Posted by: MandyS | August 2, 2014

Assessment and feedback

Thus far, we have looked at the role of automatic feedback via interactive quizzes and adaptive testing. I can see the benefits for law students in terms of knowledge acquisition i.e. do they know the government institutions and what they do, but not in terms of the extent to which parliamentary supremacy is limited. As has been highlighted in the forum, there are too many variables in subjects like law and health and social care where there are often no right and wrong answers and the real test of the students’ skills is whether they can argue a good case.

I agree that automatic feedback has the advantage of being instantaneous and motivational; being able to go over the questions until they get them right can certainly build confidence that right answers are achievable, but as others have said, this type of feedback lacks the personal touch. Students may be achieving the successful learning envisaged by Black but I struggle to see how the lack of tutor involvement has the ability to integrate assessment into the teaching and learning process. I may be wrong, but the readings so far suggest that assessment for learning envisages a dialogue between tutor and student to achieving effective and successful learning. As one forum post suggests, the student can’t take advantage of the tutor pointing them in the right direction or suggesting other materials which might assist with their understanding. Yes it promotes self-assessment and the student taking control of their own learning but it is at the expense of the socio-constructive approach to learning that the previous readings suggested were so important to effective learning.

Posted by: MandyS | August 2, 2014

The principles of Assessment for Learning

I found a few of points of interest in reading Assessment for Learning: Beyond the Black Box (Assessment Reform Group, 1999). Firstly, formative assessment is obviously a key component of assessment for learning, both for tutor and student. Being able to assess progress step-by-step can highlight problems early when there is still time to resolve them. Back in 1996, assessment as a learning tool was underutilised; I am unable to comment about secondary teaching but certainly in terms of W201 this is still the case. It may be that it is law or it may be the way in which the module is delivered but there appears to be a distinct lack of formative assessment for W201. Yes students can access interactive quizzes via Elite and it is suggested they complete a learning outcomes grid at the end of each unit, but whilst this encourages student self-assessment, there is no input from the tutors; our role is purely with summative assessment i.e. marking TMA’s and offering support when asked.

Secondly, whilst the principles can apply across the educational sphere, I was struck by the fact that some of the suggestions of how to integrate assessment for learning would be difficult to apply in the distance learning arena. For example, observing and questioning in lessons is not something W201 tutors have the benefit of being able to do. Yes, it is a possibility for face-to-face tutorials but I am not alone when I say that attendance is low and it is generally only the committed students that attend, who generally require less help, rather than those that would benefit from tutor input. Although the law programme sets tasks by way of activities in the unit materials, the students have no way of sharing their thoughts either with the tutor or their cohort. Again, the committed might venture onto the forums but usually only for querying administrative issues. Others take to Facebook but without tutor input there is no-one to correct their mistakes.

Finally, I wonder about tutor awareness. The ideal is that tutor’s be ‘skilled assessors of student learning’. The majority of law tutors are practitioners, solicitors or barristers, who have excellent knowledge about module content but perhaps little experience of teaching. Yes, we are ‘trained’ in how to mark the TMA’s, advised about good and bad feedback and our marking is monitored but skills here can vary considerably and, from experience, tutor commitment can vary considerably. That said, as formative assessment has no place yet in W201, I doubt assessment for learning will become an integral part of tutor teaching strategies and practices any time soon.

Posted by: MandyS | August 2, 2014

Back to H817

Gosh it seems like an eternity since I was last here. The group task took up so much time that I really had no time to blog about its usefulness or otherwise. I have very mixed feelings about it but I remain convinced it was a worthwhile activity… if only to be able to look back on the experience and determine whether I would want to do it again and if so, whether I would change my approach. That said, it was a successful project and something we can all commend ourselves for.

As for the rest of the module… I am severely behind. A holiday, subsequent house move and loss of internet for nearly 3 weeks has meant I now have one week to complete 5 units and a TMA! No pressure then!!

Posted by: MandyS | May 19, 2014

Team working; an opportunity to reflect…

One of the greatest challenges of working in a team at a distance is working as a team at a distance. In my time as a lawyer, I have led and I have followed and have no preference for either role. Where there is a job to be done, I see it as being achieved as effectively and efficiently as possible with the least amount of aggravation, by identifying team strengths, harnessing them accordingly, and being attentive to team weaknesses; the source of most issues. The visions provide a glimpse of the team’s makeup and where the issues might lie.

1. Your contribution to the group effort of articulating the context.

No, I did not put myself forward for a role. Why? quite simple, why should I? I am still a team player and I can still contribute and I don’t need a title to do so. I have contributed, particularly in relation to achieving some sort of context. One thing I am not afraid to do is say what I think. Bullish may be but if it needs saying, say it! As a lawyer, one doesn’t win medals by being diplomatic. That does not mean that I have no respect for another’s views; I have the greatest respect and I learn most from what others say and do. If someone says I am wrong then that is fine; life is a learning curve and nobody is perfect. But being told I am wrong is a challenge; why am I wrong? what can I do to demonstrate I may be right? Perhaps it is to do with my training in having to look at an argument from all possible sides or perhaps it is just the way I am (or maybe both) but I never accept anything at face value.

So we have the challenge of determing the context. We can’t have a conference because children wouldn’t attend, the design would have to be didactic and it simply does not fit with what the team want to do to educate carers. OK so maybe a conference is not the right forum, but what is? Interestingly, a recent article in the Telegraph identifies a lack of training in relation to end of life care. What better hook for our learning design! And how does one reach the maximum number of people concerned with the care of the dying e.g. doctors, nurses, carers, chaplains, support workers, policy makers, policy implementers than a multi-agency conference/workshop. How can we get each of these practitioners to consider the views of others; tell each other their own experiences and consdier the experiences of those who are directly affected. Why can’t children attend this? students with disabilities attended the OU conference to ellicit their experiences. Why does the design have to be didactic? why not use technology to get the practitioners involved in telling their stories? I agree that the concept of a carer can be broadly interpreted but even then it still does not encompass policy makers and implementers who have just as much an important role here, so why do we just want to educate carers? I would like to think that I have been able to sow food for thought here; even if it is ultimately ignored.

2. What you found challenging in this process.

Working in or as a team is not a challenge but I do sense that my observations are viewed as more obstinate than a means of provoking curiosity about what can be achieved here. I question everything and if instructions are not precise and clear I will seek clarification. The issue is that the clarification is not necessarily from the right avenue and, as a result, not clear! In some respect, it may be that we are all approaching the task from different angles, which may be because we see different parts of the task as more important than others. Even without a defined context, I have enjoyed creating personas and reading the creations of others – what vivid imaginations we all have. More difficult has been distilling factors and concerns into forces i.e. tensions between the personas which may influence the ultimate design. But I can see why this is part of the process as once the challenge is identified, the learning outcomes can be established i.e. what is it that we hope our personas to be able to do once they have undertaken the learning using our design. for me, the design is key; the fact it is assessed for a TMA should be of no consequence.

3. What you have learned from it.

I have learned that there is much intolerance in the world; for some, there is a right and a wrong way to do things and if it is not the way it is normally done then it is not right! Practice may differ from profession to profession but of fundamental importance is that we can each learn from one another if we each start from the precept that it is our contributions which are the most valuable, not who is right. The design is about the design and what it is seeking to achieve, rather than it being about the TMA.

Posted by: MandyS | May 8, 2014

The beauty of context…

Feeling a little perturbed that we may be putting the horse before the cart here.

A key part of the project is being able to describe the key characteristics of the context. The brief for the project is:

“Choose either a professional domain, or a school subject, where learners need to develop their awareness of social, cultural or ethical issues and make informed and considered judgements.”

I may be wrong but I think from the meeting last night we decided that euthanasia/assisted suicide would be the ‘ethical dilemma’ and that relevant stakeholders here are carers (professional and relatives), health providers (doctors, nurses etc.) and lawyers (from the legal perspective). So we have some possible ‘personas’ but what is the context?

The materials say there are many ‘different approaches to designing a learning activity’ but ours is to ‘view the learning task as a problem to be addressed through design’ and that design is driven by a desire to change something. That to me means that we identify a learning need e.g. X number of children get knocked down outside the school gates each year, the children need to be educated in how to stay safe near a road, the drivers need to be educated about hazards around schools, and then design a learning activity to address that need e.g. talk at school, video re. road safety, taking children to road and showing them dangers etc.

So what problem is the DS designed to solve? What does the DS need to change? What is the context in which we are telling these people about euthanasia/assisted suicide, why do they need to know? Of course, when I am not convinced that we have the process right, I look to see what others are doing; one covering DS have a suggested topic; plagiarism, and a context; a short course to a specific group of students to explain its concepts using DS and then get the students to make their own DS; Brilliant!

I agree at some stage we need an ‘overview’ but surely that is to do with the content rather than the context? Don’t we need to think about the learning aim, who is the focus, what problem the design is seeking to address (lack of awareness, legal obligations, ethical considerations or a combination) etc.


Posted by: MandyS | May 8, 2014

Onto Block 3 and Learning Design…

…ooh yippee! No actually I am enthused by this. I have been involved with group presentations but Design is a whole new concept for me.

So I am a member of Group B – use digital storytelling to explore a social/cultural/ethical dilemmas. To be honest I wasn’t particularly bothered which project I joined but I know nothing about the role of digital storytelling so am quite happy I have been assigned to this project. The project forms part of the next TMA together with an element of reflection about the experience. On that basis, I have decided to make regular trips here to reach some conclusion about how I think I, and the group, are ‘getting along’, so to speak!

From the ‘visions’ I get the impression we are all at the same stage with DS (will have to abbreviate, far too long to type!) i.e. no previous experience and so on a level playing field here.

Now to the fun part…working as a team. Bar one, we are all on board which is a start and we have met to agree a context. Fairly straightforward? Well, we had an OU Live session but for some bizarre reason, which I have not yet fathomed…NO-ONE SPOKE! Actually, I asked if I could be heard, but the rest of the ‘meeting’ was conducted by text chat? why? Could we not just have used Google Hangouts for that. The obvious problem with the text chat was that everyone was writing something, but the box is only small so I kept losing track of what had been ‘said’. Don’t get me wrong, we did agree euthanasia/assisted suicide as a the ‘ethical dilemma’ and considered various personas relevant to that, but I am not convinced we yet have a context, which of course is key…not least because for the TMA one has to describe the ‘key characteristics of the context’.





Posted by: MandyS | April 29, 2014

Back to the chicken and the egg syndrome?

So the tension between technology and pedagogy has not gone away, even in an Open world. Weller (2011) suggests an iterative dialogue here i.e. it is ‘technology that opens up new possibilities, never intended by its designers, which feeds theoretic development, which feeds back to technological development’. Simples! But yes, this is the reality. From the learning theories will develop either new technologies or old technologies used in a new way. Teachers and learners are time bound, so more effective and efficient ways of teaching and learning are ever sought; institutions are subject to cost accountability, so more cost-effective and efficient ways of achieving this are ever sought.  Teach the basics of the English Legal System via the VLE and then support students in going out and developing their own ways of using technology to discover how the English Legal System actually works in practice e.g. Twitter to connect with professionals. Arguably, it is of no consequence as to which is more important, it is how they interact to provide the learner experience learners want that is paramount.

So the second reality following on from this is that one ‘cannot underestimate the role of people and context in which technology is used’ (Weller, 2011).  If neither teacher nor learner can use the tools efficiently or effectively they are likely to not use them at all. Given that the open world is dependent on digital literacy, this is perhaps the greatest hurdle of all.


Weller, M. (2011) The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Transforming Academic Practice, London, Bloomsbury Academic. Also available online at (Accessed 27 April 2014).

Posted by: MandyS | April 29, 2014

Yet more learning theories…

My experience of the MAODE so far is that with every new concept there has to be a learning theory attached to it. I accept that understanding why people do what they do and what they achieve from doing it is a way of moving the world forward, and I admire those that are able to express in words what we do. What I fail to see is why there is such a commotion about it. From my own experience, most people do things differently to each other; I put milk in first, I make the bed before I get dressed. The way I do things is not wrong it is just not the same as someone else. Why do I do what I do? well because that is how it was done in my home when I was small. There are some things I do differently to how my mum and dad did them; I don’t hoard for a start, but that is because I have developed new and, what to me are, more efficient ways of doing things, either as a result of my own experience (not being able to find things) or seeing how others do it (my sister obsessing over lists). Again, it doesn’t mean what my mum and dad did was wrong, I have just decided to do some things differently as a result of experiencing other ways. Once I finally got to grips with reading Stephen Downes’s blog about  ‘What Connectivism is’, I must admit I particularly liked his observation of ” how can learning – something so basic that infants and animals can do it – defy explanation?” Exactly!

For me, learning is simple; it is something I probably do all the time either consciously or unconsciously and I do it by doing things, reading things, listening to others, thinking about things, being told how to do something, watching how others do it, making mistakes, etc. The list is endless really and no doubt demonstrates every learning theory known to man – and perhaps a few that are not yet discovered! The learning theories may be a way of expressing what we do in words but they are not mutually exclusive of one another; the way in which one learns very much depends on what it is one is learning. If I want to learn to drive, other than learning rote the Highway Code, it is something I have to do physically and on the job; no amount of cognitivism or connectivism would help me learn to drive, although maybe some behaviourism and constructivism when I crash into something!

Likewise, learning digitally doesn’t change the way I learn, it just opens up the resources available to do so and of course with that new learning theories!

1. Abundant content (Weller): now one has all this information available to us, how does one go about finding it and what can one do with it. Share it with one another appears to be the answer. From a teacher/learner perspective, although social networking makes the sharing element fairly straightforward, the what one shares and the value it has is less predictable.

2. Connectivism (Siemens): developed to take account of our new networking behaviour. Downes, quite rightly in my view, suggests that this is associated with ‘active learning’ and the ‘ability to construct and traverse networks of knowledge’. He controversially suggests that networks are not built but ‘form naturally’ and are a means by which one develops oneself. I am going on my own experience of using Twitter for the MAODE, but I agree. I started off following people with an interest in law and educational technology, a few followed me back, I followed them and discovered others with similar interests; some relevant, some not but still interesting and I have learned much from them, not necessarily about law or educational technology, but more simple things like how to compose a Tweet, where to find information, what I am interested in and what bores me etc..

2. Rhizomatic learning (Cormier): ‘learning is like the roots of a plant, which grow and propagate in a nomadic fashion’; unstructured. Unless one learns a specific thing (law) for a specific reason (to become a lawyer) then I absolutely agree. In fact, even specific learning can include elements of unorganised learning outside the curriculum and learning outcomes e.g. working in a solicitors, shadowing a barrister, joining a local lawyer group. Cormier sees it as a means of ‘experimenting’ to find out new things. So I might learn at law school how to fill in a legal aid form but it is working in the solicitor’s office where I find out what happens if it gets lost or destroyed. Given what Downes says, it is not dissimilar to connectivism i.e. it develops naturally, but perhaps it is a bit more ‘chaotic’ i.e. there is no particular direction.  Either way, both demonstrate for me the learner-centric ethos of modern teaching/learning.


Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning in Formal Education (2012) YouTube video, added by Dave Cormier [online]. Available at (Accessed 24 April 2014).

Downes, S. (2007) ‘What connectivism is’, Half an Hour, 3 February [online]. Available at (Accessed 24 April 2014).

Siemens, S. (2005) ‘Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age’, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, vol. 2, no. 1 [online]. Available at (Accessed 21 February 2014).

Weller, M. (2011) ‘A pedagogy of abundance’, Spanish Journal of Pedagogy, vol. 249, pp. 223–36. Also available online at (Accessed 28 April 2014).




Posted by: MandyS | April 28, 2014

Personal Learning Network

I need to know the current sentencing policy for assault to decide whether I ask for magistrates or crown court. What do I do? Well I suppose first I go to the policy but, being written some time ago, it doesn’t really give me the up-to-date  position or the position locally. I could go ask colleagues or telephone someone but I may wait a few days if there is no-one in the office or available that has first hand experience. What I could do instead is take to social networking sites. I could Tweet the question to a barrister in the know about this sort of thing, or ask on Facebook or trawl blogs etc. of legal experts. I may or may not get the information any quicker but my question will reach a wider audience and may be helpful to others in a similar situation.

Here is a visual I created about what they can achieve:


So being able to create ones own PLN is a must. I have thought about my own and this is what I have come up with:

Personal Learning Network

It probably doesn’t list everything but it is a start. What it does do is show how I find and interact with other professionals as a student, solicitor and tutor. Although the tools provide me with the basis for doing that, my network is very much the resources and the people.

Posted by: MandyS | April 27, 2014

Big MOOC, little mooc?

Opening up learning to everyone is nothing new. First there was distance learning and the thud of books through the door for the committed, lonely learner to pour over and teach themselves. Then came the internet and progression to online/elearning making both teaching and learning variable and interactive. Now there is the Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC to those in the know, which stems from the idea that, using open educational resources, anyone can put a course together and make it ‘freely’ available to as many people as possible by using the internet as the medium for delivery. Arguably, at each stage the openness has become greater but are MOOC’s a natural progression or are they more innovative, offering a different dimension to  teaching and learning?  

For Siemens and Cormier (2012), MOOC’s are a way of making ‘campus courses’ available to anyone who might be interested. The emphasis is not so much on the course content but on the ‘peer based learning’ it advocates through teachers and learners being able to connect with one another using a variety of synchronous and asynchronous technologies e.g. blogs, forums etc. Compared to traditional online learning, there is no ‘contract’; anyone can put a course together, there is no particular structure and users are anticipated to ‘drop in and out’. Ideal for anyone who wants to test-the-water to determine whether learning is for them or those who just value interaction with others without the formality of learning as such.

So that’s the ideology, but what about the reality? How have MOOC’s progressed and where are they headed?

There are cMOOC’s and xMOOC’s. The former are aligned to the ideology envisaged by Siemens based on a ‘connectivist’ approach to learning i.e. “the participants in the course act as both teachers and students, sharing information and engaging in a joint teaching and learning experience through intense interaction facilitated by technology” (Degree of Freedom, 2013); DS106 and Change MOOC being examples. The latter represent the so-called ‘progression’ of MOOC’s to the “professor-centric massive courses that have received most of the attention over the last couple of years” (Degree of Freedom, 2013), starting with AI Stanford way back in July 2011 culminating today in FutureLearn, Coursera and Udacity.

Arguably, it is the xMOOC which has raised their profile as a viable alternative to traditional online learning and there is now a drive to introduce MOOC’s into mainstream HE. The issue here is that they will become a far cry from the MOOC Siemens envisaged way back in 2008 and be subjected to cost-effective scrutiny, making the key motivators for their acceptance ‘sustainability, quality, financial viability and accreditation’ (Haggard, 2013). The danger is that MOOC’s will only be integrated and survive in the larger institutions with the ‘open’ and ‘free’ ethos being subsumed into business models dependent on completion rates and profits.

Just as commercialisation of OER has brought about big OER and little OER, are we going to see BIG MOOC’s and little mooc’s? In some respects, this may not be such a bad thing. As we saw with OER, the drawbacks of one are likely benefits of the other. I like Degree of Freedom’s (2013) observation here; ‘xMOOCs are not inherently superior to cMOOCs’ but each provide ‘different options’ for learners. Arguably, the cMOOC displays more innovative capabilities with its laissez-faire attitude to participation and informal learning. Haggard (2013) identifies MOOC’s as ‘challenging environments’ with some learners preferring to ‘lurk’. The connectivist, peer-based learning of cMOOC’s may be a step too far for the passive learners but equally, the learner who just wants to dabble may not favour the structure of the xMOOC. Cost-effectiveness aside, a major hurdle in incorporating MOOC’s into mainstream HE is likely to be ‘meeting the needs of people with widely varying strengths, weaknesses and preferences that make up their learning styles’ (Degree of Freedom, 2013). But this is no more of a challenge than the initial introduction of online learning, and MOOC’s, big or little, are comfortably positioned on the open spectrum to meet diverse learning needs.


Degree of Freedom (2013) ‘xMOOC vs. cMOOC’, Degree of Freedom, an adventure in online learning, 29 April [Blog]. Available at (Accessed 26 April 2014)

Haggard, S. (2013) The Maturing of the MOOC, BIS Research Paper 130, London, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Also available online at (Accessed 01 April 2014)

MOOC’s: An interview/discussion with Dave Cormier and George Siemens (2012), You Tub video added by Martin Weller [Online]. Available at (Accessed 01 April 2014)


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