Posts Tagged ‘moodle’

I think it is safe to say that the Open University are considered the leaders in distance learning and online training.  In the UK they have certainly experimented with new tools and technologies long before other universities have even realised that those tools exist.  I was therefore very pleased when three representatives of the OU MA History course kindly agreed to give a short presentation of their experiences at our recent Developing Online Research Training and Course Delivery workshop.  I already knew that the OU use Moodle as their virtual learning environment (VLE for short) which is the same system that I have been learning to use over the past year for the IHR.  I was also aware that their courses generally provided face to face sessions and textbooks and CD’s delivered to students.  What I was much less clear about was the difficulties that they had to tackle (and continue to tackle) to translate complex subjects into usable online resources.  Chris Williams, Stuart Mitchell and Wendy Mears stated that it takes them three years to develop an online course.  That is much longer than we have to develop training courses ourselves but then ours will be that much smaller and more narrowly focused.    

Stuart stated that they generally make two basic assumptions about their students.  First, that each student will have at least a basic IT literacy that includes using the internet.  Second, that they have at least an undergraduate knowledge of history, historical skills and common terminology.  However, these assumptions were also shown to be the main difficulty involved in developing online courses.  Not all students do have the same knowledge and expertise as each other.  This is relatively straightforward to deal with in a face to face setting, but all the more harder online.  The OU library therefore provides a support IT helpdesk for its students.  Each year a face to face or virtual session is offered to deliver basic navigation advice to students.  In addition an online helpdesk provides students the opportunity to offer advice to students individually on a need-to-know basis.  Content is also a problem.  Content has to be broken down into gobbets otherwise texts are unwieldy and unmanageable – imagine, for example, trying to explain the complexities of Foucault online in one big chunk!  It just wouldn’t work. 


Further Resources:
Open University History MA course pages

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Just a brief update today!  A few weeks ago I posted a little teaser image for our upcoming platform: History SPOT.  I had hoped then that we would be launching within a fortnight but it was not meant to be.  The problem is not content – that is already uploaded and ready to go.  The problem is a technical one with the platform itself. 

To make sure that History SPOT provides us with the greatest scope for future adaptation and expansion and to ensure that it can deliver our current requirements we made the decision to utilise platform systems that best suited each aspect of our content.  The result was a three-fold development which would seamlessly merge together as one platform.  In brief these are:

Drupal (Content Management System) – Podcasts/live stream

Moodle (Virtual Learning Environment) – Research Handbooks/Training Courses

Mahara (e-portfolio system) – Collaborative and interactive elements

To ensure that these three systems work well together and to enable us to moderate user content we realised that we would need to ask users to sign up for a free account and link the systems together using a single sign-on.  ULCC (University of London Computer Centre) have been working on the single sign-on for us and we very much hope that it will soon be ready and we can launch.  It has, however, proven more difficult to achieve than either us or ULCC originally envisaged.   

Tomorrow I will provide you with some screen shots from History SPOT and a little more detail about what you can expect once it is up and running.

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At the workshop held by the IHR on Tuesday this week we held presentations from myself, my colleagues at the IHR Simon Trafford and Mark Merry (IHR Training), and Chris Williams, Stuart Mitchell, and Wendy Mears from the Open University History MA course.  Over the next few days I plan to briefly summarise what each of us said (in general terms) and say a little about the subsequent conversation that occurred in the break out groups.  Today, I will begin with the first part of my own presentation a discussion of online training that already exists online.

In the humanities there is very little in the way of online courses.  The Open University are the big exception of course.  They provide various short courses, a foundation and undergraduate degree programme and a History MA.  Most of these contain a face to face element and the provision of physical books, pamphlets and associated materials.  Their online content is largely structured through the use of an open source virtual learning environment (VLE) named Moodle.  Moodle (which I will talk a bit more about next week) is the same VLE system that we are using for the research training in History SPOT.  The OU also use Elluminate! a Virtual Classroom which provide live lectures and seminars online.

But there is much more online with regards to the OU than their actual courses. For starters the OU have developed a ‘taster’ website recently rebranded as Learning Space.  This site provides potential students free course content and exercises as a draw toward the larger tutor-led courses.  The OU is also very proud (and rightly so) of their podcast content on iTunes-U.  As of 16 May 2011 the OU could boast 35,000,000 downloads from their store with the vast majority deriving from overseas interest.  The OU are by far the most popular source of academic content on the iTunes platform.

The University of Oxford have developed around 15 short courses in History and History-related subjects.  Included in this number is a highly popular and well-regarded Advanced Diploma in Local History.  This is a 1 year part-time course delivered entirely online.

In 2007 the University of Warwick attempted to build and gain accreditation for an online only MA in History.  The attempt ultimately failed to materialise but the extensive hard work that was put into developing the course can still be found on their website and is well worth a look.

These examples are far from the only ones around, but there really is not much else or at least not much else that can easily be found.  One item that I did not mention on the day, but occurs to me as related enough to mention here are two JISC-funded repositories for the upload, download and discussion of Higher Education teaching materials.  These are;



I’ll end today’s post with a few bullet points showing some of the features and tools that most of these online courses use or planned to use.

  • Use of a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) such as Moodle; Blackboard
  • Podcasts/Vodcasts (audio and video recordings of lectures; interviews etc)
  • Virtual Classrooms
  • Email; Telephone communication (with tutors)
  • Face-to-face elements – occasional seminars; summer schools

Next week I will talk a little about the second half of my presentation and in the process give you a sneak preview of the upcoming History SPOT platform.

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On Friday 3rd September I announced on the IHR ‘History’ website and via Twitter that the Seminars and Research Training Project has been given a new name.  The name that we have selected is The History SPOT.  SPOT stands for ‘seminar podcasts and online training’ and the title is intended to attract the idea that this is a place for historians to go for learning, research and training resources as well as discussion and collaboration. 

 Its taken quite a while to settle on a name for the project.  I hope you like it (any comments are welcome!).

As project officer, I have of course been doing more over the last month or so since my last post than coming up with a name.  The building of the website structure based on a combination of Moodle and Mahara is on track and we will soon have something to test.  The first research handbooks have been drafted by my colleague Mark Merry.  These first handbooks will focus on databases for historians – more on that at a later date.  I have also been working on text for the website and an article, which goes into activity and expectations of podcasting in academia. 

 With the new academic year almost upon us I must admit that I’m looking forward to the research seminars, and thus the podcasts, starting up again.  The next few months will prove crucial for this project and should be an exciting time! 

 More updates soon!


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