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Having been part of designing a MOOC and a learner on several, this is my first experience of acting in an online support role on one.

Four weeks in and I am having to give myself the same advice I hand out to participants ‘Don’t try to do it all’ (or ‘Keep calm in the face of abundance‘ as it is put in ocTEL.) There are (gratifyingly!) so many forum posts, blog posts and Tweets, it’s tempting to try to keep up with everything, and I’m sure participants feel much the same.

I like being able to use a variety of tools to engage with the material and interact with other ocTEL-ers, but when I was reviewing the material initially, I wondered how participants would be able to follow all the different communication streams that would be created. Fortunately, the Course Reader has made easy work of this, and thanks to some clever tech-enabled coordination being the scenes (Thanks, Martin), Tutors and Support Tutors can make sure we keep up with posts and comments as a team.

This is our Study Week currently and I’m looking forward to the remainder of the course and hopefully a continuation of the what we gain through ocTEL (resources found, associations made) into the future.

ocTEL 2014:

I’ve recently completed a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) from Oxford Brookes University called TOOC (Teaching Online Open Course.) Students were taking TOOC for credit or as a ‘free’ course (I was in the latter group.)

It’s not my first MOOC or even the first one I have completed; I’ve lost count of the number of online courses of various types I have taken over the years.

For some this may not qualify as a MOOC as the numbers are kept deliberately modest (for a MOOC) but it still had a relatively large cohort when we consider supported online courses in general.

What stood out was that it had a very high level (time and quality) of engagement of participating staff (teachers and teaching assistants) and this, for me, proved to be the most important part of the course.

The high level of engagement of staff was obviously encouraging the same of many students (yes, a fraction of the cohort were seen to be present but not everyone is going to post to forums on any course, just as few students ask questions in lectures.) In fact, the importance of building and maintaining presence was something that was introduced early on and I know many of us were seeing a practical demonstration of this and its effects.

This isn’t to disparage the quality of the resources but I doubt they alone would have had me engage with the topics each week and keep going to the end, and I doubt if they would have made me think so deeply.

I would urge anyone to take part in TOOC when it runs again to be a part of such a course, to take away a very positive experience of online learning and meet many wonderful people into the bargain.

I actually miss turning up online each week.

I was attracted to this conference both for the content which sounded intriguing but also to experience a wholly on-line conference.

The presentations and workshops were spread what at first seemed very thinly across the time available. But once I had attended a couple of sessions I began to really appreciated the breaks: it allowed me to keep up with my other responsibilities for the day, catch my breath and gather my thoughts. Each session was very intense with the oral presentation, slides, the synchronous and asynchronous panes to follow. It was a real challenge to take it all in and keep up; how the presenters managed, I do not know. The use of facilitators seemed to be an excellent idea and did at least aid the speaker in the balancing act of giving their presentation with following the ‘conversation’ going on amongst the audience sufficiently well to be able to comment and answer questions.

I couldn’t choose a highlight as I enjoyed all the sessions I attended both for the presented material and the interaction with other attendees. All were thought provoking.

I have attended a number of individual on-line sessions before this conference, many of them using Elluminate (the same tool used here), and though I could never say that I would like virtual meetings to replace all face to face events, I see real benefits. Short meetings are simply hard to justify the time spent in travelling, let alone the expense, and attending remotely may enable some to attend and still fulfil other commitments on the same day. Virtual conferences may enable some to attend events they would not otherwise be able to afford. Who wouldn’t support something that enables conferences and workshops to continue in lean times and possibly attract a greater range of attendees.

But I wonder also if there isn’t something extra to be gained from on-line meetings. It’s often said one of the most important aspects (or at least most often achieved) of face to face meetings is networking. I don’t know if it just the virtual meetings that I have attended, but I notice a lot more interaction, and between many more people, than in face to face events. Of course, what the quality of this interaction is, only time will tell. It would also be interesting to know how presenters feel about the kind of session where the audience can be ‘talking’ even more than they are.

My Tweets on the event

This is an annual event organised by the Centre for new and aspiring lecturers from all the physical sciences. Attendees this year had various levels of previous experience and came from a range of HEIs across the UK.

As well as being there to tell attendees more about the Centre and what we could do for them, I gave a very short presentation on web 2.0 tools and some simple examples of how they might be used in higher education, for themselves and for their students.

Having covered the same material last year I was interested to find that this year’s attendees had a significantly greater awareness of social software and could name specific examples of tools that were available; some were using them at least for their own development or collaboration between colleagues.

For those still finding their way around, the Centre offers examples of RSS feeds from the Centre’s website to which visitors can subscribe, the Centre’s Twitter feed and an account on Delicious.

The talk itself (including an image located through the CC search on Flickr) was posted on SlideShare and a list of all the references from the talk were posted to a list on Diigo.