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Where do OU VLE forums stand, especially now our students have Facebook?

Cloud created by:

Graham Healing
30 April 2014

Date: 13 May 2014

Time: 10:00 - 14:30

Location: Library Seminar Rooms 1 & 2, Walton Hall

In late 2013, the new PVC for Learning and Teaching asked all faculties to review their strategic use of forums during 2013/14 to improve the student experience. Work is being undertaken to consolidate what we know in this area. This event aims to bring to bear AL perspectives in this review by highlighting:

  • what we know works well
  • what needs attention.

We present practitioner research, scholarship and reflections related to: module and programme use of forums, practices within module-wide and tutor group forums, what we are learning about student use of social networking tools, and new projects facilitating peer observation and practitioner reflection. 

This event should be of interest to anyone involved in designing and delivering L & T using forums and other online communication tools.

Programme outline

(For details, see below)

  • 10:00 Fifty Shades of Forums: fantasy and dominance in asynchronous learning, and valuing the ‘passive’ learner (Donna Smith and Katy Smith)
  • 10:20 Groups and networks: evaluating asynchronous connectivity for adult distance learners (Chris Gardner)
  • 10:40 Student use of social networking (Anna Calvi)
  • 11:00 OU Free Learning in Facebook (Hannah Gore)
    • 11:05 Coffee
  • 11:25 Designing and moderating forums: Broad brush and fine detail (Fiona Barnes and Jayne Artis)
  • 11:50 The wider context for a forum review (Prof. Mary Thorpe)
    • 12:15 - Lunch
  • 13:00 Academic forums for the reflective practitioner (Dave Edwards and Alison Gilmour)
  • 13:20 AL Peer development (Tamsin Lister and Karen Hamilton)
  • 13:40 Rapporteur issues and summaries (Walter Pisarski and Jane Barrett)
  • 13:55 Discussion: key messages - good practice, issues, and next steps?
    • 14:30 Close

This event will be webcast live through Stadium. Locate the link listed under webcast@OU. Online viewers may like to email questions or comments for presenters or for the discussion slot by sending an email to

The event will also be recorded to be viewed shortly after the session via Stadium

If you plan to attend, have any queries or wish to suggest a future event, please email  Details of future eLC events will be made available nearer each session and can be found along with details of previous events, slides, notes and/or recordings on Cloudworks.


Programme details 

50 Shades of Forums: fantasy and dominance in asynchronous learning, and valuing the ‘passive’ learner

Dr Donna Smith and Dr Katy Smith (Senior Faculty Managers, Social Sciences)

This presentation will explore two separate but linked pieces of scholarship:

    1. The first focuses on a paper presented at the UNISA Cambridge International Conference on Open, Distance and E-learning Conference, focusing on some of the potential negative aspects that students and ALs are exposed to when using asynchronous teaching forums for teaching and learning. These have been termed ‘fantasy’, covering issues such as the presence of forum personas and hyper-personal communication between asynchronous forum users. In addition, the paper contains a discussion and evidence of forum ‘domination’ by students and tutors, and the fear of domination precluding students from using the forums. The paper discusses how practitioners, who design modules, need to be aware of learner expectations, demands and skills, in order that technology is utilised in appropriate ways and they understand what ownership actually is and how their learners can have ownership in an appropriate way. 
    2. The second focuses on the extent to which ‘passive’ learning may be taking place in forums, perhaps as a partial result of ‘fantasy/dominance’, in comparison to OU Live participation. We look at two modules within the Social Sciences faculty, both of which use a combination of synchronous and asynchronous technologies for the transfer of data and for the creation of a learning community, examining the different approaches within the modules, quantitative participation data, and whether the teaching strategy within the Faculty needs to be addressed based on these figures.

Groups and networks: evaluating asynchronous connectivity for adult distance learners  

Chris Gardner (AL, MCT and IET)

This presentation will highlight some of the findings from EdD research into collaborative learning environments. The focus is on students from the MCT faculty, across undergraduate levels 1-3, at various stages of their study.  In particular, the experience of tutor group forum participation is contrasted with communication via social networking sites.

Student use of social networking (title tbc)

Anna Calvi (AL, FELS)

This presentation will focus on student use of social networking alongside forums.

OU Free Learning in Facebook  

Hannah Gore (Senior Producer, Open Media Unit)

As part of a pilot until the end of July 2014, three elements of OER from OpenLearn, iTunes U, and YouTube will be showcased on a tab within The Open University Facebook fanpage. Learners will be able to access associated Facebook groups supported by Facilitators recruited from within the AL community.

The content will be live on from 1 May.

Designing and moderating forums: Broad brush and fine detail

Fiona Barnes (AL, Faculty of Social Science and FHSC) and Jayne Artis (AL, FHSC)   

This session will draw on two projects carried out by members of the HSC Teaching Online Panel:

    1. The auditing of forums across qualifications. The audit process helps identify crucial factors to take into account when planning forum provision. These include purpose, consistency, size, guidance to students and progression. 
    2. Reflections on moderating a module-wide forum (including a new take on ground rules: when/how they should emerge)

The wider context for a forum review

Prof. Mary Thorpe (IET)

This talk will focus on the wider picture of research, and include comments on what works and what needs work. This will be followed by a short discussion. (Link to Mary's paper 'Review of the Strategic Use of FORUMs on Modules and Qualifications'.)

Academic forums for the reflective practitioner

Dave Edwards (AL, MCT) and Alison Gilmour (Student Services)

This mini project explores the ways in which ALs teach in the OU supported distance learning model through analysing the interactions between a small group of ALs on a private forum. The ALs were asked to use a dedicated project forum to reflect on their teaching practice for six weeks during spring 2014 . Our paper reflects the preliminary findings as analysis of the data is ongoing. 

There are three key themes underpinning the project: 

    1. Mapping of what and how ALs teach and support students (including engaging with different technologies old and new).
    2. What are the pedagogic challenges / implications for approach to teaching? Are there challenges to teaching certain areas of curriculum in particular formats?
    3. What scope is there for using forums to create a supportive community of practice? 

AL Peer Development  

Tamsin Lister (ALSPD, Student Services) and Karen Hamilton (ALSPD, Student Services)

This session will outline a project making use of emerging technologies to embed peer development at the core of Associate Lecturer professional development practice. Opportunities to observe forum, tutorial delivery and planning practices will be made available to Associate Lecturers through the virtual learning environment and image based media.


Walter Pisarski (AL, HSC) and Jane Barrett (Lecturer, Psychology Dept., Social Sciences, formerly AL and Staff tutor)

From their respective viewpoints and areas of interest, Walter and Jane will pick out key points from the presentations to help identify and summarise key points. These may help to trigger topics for discussion in the following slot.

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