“It won’t take too long” – eLU presentation on developing online learning

Recently, Liverpool’s Hope University got in contact with Glenn Godenho, an academic in Egyptology at the University of Liverpool, to ask him if he would deliver a CPD presentation about online / blended learning courses. Glenn was happy to take up the offer and quickly extended the invitation to me to help bring the holistic message of eLearning to his session. I have worked closely with Glenn over the last few years to develop and deliver a MOOC through the Future Learn platform,  as well as a designing a series of Continuing Education courses. We felt our experience had dealt specifically with the tensions of translating traditional forms of teaching face-to-face into the ever changing online environment, tackling the popular ‘It won’t take too long’ attitude, that can creep around such developments.

Our message was simple – don’t let content dictate how an online course should be designed and delivered. It seems obvious, but you will be surprised how even the most adept users of technology in teaching easily fall into this trap. I’ve known countless academics that try to convert their subject expertise into online course content only to be faced with more questions and troubleshooting issues, particularly issues about the deeper design and pedagogical structure of their course. In the digital domain this is not an easy task but it’s an important stage to understand, within the framework of an institution.


I always point staff to the TPACK model of education. TPACK is a model that states the need for equilibrium between content-knowledge, pedagogical-knowledge and technological-knowledge. The centre of that model is an environment that is ripe for online learning to take place. The principles behind the model seem straight-forward enough when designing courses in practice I really notice how each of these features needs to work together.


Overall the session was an exposition of our thinking and the developments of guidance materials that enable online course delivery to be more streamlined within the institutional processes of UoL. Hope University are not currently producing MOOCs but they have a good awareness of the pedagogical tensions within traditional modes of teaching. It’ll be interesting to see how they develop over the years ahead. They certainly have some great facilities, including their flexible learning laboratory (which won an AV industry award last year and you can read a case study with more detail here) designed for collaboration in several group areas with screen sharing technology to pass group material to the numerous displays inside the space.

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We hope to visit Hope again at some point. Networks in Higher Education become more valuable as we tread more on new ground, whether that be in the online classroom or within carefully crafted learning spaces like this one.


Philip Walker | Learning Technologist

MOOCs: A Learning Curve

Finalising our MOOCs feels like adding the last touches to a new home before settling into the new neighbourhood. Here at the eLearning Unit, over the last three months, we’ve been developing two MOOCs for the FutureLearn platform, ready to go live in September. This blog post is a summary of some of the things we’ve learnt on our MOOC creation journey-of-discovery. The University of Liverpool will have its first taste of running two Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), sitting alongside a range of other online course opportunities that have been created and designed by Universities throughout the UK and abroad. It’s the first of six MOOCs altogether and we’ll be progressing soon to start work with more academics, to design and develop more MOOC courses. We really want to hear your experiences of creating MOOCs. Please comment below.

leahmoocadvertA learning curve

MOOC development has been a significant Petermoocadvertlearning curve for us, especially when balancing the design and structure of course materials (lasting six weeks) alongside time restraints and technological drawbacks commonplace in the content development of any online course. That said, MOOCs tend to be multimedia intensive and the time heavy task of putting together a series of videos flagged the need for careful preparation. Certainly the fine tuning of video footage can be laborious, so we’ve featured this in our longer term MOOC development plans, building a more streamlined approach to our multimedia production workflow. This includes working closely with the academic lead of the MOOC, scripting out and story-boarding any video ideas to make sure they fit the flow of the course. We’ve realised that putting this time aside will allow us greater control when deciding which content should be filmed footage, in the form of videos, compared with content that should be displayed in a different formats (eg. images, text, audio).

Filming Dr Leah Ridgway n the High Power Lab

Taking time out, to plan, informed our decision making processes for content production and gave us the chance to integrate an important element to our courses – a sense of pace and the opportunity for reflection. We felt this pedagogical structure gives participants the chance to digest key bits of learning before moving through each section. This can be tricky to do. We had to constantly take a step back to view the bigger picture of the six week course whilst remembering that every resource created would be accessed online by an audience that does not necessarily have any direct access to the academic lead (as in traditional face-to-face learning). We find that we are in a constant process of assessing and re-assessing the interaction between course content and the learning objectives.

At the outset, engaging with MOOC creation in the eLearning Unit utilised skills we currently use in developing the online Continuing Professional Development (CPD), with a few obvious differences. Rather than using our familiar VLE Blackboard environment, we were using the clean cut FutureLearn platform. Rather than a small audience, we are facing a massive audience. It’s not so straightforward and despite the approach to MOOC production being largely similar to online CPD, the scale is bigger and the workload a lot heavier. Equally, with MOOCs being seen as part-marketing tools for institutions, issues surrounding branding were important to address. This led to the consideration of filming locations and getting away from simply filming a series of face-to-face lectures. The potential for a massive international audience had to be considered throughout, ensuring we painted a picture of campus life and the institution.

Core MOOC team: Rob Lindsay, Phil Walker & Matt O' Rourke with academic lead Dr Leah Ridgway.
Core MOOC team: Rob Lindsay, Phil Walker & Matt O’ Rourke with academic lead Dr Leah Ridgway.

To date, we’ve produced content from Professor Peter Kinderman’s ‘Psychology and Mental Health‘ course and Dr Leah Ridgway’s ‘Electrify‘ (an introduction to electrical engineering). Both MOOCs have a distinctive style that suits the approach of the academics involved. There’s always a big balancing act going on. First and foremost we were maintaining production whilst also fine tuning the educational experience. The core MOOC team is made up of three people. We’ve managed to draw on the wider expertise within the eLearning Unit to help with course design and web development. This has allowed us to enhance elements of the MOOC and integrate many of the face-to-face approaches used by the academic leads. The ‘Psychology and Mental Health’ is a good example, where we’ve worked with an expert Javasript web coder, building into the MOOC an interactive participant survey.

This blog has touched mainly on the multimedia elements of content creation. There’s much to learn however, specifically in terms of pedagogical design for MOOCs. Have you any experience to share on MOOCs and pedgagogy? Tell us about it in the comment boxes below. After all, the collaborative element between institutions and individuals, as well as the sharing of your ‘how-to’ for MOOC design, can only aid understanding of where all this is going. The learning curve continues!

Written by Philip K Walker

Birthday, minimum VLE standards, lecture capture, metaphors and MOOCs: report from the ALT conference 2013

ALT (Association of Learning Technology) is 20 years old, so this year’s conference (ALTC-2013) themed as  ‘Building new cultures of learning’ was marked by firework celebrations at the lovely green campus of Nottingham University. The 3 conference days were well spent networking, presenting our work and observing what others are up to in the field of learning technology in UK and global HEIs and other educational institutions. Naturally, with the 20 year-anniversary came an element of reflection.

One of my highlights of the conference was seeing one of our very own academic member of staff, Dr Tim Bullough (Engineering), amongst the presenters. We have so many innovative good practices at Liverpool worthy of being shared with others. Tim presented Kritikos, a customised visual media search tool for students, in front of a captive audience (see our earlier blog post on Kritikos being presented at a uni e-learning network meeting).

The main flavours of the conference were: institutions presenting data and insights on their minimum VLE requirement programmes, such as Jess Power from Huddersfield on ‘Blockages in relation to VLE use’, or Suzanne Wright from Nottingham on ‘Maximising Moodle’. Lecture capture was another much-spoken-of topic, typically presenters sharing their experiences with institution or department-wide lecture capture implementations, such Leonie Sloman from King’s College London’s medical school using echo360 who collected some impressive rigorous data both from students and staff on their preferences and experiences with it; or Ben Steeples from University of Essex, who shared with us a fast-pace whole-scale implementation of a lecture capture system within 30 months, using Panopto as their chosen system. Many universities in the audience had institution-wide lecture capture systems. Ben pointed out a legal guidance document by JISC on recording lectures. Essex will be looking at guidance on writing rights management and license awareness of staff and implementing a more gradient way of guiding rights of recordings from staff opting out from recordings through to enabling the creation of OERs and anywhere in-between. I also went along to a demonstration of Lecturetools (an echo360 company) by Prof Perry Samson, USA, who demonstrated his use of this as an in-class tool. An impressive aspect of it was not only that in-class polls can be asked after slides, but also the fact that each student can add their electronic notes/marks on any slide which are recorded for each student and can be retrieved by them later – saving on having to make notes on paper!

Of course the conference couldn’t happen without the mention of MOOCs, which others have documented amply, perhaps just to mention an award-winner example by Nottingham Uni who have developed their own ‘NOOCs‘ (N for Nottingham, rest is the same as in MOOC), the one on sustainability has won the prize.

Talking of award-winners, each year a ‘learning technologist of the year’ is announced, with Sheila McNeill from CETIS winning this year’s title amongst warm support of the ALT community. The Best Proceedings paper was won by Richard Osborne and colleagues at Exeter Uni on ‘Integrating technologies into ‘‘authentic’’ assessment design: an affordances approach‘.

A useful session was given by Lesley Gourlay, Martin Oliver (and sorry, I forgot the third presenter’s name!) on how to get your research published in the Research in Learning Technology journal – if anyone is interested in this contact me (Tunde) for more details. It’s a great journal to be published in: it is a high quality peer-reviewed, open access and free journal! See also two of our staff’s recent publicatons in it:

Susanne Voelkel’s (School of Life Sciences, University of Liverpool)  on “Combining the formative with the summative: the development of a twostage online test to encourage engagement and provide personal feedback in large classes” and

Peter Reed’s Hashtags and retweets: using Twitter to aid Community, Communication and Casual (informal) learning

And finally, last but not least, I wanted to mention our own presentation by our eLearning Unit team, which Phil Walker and I (Tunde) presented on everyone’s behalf entitled ‘eLearning Unit, can we help you?’. It was about our team development. The session was well attended – people were buzzing with activity and we got many positive comments afterwards. A separate blog will follow on this shortly.

So the overall impression of ALTC? It is definitely a useful forum to benchmark in our role as learning technologist. I just wish it wasn’t so expensive as its high costs is getting preventive wiping out one’s annual conference budget! And one of the best unexpected bits: not only meeting and getting to know national and international colleagues but also having a chance to catch up with one’s very own colleagues (yes, Peter Reed and Tim Bullough!). 

by Tünde Varga-Atkins, eLearning Unit

Further links and resources

Tools mentioned at the conference – may be worth checking out? 

  • Speed Reader: paste your text and turn up your reading speed (I just tried it and was able to enhance my speed!)
  • Audioboo : audio sharing tool

MOOCs in the mainstream media

MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses seem to find their way into many of the discussions about university education at the moment. A fellow learning technologist recently tweeted during a learning technology meeting,

“We went 25 minutes before MOOC was mentioned”.

MOOCs are attracting a lot of interest, though there is still uncertainty about the benefits that MOOCs can offer. Last Saturday, 6th July 2013, Radio 4 ran a feature on MOOCs interviewing Coursera and Mike Sharples from the Open University. The programme is well-worth a listen as provides a good overview of MOOCs, as a way of accessing low cost education and why universities should be considering them.

In May 2013 the eLearning Unit responded to this recent interest and invited Dr Chistine Sinclair, from the University of Edinburgh, to talk about her experience of running a MOOC called ‘E-learning and Digital Cultures‘.  This event was an opportunity to explore the potential benefits of MOOCs for the University of Liverpool. The session was well attended and many participants had thought-provoking questions and expressed a range of opinions about the MOOC phenomena.

The video below captures Dr Christine Sinclair’s observations about MOOCs:

And a link to Dr Sinclair’s presentation:


If you want to find out more information, here are a few resources or links to explore further. Please share any useful links or resources in your comments too.

Tunde Varga-Atkins, session organiser; media by Phil Walker, eLearning Unit