With just a couple of tiding up articles to make for OCTEL 2014 until I finish, the sun sets on what I have found to be an interesting course and online learning experience.

I do hope that others can benefit from the course if and when it runs again.

With the gamification of OCTEL grabbing my interest, I thought it only fair that I repay the OCTEL team with a badge of their own from me.

Enjoy you have earned it!


Thanks OCTEL Badge

Thanks OCTEL Badge


Activity 6.3 Exploring enhancement and evaluation in practice


For this task I contacted Gill Needham, Associate Director and Richard Nurse, Library Services Manager at the Open University, who worked on an innovative project called “TELSTAR”. Technology Enhanced Learning supporting Students to achieve Academic Rigour. TELSTAR aimed to answer the question “How can The Open University manage the process of integrating legacy systems into a recently introduced institution-wide VLE?

1> What was the impetus and rationale behind the innovation?
The project was conceived back in 2008 as a way of improving approaches to referencing and addressing issues that had started to emerge with previous systems managing resource lists. The intention was to explore the area of reference management and build tools that could contribute to reducing plagiarism. The project ran until 2010

Aims and objectives
To create an exemplar project that seeks to:
• replace the legacy system, MyOpenLibrary (MOL) with a more robust integrated technical solution for managing library content within the VLE workflow;
• model more effective bibliographic resource management for the institution and the broader e-learning communities which can ensure efficient, timely and more flexible distribution of these resources;
• investigate the impact on changing practice for managing bibliographic referencing within e-learning;
• support the development and application of high quality bibliographic management skills for learning and employability.

2> What has the innovation achieved so far in terms of student learning?
Students were given a tool integrated into the Moodle Virtual Learning Environment that allowed them to manage their references and style their references for import into their assignments. The tool provided a simpler reference management tool interface than the standard RefWorks interface so offered an easier adoption route for students. References were stored in RefWorks and students were able to use the full interface if they wished. At its peak the MyReferences tool was used by 60 modules in a quarter and nearly 500 users. From the start of the project in 2009 we saw the number of RefWorks users jump from 8,000 to 18,000 users by 2012.

The MyReferences software developed by TELSTAR was adopted and implemented in modified form at Southampton Solent University

3> What has its impact been on the staff involved and the wider institution?
The initiative was a joint exercise between two units at the OU, Library Services and Learning and Teaching Solutions. It was a good example of cross-unit collaboration and formed a model for several other cross-unit projects involving Library Services. The project did increase the involvement of Library Services in discussions and activities around the University’s key learning systems. The tool was also piloted as a method of allowing Faculty staff to manage lists of resources (essentially reading lists) for new modules in development.

The project did surface some of the issues around referencing, such as the variations in referencing styles across the University, inconsistent approaches to expectations on students in terms of whether referencing styles were assessed and marked and has led to some re-evaluation of the approach. This groundwork has meant that Library Services have been able to engage in a dialogue about moving the University to a scenario where understanding the principles of referencing, such as the reasons why and consistency are more important that the exact application of a specific referencing style. In part this has been driven by this project improving our understanding of the complexity of trying to manage referencing styles to keep them up-to-date and consistent and whether subscribed reference management tools are a sustainable long-term approach.

The project has had some impact outside the institution. It organised two Innovations in Reference Management workshops , established the Jisc mailing list READING-LIST-SOLUTIONS that continues to be active to this day, and published a Reference Management implementation toolkit via the project blog

4> How do you know it has had this impact? What evaluation strategies and methods have been used?
Within the project a series of focus groups were undertaken to help to identify student requirements and to test concepts.
The project included a separate evaluation workpackage that was undertaken by external consultants.
From the evaluation report March 2010

This set out to address five questions:
• How effectively the functionality developed and piloted fulfils project aims
• How effectively it meets user requirements
• What changes to existing practices may be needed to adopt the TELSTAR functionality across the institution
• Whether the functionality is appropriate and sustainable in the long-term
• What change management requirements and risks are implicit in this approach

The approach taken was a series of interviews with staff and two focus groups with students and associate lecturers

The solution is seen as practical and usable, and providing an answer at entry-level to the problems in managing and citing references that students face. While there will no doubt be issues raised in promoting sustained use over a period of time by large numbers of students, the initial outlook is very promising.

Encouraging adoption
Many respondents, including our student testers, felt that the MyReferences functionality was simple enough that a great deal of support in using it would not be necessary. Clearly there will always be students who need help in making their way through any new online tool. However the key for student adoption identified by many is to ensure that they are aware of MyReferences and that the importance of good reference management is clearly explained to them: awareness of the importance of the issue and the availability of the tool rather than technical support.
The OU Library Information Literacy Unit has an initial role to play in producing support materials. However, the key to take up may be the engagement of academic departments and course teams in the longer term to integrate the tool into course material production, but in the shorter term to provide contextualisation of the support materials to their disciplines and course offerings and to promote them to ALs and students with clear scenarios for use with demonstrable benefits. Other opportunities for promoting the tool should be seized, such as introductory course materials, introductory videos to the VLE, study skills sessions, and so on. The aim should be to make the tool part of the standard offering the OU makes to support students in their study.
Some of the comments made to us indicated that there are differing views in the OU as to whether TELSTAR is part of the anti-plagiarism strategy, since as course team responsibility, or the information literacy strategy led by the library. This seems to us a false and unhelpful differentiation of what are essentially two sides of the same issue, and there is a need for a more integrated message to be promulgated. Hopefully this will result from the emerging new information literacy strategy being developed.

Significance for the sector
From our work summarised above TELSTAR clearly emerges as a potentially significant development for the OU in promoting information literacy and safeguarding against plagiarism. Work being planned for the next phase to test out the transferability of the solution to other institutions using Moodle and RefWorks will establish the extent to which it can be adopted by such institutions.
However the discussion following presentation of the solution to an event involving a range of institutions and bibliographic management suppliers (Innovations in Reference Management, held in Milton Keynes on 14 January 2010) established that the need for a reference management solution at entry level is widely felt and is generally seen as a gap in the market. It is arguable that this is increasingly the case in the evolving web ecosystem within which students are able and should be expected to draw on a wider, greyer and potentially less stable range of sources and reference material than in days of print.
Other reference management software is designed to meet the needs of researchers and tends to be too complex to play this role. They do not engage students who do not see themselves as researchers but who need to be encouraged to take their first steps in reference management, and such students do not anyway need the more complex functionality when they currently have only limited collections of references to manage. The more conscientious students will adopt ad hoc solutions of their own devising, while others will just struggle to meet academic requirements or use labour-intensive methods.
While the TELSTAR solution is tailored to the specific circumstances of the OU and cannot, as a piece of software development, be implemented outside of a Moodle environment, the principles underpinning its development have much wider resonance and deserve to be generally promoted across the sector.

Supporting Learners TEL Explorer Activity 4.4: The practice of peer review


Just going through my activity stream on OCTEL and realised that I had not completed this task, so sorry for it being late in reply terms but here are my observations:

@ed3d (Peter)

• Video resources are a great help as we have seen on OCTEL they can be used to good effect especially when grading complex tasks
• Synchronous feedback is a great tool for feedback
• Overall, I think you have covered all bases here with regards to feedback and it is a well-balanced tool set you are going to adapt.
• Not sure if you have also considered a video support session set up to take place once a week or as required, using Skype / Adobe connect or similar

• A good method of peer assessment similar to the OCTEL approach is the commenting on two other participant posts.
• I would suggest a trial and error approach with feedback initially so that you can improve as you go along.
• As before maybe use a video support session set up to take place once a week or as required, using Skype / Adobe connect or similar

Is an old but useful article on the transfer of resources into the digital learning world, albeit aimed at learning designers.

And one to recall for future projects is the technology trumps cards that I will take with me from OCTEL.

Please feel free to comment and good luck with your projects!

Short and sweet


My Big question was “Is there one preferred platform for learning online” I had based this on my experience working with educators and academics, installing new systems using Moodle, SharePoint and Blackboard.

OCTEL has broadened my horizons to such a point that I now realise so long as pedagogy, interactivity and collaboration are provided, and that the participants feel driven to use the learning platform as tool that helps them learn. It doesn’t matter what platform is used.

Selling the benefit


To respond to the question “What can I take away from this area and apply in my teaching-related work?” after reading “An incurable disease” and Donald Clark Plan B, “7 compelling arguments for peer learning”. And reflecting on my time blogging, answering and taking part in OCTEL, I feel that peer based learning has lots of benefits along with a few negatives.

Similar to Donald, I have found that scalability, higher rates of attainment, and delivering theory which is underpinned by expertise, expertise, which is universally available and may not normally be accessible to a learner, unless taking part in a MOOC style course online or similar are beneficial to learners.

For me, I will take away knowledge and experience gained as a learner that peer related activities do work, but that you must have an active participant group that engages in the process to help drive and deliver collaborative learning.

As a learning technologist, I am forever “selling the benefit” of TEL after all it helps keep me in a job.

Through this OCTEL course I have gained further experience and more confidence in my choice and reasons for choosing learning tools and activities.

There are serious cost savings to be made through the implementation of learning technologies, and the experience gained here will allow me to cite cases whereby these have been proven.



I watched the online education Udacity MOOC video, thinking about how this approach could benefit NHS undergraduate nursing students studying “Skills and Practice” modules:

Anyplace learning, just like Martini!
Eliminate teaching repetition
Deliver teaching staff cost savings
Online assessments

Practice sessions still required so a “blended” approach would fit best
Must ensure collaborative needs are met

Efficiencies could be met as the course participant numbers increase, server space and administration staff time would be costs, but versus traditional requirement for more teaching staff and space to teach, there would be cost savings.

Peer assessment activities could be introduced fairly easily especially around reflective practices.

If there were one main accredited source of “NHS” video or resource bank that Universities and staff could access that was kept up to date this could be used and links provided to, as it stands University moderation boards would currently be required to ensure that resource and teaching “quality” was upheld.

This could lead to more modular based learning activities and would help not only educate undergraduates, but life-long modular learners too.

Explorer Activity 5.4: ‘in-house’ vs. ‘off the shelf’ solutions


Depending on the organisational approach to “external” funding for projects, I would consider using outside contractors or systems, if allowed. External solutions providers can in my previous experience be quicker to complete a project due to their skill set matching exactly what is required. Can be financially more cost effective, providing exacting specifications are outlined and adhered to, and can be tailored to fit easier. All of this is not to say that you can just set the ball in motion on a project and relax, external providers can be more difficult to communicate with, and can let you down leading to stress and more grey hairs!

So what about “in-house” benefits, I have found they offer more control, due to location and possibly less costly depending on financial structures that are in place. They can be slower though, especially when working with a small team, and if you have no control or influence over the “team”. The exact skill set or system you are looking to work with may not exist, which can cause your project to be adapted or at worse be something that is bolted onto an existing failed or failing system or process!