Category Archives: ocTEL

Siemens Learning Development Cycle #ocTEL 7.1

I planned to write a post comparing Siemens’ approach (learning development cycle) with the Salmon model discussed earlier this week. But I must admit I didn’t get that much from the Siemens’ paper. I’m worried that I’m not understanding it right, but it didn’t seem to be saying very much about learner support. Hopefully someone else will be able to enlighten me!

I did wonder however whether my interpretation of this is as not being particularly new is partly coloured by having mainly taught philosophy. Towards the end of the paper Siemens says:

“After several experiences with alternative learning formats, the liberation of not having to have all the answers, but rather guiding learners towards answers, is an intoxicating (and motivating) revelation.”

The kind of teaching alluded to in the quote above is exactly what teaching philosophy is all about. You can’t claim to teach philosophy by providing all of the answers, because philosophy is not knowledge, it is a skill, a way of thinking and reasoning and analysing that can be applied to any other field. After all, that’s what the Socratic method is all about. So this kind of teaching, even in HE, is not that new. This isn’t to say that Siemens isn’t right in calling for this kind of teaching to be more widespread, and supported and recognised, but just to point out that in some subject areas it may be more common that he recognises, and have been for a long long time.

Models for supporting learning: Salmon #ocTEL 7.1

For this activity I choose to look first at the Salmon Five Stage Model, which I'm already familiar with, and then the others as comparisons. I'll post the comparison discussions in a separate post after this one.

Gilly Salmon Five Stage Model

I'm familiar with the Salmon Five Stage Model, and have used it to some extent in designing the induction section of our courses. In general I find it helpful, mainly the emphasis that it places on the importance of the first few steps in achieving the later stages, which are where the 'real' learning takes place. On the one hand this insight can seem obvious, but on the other hand it can be easy to overlook. For distance learners, especially those that are returning to formal education after a long period, or who are learning in a culture or language different to their own, these initial steps of access and socialisation are very important. Time and effort put in at this stage reaps rewards at later stages.

Salmon Five Stage Model, adapted from University of Leeds Staff and Department Development Unit (SDDU) Online Resource

My difficulty with the Salmon model has always been that I'm not sure how well it applies to a long programme – whether the stages are supposed to repeat several times, or whether once Stage 5 (Development) has been reached it is maintained throughout. I have tried to design the induction period as guiding learners through the first few stages, and then the first activities in the first module as enabling learners to progress the rest of the way. But the learners are engaged in several collaborative exercises in each module, over a period of two years. It wouldn't be appropriate for them to remain at Stage 5 continuously, since Stages 3 (Information Exchange) and 4 (Knowledge Construction) are equally important for learning. My revised Salmon model, for what it's worth, would include an additional cycle, as represented in the diagram below. I must stress here that I've not read enough of Salmon's books to know whether this something she already proposes.

One other issue I have is how to deal with learners who are at different stages of the model. I'm sure this is addressed by Salmon, but again, I'd need to read more to find out what she says about this.

The infographics above were produced by Megan Kime as adaptations of the Staff and Department Development Unit online resource on Gilly Salmon's Five Stage Model for Teaching and Learning Online, available at:

Update: Applying the Model

Having reflected a bit further on what Activity 7.1 was asking for, and being impressed with the level of detail in Alice Shepherd's post on peer support, I'm adding a bit more detail to this on applying the Salmon model to my practice.

The context here is a fully online distance learning masters degree programme which I manage at the University of Leeds. The course is aimed at professionals from a range of backgrounds, studying part-time whilst working, from all over the globe. The students are (generally speaking) mature learners, some of whom don't have English as their first language, who are often new to distance and online learning, and to the subject matter (applied and professional ethics). The programme takes 24 months to complete part-time, and includes 8 taught modules and a dissertation.

Below I outline aspects of my current practice in relation to each stage, and some suggestions I have for future improvements. This is part of a larger project that I'm working on revising these aspects of the programme, and not everything is covered here.

Induction: Stages 1-3

The beginning of the programme is very challenging for us and for the students. We have a number of administrative hurdles to get the students through (registration, enrolment etc.) that often take a significant amount of time. We then need to get the learners up to speed with the VLE, with the programme structure and requirements, and with various aspects of academic practice/study skills. We currently have a two week induction period that takes place before the beginning of the first module. This is designed to take students through Stages 1-3 of the Salmon model.

Stage 1: Access and Motivation

Students are sent detailed instructions guiding them through the process of retrieving their log in details, and accessing the VLE. I'm on hand to answer any queries or resolve difficulties throughout the two week period, by email, phone, or Skype. Students are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the programme structure and timetable, all provided within the VLE.

Suggestions for improvement:

Much of my time during this stage is often directed towards resolving issues with the administrative hurdles mentioned above. I worry that this leaves less attention for those who have managed to log on but may be wondering what to do next. Encouraging students to read through course information online is not necessarily that effective. I'd like to perhaps to produce some audio or video material that provides a brief outline of the key bits of information, and guidance on where to find more.

Stage 2: Online Socialisation

Students are asked to share some information about themselves, including a picture if possible, via a group wiki. Staff also have profile pages within this wiki, as do current students on the course (in their second year).

Suggestions for improvement:

The wiki works okay but is not particularly exciting and student feedback has suggested that they don't really feel like it helps them to get to know one another. I'm considering running a 'cafe' webinar session to allow everybody to introduce themselves informally.

I'm also going to try and persuade staff involved on the programme to record brief (1-2 minute) audio or video clips introducing themselves.

Stage 3: Information Exchange

We provide examples of the kinds of material that will be provided throughout the course, and the kinds of activities that students will be asked to engage with. We set a sample reading, introductory in nature, on a general topic of relevance, and ask the students to discuss it on the discussion forum that they will use throughout the programme. Guidance notes are provided about the nature of online interaction that we expect.

Suggestions for improvement:

I'd like to pay more attention to the expectations for this kind of interaction. I'm wondering whether a discussion of online interaction and distance learning itself might be more useful at this point. Or I could ask students to post brief outlines of what they hope to get out of the programme, and then to discuss it. My role would be to highlight the kind of interaction we think it valuable, and to make our expectations (re: length of posts etc.) really clear.

Modules: Stages 3-5 (and repeat?)

There are 8 taught modules, each of which takes 5 weeks. Each module includes a number of scheduled (over a few days) asynchronous discussions of a particular topic or reading. Students are also asked to keep personal learning blogs, and are given individual exercises to complete (comprehension questions etc.), which are designed to help prepare them for discussions and for assessments (essays).

Stage 3: Information Exchange

Students are asked to contribute their thoughts in response to a discussion stimulus to a group discussion forum, and are encouraged to read and comment on each others' posts.

Stage 4: Knowledge Construction

The tutor prompts further discussion by asking follow up questions, or summarising points made by students. Students are encouraged to develop their thinking on the topic through discussion.

Stage 5: Development

Students are encouraged to continue their reflection in private, and to draw on discussions when writing their assessments.

Suggestions for improvement (Stages 3-5):

There's plenty that needs doing here but that might need to be the subject of another post at a later date. Suggestions are very welcome!


Repeat Stages 3-5?

As indicated above, I'm not sure how the model should work at this point. It seems that the stages should repeat for each new discussion task, but beginning from Stage 3.

Learning support #ocTEL week 7

Hoping to complete all of the ocTEL activities this week, as the topic – supporting learners online – is one of the most important for me. First thing – initial reflection on learning support…

ocTEL Experience

We’re asked to talk about positive and negative instances of learner support that we’ve received during ocTEL so far. At first I thought this would be tricky since I couldn’t think easily of examples of learner support that I’ve received. I haven’t had any from tutors (which is fair enough, this is a MOOC, I don’t necessarily except direct tutor support), but I have had a couple of comments from peers on this blog, and have engaged with discussion with peers on the forums. How far this is classed as ‘support’ I’m not sure. But generally speaking it has been positive, and the discussions I’ve engaged with have been helpful. Beyond that, I haven’t really felt like I’ve needed support – I think because this is a MOOC I don’t approach it in the same way as I would a normal course, whether that was online or f2f. For example, I’ve had a couple of technical issues with the ocTEL webinars, on a normal course (for which I, or someone on my behalf, was paying) I would demand support to help me resolve these issues. On a MOOC, I expect to have to resolve these issues myself, and to have to seek out advice from peers myself.

Supporting Learning

In your general experience, what approaches create an environment conducive to supporting self-directed learning, peer support and collaborative learning? What do these kinds of learning mean to you?

My role in supporting learning often comes down to removing any barriers that are preventing students from engaging, or making it harder for them to do so. These include simple things like technical issues – not being able to log on, not being able to view videos etc. – and more complicated things like lack of confidence. But whatever the barrier is, it needs removing if possible. Learning needs to be easy. By that I don’t mean that the content or assessment should be easy, in the sense of not being academically challenging, but that accessing it, engaging with it, and reflecting on it, should all be easy – learners need to be able to jump in without having to overcome lots of hurdles first. Learning is often hard (in the academic sense), and learners will not engage if they have to overcome a load of barriers first.

What resources and facilitation skills do you need to support learners in communicating and providing support for each other? Which of these will be most challenging for you?

Empathy and time, not necessarily in that order. Time is challenging, as it always is – learning support can take up as much time as you can give it.

Learning Platforms #ocTEL 5.2

Reflection on learning platforms

What is your current virtual learning environment or the main technology you use?

Blackboard – institutional VLE.

How does it differ from the ocTEL platform? What learning styles does it afford that ocTEL cannot? Where is it restrictive?

It’s a closed system in several respects: users must log in to access the system. To get log in details users (except in special circumstances) must be registered staff or students at the university. It is also internally closed – users only have access to certain areas of the system – the modules and programmes that they are enrolled on.

Is it ‘open’ in the sense that you can develop or configure tools that fit your pedagogy (e.g. the learning styles above), or does it command a certain pedagogy?

In some respects – there are a range of tools, and with a little imagination these can be configured to suit your needs. However there are limits, especially in relation to connecting to tools or resources outside of the system.

We use it to try and deliver teaching that it social and autonomous, as well as collaborative, but the tools are sometimes barriers to this. An example – discussion forums (never quite good enough whatever the platform!) are of necessity within individual modules. It can take several clicks to get to the appropriate place, only to find no one has added anything new. There is a subscribe option, which will send an email. But this opt in rather than opt out. The RSS feed option has been disabled institution wide. Blackboard are apparently working on bringing this kind of content to the front page (MyBlackboard) but it remains to be seen if and when we will have access to this functionality. Participating in ocTEL has brought it home how important it is that discussions are easily accessible in the times when you have a spare five minutes to contribute. Any barriers here reduce engagement and interaction.

What are the wider implications of enforced platforms and technologies for higher education?

Benefits: Downsides:
Centralised support Rigidity
Stability Slow to respond to drivers for change
Security One size fits all
Shared expertise Closed system
Consistency of student experience Harder to innovate
Integration with student information management systems If not good, can be off putting to staff and students
Quality assurance

How can your learning platform promote inclusion?

It offers a safe and secure space for students to interact. Whilst perhaps not as user friendly or intuitive as Facebook etc. it is private, non-commercial, and guided.


Drivers and constraints #ocTEL 5.1

How do course dimensions drive and influence our use of technology? Hill et. al.(1) provide a model of the different factors at play here, identifying four key areas:

  • Logistical: student numbers, class/programme duration etc.
  • Practice-based: activity type, participant expertise, existing practice etc.
  • Pedagogical purpose: pedagogical plan and guidance to instructor (from template?).
  • Participation: contact environment and extent of web work.

Which of these considerations is the biggest driver towards your adoption and choice of technology?

Thinking of our distance learning masters, participation is the most important driver – the course is online, so we have no choice but to adopt technology to deliver it. However in terms of which factors affect the choice of technology, then I think to date practice-based factors have had the biggest influence. How the course looks, in terms of its structure and its delivery have all been modelled on existing f2f programmes, because that’s what we know, and so is our biggest source of knowledge and experience with which to model something new. Choosing which types of technology to use to deliver different parts of the course was very much a case of finding the best out of an available set of tools to model a particular form of f2f delivery. Here logistical factors play a constraining role – the number of students, technical capability of those students, and tools available to us within the institutional VLE, all restricted the set of options from which we were choosing. The last one of those three logistical constraints isn’t identified by Hill et. al., but in my experience it’s particularly important.

How do these dimensions change each time you run the course and what effects does this have on technology choices (e.g. ‘scale/capacity’ of certain activities for class size, physical location of activity)?

Now that the course has been developed and has been running for a few years, and we’ve gained experience of delivering a full distance learning programme, we’re able to pay more attention to the pedagogical purpose. Having found tools within the initially available set that fit with a pedagogy based on f2f experience, we can now think about redesigning aspects of the course that don’t work so well, thinking clearly about a specifically online pedagogy. We’re still constrained by logistical factors, but perhaps we now have more confidence to overcome those wherever possible if necessary.

(1) Robin K. Hill, Jill W. Fresen and Fawei Geng, ‘Derivation of electronic course templates for use in higher education’, Research in Learning Technology 2012, 20: 18665 –