Category Archives: octel

Characterisation – ocTEL

Characters at the ALT Conference 2009

Having already decided on my big question one of the other things that the ocTEL course is asking:

What characteristics do you think the participants in this course have in common?

I have partly answered this already in my post about handling e-mail.

What was interesting was how few people who responded to my post has actually read it.

The first part of the post talked about how to deal with an influx of e-mail from a mailing list. The last paragraph though was the important one.

One lesson that people should take from ocTEL is that never assume that people, even technically literate people, will be able to do stuff that you take for granted. This applies equally to practitioners and importantly learners.

My point really was not about handling e-mail, but about making assumptions that people will have the necessary skills and knowledge to deal with the technology of a MOOC such as this one. We can make similar assumptions about learners who use technology all the time, and assume they will be able to use the VLE, social media and mobile devices to support their learning.

To answer the queston about the common characteristics of people doing the ocTEL. From what I can see is that there is a proportion of people who are familiar with the technologies they are engaging with, can manage the processes and are now focusing on the learning. There is another group who have signed up, but are unfamiliar with the outputs that happen as a result of signing up to a MOOC and a (highly active) mailing list, as a result the technology is having a negative impact on their learning.

So is there a common characteristic across the whole of the group? Well there is, an interest in TEL. However there is a whole spectrum of interest and alongside that a whole spectrum of skills, knowledge and experience.

The challenge for this MOOC will be is how to engage those at either end without disengaging those at the other end.

The second question asked is:

In what ways might they be different or atypical of other groups of learners that might be important or relevant to you?

I would say that this group of learners is different to groups of learners in that in formal education we use initial advice and guidance, as well as prior learning and achievement, to ensure they get on the right course.

Here on ocTEL we have a range of levels, commitment and experience. I am not sure if the course can engage those practitioners who would directly benefit whilst simultaneously engaging those more advanced and experienced practitioners who could provide support and guidance to the less experienced practitioners.

It will be interesting to see what happens.

Playing by the rules – ocTEL


One comment I read in the influx of e-mail for this ocTEL course said in terms of organising participants into groups:

I think we need to divide ourselves into subgroups for conversations to keep things manageable.  The question is, how to organise the subgroups? By type of job? By type of interest in this course? By level of experience with TEL? Randomly, by starting a new group when the last one gets to some number?

I think one of the real challenges in organising anything with lots of people is an assumption that people will play by the “rules” and will stick to the groups assigned, or even plan themselves into groups.

I think at this stage, though planning groups would appear to be a good idea, the problem will arise if you are in a group from which then everyone drops out from the MOOC; you will be left on your own.

I would expect after a week or two of frenetic and frantic activity that the dust will settle and groups will form organically and by themselves.

We shall have to wait and see.

“I can’t handle the amount of e-mail…”


Actually I can, but there are a fair few people who are participating in ocTEL who don’t seem to be able to handle the quantity of e-mail flooding into their inboxes having signed up to the MOOC.

I will say I wasn’t expecting to get any e-mail, let alone the volumes that are coming through, as I didn’t (at first) realised I had been added to a JISCMail mailing list.

Of course once it was coming in, for me it was a simple matter of creating a rule in Outlook to move all e-mails sent to OCTEL-PUBLIC@JISCMAIL.AC.UK to a folder. I may even set up a secondary rule that automatically deletes the messages if I haven’t read them within a few days or a week.

Deleting them from my Outlook, doesn’t remove access to them, as there will be an archive on the JISCMail website. There are also various JISCMail commands I could use to receive NOEMAIL, a DIGEST or similar.

Of course there is no need to even subscribe to the mailing list and no need to read or engage or interact with the e-mail. I intend to get an idea of what other people are thinking.

Stephen Downes in an open letter makes some valid points that with a MOOC you should really avoid mailing lists or even discussion forums.

In all the MOOCs I’ve done I’ve never had an open one-to-many channel, precisely because if you have 1000 people using it, it becomes unmanageable.

You’ll find that web forums become unmanageable as well if used by 1000 people.

I have also discouraged the ubiquitous ‘introduction’ posts, for the same reason. A dozen introductions make sense. 1000 do not.

I do think these are really good points and if you are thinking about organising or planning a MOOC to take into consideration.

What didn’t surprise me though was the number of people who are apparently immersed into TEL and learning technologies who appear to not know how to organise their e-mail or mailing lists. You would think I would be, but I too often I have seen people who know a lot about learning technologies, fail to understand and use effectively the very technologies they talk about.

It’s not just simple things like e-mail, blogging, webinars, the Twitter, even Powerpoint!

One lesson that people should take from ocTEL is that never assume that people, even technically literate people, will be able to do stuff that you take for granted. This applies equally to practitioners and importantly learners.

Image source.

What is the most important question about TEL for you?

Library Seats

Having avoided taking part in a MOOC since they became the latest fad, I have now taken the plunge and enrolled on the ALT ocTEL MOOC.

It only started yesterday, so it is way too early to tell if I will complete the course. One of my reasons for undertaking the ocTEL is to see if this is a format that could be used for staff development in my own college.

One of the first questions that we need to look at on the oCTEL is:

What is the most important question about TEL for you?

Having been involved in TEL (and all the previous variations for a while now) the most important question I seem to have asked throughout that time and continue to ask is:

How do we create a culture in which TEL can be effectively used by all staff and learners to improve learning?

From my perspective and experience, TEL encomapasses both technology and learning, however the real deciding factor in using TEL to enhance and enrich learning is through cultural change.

Culture change is possible, but not necessarily straightforward or easy.

What I want to know and learn from others on the ocTEL is how do we influence and achieve cultural change?

Who are you? What do you want? – ocTEL

Having avoided taking part in a MOOC since they became the latest fad, I have now taken the plunge and enrolled on the ALT ocTEL MOOC.

So who am I?

What do I want?

I have been working with using technology in learning since the early 1990s.

Prior to that I used technology as a learner. I remember sending e-mail in 1987 at the University of York and getting “flamed” by a technical administrator at Brunel University for sending the “wrong” kind of e-mail.


I also recall a friend of mine at University creating (what today we would call) a social network on the VAX system, it was very similar to Facebook! That VAX system was also my first introduction to WordPerfect.

After a few different things I settled down as a Business Studies and Economics teacher at colleges in the South West. It was in this role that I started to make use of various technologies to enhance my learners experiences. This started with using DTP programmes such as PagePlus to create engaging handouts, Freelance Graphics (and an early version of Powerpoint) to print off acetates for use with an OHP (no projectors back then). I made my own VLE (okay a website) back in 1998 to enable my learners to access links and resources and have discussions. Due to the sort of things I was doing I started doing a lot of staff development, helping staff at City of Bristol College where I was working to gain new skills in using technology to enhance learning.

City of Bristol College

From there, apart from working in a museum for a while, I worked for a consortium of FE Colleges all using a common VLE, TekniCAL’s Virtual Campus. Following five years there I got a job at Gloucestershire College as ILT & Learning Resources Manager.

Gloucester Campus of Gloucestershire College

In this role I am responsible for the strategic direction in the use of technology to support learning, the VLE, mobile learning, libraries, use of ebooks, digital and online resources and a fair few other things too.

Over the last few years I have been researching and looking at the use of ebooks and also mobile learning.

Have always had an holistic approach to embedding the use of technology, lets get everyone moving forward and where possible try and avoid shiny things unless they help and support learning. Okay yes I do have an iPad.