Week 6 Overview of Topic

This week is about integrating and consolidating your learning so far.

In face-to-face teaching interactions there are hundreds, if not thousands, of years of tradition on which to draw to facilitate the establishment of a channel of communication: bells ring, the lecturer clears her throat or shouts, "Oy, you! in the back. Yes, you! Are we quite ready? Thank you!" The chairs in the room are oriented in a certain way to reinforce certain channels and damp others: theatre style, open U, boardroom table. There may be communication aids: black or white boards, OHPs or data projectors. Similarly, the establishment of relationships is facilitated by years of tradition and mediated by the channels of communication; none the less, if "old garlic breath is going to drone on about golf again, I'm out of here". We draw on a deep tradition of knowledge, much of which is tacit. This tacit knowledge of face-to-face learning interactions might need some re-conceptualisation when we move into the online world. As Robin Mason (2001) said, often the first time we question the meaning and form of teaching at all is when we try to adopt new learning technologies.

In week 1, we considered the early stages of an online course and how to set up an environment that will support individual learning online. You had the opportunity to experience a variety of introductions and icebreakers and to select and describe one you could use with your own groups. We encouraged the giving and receiving of peer feedback on your ideas.

In week 2, we focused on designing online activities.

In week 3 you had the opportunity to experience online collaborative group work and to reflect on how best to support it as a tutor.

In week 4 we reviewed other roles beyond the tutor that were important in supporting online learning.

In week 5 we reviewed key principles in assessment and evaluated strategies for online assessment. We focused on investigating issues around assessing online collaboration.

The work we will do this week aims to give you opportunities to:

  • clarify the e-moderating role
  • 'practice' your own e-tutoring skills through dealing with common problems which occur online
  • consider what makes for good practice in online learning, by creating a personally meaningful inventory for your own good practice.

Week 6 aims and outcomes

The aim of this week's activities is to consider good practice in online tutoring. By the end of this week you should have:

  • individually compiled your own inventory of good practice for online tutoring and reflected on this in a plenary discussion

Inventories of good practice

This week examines inventories or guides to good practice. There are many of these about and this week we encourage you to explore some more and to develop your own.

In this course we have referred several times already to Gilly Salmon’s influential Five Stage Model of online learning. This model embodies conceptions of good practice in online learning and teaching.

Gilly Salmon's five stages of online learning

The first stage -- access -- in this model of online learning is largely technical: can I log on? does it run in that environment, on my computer? Until it does, don't waste time with the rest. Do not start designing resources for learning until you trust the various communication channels. The basic guide question at this stage is, can your learners use it?

Week 1 of this course was largely devoted to Salmon’s first stage – access – and making sure the channels of communication were clear.

Salmon’s second stage is socialisation, developing learners’ online learning skills and helping them establish both online learning working practices and online relationships. How fault-tolerant are your target learners? What help is provided at the technical, pastoral and topic levels? How do you get to know the learners? Is appropriate security assured? Have ethical issues been considered? Do learners need to know one another in order to work together? Salmon’s third stage, information exchange, concerns engaging learners with the content of the course. Here the design questions are things like, what are the teaching and learning approaches that a learning object might be called upon to support? Is it suitable for all? Must it be? How will we encourage students to engage actively with this content? The topic makes an appearance as the negotiation of the relationship is conducted.

Weeks 1 and 2 and were heavily devoted to stages two and three of Salmon’s model, establishing online work practices, building relationships, and engaging with content. Then in week 3 we moved from a collection of individuals relating one-to-many, to smaller teams relating as a group. We established those relationships by working on content in a variety of group sizes.

Salmon’s stages 4 and 5 are knowledge building and development. Stage 4 is present to some extent in week 1 of this course but becomes the dominant stage in weeks 2-6, where developing expertise through sharing knowledge and experience is the main design principle. Stage 5, development, has been lurking in the background throughout, but this week comes to the fore. We turn strongly towards the overall ‘topic’ of this course: What makes for good online learning? What have I learned about this and what to I need to do in future do develop my expertise further?

Three chapters of Janet Macdonald’s book (2008), Blended Learning and Online Tutoring implicitly convey another possible inventory of good practice. In chapters 12, 13 and 14 Macdonald argues for developing learners’ capacities as ‘E-investigators’, ‘E-writers’, and ‘E-Communicators and Collaborators’. At the end of each chapter, in her summary, Macdonald lists points that together might be taken as an inventory of good practice in online learning, or at least online course design. These include things like using generic guides to online resources, using model answers to help students understand how to write well online, integrating online tasks with assessment, etc.

As Mehrotra et al. (2001, p. 29) and many others have observed, ‘learning theories and principles that have been found successful in the traditional classroom remain constant regardless of the delivery mechanism’. Similarly, in the two cases we’ve discussed here – Salmon’s five stage model, Macdonald’s model of blended learning – good practice inventories would have common elements and also differences, stemming from the theoretical approach taken, the primary mode of delivery envisaged, the purpose or focus of the inventory itself. There are a number of respected short inventories of good practice: indicators of high value. This week you have been asked to compile your own inventory of good practice in online teaching. You can draw on your own experience, and you should also consider how these other inventories can be realised in the online world.

In order to complete this week's activities in full, look at the vidcasts and key readings.


MacDonald, J. (2008). Blended Learning and Online Tutoring: Planning Learner Support and Activity Design (Second edition). Aldershot, Gower

Mason, R. (2001). E-learning: what have we learnt? Improving Student Learning Using Learning Technology, proceedings of the 2001 9th International Improving Student Learning Symposium, Edinburgh, Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development.

Mehrotra, C, Hollister, D, & McGahey, L (2001). Distance Learning: Principles for effective design, delivery and evaluation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Salmon, G. (2011). E-moderating: The key to online teaching and learning. Abingdon, Routledge.

Last modified: Friday, 7 March 2014, 04:32 PM