions will be part of it, but so will questions addressing written communication and so on. I’d like to be able to see the results so that we can then tailor the unit’s learning activities to each cohort’s competencies and weaknesses. That said, I like the way the San Diego one encorages students to be self-directed by showing what areas they need to work on, and where they can find resources for doing so. It’d also be interesting to run the same questionnaire again at the end of each unit to see what progress had been made.

Another good activity from ocTEL.


#ocTEL activity 1.1: my practice


In the final-year project unit I coordinate (see for details of the large group project), the 160 students write a final reflective analysis essay which is worth 60% of their unit mark. The essay requires students to draw on set readings, and to reflect on the work they did in the semester-long group project. On the graph, it’s strongly “individual/directed.” This complements the highly social practice of the project itself. The individual nature of the assignment allows students to reflect more openly than they might do in a public forum. The learning outcomes with which the assignment is connected include development of the students as reflective practitioners, and articulation of theory (set readings) to practice. Although the project is done as a group, all assessment in the unit is individual, comprising two written pieces: the final reflective analysis (60%), and an early evaluation of the existing product on which the students will work (40%).

  • How you could achieve your learning outcomes if the activity were conducted differently?

What if I shifted this reflection from individual to social?

I recently read an article in HERDSA journal, “Reflective practice in the transition phase from university student to novice graduate: implications for teaching reflective practice,” which usefully pointed out that in professional practice, reflection is usually social and conversational: when it comes to reflection, “the methods students were taught, for example written journals, contrasted to the methods used by practitioners, whose use of reflective practice was embedded in their everyday actions and was social and dialogical in nature” (p. 633). The article also noted that professional reflection usually occurs temporally closer to the event than does written reflection, which often takes place temporally distant from events. The authors recommend that students learn both social and written reflection.

  • Whether this would be an improvement? If not, why not?

Shifting the final assignment from entirely individual to social could be an improvement in that it would teach students how reflection works in a professional context: how they can make the best use of questions, conversations, and interactions to enhance their professional learning and practice. Students might also enjoy not having a large written assignment waiting for them at the end of a fairly demanding project.

  • What technology you would require if you did things differently?

What teaching and learning activities/TEL would best support dialogical, real-time reflective conversations in a way that can be used for assessment? Each student could keep a weekly blog, noting the reflective conversations they’d had in project meetings that week; part of the final assignment could involve engaging productively in commenting on others’ blogs a set number of times (somewhat like ocTEL Tel One Badge activity for week one!). Not a ground-breaking idea TEL-wise, I know, but it could work in taking up Smith and Trede’s observations about academic vs professional reflective practices and competencies. Assessment would remain individual, but would involve social practice. Or students could be put into Google Circles as reflection groups for the duration of the project. It could also work practically, as an assessable item which is not too cumbersome for assessors or too vague for students. It could also be done by having several ‘reflective discussion’ sessions in class time in which students are broken up into small groups and asked to discuss a particular topic, then write up results of the discussion subsequently in blogs.

  • At what points of your course are there opportunities to express opinions and instincts?
  • At what points do you work with fellow learners?

Because students meet in small groups weekly for the full semester, they have substantial opportunity for discussion with their peers. Each student is a member of two groups: each student works closely with a minimum of ten other students for the full semester. They are also given considerable autonomy to shape the direction of the project. Some students may feel constrained by group dynamics and composition, however.

  • At what point do you have to absorb information and how?

Students absorb three weeks of teacher-delivered information at the beginning of the project in the form of live and online lectures. After that, information is absorbed in an ongoing manner as the project evolves.

I’d appreciate hearing from others here about how they’ve used TEL or other assessable learning activities to develop students’ reflective skills in dialogical as well as individual ways.