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ocTEL MOOC- Week 2

ocTEL Week 2- Learners and Learning

Automatically, I was attracted by this week’s title. Once again, I found myself having to complete my tasks and engage with my learning at  the weekend.

I’m sure I’d be getting a great deal more from this MOOC if I was able to engage with it more frequently throughout the week but perhaps I’m wrong and most people are engaging in this way…

Approaches to Learning

Learning styles has long since been viewed as a contentious subject among teachers. ocTEL suggested that ‘deep’, ‘strategies’ and ‘surface’ approaches might be more helpful.


Defining features of approaches to learning Source: Marton, F., Hounsell, D. and Entwistle, N., (eds.) The Experience of Learning: Implications for teaching and studying in higher education. 3rd (Internet) edition. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh.

Our task was obviously to consider these ‘learning approaches’ within the context of technology. Although, being who I am, I couldn’t help but think about them in a more general ‘learning’ sense.

Thinking about myself as a learner, depending on the course and the circumstances, I’ve most definitely displayed aspects of all three of these.

I think when I explore learning for myself, out of a genuine interest in a subject (generally teaching & learning), then I have worked at a ‘deep’ level. I have taken a ‘surface’ approach when I studied the second year of my PGCE at a College where I had to travel further, I didn’t know anyone on the course, and I was pre-occupied by the demands of teaching full-time. I did work to ‘tick the boxes’ and I was frequently fraught with worry. I have to admit that I’ve rarely taken a strategic approach to learning. I think I tried this at school when I wanted to ‘impress’ the teachers who I knew wanted their work in a certain way. This approach wasn’t effective and I soon disengaged with learning at school as my experiences certainly encouraged a way of learning that didn’t come naturally to me… it didn’t lead to great success.

With ocTEL, I’d suggest that my approach falls somewhere between ‘deep’ and ‘surface’ at present. I think I begin at a surface level but then I worry that I’m not gaining as much as I could from the process and so I work towards a ‘deep’ approach and I feel far more relaxed because I am engaging, applying what I’m reading to my context and experiences and learning is actually taking place. I think that learners who take a ‘surface’ approach online will learn far less effectively online than they will face-to-face. Due to the generally independent and certainly autonomous approach to learning that’s required; without reflection and not relating content to one another and wider experiences, their learning experience will be less rich. There might be certain online learning that merely requires (or could be thought of this way) recall and memorising information (just as there are courses like that in the face-to-face world) but I’d suggest that the majority of learning should take place on a ‘deep’ level for it to be meaningful. I believe that ‘deep’ learning is already encouraged on ocTEL through:

  • Open questions that employ higher order thinking skills.
  • Forums and groups plus activities that involve engaging with these.
  • Tasks that demand participants to relate content to their own experiences.
  • Encouraging participants to share their lengthier reflections on blogs.

These kinds of approaches can be used in any online context to ensure that learning is more effective.

Activity 2.2: Learner Diversity

I’m not totally sure if this is the right kind of response to this task but we were asked to share a resource that we think exemplifies good practice in taking a technology-enhanced approach to addressing a key aspect of learner diversity. The app I have chosen is ‘Dragon Dictation.’ It allows students to make notes easily in class by merely dictating them. This works for students with low literacy levels or dyslexia and it provides a set of notes that they can keep, use for later and they can focus on what they’re learning, rather than the stress and worry of writing. It can be great for LSAs who work as scribes for students too. This is one example of how I believe technology can make learning far more accessible.

Activity 2.3: Theories of active learning

We were given a whole list of learning theories to engage with and I chose, at random, ‘experiential learning.’ More information can be found here:


I think I would personally fall into the ‘pragmatist’ category for the majority of the time and ‘reflector’ for the remainder of the time.

In considering how I could design and support online learning so that it could engage a learner of this type, the reflector part is easily catered for through blog and forum activities with thinking questions to accompany the tasks. It is the ‘pragmatist’ on a course that may struggle to have their needs met in an online forum. I suppose open-ended tasks could be set for a learner and they could have a go at them. If it was a written task then they could receive feedback to see if it works. Actually, as I’m writing, I think online learning could be quite easily adapted to this kind of learner such as online activities that involve quizzes/check-boxes that are marked afterwards or even better, learning new skills by creating a final product using an online tool.

Be a TEL Explorer- 2.4 (a) Design an authentic learning activity

Title: Approaching poetry for the first time.

Learning Outcomes: You will be able to:

  • Outline the stages of approaching a poem for the first time
  • Apply the stages to a poem of your choice
  • Use comments in a Google document

Activity description and timeframe:

10 mins: All learners would watch this video (made with Wideo).

Whilst watching the video and 10 mins afterwards: They could make notes in Thoughtboxes, on a Popplet or a Google document (Or any other technology tool of their choice) that could be shared on the Google+ community or directly with me.

30-40mins: Learners would then select one of the poems on offer (all in Google docs) and would comment on the poem, following the stages set out in the video.

Additional activity: They would later comment on one another’s comments so that they are exposed to more poems and so that the learning about the stages is made more secure.

Prerequisites: Students are A2 level students so they would have an awareness of many literary terms already. They would be given additional links to specific poetry materials via our class Google site. Internet connection. My video guide for adding comments to a Google doc would be shared for students feeling less confident with that aspect.

How do you plan to engage students in the activity and hold their interest?

I would offer feedback throughout the process on their notes and also their comments on their poem to encourage and to stretch their learning. The choice of poem will engage them as they will be able to select something they understand and a style of writing that appeals to them.

What technical issues might occur and how could you deal with them?

The video may not work but I have a written version of the stages that I could share with them on Google.

Students’ internet connections may not work but I would get them to download the new Google Docs app on their phones, which would enable offline editing.

We would use our Google Community if learners had questions or issues with the process.

What ‘learner diversity’ considerations are particularly relevant to the cohort in question, and therefore to the design of the activity?

This kind of activity suits one of my learners in particular as he is autistic and gets incredibly anxious about peer review and annotation of texts under timed conditions in class. This kind of approach would offer him the opportunity to think about his answers in detail before responding.

The video offers some of my learners in particular to pause the input of information and to absorb it fully before having to apply it.

Activity 2.5: Active play

Over recent decades, game-based learning has grown as a form of TEL. It encapsulates many principles of active learning, such as engagement in an authentic context, learning by mistake-making and reflection, experiential learning, collaborative learning and learning by problem-solving. As such, it is worth considering the techniques that games use to engage learners and what can be learned from them.

I played this game for around 15 minutes: Adventure: Lost in the City

What do you think you could learn playing this game?

Skills of close attention to detail.

Skills of determination and patience.

What (if anything) did you find engaging?

Initially, I felt the reward in finding the items but I became extremely frustrated and demotivated when I couldn’t find things. The added bonus in the second round of having objects that opened something or did something made the game more interesting.

I was demotivated by the numbers round as I couldn’t see how it needed to be done. I lost the game and I wouldn’t have played again because I didn’t even have a clue about how that could be answered!

The Webinar

This week’s webinar was lead by Dr Panos Vlachopoulos, Macquarie University, Australia.

To be honest, it was late in the day and I found the webinar difficult to follow.

I saw this cycle and felt it might be something to inform later thinking around learning design. download (5)

The main message seemed to be around empowering both the teacher and student in the process of design. If staff are engaged form the start then they are more likely to continue to engage further down the line (I think this is probably the case with in class learning too).

When we give more control over learning to the student then there is resistance and fear but it also requires any willing teacher to participate fully: giving control fully and therefore accepting students’ ideas and contributions positively.

If we are opening up the learning experience to students leading things then we need to still be mindful of our intended learning outcomes as any activity should be aligned with these (we shouldn’t forget why we’re doing something, just because we’re putting learning in the hands of learners).

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

9 Responses

  1. Hello Hannah. I like your activity. Starting them off with a detailed instructional video is useful; you could provide the text version as well, rather than keeping it in reserve in case the video doesn’t work: this would allow both text-preferring and audio-visual-preferring students to access the foundation content in the way that best suits their individual learning styles.

    Thanks for alerting me to Popplets and Thoughtboxes: I hadn’t heard of these before, and they look useful.

    Do you plan to set criteria for how students should comment on each others’ work? In my experience, students who are new to online learning conversations need some clear prompts, for example, “comment on the following three aspects of the other student’s work…”

    Your students should enjoy this!

    1. Hi! Thanks for commenting and sorry for the delay in replying…!

      The text version as well as the video is a jolly good idea- thanks for suggesting it.
      Popplet is so easy to use and very versatile- as it offers collaboration on mindmaps between students too!

      We have some ‘fabulous feedback’ guidelines that should help students to access feedback (something that they are already familiar with). I do like the idea of asking any less familiar participants to contribute a certain number of comments on certain aspects of a peer’s work. Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. Hi Hannah,

    You are doing better than I am at the moment keeping up with the ocTEL ‘assignments’ – week three (or 4 if you count the introductory week) is here already! Thank you for your clear and motivating posts on the assignments I still haven’t done! You’ve inspired me. I was glad to see you choose poetry as a focus for your authentic learning activity – I have found it often releases my Japanese EFL learners from ‘rules’ and norms.

    1. Hi Damon- thanks for your very kind comment.

      I’ve only just caught up on week 3 today. There’s far more to ocTEL than I’d previously thought but that’s a good thing- lots of learning to be done!

  3. Thank you for your very interesting and detailed post.

    On the topic of giving students more control, how do you think they can be supported to truly understand the responsibility they are taking on and the possible consequences?

    1. Hi Tracey,

      Thanks for your comment. It’s a good thing for us to consider before we step into the ‘online classroom.’

      I think any online space should have rules and expectations-n just as a classroom space might have. You’d insist that all comments remain respectful at all times. Contributions should be focused on the subject at hand… etc. This way, any comments or contributions that were not aligned with such expectations could be removed. I don’t recall having read anything similar for ocTEL (although that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t shared).

      I’m open to other suggestions about how an online space is ‘policed’- although (perhaps luckily), all of my own experiences of online spaces- both with other teachers and with other students have been beneficial, respectful and I have not seen any inappropriate behaviour.
      On the whole, I think learners who engage online are likely to be very motivated already and will engage in the expected manner.

  4. Hi Hannah – thanks for this very extensive blog post. You certainly have a thorough approach to learning – as you have attempted all the tasks for week two in order and reported back on all of them. I am not sure if that makes you more of a strategic learner as you want to tick all the boxes for the week, or if it makes you a deep learner as you have not missed anything out and you have put time and effort into all the tasks. As you suggest, I am guessing it puts you somewhere between the two :). I think also with the nature of the ocTEL course, it is difficult to consider yourself a deep learner as there is so much you can put your effort in each week in terms of the tasks, discussions, blog posts, Twitter etc etc, you only feel you can scratch the surface of what is possible. As you rightly suggest learning styles are very contested, and you will find you are one type of learner in one context and another type of learner in a different context. What you point out is correct – it often boils down to the motivations to learn. When motivation is high and the learning is valued for what it is, we tend to take a more deep approach. Where we are just after the certificate or evidence, we tend to be more strategic.

    I really like your suggested activity – have you plans to try this out and see how it goes?

    Good luck with the course – this looks like an excellent start so far!

    Sue Folley (ocTEL Support Tutor)

    1. Hi Sue,
      Thanks very much for your extensive comment on my blog- and thanks for reading my ramblings!

      I will be trying out my activity as part of my AS to A2 transition weeks course. I’ll probably include an update in a few weeks time about how it’s gone! I have used the video before but in class rather than at home so I look forward to including that aspect and measuring effectiveness…

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