Developing ALT’s open course platform for ocTEL

This was a post I prepared for another site. It got lost in the pending queue so is out of date (you can still register for ocTEL until the end of June), but I thought worth capturing this post here for future reference.

Last year ALT ran an 11 week long open course in technology enhanced learning (ocTEL). ocTEL is back! And you can still register for this year’s iteration of the course which starts on 28th April 2014 and runs for 7 weeks. The ‘course’ introduces various aspects of TEL from pedagogy, resource discovery to evaluation and management. Participating in an ocTEL feedback session at altc2013 it was interesting to reflect on the mindset people bring to these types of 'courses'. The word 'course' itself also reinforces the idea that if you don't finish then you have somehow failed. At altc2013 Stephen Downes was kind enough to drop in to the ALT-C Live studio and talk about MOOCs with Seb Schmoller. As part of this Stephen explained that the conception of ‘a course’ can be misleading. Stephen has subsequently written up more about what he means in this post. Changing people's perception can be challenging and you can read more about how ocTEL is ‘the open course you cannot fail’ in a post by ALT’s Chief Executive Maren Deepwell.

Our approach to ocTEL is not just changing in approach and content and behind the scenes the platform we use is also evolving to include more social features, integration of accreditation options using digital badges and enhanced course activity aggregation.

The development arch

ocTEL was a successful exploration in the Association hosting this type of event and an opportunity to explore ways for supporting distributed communities. Some of these experiments have already been built upon. For example, the ‘course reader’ which aggregates, displays and redistributes community activity was subsequently also used as part of the altc2013 conference platform. This cycle of development continues with the conference platform being used to improve the course platform. The main change has been the inclusion of a social network site plugin BuddyPress.

BuddyPress has been  used within an educational context for a number of years meaning there is already a rich vein of reported uses and supplementary plugins. One of these is BadgeOS which integrates with BuddyPress to provide the functionality for various forms of accreditation and recognition using digital badges. As well as accrediting activities set by the tutor, BadgeOS also has the option we are keen to explore where participants can nominate or award badges to each other. Another feature of BuddyPress we think might be useful for the course is the  ability for tutors and students to create their own groups. Whilst group forming can be very challenging within open courses particularly given the distributed,  chaotic nature and reduced situational awareness, we are interested to see how these work as it may help us find a solution for supporting ALT’s other communities.

The last area of innovation continues the work funded through the MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) which explored the effectiveness of the course reader to attribute a person’s contributions made in multiple networks. Whilst collecting data from 3rd party sites is possible across a range of platforms the identity of who made the post can be less clear cut. Sometimes this is deliberate the person choosing  to write under a nom de plume, but this can also be a result of restrictions on usernames placed by the site. In ocTEL our interest in this area is not to lift the veil on those who prefer to be anonymous, but instead  correctly attribute contributions to the original author. One of the reason for doing this is if using course activity to accredit someone’s learning, evidence of this activity may existing across different channels.

As part of the MRI grant we analysed data from the first iteration of ocTEL which showed given the data sources we targeted an authorship reconciliation of around 50%. As part of the research we identified areas where we could easily improve the procedure used to match authors to an existing course database. Consequently we’ll be incorporating these in the next version of ocTEL.

All these developments are going to be made available under an open source license so why not register for the course and experience the new ocTEL. Also, similar to last year, we’ll be taking the opportunity to develop the platform during the course. One of the developments at towards the top of the list is creating more data export options. These will include on the personal level ‘midata’ export as well as general data feeds.

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