Play – notes from a PM Studios lunchtime talk

I attended October’s lunchtime talk at Pervasive Media Studio by Simon Johnson of Free Ice Cream and igfest – about working in real world games. His big hit was the city-based zombie chase game, 2.8 Hours Later (these were heavier with social commentary than I had realised at the time – second version was about becoming an asylum seeker).

I loved his thought that playing a game is like running on a different operating system. And that it can help you see features of the existing operating system – say of a city – that would not otherwise be apparent. Creating a game was also described not as storytelling, but as creating a context in which people build their own stories.

This seems very relevant to thinking about teaching in the digital era, where dissemination of information is no longer such a key concern. We should be designing experiences which shake people out of their set patterns of thinking and allow them to explore new ones, helping them to try out new operating systems, creating rich environments in which they build their own stories.

Misc details

  • Simon emphasised the idea of fun – not “serious gaming”. Similar to Nic Whitton’s emphasis on playfulness?
  • His Cargo game, a city escape game focussed on how to build/undermine trust in a group, was designed to create a chaotic environment to test disaster relief principles.
  • igfest – a festival of interesting games that ran for several years. I think there were more frequent meet ups too. This gave game developers a play-testing community by regular events and some regular participants even became game designers.
  • Hat game – gps tracked bowler hat, whoever kept it longest would win (but there were unintended consequences… the hat-wearer ran away – the prize was too big)
  • theTweeture – such an advanced bot that people thought it was a puppet
  • A couple of the games were intended to help people conceptualise complex ideas: a hoop-rolling game set in a quantum computer; Calibration which puts the scale of the solar system in human terms.
  • He’s developing a conference-based game for the ODI to be played at the UN conference in March.

Teaching at scale: engagement, assessment and feedback – notes from reading group

Chris read #53ideas 27 – Making feedback work involves more than giving feedback – Part 1 the assessment context. A great little paper full of epithets that perfectly describe the situation I find myself in. ‘You can write perfect feedback and it still be an almost complete waste of time’. ‘University policies to ensure all feedback is provided within three weeks seem feeble’.’On many courses no thought has been given to the purpose of the learning other than that there is some subject matter that the teacher knows about’. ‘Part time teachers are seldom briefed properly about the course and its aims and rationale, and often ignore criteria’. The take home message, for me, was that the OU is an exemplar in the area of giving good, useful, consistent feedback even when the marking load is spread over a number of people: ‘If a course is going to hire part-time markers then it had better adopt some of the Open University’s practices or suffer the consequences.’

Jane recommended: Sea monsters& whirlpools: Navigating between examination and reflection in medical education. Hodges, D. (2015). Medical Teacher 37: 3, 261-266. Interesting paper around how diverse forms of reflective practice employed by medical educators are compatible with assessment. She also mentioned “They liked it if you said you cried”: how medical students perceive the teaching of professionalism

Suzi read E-portfolios enhancing students’ self-directed learning: a systematic review of influencing factors

This 2016 paper is based on a systematic literature review of the use of online portfolios, with most of the studies taking place in an HE context. They looked at what was required for portfolio use to foster self-directed learning. Their conclusions were that students need the time and motivation to use them, and also that portfolios must:

  • Be seamlessly-integrated into teaching
  • Use appropriate technology
  • Be supported by coaching from staff (this is “important if not essential”)

Useful classification: purpose (selection vs learning) and volition (voluntary vs mandated) from Smith and Tillema (2003). Useful “Practical implications” section towards the end.

Suzi read How & Why to Use Social Media to Create Meaningful Learning Assignments

A nice example of a hypothetical (but well thought-through) Instagram assignment for a history of art course, using hashtags and light gamification. Included good instructions and motivation for students.

Has some provocative claims about the use of social media:
“It’s inevitable if we want to make learning relevant, practical and effective.”
“social media, by the behaviours it generates, lends itself to involving students in learning”
Also an interesting further reading section.

Suzi read #53ideas 40 – Self assessment is central to intrinsic motivation

Feeling a sense of control over learning leads to higher levels of engagement and persistence. If possible this would be the what, how, where and when. But “taking responsibility for judgements about their own learning” – so good self & peer assessment – may be enough. Goes through an example of self & peer assessment at Oxford Polytechnic. Challenging to our context, as this was highly scaffolded, with the students practicing structured self-assessment for a year before engaging in peer assessment. Draws on Carl Rogers principles for significant learning. Interesting wrt the need to create a nurturing, emotionally supportive space for learning.

Suggested reading

Engagement and motivation

Social media and online communities

Assessment and feedback

More general, learning at scale

Resilience – notes from reading group

These seems to be a lot of interest in resilience in higher education at the moment. For myself, while I know we can all learn how to better cope with the stuff life throws at us, my initial reaction to the topic with was along these lines:

My impression from these papers is that resilience is not well-defined and interventions, although often very plausible, are not evidence-based. Putting that concern aside, the techniques which seemed most suited to be incorporated in university education were:

  • building nurturing social networks,
  • fostering a sense of purpose, and
  • encouraging reflection.

I read Resilience: how to train a tougher mind (BBC Future) and Jackson, D., Firtko, A. and Edenborough, M. (2007) ‘Personal resilience as a strategy for surviving and thriving in the face of workplace adversity: a literature review’, Journal of Advanced Nursing, 60, 1: 1-9.

Resilience is broadly: the ability to keep going in face of adversity and to get back to normal functioning afterwards. It can mean different things in different situations and might not always be wholly positive. For example, one study looked at at-risk youths for whom self-reported resilience meant disconnection and the ability to go-it-alone – not necessarily something to foster.

Both papers talked predominantly about quite extreme situations: children whose schools were close to the twin towers on 9/11, and nurses who work in high-pressure and traumatic environments. In both a lot of the conclusions seem to be based on self-report, for example how people say that they coped under extreme stress.

There are lots of traits, attitudes, and techniques mentioned as helpful for resilience and most of these are thought to be things which can be learned or developed. They include:

  • social support, especially nurturing relationships (including mentoring)
  • faith, spirituality, sense of purpose
  • positive outlook, optimism, humour, seeking the positive
  • emotional insight, for example through reflective journaling
  • life balance

There are several programmes seeking to develop these traits in school children through mindfulness, sometimes mixed with other techniques. These programmes include: Mindfulness in Schools Project (UK), Inner Resilience Programme (US), Penn Resiliency Training (US). The nursing paper does not mention mindfulness, focusing more on hardiness, optimism, repressive coping, and journaling (more stereotypical activities for middle-aged women, perhaps?).

Both papers touch on the idea that you can’t help others to be calm and resilient if you are not resilient yourself, and so on the importance of promoting resilience in those with caring responsibilities (nurses, teachers).

There are no magic bullets though and nobody claiming large or long-lasting effects for any intervention (once it’s finished). What we have is a bag of techniques and ideas.

Learning design cross institutional network

On Wednesday 6th July I attended my first meeting of the Learning Design Cross Institutional Network, kindly organised by Lisette Toetenel of the Learning Design team at the Open University, and hosted by UCL.  The network has only been going for a year, but with an ever growing focus on systematic enhancement of teaching and the student experience across the HE sector, learning design is becoming a field of great interest to many institutions, and this was reflected in the attendance at the event, which was double the number of the previous meeting. Participants came from a range of organisations, including Liverpool, Edinburgh, UCL, Oxford, Greenwich, Northampton and the Open University.

So what exactly is learning design and why is it of such interest?

Fiona Hale from the University of Edinburgh has recently carried out a review of relevant literature and resources as well as interviews with practitioners across the sector, and opened the day with a summary of her work which is informing developments of the Edinburgh Learning Design roadmap (ELDeR) at her institution.  Fiona acknowledges the importance of learning design research but prioritises learning design practice which she defines as

the process of designing learning experiences (planning, structuring, sequencing) through facilitated activities that are pedagogically informed, explicit and make better use of technologies in teaching

(Learning Design Scoping: Final Report)

It is a creative process and distinct from development of courses, although it may involve prototyping of activities and getting feedback on these.

Why is this sort of process seen as so valuable? Firstly, research by Fiona and others has shown that traditionally course design often “just happens”. When there is an explicit design process this tends to be focussed more on content than thinking about the activities students will be undertaking in their  learning. Learning design foregrounds activity as opposed to content, on the basis that it is the activities which help students to engage with content. Content alone is not learning. 

Secondly traditional design practice often happens in silos, with individual academics working in isolation. Sometimes the person designing is not necessarily the person teaching, which can lead to a lack of coordination. The facilitated process Fiona and others use is a collaborative endeavour, involving as many colleagues from the unit and/or programme team as possible working together with library staff and learning technologists. Collaborative design has been shown to be effective, for example through the success of Gilly Salmon’s long-established Carpe Diem approach. ( )

Thirdly use of a structured process is easier to evaluate and scale as well as being easily shareable.  In Fiona’s case her team have been facilitating the workshops initially, but because there is a standard model and resources, they are now being cascaded down to facilitators in Schools, which has increased capacity and spread effective practice.

So what sort of approaches are other institutions taking?

At Edinburgh the process involves a workshop which takes place over two days, similar to the Northampton CaIeRO approach, both of which are based on Gilly Salmon’s Carpe Diem model.  Others use shorter interventions such as UCL’s one and a half hour ABC workshops. These do not provide an opportunity for any actual activity prototyping  though, in contrast to the approaches used at Edinburgh and Northampton.

All of the approaches are very active, with participants able to make use of visual resources such as activity cards to try out different sequences of types of activities in their designs. This hands on approach is quite different from other purely discursive review processes, and feedback from participants illustrates that they find this very effective in helping engagement and productive outcomes. 

Learning design as product

In addition to the process, learning design can generate a product, for which Dalziel uses the analogy of musical notation.  In the same way that musical notation attempts to capture the energy and complexity of music, a learning design representation tries to capture “the great ideas of teaching to be shared so that we can build that community knowledge”.

“Learning Design – conceptualising a framework for teaching and learning online” (2016) ed Dalziel 2016 )

Different attempts have been made to represent learning designs, including through use of tools like LAMS and the Learning Designer.   Helen Walmsley-Smith from Staffordshire University is one of those who are looking at challenges of categorising learning designs. In order to demonstrate this point Helen invited participants to have a go at analysing and categorising a series of descriptions  of learning activities. This revealed that the different ways that colleagues talk about teaching and learning can present challenges, as can the way teachers describe activities in their instructions for students. 

One of the frameworks that has proven widely useful in helping to categorise learning activities and thereby help with achieving balanced learning design is Diana Laurillard’s:


Laurillard types of learning

(Adapted from: Laurillard, D. (2012) Teaching as a design science: building pedagogical patterns for learning and technology )

We have used both this and the eight learning events model in a number of contexts including workshops and the TEL essentials online course, as ways of helping colleagues think about different ways in which TEL can effectively support learning.


(Leclerc and Poumay (2005) The 8 Learning Events Model and its principles

Diana’s framework is used in the Learning Designer tool, which allows colleagues to visualise through a pie chart the proportion of each different type of  activity in their course. This can then prompt reflection, for example if there appears to be a dominance of “Acquisition” type activity , this may lead to consideration of balancing this more with discussion or practice. 

Future of learning design

Diana provided the final presentation of the day, which looked to the future of learning design. She sees it as an essential to enable scaling up of engagement with learning technology, and to help good pedagogies to cross to different subject areas and contexts, for example between online and blended courses. She ended by suggesting some ways in which MOOCs could help, for example in sharing ideas and designs, and taking advantage of analytics to further research evidence of effectiveness.

(Slides and audio from presentation by Diana Laurillard)

This was an extremely useful day, and provided a great opportunity to meet colleagues who are both starting out on the learning design journey and others who have significant experience and for whom this process is really gaining traction and leading to better designed courses.  Many thanks to all of the contributors. 

We are very keen to trial one or more of these approaches at Bristol, and would love to hear from any colleagues who may be interested.  To find out more please email:

Schools and eLearning – Education ICT 2016 and visit to Microsoft

Last week I attended two events in London that gave a flavour of eLearning and the school sector. The first event was a conference entitled Education ICT 2016, the second was a visit to see education experts at Microsoft, who are doing a lot with schools and increasingly with Universities. Things are changing fast in schools, particularly with the use of tablets by students. We can learn from what is happening in the sector, and there is interest from schools in what we are doing in HE.

Education ICT Conference 2016

Pete Herbert and I presented at the Education ICT Conference in Westminster On Wednesday 29th June. We had the tough job of following an excellent presentation from  Dr Neelam Parmar, Director of Elearning at Ashford School. Neelam described her engagement in with staff to identify pedagogic approaches and develop workflows for a variety of apps used in class on tablet devices. Many of these apps are free and could be of use in HE.

Pete and I spoke about scaling up the digitisation of content through Mediasite and our aspirations to move beyond simply capturing content to doing something more transformative. Pete illustrated the scale of use of Mediasite at Bristol, which has had over a million views, and also described how academics here are:

  • using analytic data to determine the areas students return to in the recordings to ask questions about why students might focus on those elements, eg is there a concept they are trying to better understand?
  • using flipped techniques and video feedback. In other words, changing teaching practice through the technology.

We alluded to aspirations to partner with students in areas of course and material design and how we are learning from MOOCs to change what we deliver to our own students. I was then on a panel session with some challenging questions from the floor about how we engage staff and students in change, and how students can partner with us in making change happen. Coincidentally, one of the other panel members, Kevin Sait, Head of IT Strategy at Wymondham High Academy Trust, delivered part of the session I attended at Microsoft on Friday.

Visit to Microsoft

This was an opportunity to see what Microsoft are developing for the education market. The visit was arranged and attended by colleagues from IT Services. Colleagues from the Faculty of Health Sciences.

We enjoyed a demonstration of the Microsoft Surface Hub. In effect, this is a very advanced electronic whiteboard with powerful video conference functionality built in. The responsiveness of the touch screens in particular was impressive. This has been the main disadvantage of screens I have used in the past. The video conferencing (built on Skype) included Xbox technology that tracks the user to determine which camera to use. You can see that in the right sized classroom, and with the right use cases, this could be an extremely effective tool. They could, for example, support those teaching across the clinical academies.

Kevin Sait demonstrated a range of Microsoft collaboration tools built into Office 365 and Sharepoint. Of particular interest to one colleague was Sway (part of Office 365) billed as a digital storytelling tool. Much of the collaboration with students in Microsoft schools centres on Onenote, through which students can build and share content. Other colleagues could see huge potential of the cloud for collaborative staff activity eg collaboration on exam papers.

There are some differences between Schools and Universities (for example, class size and types of teaching space) but there is much we can learn from what they are doing in schools. University student expectations will evolve as a result of what they are seeing in schools. We can start experimenting with tools like Onenote and the office 365 package, which, like Google apps, have great potential for both staff and student collaborative activity.

Faculty learning communities

Last week I attended a workshop about Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs), organised by colleagues in Academic Staff Development . This was an extremely interesting day led by Milton Cox from Miami University (which Milton was keen to emphasise is not in Miami Florida, surprising many!)

In the morning we looked at evidence for the effectiveness of FLCs and recommendations for how to design and run them successfully.  Milton referred to a number of useful resources, many of which can be found on the FLCs website.  The afternoon started by considering scholarship of teaching and learning and how it can be supported through FLCs. Milton talked through examples, some of which had been presented at the Lilly conference on evidence-based teaching and learning. The day closed with a discussion of important factors when leading and facilitating FLCs.

Discussion and questions were varied during the day, including concerns about time,  opportunities afforded by cross disciplinary collaboration in FLCs, and ethical considerations in educational research. I was particularly interested in Milt’s repeated emphasis on the effectiveness of “people talking to people over time” in effecting changes in pedagogic practice. He spoke at length about evidence from implementation science, and particularly from the National Implementation Research Centre on the effectiveness of FLCs in delivering educational development.

Many thanks to ASD for organising the event. Milton was an engaging lead and the day provided plenty of food for thought for us at Bristol, as we embark on the new University  Strategy, which aims to nurture and grow our community of innovators and scholars in teaching and learning.

Mediasite European Summit

On the 26th May I attended the European user summit hosted by Leeds University and the Sonic Foundry Team. The conference provides Mediasite users a chance to talk to each other and hear from the Sonic Team on their plans for the product in the upcoming releases.

The day was kicked off by Neil Morris, Director of Digital Learning talking about the current developments at Leeds. For me the two interesting points he talked about where the launch of the first credit bearing MOOC on the Future Learn platform and the redesign of their teaching spaces to encourage digital learning and move away from the traditional Lecture theatre.

Sonic Foundry talked through their roadmap and the changing video landscape throughout the day – they covered a lot of ground and I feel the top five for me where –

  • Mediasite Catch – a software version of the capture solution designed to be deployed to presentation PCs extending the reach of Mediasite using the desktop audio rather than the room installation. This includes user interface improvements which will be rolled out to the Desktop Recorder. Hopefully we will get a look at the beta version later in the summer.
  • Media submission workflow – although in very early stages of development Sonic are working on a workflow that will allow students to submit work while retaining a copy for themselves.
  • Course level analytics – enhancement to the current analytic offering allowing instructors to look at a course as a whole rather than just individual recordings.
  • Changing video landscape – looking at the work Sonic developers do to horizon scan trends in online video streaming including the rise of mpeg dash to replace .mp4 as the web standard.
  • Auto Presentation management – (apologies this one may not appeal to all!) the ability to manage the content lifecycle automatically from surfacing content to recycling and deletion.

We also heard presentations from other institutions from around Europe on how they and their students use Mediasite – again my top picks where –

  • Student Production – allowing students to use the Desk Top Recorder and post to the institution public Showcase* channel.
  • Website feedback – using the desktop recorder to record users journeys through web pages.
  • Recording practice – a couple of examples for this one from a PGCE course recording trainee teachers for reflection and one from a Law course using the technology to record pleas.
  • Practical Physics – students recording themselves working through problems and talking through their thought process.
  • Laboratory sessions – students being provided with a no audio film and recording a voice over commentary.

I think the key theme running through these presentations is students want to be involved and not just passive consumers of media content.

Of course I should not forget Bristols own Lee Mills, Implementation Officer for the Mediasite project who co presented with Jim Bird, Application Support Specialist from Leeds University on their own experiences of implementing a large scale automated Lecture Capture project.



Lee in action.


*Showcase is the Mediasite public channel for Media content.

Threshold concepts – notes from the reading group

Suzi read Before and after students “get it”: threshold concepts by James Rhem (2013)

This relatively short article is part general discussion but mostly practical advice. The points I found most interesting were:

  • “Learning thresholds” might have been a better name, according to Ray Land.
  • There’s been success using threshold concepts as a way to get academics talking about their subject from an education point of view. They are something that people “get” and often enjoy engaging with, though they might struggle to agree on a definitive list of concepts for their subject.
  • To get through the liminal space takes “recursive, deep learning” (which I take to mean an immersive experience). This can be difficult to achieve.
  • We need to help students become more resilient and more optimistic, to help them make it through (there was little idea of how to do this though).
  • Trying to simplify the concepts for students may be counter-productive as it may encourage mimicry.

It made me reflect on conversations I’ve had about students mathematical ability when they arrive at university: they might make it through a-level but not really understand or be able to apply the concepts. This seems very similar to the contrast between mimicry and crossing the threshold.

Mike read Demistifying thereshold concepts by Darrell Rowbottom is a critique of the concept from a philosophy professor (2007)

Threshold concepts, as an idea, appeal to me, but I have found them to be a slippery/troublesome concept in themselves. It was interesting to read this critique which critiqued Meyer’s and Land’s ideas, and those who state they have found examples of them in particular subject areas. The paper took issue with:

  • the interpretation of a concept and the application of the theory, which Rowbottom states is closer to ability
  • explores whether these things are bounded in the way the term threshold implies. Thresholds will be relative (different for different people)
  • the woolly language used eg they are ‘significant’ in terms of the transformation that occurs
  • suggests they are not definable and not measurable. You cannot empirically isolate them or test for them (the latter is part of a wider issue for education for me).

Whilst much of this is valid, and as Suzi mentioned, Land would  use a different name if starting from scratch, I still think the idea has some use. I suggest most theories of education are difficult to isolate or prove, and  thinking about the most troublesome and transformative concepts can still help design curricula and focus teaching and learning.

Gem read  What’s the matter with Threshold Concepts? by Lori Townsend, Amy Hofer and Korey Brunetti is a guest post on the ARClog Blog (Blogging by and for academic and research librarians, posted Jan 2015).   This short piece was a response to some of the arguments against Threshold Concepts. The authors attempted a reasonable rebuttal of seven main arguments against Threshold concepts (listed below for interest) and they made some good counter-arguments, some with respect to information literacy instruction (discipline-specific).

Arguments against Threshold Concepts

  1. Threshold concepts are aren’t based on current research about teaching
  2. Everything is a threshold concept
  3. Threshold concepts are unproven
  4. Threshold concepts don’t address skill development
  5. Threshold concepts ignore the diversity of human experience
  6. Threshold concepts are hegemonic
  7. Threshold concepts require us to agree on all the things

The authors (I felt) successfully argued that there was theoretical value to using these concepts and helped me appreciate the usefulness of this theory as a pedagogic model (this was discussed further with the reading group). Jargon and woolly language is a real barrier to comprehension and being able to critically appraise different educational theories (for me at least coming from a science background). I have struggled with some theoretical approaches to pedagogy but the Threshold concept model, or at least my understanding of it, is one approach that I see useful and comprehensible from the point of view of both teacher and leaner having related experiences of both to this model.

Their conclusion “it’s useful to think of threshold concepts as a model for looking at the content we teach in the context of how learning works” was very thought provoking.

For me I relate traversing the liminal space as acquiring a new, albeit difficult skill (ability, idea) and then the consolidation of this new acquisition. The application of this new skill occurs only once I have passed through the Threshold and am on the other side (thus able to apply this new knowledge successfully to a task).

Roger readThreshold concepts: implications for game design”. This paper describes a project to develop an educational game covering threshold concepts in information literacy.  The authors give an account of the lessons learnt through the process of designing and testing the game.  They conclude that their original idea of a single player game did not reflect the team-based nature of research, the individual competitive game structure did not match the collaborative educational approach they were trying to model, and opportunities were needed for expert input in the game process. They suggest strategies for future improvements including using more open game structures, incorporating debriefing and offering social as well as individual learning contexts.

Other suggested reading

TEL Rubric for Online Course Spaces

Icons for TEL Rubric categories.

TELED have published a Rubric for online course spaces. This tool provides clear guidance for creating new online courses or reviewing existing courses.  The rubric is suitable for use with any units and programmes which have online spaces, including for blended learning which includes face-to-face components.

It gives clear criteria covering best practice and effective course design. It also covers how to enhance and engage, with simple and achievable advice. We will continue to develop it, adding links to examples and further information.

Tips and examples for large online courses

Lessons learnt at Bristol and elsewhere. Also available as a printable handout: tips and examples for large online courses (pdf).

Developing an idea

Start with the learners. Who are they? What is their motivation (intrinsic and/or extrinsic)? How does the course fit into their lives? What is their journey through the course?

Make sure your team has a shared understanding of what you and others involved are trying to achieve by providing the course. What would success look like? Would it look different to different people?

Look at what other people have done. It can be tempting to fall into familiar patterns of course design. Enrol on some MOOCs to look around. Engage if you can. We’ve selected some examples to get you started (see second page, “Ideas for large online courses” in the pdf).

Planning your course

Keep thinking from the learner’s’ point-of­-view. What is their journey through the course? What are they doing at each stage?

Learners often feel a personal connection with the lead educators. Who will be the face of your course? Will it be one member of staff or a team? Do you need to plan for people leaving the university?

Don’t assume you have to use video for everything. Use video where it really does add something. Learners might well prefer text over a very straight-forward lecture ­style presentation (even a short one).

Video doesn’t necessarily need high production values. Low-­cost DIY approaches to creating video, such as filming on a phone, can be very effective, so long as you have good audio quality.

Learners need support and encouragement to engage. How will students who are less confident (socially, academically, technologically) be supported? Prompt the kinds of activity you want to see, rather than assuming they will happen. Provide clear aims and instructions. Incorporate orienting activities naturalistically within the course. So you might make sure they are encouraged to post, reply, and follow during the first week.

Set clear expectations from the start. As a student, how will I know if my engagement with the course has been a success? What should I hope to achieve? Don’t over-promise ­ it’s ok if the course isn’t life-changing for everyone.

Ideas for large online courses

Pedagogies that scale, alternative approaches, opportunities


Large courses can provide a fantastic opportunity to hear from a wide range of learners, not just the course team. Allow students to contribute their ideas, and make mistakes safely. You could create videos where the course team reflect on this week’s comments, and augment your course materials based on learner feedback.

Finishing with presentations or a competition

An event, such as presenting projects to fellow students or even competing for a prize can be very motivating. Law Without Walls gets students to propose solutions to real-world problems, which are then presented to a panel of judges including venture capitalists.

Assess for learning

Assessment can be a good way to encourage active engaged learning. You might: ask students to reflect at the start of an activity, provide comparison statistics so students can see how their understanding fits within the wider cohort, allow peer review and feedback, or set quizzes for self-assessment.

Face-to-face study groups

Meeting with fellow students can be a great motivator. Learning Circles helps people set up regular public meetings to work through MOOCs with a small group of peers. Other people have used sites like Meetup.

Fast-track vs group working

Some students prefer to fast-track through the material, working as individuals. Others appreciate a longer more collaborative route. And some may want to “lurk”, reading but not engaging in more collaborative activities.

Contributing to something real

Students might contribute to a citizen science project or to a collaborative online space such as Wikipedia. If you plan to do this, make sure you look for advice for educators for the site first, such as Wikipedia for Educators

Digital and physical artefacts

Capturing data and making complex things on a small scale is becoming cheaper and easier. From image/video/audio capture on mobile phones to cheap sensors like PocketLab to Arduino and Raspberry Pi to clubs like Bristol Hackspace and events like Bristol Mini Maker Faire.

Short intense courses

Making a course very short is one way to manage commitment and keep momentum. How to change the world is a two-week challenge for UCL engineers. 700 students from different engineering disciplines are given global challenges to work on.

Students as teachers

Teaching online and coordinating distributed teams are useful skills. Harvard Law School’s CopyrightX hires current students as teaching fellows, each working with a group of 25 students.

Bring in outside expertise

Students can gain a lot from connections with professionals outside of academia. #phonar is an internationally successful photography class (initially made available free online without the knowledge of its host university). One of its strengths is the active involvement of professional photographers.

Try before you buy

Some courses allow students to engage on a lighter level before committing. Innovating in Healthcare from Harvard ran as a MOOC but a couple of weeks in, students had the opportunity to form project teams and apply to be on a more intensive track.

Eyes on the prize

Could you offer something for exceptional contributions to the course? Students from Harvard’s Innovating in Healthcare created video pitches for their business ideas. These were voted on by fellow students, with the winners receiving video consultations on their ideas with the lead academic.