This is the end

About 13Things:

Which Things, or kinds of Thing, or just ideas, did you find most useful, or thought-provoking? Why those ones in particular?

I preferred simple things that structured curriculum design in a non-prescriptive way

Which didn’t you find useful (at all)?

Over-complicated online tools with an implicit (and debatable) agenda

Are there any Things or ideas you think you will use in future?

I already use CamTools and expect to continue to do so.

None that I would see as essential, but Viewpoints and OpenSyllabus seem the most likely

Were any useful enough that they’d be worth mentioning to other colleagues, or promoting or offering more widely in the University?

If there were University-wide momentum for syllabus standardisation then OpenSyllabus would seem the best of the 13 as a starting point.

I might consider suggesting to a new (or indeed an old) colleague to look at Viewpoints if they were wanting some ideas.

About the programme:

Looking back over the programme, what were the good bits about it for you? Ideas, tools, dialogue, reflection, something else?

I was interested to see the tools.  Even if they didn’t do anything for me it was interesting to see what is being offered in this area.

I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t find anything very new, different or particularly exciting, but also reassured, in a way, that there is nothing I am missing out on.

What could have made it better?

Maybe fewer things (a lot to get through 13 with other commitments)

Perhaps more similar things (it seemed a bit of a mix)

There also seemed to be a lack of clarity on what curriculum design is about, how it relates, or not, to syllabus design (I felt that the definition of syllabus given in Thing11 was more what I was expecting than some of the e-learning material).  Many of the Things also seemed to relate more to curriculum delivery than curriculum content.  The two are related, but the latter is, as I have argued previously, the starting point.

More interaction (I have done almost all of this independently and haven’t had time to track other people’s blogs, so it’s maybe a rather idiosyncratic take on Things)

What do you think of the idea of an informal forum or network, for Cambridge staff interested in teaching and learning ideas? Is there a need? Would it interest you?

I think there is a need.  It is hard to innovate on your own and good to learn from others’ experience, but it is difficult to find the time and to coordinate on a University-wide basis.  This maybe reflects the general lack of priority to teaching compared to other commitments.

If 13 Things were to continue, in some form, what should that form be?

Perhaps if there were new Things, or updates of ones that we have seen already it would be good to be notified of these.  Maybe it would be better, though, if it evolved towards the sort of informal forum/network above.

My Wordle

I like that "might" is right in the centre. My writing tends to be quite conditional


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Pedagogic tripping on LDSE

Did you find the session design process in LDSE intuitive?  How?  If not, please comment of how it fails to support how you do things usually.

It wasn’t hard to work out how to use LDSE, but I didn’t get much idea of why I might want to do it, or in what way this would help me.

For me the focus of attention seems back to front.  I would prefer to start with what I am going to teach before thinking about what the learning aims or outcomes might be.

Maybe the later version will provide some guidance, but the Palette headings themselves are not particularly informative (even with the hover text) and there is no indication of why a particular learning aim or outcome might be more appropriate than others (perhaps in relation to particular types of subject matter).

There would not seem to be any constraints, or guidance, on which aims and outcomes go together.  Is this a free choice or are there some combinations that make more sense.  While I don’t want to be forced to adopt a particular approach, if there is theory on this it would be good to know.

The timeline feels like an unrestricted shopping list, again with no guidance.  Are there no better choices/combinations?  No limit on the number of types of activities or suitable durations?

Things get a bit more interesting with the evaluation (although the term makes it seem like there are some right answers – perhaps analysis might be less normative).  I was intrigued to see how the random activities I had entered were “evaluated”, but had little sense of why they gave the results they did or whether I should consider this good or bad.  Perhaps if I had been a bit more systematic in my activity choices things might have been a bit clearer, but as the titles of the activities weren’t very clear (and there didn’t seem to be any extra guidance) I didn’t know what it was that I was putting down.

From the layout of the timeline there could be seen to be an implication that there should be a mix of types of activities (and maybe of activities within a type), but I don’t know why this should be.  I’m not sure that I would want the tool “recommending” how my students’ learning experience could be improved, even if I believed that the data I had entered could enable very much to be learned about what their learning experience would be. A one hour straight lecture (tutor presentation?) can be fantastic or awful depending on who is teaching it.  This isn’t to make any claims about my own teaching one way or the other, but rather to question whether the effectiveness of activities can be judged from their title.

I wouldn’t want to suggest that there is no place for other delivery mechanisms in Cambridge, but the shopping list approach could be seen to suggest that diversity of activities (and their online delivery) ought to be encouraged.  I am not sure that this is self-evident (or necessarily correct) and remain to be convinced of the case.  I would also like to see examples of how these approaches have been effective before attempting to incorporate them in my teaching (but this doesn’t seem to be something that LDSE offers).

What pedagogic insights did you gain into the session you described in the exercise?  How could these help you design or deliver it differently?

Without any guidance I can’t see any immediate insight for a session I might be planning.  The Palette lists seem reasonable, but I am unable to judge whether they are comprehensive or whether I would want other options.  Having a list of possible aims/outcomes/activities provides some food for thought, but, as I have said above, it’s not clear why I might/should choose a particular selection

What problems do you have with LDSE as you have seen it? What do you like about it? Would you be interested in seeing the finished software?

At the moment it is too open.  Anything goes (with what you are given), so I felt rather lost.

Apart from the evaluation, it’s not clear why this needs to be online.  Most of the rest could be done with pen and paper, so what is gained?

On the other hand, I would not want it to be prescriptive and would be put off using it if it was too heavy-handed in its “recommendations”.  Guidelines and/or example could be helpful, but I wouldn’t want these to be too generic as I am not sure that there is a right answer for all settings.

The basic idea seems reasonable, the choices sensible and it seems fairly straightforward to use.  I’m just not sure about the principles behind it or whether it is approaching curriculum design in the way that matters most for me.

I might be interested to see the finished software to see how this works in the end, but don’t currently see it as the answer for me, so it would not be a priority.

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Open Syllabus

The idea of a standard template for all courses would seem reasonable (given that it seems that these are increasingly expected) and it makes sense for this to be online.  At the moment I prepare these differently for different departments and degree programmes and on different timetables and it would make it easier to have a standard structure and process.

The OpenSyllabus tool seems a reasonable platform to run it on.  I generally find CamTools quite straightforward and it is probably the most logical university-wide resource to host such a facility.

The course menu structure seemed quite easy to use, but the logic of the order of items wasn’t clear.  News did not seem a very appropriate first heading (indeed it would seem better managed by an announcement heading separate from the course menu) and I’m not sure what would be expected for “presentation”.  It might be better to start with a brief course summary (with contact details for the course leader), then a listing of course sessions (perhaps linking to fuller descriptions and relevant learning materials), then evaluation (with links to sample assignments?), then course resources (bibliographies, learning materials), then course structure (timetables, learning groups) and end with contact details.

The syllabus for most courses I teach is generally an online flat list.  The advantage of a flat list is that everything is accessible at one time (rather than having to open menu items), even if you have to scroll down to read it.

Although this seems a suitable as a university-wide syllabus description tool, I don’t underestimate the difficulties that are likely to be faced in coming up with a generic structure that all departments can agree to, establishing responsibilities within departments for developing and maintaining the content, and getting all course leaders and participants to provide the necessary material in a timely manner (even if it could be delegated to an administrator to actually put it online)



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Viewpoint cards

  1. What do you think of the ideas behind Viewpoint cards?
    What was your impression (of the idea as well as the online version)?

I quite liked these.  They had reasonably clear and concise descriptions of things to try to support particular types of activities, but didn’t seem prescriptive.

Maybe it was a browser problem, but I had difficulties viewing the online cards.  I couldn’t navigate down the column of cards on the right (even when I had the window as big as possible on my laptop – I could only see two and a bit cards) and flipping the cards in the middle column meant that the right hand side was not visible.

I’m not sure that I would necessarily be bothered with the timeline, though, as I don’t (currently) see that it makes much sense to think in terms of activities having a particular timeslot e.g. “Encourage interaction and dialogue’ in ‘Week 2-5”.  I would usually want to encourage interaction and dialogue in every class, perhaps at particular points, not just in certain weeks.

2) In what way do you see this being useful to you as a course organiser? Would you consider using it (either the cards or the online version) when you would (re)design a course?

I might want to browse a few cards when I am thinking about new or different ways to deliver or assess some material.  Having it online would save trees and allow personalisation, but giving a printed set to all new lecturers might symbolise instutional encouragement to reflection on teaching better.

3) Using the online Viewpoints cards, did you find it illuminating or frustrating Are there any ways you would change it to better reflect what you want to do (e.g. wording, whole idea or concepts that don’t work for you)?

I know this is a beta site, but please spell-check things (motivantional)

Some card wordings are a bit offputting (quite apart from the spelling).  In particular I wondered whether others might balk at the idea that they should “encourage positive motivational beliefs” or “encourage time and effort on task” (especially given the rather “handholding” character of some of the suggestions – are there curriculum designers who would specifically aim to discourage a climate of mutual respect and accountability? or if they did, would they be spending their time on thinking about curriculum design).  The cards about what the lecturer should do themselves (rather than what they should try to inculcate in the learner) seemed better.

4) What tools do you currently use when (re)designing a course? How do you compare Viewpoints with those you’re already using?

Viewpoints (and most of the other curriculum design tools we have seen in 13things) seem more about curriculum delivery than curriculum content (which, as I have commented before is what I find more challenging).  Since I don’t currently use any tools I don’t have anything to compare it with.

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I have used CamTools in various ways: as a portal for accessing library web resources; as a course website (with things like announcements, student profiles, lecture handouts, and a course documentation repository); and as a wiki for an inter-departmental group working on developing some research ethics guidance.  In all these I have found it pretty straightforward to use.

I was aware that there was considerably more functionality available, but have not had cause to use them.  I appreciate the fact that you don’t need to even know about these things unless you want to, but if you do it is pretty easy to work out what to do without any instructions.

If I had tools that I wanted to use I wouldn’t have a problem in linking them into CamTools, but, equally, if they are for my personal use, I’m not sure what I would gain over bookmarking them in my browser.  My sense, however, is that I would be more likely to use CamTools for course administration and delivery rather than curriculum design.

Since it already does more than I currently perceive a need for (or maybe I should try to find a way to get some exegesis into a course I teach just to be able to use the tool), I don’t have any immediate suggestions of anything I would like to see.

A specific CamTools site where lecturers and course organisers could share curriculum design outcomes, preparations and ideas could be helpful, but I could see that working best at a Departmental or course level (where there would be some commonality of interest and processes), rather than University-wide.  Although I wouldn’t want to preclude browsing other Departments’ or courses’ sites in search of inspiration, I wouldn’t want to be confronted by a University-wide menu as a default.

In my experience such things work best when there is a committed group of like-minded individuals with a broadly comparable level of experience and knowledge, so that it is a genuine sharing rather than one person dominating the proceedings or the majority of intended participants never even logging in.  A few lurkers can be accommodated if this is recognised as a step towards participation, but if there are too many then the active participants can feel used.

Another possible curriculum design resource on CamTools might be a forum for discussion of curriculum design tools and resources at a more generic level, where people could access the tools, discuss their experiences and post examples of their use.  The issue would be how to maintain interest, keep things up to date and publicise and design it in a way that people who might be looking for help or ideas would be able to find and use it.  Given the fragmented way in which curriculum design seems to occur in Cambridge this would be no small task.

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CompendiumLD: Dazed and confused

I have used Cognitive Mapping Software before and have used a variety of Open Source software tools with complex interfaces, so I was potentially quite favourably disposed towards the idea of Compendium LD (although I was also somewhat put off by recognising its icons in some contributions in Cloudworks that I had not found particularly insightful)

Compendium LD, however, proved considerably more difficult to understand than anything else I have tried to use recently.  Maybe I didn’t put enough effort in to really get to grips with it, but a basic test of software usability, as far as I am concerned, is whether you can get enough of a sense of how to use it from just trying things out to want to carry on.  With Compendium LD it was a struggle to get past square one.  I did look at a few of the online tutorials, but did not feel I understood things any better having watched them.  I also dowloaded the 2 page userguide, but there was too much information on the principles to be able to work out how to use it.

It was not that I did not have a potential activity to test it on, as I had just received a request from a student for an outline of a class that I will be teaching maybe next week and had put some effort into planning this out, but I could not easily see a way to translate this into Compendium LD.

The problems for me are twofold

  1. the complexity of the interface – too many buttons (including one that describes itself as a “show/hide node transclusion indicator” which was the final straw – if you need a glossary to use the tool then you are in trouble).  I suspect this could be a very powerful tool in the right hands, but if it takes you six weeks to learn it (or you need a chauffeur to drive it) then it is not going to be something that I suspect many people will pick up readily
  2. the reductionist approach – although the 13Things introduction describes it as non-linear, it seemed a very linear view of steps leading to outcomes (if allowing for branches).  I noted that there was a node for “stop” and wondered what would happen if it were not included – would a course go on for ever?  Is it necessary to spell things out in such detail and does this divert you from thinking about the big picture?

Maybe CompendiumLD could help to think through a course structure systematically, but I’m not sure that the effort required to learn it would be justified.  I think that I can do the sorts of things that it is trying to do adequately with pen and paper or a blank wordprocessor document, without all the bells and whistles that CompendiumLD provides.  Perhaps there is some benefit to be gained from setting out a curriculum in this way that I did not pick up on, but it did not appear that there was anything in the tool that would necessarily lead you to “think things through more” (as the 13Things introduction puts it) for example.  Nor am I sure that I would want a tool that thought it could analyse how much more I needed to think about my curriculum design, even if it could do it.

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Thing 7: bureaucratising learning


Having looked at a number of templates (activity, basic, full and 1066 ), the general idea seems reasonable, but I can’t say that I found it particularly inspiring (as the “about Phoebe” page suggests it is intended to be), indeed it was, in some ways, rather dispiriting.  My problem lies with reducing teaching to formulae to fit pre-defined categories.  This was reinforced by finding the University of Cambridge Programme Specification (which I have just had the dubious pleasure of filling out for the MPhil Course that I direct) on there.

Many of the headings in the template seem sensible considerations in planning a course, but I could imagine finding them quite constraining and I am not sure how much I would gain by filling them out.  I could also see that I might want to have several entries under some headings and none under others.  It is not that it would be impossible to modify a template to better match the way I plan a course, but the more customisation that is involved, the greater the cost of using a tool and the less likely I am to use it unless there is a significant benefit.  I will fill out things like the programme specification if I am required to, but I would need to feel that I was getting more from using a tool if it were simply for my own benefit.  Given that the difficult aspects of curriculum planning for me are not going to be much affected by a template such as those provided by Phoebe (except perhaps in encouraging you to make some of the possible challenges, such as student differentiation, explicit – although in that particular case I can’t think of an effective way to do this clearly), then it is unclear that there would be sufficient benefit.

“The e-learning advantage”

I also looked at the reference materials on the use of technology in the hope of finding some inspiration, but did not find any technologies (or suggestions for their use) that I was not already aware of.  Perhaps because of my research and teaching interests I am more familiar than most with e-learning technologies (although I certainly don’t follow the area carefully), but I did not get the impression that there was much that was new in these technologies (although they are probably more usable and reliable than some of the examples I may have used many years ago).

There was a certain element too of technology for technology’s sake.  As the “About Phoebe” page puts it the aim is to “provide timely and informed guidance on designing learning experiences that make appropriate use of technology”.  While the “appropriate use” could no doubt be argued as using  technology when appropriate, there is a sense that learning experiences ought to be using technology.  Yes, you could use Instant Messaging, podcasts or mobile phones  for students to receive instructions, but you could also just tell them in class.

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