At the end of last term I ran a short online course entitled the ’12 apps of Christmas’. Here are some brief notes and some thoughts on the evaluation of the course – i just wanted to get something written down whilst it was still fresh in my mind:

1. The planning process

Last May I ran a short course called 10 Days of Twitter for staff at Regent’s University London. At the time I was pleased with the level of engagement from staff and began to think about running other short CPD courses on learning technology. So the initial aim and imputous of running the 12 Apps of Christmas course was to give training to the staff here at Regent’s. I wasn’t really sure how many staff I would get to enrol on the course – I had a figure of 20 or 30 ‘in my head’ but to be honest I had no idea.

The other reason I choose to run the course is in response to the feedback I’ve had from lecturers regarding training. Throughout the year i have organised a great number of workshops on learning technology, the format of these have varied greatly from ‘hands on’ sessions in a computer room to some very short ‘demo’ sessions. Overall a great number of staff have been trained but each individual session rarely gets more than 2 or 3 attendees. Staff have always given great feedback on these sessions but have always said they unable to attend more frequently because they are too busy with the normal day to day activity of the day job. I was hoping that the flexible nature of the 12aoc course would mean that staff could fit this into their daily business schedule.

These factors greatly influenced the design and delivery of the 12aoc course. Each day the app would have the same simple headings: What is it?, What can it do? Download it now, 10 Minute task. There were also three additional  (and optional) features; a discussion board on the day’s app, Further Tasks and Additional Links.

One of the biggest challenges was keeping this information to a reasonable length. Originally, I wanted to keep the days ‘heading’ to a maximum of 250 words which is roughly the size of the screen. I really wanted to avoid the format that I have seen on some MOOC’s where there is an ‘overload’ of information. I also wanted to make the 10 minute tasks only be 10 minutes! Again this is a very imprecise measurement, someone with high digital literacy skills could have completed the tasks in a minute or two (this is one of the reasons I developed the Additional Tasks). However, someone with very low digital literacy skills could spend ages on the task or just find it too difficult and give up. In the end I just used my judgement as to what might take the average participant to complete the task.

As the course was designed for staff here at Regent’s it influenced my choice of apps. I wanted to promote some of the institutional apps that we have here in our university such as Blackboard Mobile learn, Blackboard Collaborate, Turnitin with some non-institutional apps. All the apps had to be related to to teaching, learning and research.

In addition to thinking about the design of the course I was really keen to develop a team to run the course. Partly to help me run the course but also to raise the profile of the Learning Technology team here at Regent’s. I called a meeting the learning tech team and Andy Horton (Deputy Library Manager) in October and asked each team member if they could choose an app and using the Headings (outlined above) write up a brief overview of the apps features and the 10 minute activity. All of the team member (except one) were able to complete their app by the deadline. This was ‘no mean feat’ as it must be noted that this is an extremely busy time of the year for the learning tech team here at Regent’s mainly because at the end of the term literally thousands of assignments are submitted via the VLE and this causes all sorts of issues for both staff and students.

Lastly, I was also really keen to explore the potential of Blackboard Open Education. This is a new product available to institutions using Blackboard as their VLE. I became aware of it during the summer and wanted to test out its feature and functionality.

2. Stats

I was completed staggered and amazed by the number of people who enrolled on the course. By day 12 on the course the number of learners had risen to 543!!! I really wasn’t expecting so many people to join. I had about 100 people enrolled on the course but about two weeks before the course I put a ‘advert’ of the course on the JISC mail ALT and SEDA mainling lists and the numbers dramatically increased.

A quick glance at the participants email addresses indicates that the vast majority of the participants were from other universities in the UK. Although there were quite a few from other English speaking Universities from around the world (US,Canada, Australia and New Zealand).
26 of the participants had Regents university email addresses – which is probably about the number I expected when I set up the course but in the light of the total enrolments now seems a bit disappointing.
Here are the stats from the Discussion boards:

Discussion Boards

Overall I was really pleased with this level of engagement from the participants. Inevitably the number of posts dropped off during the 12 days but it is also related to the actual activity. Posting a introduction on the first day was part of the ’10 minute’ activity whilst the other discussion boards were part of the ‘additional tasks’ so I would expect less posts on these days.

Had a nice comment from CB at the end of the course:

“The discussion was definitely very useful; even if the suggested apps weren’t new, the best, or game-changers, they provided a stimulus for others to say “that’s great”, or “it’s not very good”, or “have you tried this one instead”.  It’s a bit like a conference – sometimes the networking is better than the actual presentations, but the presentations are needed to generate the discussion during the breaks…”

User report 2

…need to add some analysis of the BB stats

3. Things that worked well

10 Minute activities:

 More to add here …..

“I’ve really enjoyed participating in this series of learning exercises. I’ve experimented with the apps, and actually found myself writing notes (for Xmas shopping ideas) on that memo app that we used earlier in the week. More importantly though, I think I have learned from you about how to run a set of day-by-day learning activities on Blackboard and how to keep student engagement up. One of our difficulties with our own undergraduate cohorts is to keep them thinking about their studies between taught sessions, and a little 10-minute activity for each day works well. The support via discussion threads, and particularly via Twitter, has supported the activities. I’m going to experiment next term with my own students and see what I can do to keep them motivated between sessions”. (JB)


“I agree Jill; this MOOC has been a really good example of how to run such a course. I’ve signed up to other similar activities before but they’ve taken far too much time to do, and unfortunately I just don’t have a hour a day to devote to something else as well as “the day job”, but this MOOC has been just right – something small each day, with a short activity, or if you don’t have time to actually try the app, some discussion about it from those who have had a go. And it’s been a really good way to see the Open Education system in action. A great experience – many thanks to the team at Regents for putting this together!” (CB)

And again,

“Thank you for a great course.  I’ve tried all sorts of new Apps, and enjoyed the daily joke!  I think you got everything spot on – a 10 minute activity every day is just right, and I love the 12 Apps of Christmas theme….” (BG)

4. Issues:

This was the first time I had used Blackboard Open Education. Overall it seemed to work well. Most people din’t seem to have a problem enroling onto the course. Although I did have about 25 to 30 emails about people having problems. Some of these were trying to log in as ‘guests’ which i didn’t allow but 20 or so of these emails were people having problems logging in or enrolling. Most seem to be resolved but I also don’t know how many people just gave up when they couldn’t log in.

Judging by the number of people leaving a comment on the first discussion board the Blackboard Mobile app worked well (unless they were just using the PC version). although there were 2 or 3 negative comments about the app on the discussion boards.

WT made a additional point about Blackboard Open Education and the lack of ‘Lack of Social’:

“I dissappointed that the Open Education Platform does not have the Social Tools enabled. I can see a list of “people” that are enrolled in RUL12AOC and have enabled their profiles but can’t message them or setup up spaces. This was available on Coursesites so it’s a pity they haven’t enabled this on Open Education. That means that Blackboard social is really only for hosted services”.
Engagement from staff at Regents Uni

Twitter Competition….need to add more here

Conclusion – not finished
Plans for the future – I would like to repeat the course next year but maybe do things a bit differently. Obviously given the name of the course I would run it at a similar time next year but maybe do it in conjunction with another university.

I also have plans to run some similar courses during 2015, possibly on blogging or more broadly on developing social media skills for academics.

Also it was great to see a spin off course developed at the Dublin Institute of Technology run by Francis Boylan.