Online Learning – a conversation

Late on Friday I met up with an award leader from one of our schools. He was developing a new postgraduate award. He’s previously been active using social media to support his students, and is keen to use ideas learnt from MOOCs to develop onine learning resources

Since I am now responsible for Blackboard amongst other things, he felt I was a starting point for a number of his queries. (Disclosure – I may understand plenty of uni policies, but I’m not an e-learning guru).

But here are some of the things we went through, and I’m writing them up here because there may be ideas that others want to use, or challenge.

Shared Teaching

One of the perceived benefits was to move to a more open approach between multiple cohorts, with shared teaching materials and discussions. This can be dealt with in Blackboard, by creating an elective Community that is shared between each of the different module instances created for each intake. Content can be used to share learning materials.  Assessment will still need to be undertaken in the individual module.

MOOC style delivery

The intention was to have minimal lecturer involvement, and for students to self learn throughout the module. The evidence from MOOCs is that the dropout rate is high. Some synchronous seminars delivered online, using Skype, Google Hangouts or other third party tools might be a solution to this.

Open Access

We discussed the option of creating a module with content that could be used by two groups of students – those on an accredited version, and those on an unaccredited version. The plan was that the cost would be the same for both. I can’ see a benefit in this – if students are paying a fee, then they are paying for us to accredit their learning. Another  issue related to this would be around the length of time a student is enrolled on a module – our regulations expect that modules are completed within a certain time, and the information system codifies this. For the numbers of students involved, we felt there was little advantage in creating a second open version at this point.


In terms of content, we discussed the learning materials that could be used – the approach discussed meant that the course would use significant amounts of existing learning materials, and the role of the lecturer was to curate that material.

Roll on/Roll Off enrolment

This was the plan for the first module. There is a slight problem with this, and it’s more to do with other student systems. For every pattern of delivery we’ll need to create that definition in the student information system. So rather than have true roll on/roll off, we felt that creating 3 intakes per year might be a better approach.


After talking about the final assessment, we thought about how we could use peer assessment to improve formative feedback and engagement. Blackboard offers a great tool for this. If you create a self and peer assessment, under assessment tools, then questions can be created, together with a marking rubric. The assessment can then be set to be undertaken within a certain timescale. Following submission, all participants are then required to assess (anonymously) other students’ work. The advantage of this technique are: students engage in the marking process; peer pressure will encourage greater take up of a formative assessment opportunity and staff can record the formative marks received if desired.

These are just notes from a conversation,  but it shows some of the areas we should be providing more guidance in our Blackboard help files.


2 thoughts on “Online Learning – a conversation

  1. Personalised Learning, which in many ways is what your are discussing I.e. Where the learner is not constrained by the confines of an institutional VLE is not new and has been around for a number of year. Plenty of academic journal articles to read there.

    I think the incorporation of self/ peer assessment is interesting and something that could be done within the existing VLE, but staff would need some clear guidance upon its usage and it’s potential value.

  2. Mark, I’ve asked my team to prepare some guidance on peer assessment within the VLE. Hopefully it’ll be useful.

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