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Learning in Public - From Uncourse to Short Course

Presentation at CALRG annual conference 2010 by Tony Hirst

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Rebecca Ferguson
25 May 2010

Presentation at CALRG annual conference 2010 by Tony Hirst.

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Gill's liveblogged notes:

Tony is talking about T151. Began end Feb 2008. Design for this course had undergone several false starts. Tony took initiative and began writing the course material in public to explore possibilities around authoring content in a blog format/blog environment.

Used because it has alot of constraints on what you can and cannot embed in blog posts in order to replicate the moodle environment constraints.

Course called Digital Worlds. Tony blogged his thoughts week by week as be blogged the course live. Felt that a course could be written in 20 weeks. There was a mindmap of a set of topics that Tony wanted the course to cover. Brainstormed ideas for topics and learning outcomes had already taken place during the several false-starts to the course.

Each blog post took 1 - 4 hours to write and was intended to cover 5h of activities.

Tony will focus on how the blogged course approach sits in the context of other moodle courses in the OU. Framing blogging a course in context of the VLE.

VLE Interest Groups:

  • Developers and maintainers. All ideas for extensions to the VLE you have to go through them.
  • Editors, authors, workflow managers
    Tony had none of these although he had an extended audience who were free and able to comment on what he was doing and shift the direction. V. granular approach, posts designed to be commented on my course team in real time. This is alien to traditional appraoch. Tony documenting his learning, leaving a learning trail behind that others could follow it.
  • Course teams/ALs
    Tony was very familiar with the blog environment as he was writing for it. Wonders if course teams are always as aware of VLE environment.
  • Students
    In VLE - there is a difference between what the students see compared to what the ALs can see and the extent to which students can comment back.


High use of YouTube videos. Small use of audio clips - hard to find and difficult to find a good way to use them. Not sure how best to use audio feeds in a course. Listens to many himself via dedicated feeds. Used granular approach to development. Designed to cope with things disappearing.

Question from Niall Sclater: Isn't there a big maintenance overhead?

Response from Tony: Easier to keep course current. Maintenance overhead not as high as it might be because changes are quick to implement.

Tony, curating content on YouTube and Delicious thru playlists, creating content and managing it.

Wordpress: Advantage is you can get feeds out of it, reaggregate it and disaggregate it based on tags and links. Tony displays a slide showing emergent coherent structure of course based on tags, categories etc. All the posts written independently, but they all also form part of a linear narrative. If Tony wants to change because he discovers that people are struggling with a particular post, he can write a new post and link back and then represent the linear narrative. Sculpting with Tags, essentially.

Scaffolding: The blog approach is more about "Weaving Webs" than linear design. Weaving little narratives, connecting little authored content blocks into some sort of story so that people can follow different paths through this. No reason for people to all follow the same path.

T151 - 10 hour study chunk per week, split into topic exploration and study time.

Gosh, I'm really impressed. I'd heard about Tony's blogged course, but never fully appreciated what the approach entailed. He is emphasising that it is quite an informal learning style, encouraging people to ask questions around a topic to explore it, providing high quality resources for them to use.

Student Contributions
In the course they're running now they are encouraging students to bookmark using delicious and these get added back into the course. Not used a great deal at the moment, but will provide a growing resource in the future. Looking into ways of making this more accessible to students. People tend to look down the middle rather than at the sidebar where these links are displayed.

Tony currently curates playlists on his own account, but plans to create one specifically for T151. Also looking into using slideshare with YouTube videos embedded.

Freemind mind map of course provided to students. Click on a link and it opens out onto resources. Downloadable, students can use to navigate course, add their own links. Can automatically generate freemind views. Would quite like to have topic explorations that are not numbered so that students can study them in any order, although this would throw up problems of synchronising what students are doing (probably relevant for assessments).

You can also generate custom search engines linked to from the course using XML. This gives a walled garden search to quality resources that is lacking from the traditional approach.

Woa - We're getting towards the end of the presentation and information is flowing out way too fast!

Wordpress analytics - unfortunately you cannot use google analytics. Lots of interesting stats. Hopefully Tony will post up his presentation!

Gill Clough
09:57 on 25 May 2010 (Edited 10:17 on 25 May 2010)

Doug's liveblogged notes, crossposted to my blog:

More liveblogging from CALRG Conference – Tony Hirst on ‘Learning in Public – from Uncourse to Short Course’.

Short course – T151 – started life in an unusual way. Originally mooted 3 years ago. Several false starts, not clear whether it’d be a real course, but started to write it anyway, in a blog environment.

<object width="450" height="369" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" wmode="opaque" data=""> </object>

 Blog set up on – many constraints on what you can and can’t embed, similar to the VLE. Now ‘Digital Worlds’ course. Can see evolution inseries of blog posts. 100 hours study, over 10 weeks, aims was to write in 20 weeks.

Topic was around designing game environments – was new to Tony. Developed a mind map as a skeleton outline. Got about 80-90 blog posts, each about 5-800 words, about 1-4 hours to write, provide contexts for 20min-2h study. Tried to write 5h content a week.

(Several Digital Worlds presentations done previously – see this one, and also in Tony’s Slideshare account.)

Focus on the VLE – several audiences: developers/maintainers; authors/editors/workflow managers – was just him, except he had an extended course team in the people who followed the process and engaged with it, granular, real-time commenting (not the traditional OU process!); course team/ALs – he was expert with the tools so could do lots with it; students/learners.

Was written on WordPress, but used other technologies, especially YouTube videos (could curate them there). Some audio, but a lot of overhead, hard to use sensibly within a course. Designed to be modular, hot-swappable, extended. This approach does have a maintenance overhead, but saves you time in production – and is easier to update and develop.

Creating content, linked to it, embedded it, syndicating out, and curating content in YouTube (via playlists) and Delicious.

Structure of course developed over the process of writing. made it easy to disaggregate/restructure. Traditionally, do a lot of work scaffolding and structuring the material. Uncourse approach is much more ad-hoc, developing/weaving webs of narrative linking little content blocks in to a story students can understand – but students don’t have to find the same way through.

T151 the OU course has a very rigid structure! About 4h study time, 4h practical exercises. But informal learning style, can answer questions at many levels, use resources to explore a topic. The course at the moment encourages students to bookmark on delicious – several students are already doing that, but not heavily used. YouTube has curated playlists (currently on Tony’s personal account, but will set up an official one); single widget with playlist curated to make a half-hour programme. Looking at SlideShare but not used in anger yet. Course view makes a lot of use of syndication and feeds – delicious and blog RSS feeds.

Course has/is a lot of RSS feeds gathered together and tagged – so can reuse that bundling in other contexts, e.g. Pageflakes (Tony not longer recommends) or Netvibes. Benefit of having content in RSS-enabled form.

Thinking about feeds – OU XML is a well structured format. Give students a FreeMind view of the whole course (XML as the underlying format).  Would like to organise topic explorations in a circle, rather than as a numbered list. Have been designed to be study-able in any order (though issues in synchronising student activity with that approach).

Has a T151 Custom Search Engine – generated automatically by scraping the uncourse blog version of the course for all third-party links, made a Google Search Engine over content linked to from that course.

OU Forums now have an RSS feed – Tony can monitor via feed reader (but needs to do security behind the scenes).

Analytics – much been written – can’t have Google Analytics but do get a view from VLE has some analytics – which you can visualise as an animated chart (Google Motion Chart) – very easy to do. Also uses Google Forms for course surveys

Content in public means exposing it for a long time, and to a lot of views over time.

This work by Doug Clow is copyright but licenced under a Creative Commons BY Licence.
No further permission needed to reuse or remix (with attribution), but it’s nice to be notified if you do use it.

Doug Clow
10:18 on 25 May 2010

Embedded Content

Student Activities in T151 - Trailer

Student Activities in T151 - Trailer

added by Rebecca Ferguson

Uncourse to Short Course

Uncourse to Short Course

added by Rebecca Ferguson

Digital Worlds

Digital Worlds

added by Rebecca Ferguson

T151 Mindmap

T151 Mindmap

added by Rebecca Ferguson


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