Online learning: things I have learnt that are not directly related to my job

September 7, 2011

Over my summer break I pondered upon how much learning I have done online. I’m not talking about learning relevant to my job (but I have learnt a lot online which has helped me in my job), but about learning not directly related to my job. The fixed wheel bicycle conversion I posted about a couple of days ago was possible through what I had learnt online. I bought most of the parts online. I read fixed wheel websites and forums to find out what I needed to do. Whenever I had questions or difficulties I found that other people had had these same experiences and had posted about them. I doubt that I could have achieved this in the pre-internet era. Moreover it was Sheldon Brown’s website that first got me interested in the idea of riding fixed in the first place.

I also look online when it comes to home DIY projects.  I wanted to know how long I should wait before applying paint to the new plaster in my hallway. My plasterer said a few days. Online the answers varied from a few hours to about six months. And then there was the question of preparing the wall prior to painting. My plasterer said to use a cheap white emulsion with about 10% water. Online some said you could use 50% water. Others said to use PVA. The emulsion people angrily responded that this is the last thing you should do. It’s unsurprising that there are differing opinions out there, but the passion with which opinions of how to prepare a newly plastered wall are held astonishes me. For the record I went to my plaster’s advice and it seems to have turned out ok. This case is different to the fixed wheel conversion in that in the pre-internet era I would have just done as the plasterer said the first place. Online learning offers the access to doubt as much as it offers the possibility of answers.

I know far more about computers than I ever planned to. But thanks to the internet I’ve been able to fix computer problems. I’ve even opened up the case to upgrade the memory. Similarly, when I couldn’t get the iplayer to work on my freesat dish, I spent much time looking online. Sometimes I don’t always find a solution to my problems, but to know that there were people out there with the same problems is some comfort.

Online learning:

  1. Makes me want to do things I didn’t even know about.
  2. Makes me want to check what I have learnt ‘face-to-face’.
  3. Offers a second or third opinion.
  4. Answers my questions successfully.
  5. Offers good advice.
  6. Offers bad advice.
  7. Helps me to doubt expert opinion.
  8. Gets me to buy stuff I need
  9. Gets me to buy stuff I might need
  10. Gets me to buy stuff I don’t need.

Update from LLAS Subject Centre: post August 2011 events

June 20, 2011

I’m pleased to report that LLAS activity post-July 2011 is shaping up nicely. Our first event of the new academic year will be one for Heads of Departments which will take place in mid-September.  We also have dates for our annual e-learning symposium and our annual new staff event. Dates for e-learning and research methods courses will be up on our website soon.

Thriving in the New World of Higher Education: a workshop for heads of department and leaders in languages, linguistics and area studies

Date: 14 September, 2011

Location: Room B202, Bloomsbury Suite, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Event type: Workshop


e-Learning symposium 2012

Date: 26 January, 2012 – 27 January, 2012

Location: Avenue Campus, University of Southampton

Event type: Conference

Life and work in academia: event for new and aspiring lecturers in languages, linguistics and area studies

Date: 12 April, 2012

Location: Conference Aston, Aston University, Aston Triangle, Birmingham, B4 7ET

Event type: Workshop

For further details please see the LLAS website. There are more details here about the work we will be doing from 1 August.

What is innovation in higher education?

June 8, 2011

I enjoyed Karen Smith’s article in Teaching in Higher Education exploring innovation in higher education. Smith addresses innovation in a university-wide context as well as the individual context.  She draws on Kanter’s metaphor of innovation being like flowers. Of course some of those flowers turn out to be weeds.

Karen Smith, “Cultivating innovative learning and teaching cultures: a question of garden design,” Teaching in Higher Education 16, no. 4 (2011): 427-348

My top five Teaching and Learning websites (in no particular order).

May 13, 2011

I’ve never written a top 5 list before, but here is a “top 5”: list from me.

Phil Race

Emeritus Professor at Leeds Metropolitan University and Educational Development Consultant Phil Race has shared lots of his materials on his website. The compendium of his writings on assessment is ideal for experienced teachers as well as lecturers starting out. He also shares his thoughts on the National Student Survey and his page “If I were in charge…” motivates reflection on the way universities operate.

Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development

Lots of great resources here on almost everything you can think of from assessment to plagiarism, internationalism to course design. I’ve found its page on writing learning objectives with its extensive list of appropriate verbs valuable on numerous occasions.

E-learning blog “Don’t waste your time”

I found the website of David Hopkins, Learning Technologist at Bournemouth University when trying to find out what a QR code was (I’ve yet to feel that the purchase of smart phone is justified, but all the students seem to have them). The poster downloads on topics like using blackboard are helpful as so are the tips on making effective use of blogs and Twitter (lots for me to learn here.)


Ok, I might be a bit biased here as some of my colleagues at the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies led the project to build this teaching resource repository. The HumBox describes itself as “…a new way of storing, managing and publishing your Humanities teaching resources on the web.” The beauty of Humbox is its remarkable simplicity of use. Once you have set up an account you can upload and download resources in virtually any format, as easily as is technologically possible. I really started appreciating HumBox when trying (often unsuccessfully) to use some other repositories (no names will be mentioned here).


A mixed bag as you might expect, but some great material and good production standards. As I write I am listening to a round table discussion on “Why French Matters”. A highlight for me is Dan Judge’s statistics lectures which succeed in making a difficult subject (for me) so engaging.