Archive for category Teaching

OU quals on FutureLearn

Screen Shot 2019-05-17 at 14.15.22Another opportunity to talk to OU practitioners about the experience of putting an OU qualification on FutureLearn. This time the event was organised by the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Faculty at The Open University and was the annual meeting of their Taught Postgraduate Group.


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Leverhulme writing camp 2019

IMG_9030.jpgApril, and one of my favourite annual events – the Leverhulme Writing Camp.

The doctoral students on the Open World Learning programme funded by Leverhulme, together with their supervisor, spend a week in the Peak District, writing and researching, discussing and community building.

The OWL funding covers three cohorts of six students. The newest students are now coming to the end of their second year – the first cohort are gradually spreading out internationally as they complete their studies and start work.

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OU qualifications on FutureLearn

Screen Shot 2019-05-17 at 13.24.43The OU runs a series of lunchtime seminars on quality enhancement (QELS) each month. It’s an opportunity for practitioners across the university to share their practice with others. I presented in April 2019 about the experience of launching the Postgraduate Certificate in Open and Distance Education (PGCert ODE) on FutureLearn.


In February 2019, The Open University launched its first full qualification on FutureLearn. The new module H880: TEL Foundations and Futures provides successful completers with the 60 credits necessary to obtain a Postgraduate Certificate in Online and Distance Education. The module team has been the first in the University to grapple with the problems of moving from Moodle to FutureLearn, including the different ways of doing things at the OU and at FutureLearn. We were determined that the move would bring benefits to our students, and that H880 tutors would be happy with the move. In this seminar, Rebecca will talk about the process of adapting a module to FutureLearn, the benefits of the move, and the challenges that still need to be addressed.

If you have an OU staff log-in, you can access a video of this talk via the QELS Intranet site.

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H880: first OU ‘degree’ on FutureLearn

H880 Technology-enhanced learning foundations and futures, the postgraduate module I’m chairing, went live on FutureLearn on Monday 4 February 2019. The module uses conversational learning, so students can benefit from studying as a diverse group from around the world.

We’re also taking the opportunity to include as much openness as we can in the module. Most of the resources we use are openly available, so students can make use of them in their own practice. We’re giving four weeks of the module a non-commercial creative commons licence. Once again, the aim is that students can take and rework the material to suit their own context.

We’ve also included an openly accessible MOOC, The Online Educator, as part of the study materials. H880 students will take part in this short MOOC alongside its other learners, benefiting from their perspectives, and also having opportunities to reflect on the distinctions between formal/formal, open/paid learning.

You can keep up with H880 via our Community blog, or our Twitter account. The Online Educator MOOC runs on FutureLearn several times a year. Join us on any run of the MOOC as a taster of some of the H880 material, or join the March presentation to study alongside the H880 cohort.

And, of course, it would be great if you joined us as a student on H880. It’s a 60-credit postgraduate module, and successful completion will earn you a Postgraduate Certificate in Online and Distance Education (PGCert ODE). There’s an introductory video here.

H880 start

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Learning analytics in Venice

Univeristy in VeniceI was invited by Paula de Waal to talk about learning analytics to academic staff and postgraduate students in the Department of Philosophy and Education at University of Ca’Foscari in Venice.


Learning analytics have the potential to help us to identify and make sense of patterns in educational data in order to enhance our teaching, our learning, and the student experience. Since emerging as a distinct field in 2011, learning analytics has grown rapidly. Institutions around the world are already developing and deploying these new tools. In order to use analytics effectively, teachers need to take time to reflect on their aims and relevant skillsets. What does enhancement mean in different contexts, and how can analytics be used to help achieve that goal? In order to use these tools effectively, one of the things we need to do is to look into the future and consider the changes on the horizon. In her talk, Rebecca will talk about current developments in learning analytics. She will also introduce ‘Analytics in Action’ – a framework that can be used to introduce analytics to support enhancement – and will consider its implications from a teaching perspective.

Programme (Italian)

Nuovi orizzonti della ricerca pedagogica: evidence-based learning e learning analytics Giornata di studi

22 Novembre dalle 9.30 alle 13.00, Palazzo Malcanton Marcorà – Aula Valent

Ore 9.30 Apertura dei lavori
Coordina: M. Costa (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia)

Ore 9.40 Nuovi orizzonti della ricerca pedagogica
U. Margiotta (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia)

Ore 10.00 Il contributo delle tecniche di Learning Analytics ai settori del Learning Design e dell’autoregolazione dell’apprendimento.
D. Persico (CNR-Genova)

Ore 11.00 Learning Analytics futures: a teaching perspective
Guest speaker: R. Ferguson (Open University UK)
Discute: P. de Waal (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia)

Ore 13.00 Chiusura dei lavori



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Tina Papathoma: viva success

Tina, two supervisor and her examiners

Tina Papathoma celebrates a successful viva

On 17 January 2019 one of my doctoral students, Tina Papathoma, successfully defended her viva. Her subject was ‘MOOC educators: who they are and how they learn’. Her examiners were Martin Weller from The Open University and Jen Ross from The University of Edinburgh in a viva chaired by Karen Kear.

The acknowledgments at the start of Tina’s thesis include a glimpse into the process of completing a thesis.

‘A PhD journey is often a lonely one. I tried to make it more sociable, and at times funny and adventurous, by going to the office every day for the duration of the project. I got to know nice people, during our many light and serious discussions. I want to thank all my office mates, who listened when I had bad days, and especially Lesley Boyd and her hugs! Thanks to all the people at the OU: to the security team who were there to deactivate building alarms as I went to work on Christmas day and bank holidays; to the man who helped me out of the lift when I got stuck and whose name I don’t know; to Mark Gray from Estates, who helped me when I had a head injury in the car park and who secured my bike when I left it unlocked. There are so many such moments that escape me right now!’ (Papapthoma 2019, p3)

Abstract: Tina Papathoma

This study set out to answer the following research questions: who teaches in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and how do these different educators learn to teach?

To do this, it utilised Tynjälä’s theoretical model of Integrative Pedagogy that brings together different elements of professional expertise. To this end, a ‘multiple case study’ was conducted, with a focus on teaching activities and who is involved in them, as well as on educators’ ‘processes of knowledge building’, and the forms of knowledge they integrate. The data comprised 28 interviews with professionals with teaching responsibilities in seven MOOCs on the subject of History and of Politics on the FutureLearn platform. The seven cases were analysed using different strategies (theoretical propositions, ground-up data, and rival explanations).

The analysis showed that the role of ‘educator’ is filled not only by those with the titles used by the FutureLearn platform, but also by other professionals who take pedagogical decisions. MOOC teaching activities are diverse, different from face-to-face teaching and it is difficult for them to be carried out by a single individual. Educators in different courses and different universities used diverse models of work practice, each of which had advantages and disadvantages. MOOC educators learned to teach effectively when they had a shared goal, worked in transparent ways and involved interdisciplinary teams in a timely manner.

These findings can help institutions and platforms to design better Continuing Professional Development programmes and, ultimately, more effective MOOC learning journeys. Drawing on this evidence, the original contribution to knowledge of this thesis is a new conceptualisation of who the educators of MOOCs are, developed by uncovering the roles of professionals who carry out teaching on these courses, the wide variety of teaching activities involved and the ways people learn to work towards these.

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FutureLearn Educators

The new module I’m leading, H880: TEL Foundations and Futures, is the first that The Open University is presenting on FutureLearn. The shift from the university’s Moodle virtual learning environment (VLE) to FutureLearn has meant many changes.

The module is using the conversational learning pedagogy supported by FutureLearn. Learners are encouraged and supported to converse about why things happen, offering conceptions of their learning and questioning the understanding of others, in attempts to reach agreement about their reflective understandings. They ask questions, and share experiences, interpretations and links to resources.

We know, from our experience with MOOCs, that conversational learning can generate an enormous amount of discussion. The first run of The Online Educator MOOC, for example, which ran for just four weeks, prompted comments with a similar word length to Crime and Punishment. H880 has 32 study weeks.

Many of these discussions are ‘water-cooler conversations’, like the ones that take place by an office water-cooler. People come in and out; some contribute, some simply listen. Some stay for a while, some are only there briefly. There’s no expectation that students or tutors will engage with the entire conversation, just with the most recent or the most popular comments.

This is a different model to VLE forum discussion, where students and tutors often read all comments posted, and the main learning activities take place elsewhere.

I therefore ran a one-day briefing on 17 November for the associate lecturers (tutors) who would be working on the module, outlining the differences between the VLE and FutureLearn, and suggesting ways of working. I also circulated the first draft of the ‘Tutor Guide’, a resource that brings together a set of information about the module structure, pedagogy, and ways of working, as well as information about available tools and resources.

The module team and tutors will be working together to put into practice a way of working that provides the same level of support for students as on any other OU postgraduate module, without overburdening tutors.

Student Support Team

Support for students at The Open University doesn’t only come from tutors. There’s a team on the LIbrary Helpdesk, where the ‘Chat to a Librarian’ facility is available 24/7. There’s the Computing Helpdesk team, who provide support every day of the year except Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Easter Sunday. There are also Student Support Teams, who answer general enquiries and provide specialist advice on students’ areas of study six days a week.

All three teams needed to know how a FutureLearn module would be different to an H880 module in order to be able to support students. They also all need to be able to access the module (the registration process currently has to take place manually, rather than going ahead automatically, as it would on the VLE). I spent a day in Nottingham, working with 19 members of the Student Support team who would be dealing with H880. As with the tutors, there were opportunities to discuss what would happen when the module went live, and to consider which established practices would change. And, as with the tutors, there was a determination to provide students with the same level of support as they would expect on any other OU module.

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