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Colin Brown's H800 Week 8/9 Design Narrative

Engaging K311 Students in Real World Health Policy

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Colin Brown
24 March 2013


My role as an OU associate lecturer was to design and facilitate an online tutorial for my own group of 3rd level undergraduate students undertaking a module focused on ‘promoting public health: skills, perspectives and practice’.


This was the first online tutorial for a new group of students in the initial weeks of the module.  The online tutorial takes place within the VLE as part of the Tutor Group Forum (TGF) and as such it is ‘closed’ i.e. available only to the tutor (me) and the students allocated to me.  It was asynchronous and students were able to post their contributions at any time for a period of approximately 2 weeks.  Given this was the 3rd week of the module the group was still forming and relationships although developing well remained tentative.  Their interaction was driven principally because the online tutorial was part of a learning activity within the timetable, but was not compulsory.  In terms of motivation and beliefs this was driven (a)in their role as OU students with a desire to learn; and (b) a personal and/or professional interest in health and wellbeing.  Thus, as a voluntary activity they had to choose to take part.


Principally my intention was to take abstract theoretical concepts from the module which had been considered through academic writing as well as more practically through case studies (including video material) and demonstrate that these issues were being considered in the ‘real world’ of public health and health policy where they would be expected to practise i.e. to show that these concepts are more than abstract, but also to place them in a context more directly relevant to them than was the case in the module material.  The measures of success were (a) quite pragmatic in terms of the amount of online posting and interaction generated (b) the quality of the posts with regard to the academic context in which the issues were being considered (c) evidence that they were getting beyond the module material into more immediately tangible areas (d) that their understanding of abstract concepts and real world application.


The first thing was to write a clear set of instructions explaining the nature of the task and what was expected.  This included providing an additional resource by way of an extract from a published document (The CMO Scotland Annual Report).  The first part of the activity was to take a key theoretical concept from the module which had been the subject of a particular learning activity where they were expected to make contributions; and linkage to a chapter in the Module Reader.  I wanted them to collaborate in the TGF to share their own views, and to develop this in the context of the additional material I had provided.  I also asked that they offer their own views from a more personal perspective about a particular aspect (community based assets).  I then offered some additional interventions: (a) reinforcement and encouragement for the work undertaken in the initial part of the exercise; (b) a summary which captured their discussions and thinking so that it became their product and could be used in TMAs etc thereafter; (c) links to further resources which would allow them to see the extent to which their thinking was in line with mainstream practical policy activity happening in practice. Generally, while this exercise worked well with those who participated, a number of students did not make specific contributions which perhaps diminished the wider collaborative effort.


In general terms the expected outcomes were achieved in terms of the level of discussion; understanding of the subject matter amongst the group who participated; and recognition that what they were learning in the module had real world application. Also, the activity probably helped so support engagement and cohesion within the group.  However, there a number of students did not contribute directly and the reasons for this were not explored further (as it was a voluntary activity).  It could also have been the case that some students were not comfortable with the expected level of online participation or perhaps intimated by the technical nature or complexity of the discussion.  The evidence of the level of participation remains within the module archive and could be quantified in different ways e.g. number and length of posts, perhaps against more academic criteria how the students used their experience in subsequent academic activity such as the TMA.  The ‘product’ i.e. the summary of the discussion remains available as a Word document.


Looking back on this experience with a degree of critical distance it did work well and I would use it again, perhaps updating the supplementary material to ensure it maintains its contemporary application.  It could work well for other tutors (each tutor designs their own online tutorial in K311 although there is a degree of informal sharing).  The one thing which really stands out ‘on reflection’ is the extent to which there is tangible evidence of the results.  I know what I think was achieved and from the levels of participation I would contend that those students who participated.  But, beyond the summary of the discussion (which I produced) how do I really know whether this intervention worked?  Also, what measures might I want to put in place in future?




Extra content

Having now used CompendiumLD I like it and will certainly consider using it again ‘for real’ in the support of the design of mainly online and face-to-face tutorials.

My foray was fairly tentative but it still got me thinking in a different way i.e. more spatially and looking at the end to end process.  I not sure whether everything was supposed to be linked up and there was certainly a temptation to do so.  The other issue was to think about which way the arrows go from, say, a resource to the student or the other way around.  It also made me think (as I posted) whether a one way arrow towards the student is reflective of AM and a (or multiple) double headed arrow(s) were more akin to PM – something to think about?

I wondered if for neatness the same entity (e.g. a forum) can be replicated at different points or whether that is counter to the integrity of the design process?  One thing I would also want to think about is if a resource or a ‘thing’ is being used at different points during the learning activity whether it should be replicated but given a point in time or in the process?  So, overall I like having to really think through the design process graphically and on a linear basis as opposed to doing it via just text based narrative (on paper or in my head).

The key difference was moving from a position where the learning outcomes were somehow implicit and assumed to be covered by the generality of the module to a situation where they are explicit and directly linked to the various tasks.  The other thing was the level of iteration potentially required, and that students perhaps had to make some assumptions about what was expected.

CompendiumLD helped to mediate my thinking process in a visual way – and it forced me to articulate each of the key elements and how they relate and link to each other. 

Finally, I think it made me stop to consider whether indicate to students that they should ‘read’ or ‘view’ something needs much more qualification in terms of the points made in relation to the Pedagogical Pattern Collector: ‘to what end?’ and ‘by what means?’

Colin Brown
18:49 on 4 April 2013 (Edited 18:53 on 4 April 2013)

I've worked through the Pedagogical Pattern Collector but have struggled to save it.  So, suffice to say that I found it very helpful and it offered some additional refinements to the design narrative provided here.

Colin Brown
15:49 on 6 April 2013

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Amanda Everitt
4:15pm 25 March 2013

Your conclusions are well founded. It is true that what was done may only have been a ripple in a deep pool. But rest assured, this was going beyond traditional course boundaries by providing an extra layer of  learning for students. As John Petit said earlier in the H800 course, it is the students who are enthusiastic that will go the extra mile with regard to online participation. 

Perhaps holding this tutorial later in the course when the students have connected further might have been of benefit.

Colin Brown
7:23pm 26 March 2013

Thanks Amanda.

Clare withers
9:37am 1 April 2013

This was really interesting Colin. As a recent OU graduate I discovered that Level 3 was a very intense time and I didn't always have the time for additional activities. I think it needs to be clear to students the benefit of taking part of this activity. I think it would help to make the session later in the module as Amanda suggested when the relationships within the forum have become more established.

Sibylle Hyde
1:40pm 1 April 2013

Hi Colin

reading the design narrative, I found it easy to understand and I didn't feel you were making assumptions that I personally couldn't understand. Of course, others less familiar with the terminology might not agree!

There is palpable evidence - the Word document. We can't see this,presumably confidential? I had the same issue with my evidence (minutes from a meeting) and didn't quite know what to do about it.

Your conclusions are well-founded - you point to convincing evidence!


Colin Brown
7:24pm 2 April 2013

Clare: many thanks for this.  One thing I looked at when I did the PCAP (H812) was the transition from Level 1 to Level 2 and the stretch.  I am only too aware of the move from Level 2 and 3 and what a step up this is for many people (as an OU graduate too I've felt it!).

Sybylle: some very helpful reinforcement here.  Thanks.  Document isn't confidential as such.

Linda Audsley
3:31pm 4 April 2013

Hi Colin, this was a very interesting 'behind the scenes' snapshot of online tutoring.

You stated that you had two principal challenges: the first opportunity for students to opt in to an online tutorial. A couple of questions....... I wasn't clear as to whether this was their first online forum or whether you had facilitated some online confidence/relationship building activities beforehand? And whether these had been designed to lead towards the online tutorial? Nor how much experience your students had had before participating in your programme? (information that the initiated probably already know.)

You said that, on refIection, that you were not sure 'whether this intervention worked' . How easy is it to 'measure success' using the criteria outlined in c and d  'measures for success'? Or were you referring to something else in your reflection?

Your narrative (jargon aside) is very clear and I think the points that you make in your reflections identify the crux of many an online exercise - how can you be sure that it has been efficacious?




Colin Brown
6:21pm 4 April 2013


Thanks.  This was their first online tutorial (i.e. a dedicated forum for the activity) but they had been working in the main Tutor Group Forum for a few weeks.  As it's 3rd level many/most of them have had VLE exposure previously.  Online tutorials are not compulsory.  So, some efforts in terms of building up to the OLT of which there are 5-6 during the module plus 3 f-to-f for those who want to make the trek.

I think it worked in the sense of there being a really good product for them to use as a collective resource thereafter.  What the CompendiumLD work has really drawn out for me is the important of linkage to relevant from learning outcomes from the module and the extent to which the OLT activity helpd build evidence towards. Having reviewed this 'design' in more detail than I ever expected together with some helpful peer review I think it stands up well!


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