About Janine Bowes

Janine is an educator from Tasmania, Australia. She has had a career long interest in learning design and the potential of technology to improve learning. She is currently on leave from the Department of Education, Tasmania undertaking postgraduate studies at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City, through the generosity of a Hardie Fellowship.

Good examples of online courses

A teacher said to me recently that they wanted to be shown examples of “world’s best practice” in online teaching in a distance setting. There is plenty of material about the theory and technical “how to” documentation, videos and examples for particular tools (pick your learning platform, it does not really matter. What is not easy is to find freely available examples of putting it all together to produce a “best practice” course, unit, module or program. So much depends on context, starting with the needs of the learner. The following strategies work well in parallel to learning the mechanics of whatever online platform(s) is being used:

  1. Studying a range of examples – and reflecting on them with a critical friend. A good source is the Moodle Cool course competition site  which showcases specific aspects of best practice. The courses are open and can do much to add to the online teaching repertoire.
  2. Undertaking online courses from a variety of providers and reflecting on the experience from outcomes, content and process perspectives is a solid foundation – to be a good online teacher, you need to have experience as an online learner. This can be done in parallel to learning to teach online and be part of ongoing professional learning
  3. Being invited into a colleague teacher’s online classroom and having professional dialogue about why the learning is presented and structured as it is. You may not choose to use the same approaches but you can be sure to pick up some new ideas. Of course, you need to know someone or be in a workplace where online learning is core business.
  4. Working through the various self paced courses freely available  – a new one on the Moodle.org site that focuses on pedagogy rather than how to use the tools, is Teaching and Learning with Moodle (log in required)

For an overview of the territory, the most comprehensive site I have come across in this regard remains the Designing e-learning site from the Australian Flexible Learning Framework.

ThinkQuest projects online learning environment

Thinkquest screenshot - projects, competition, library

Thinkquest projects screenshot

Today I attended (on behalf of NEAT)  a training day about Oracle’s ThinkQuest Projects online learning environment.

Thinkquest Projects is very easy to use and is particularly appealing to Primary students. It is designed to support Project Based Learning with an emphasis on seven 21st Century skills: critical thinking,  teamwork, communication, creativity, technology, self direction, and cross cultural understanding.


To use ThinkQuest Projects, schools need to  register (signed off by principal), and a nominated staff member then manages access by teachers and students. Security is a priority and one of the many benefits is that classes of students can participate in projects initiated by other schools and they have the option to make their own projects available to others.

ThinkQuest Projects can be used to support the project management of entries in the long standing  ThinkQuest competition. However, the ThinkQuest competition does not require the use of ThinkQuest Projects.

There is a public facing ThinkQuest Library that showcases projects

Other related resources from the  training day:

Presentation Zen by Guy Kowasaki – http://www.presentationzen.com

People’s ideas about PLEs – diagrams

In the online learning world we’ve had LMSs, CMS, LCMSs, VLEs, MLEs and now people talk about PLEs. Like most terms in the e-learning field, agreed definitions are rare as the conceptualisation and convergence of various technologies and ways of using them continues to evolve. Mature technologies start to have commonly understood meanings but the newer ones are fraught. For example the following collection of diagrams of various people’s ideas about what a Personalised Learning Environment might be, has wide variation yet common elements and themes recurring – and is “personalised learning environment” the same as “personal learning environment”? (I don’t necessarily think so)


I found it interesting to consider each diagram – which were mostly individual’s mind maps of the various digital tools and devices they use on a daily basis to access, process, publish and share information thus learning all the time. Many of the individual components were similar but the way people envisaged them as systems, categorised them or segmented them was really interesting.

So, in education, given that most students will have their own Personal Learning Environment (or networked set of tools), we  need to provide a way for them to link into our systems whatever is relevant to their learning from their “non school” PLE.

Student entitlement to ICT – UK policy

Becta’s latest newsletter includes links to documents relating to student entitlement to use ICT across the curriculum, organised in curriculum areas.

Secondary curriculum entitlement documents http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/teachingandlearning/subjects/ict/bectadocs/sec/

Primary curriculum entitlement documents http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/teachingandlearning/subjects/ict/bectadocs/prim/

Overall guidance about ICT is provided at