Week 17 E-tivities
Timing: About 4 hours initially to read, reflect and make notes on the readings we offer you.
You will then need to spend about 16 hours over the following 5 weeks to carry out the group
Have you ever found yourself disappointed by the quality or quantity of learning and
interaction that has taken place in some online teaching that you have offered, or that you
participated in as a learner yourself? If so, you are not alone.
E-tivities is one popular model for building interactive online learning activities in text-based
conferences so that you have a greater likelihood of getting the kind of participation from
students that you want.
In working through this section of H807 you will be improving your understanding of learning
design for group learning activities. You will also have the opportunity to reflect on the role,
practices and skills of teaching for elearning. By the end of the activity you should be much
more confident about designing online activities for your own learners.
Developing better online group activities
This section of H807 contains a number of readings and an extensive individual and group
activity that will enable you, once you have completed it, to improve significantly any online
group activities you design or run.
Many teachers and course designers find on first using an online conference forum that the
level of engagement from students is far less than that experienced in a face-to-face session.
This is often because the dynamics of online groups are very different from those of a face-to-
face classroom and what can promote stimulating interaction in a face-to-face context can fail
badly online. Face-to-face teaching skills often don’t work so well online, and you may find
that you feel like a novice teacher again. You may have had the experience of ‘seeding’ what
you thought was an interesting discussion about some aspect of the course you were teaching
and watching it totally fail to get any online exchanges going at all. Or you found discussions
going completely off topic, and being extremely difficult to get back on track.
There is an extensive popular literature about the different interpersonal skills needed for
online human interaction where the ‘bandwidth’ is limited, and with it the social, visual and
emotional cues that are normally in use in face-to-face interactions. As we incorporate a
variety of digital media into our everyday lives we learn the different literacies of ‘texting’,
‘email’, and, more recently, digital audio, simply by trial and error. However, even as we
become more literate in the new media this does not guarantee that, if they are implemented
as part of a course, learners will engage with them. It may have been true in the early 1990s
when learners were first introduced to ‘elearning’ that the novelty of the technology
stimulated engagement. If this was once true it is no longer. Learners will be as utilitarian in
their approach to elearning activities as they are about any other component of their studies.
So far on this course we have introduced you to a variety of new education media that – as
professionals – we think are educationally exciting. But media are only exciting to your
learners if they engage with the media in activities that clearly move learning forward. So,
how do you design activities that combine the resources of a group of learners with
media/content resources, in order to achieve more than any individualised piece of elearning
could? In this final part of H807 we aim to show you how to do this by focusing on the design
of group elearning activities.
Online constructivist learning – in groups
In the academic world of elearning, different institutions have had different foci of interest.
Here in The Open University, and in the Institute of Educational Technology in particular, we
take a special interest in computer-mediated communication (CMC). Members of the Institute
have been researching and developing educational computer conferencing since the late
1980s. If you go to the IET Knowledge Network and use ‘computer conferencing’ or
‘computer-mediated communication’ in a document search you will get many hits. (Note: a
few of the documents were produced for an internal audience and have restricted access.)
One of the hits will take you to Robin Goodfellow’s (2001, updated 2006) report, Computer-
Mediated Communication: What have we learned about CMC in teaching and learning? It is
one of the most useful summaries of the OU experience of computer-mediated communication
and you may find it a useful resource to return to later. Although its context and examples
are drawn from within the OU, the lessons are widely generalisable. All virtual learning
environments (VLEs), both commercial and open source, have asynchronous bulletin boards
or forums, usually with links to resource areas that are ideal for e-tivities.
The research on CMC, done in the OU and elsewhere, is based on constructivist learning
theories, and the concept of situated learning. These theories stress the collaborative creation
of meaning for individuals and groups through discussion and reflection, using their own
contexts as the ground from which to ‘spring’ forward into new understanding and new
knowledge (Brown, Collins and Duguid, 1989). Models of learning that involve adults and
professionals have drawn on the notion of ‘community of practice’ (Wenger, 1999). This is a
version of constructivist learning in which the learners are members of a community engaged
in and developing particular (professional) practices. The learning and the practice are
symbiotic, and membership of the group ensures the continual development of practice.
The model we want to introduce you to, Salmon’s five-stage model for online interactive
group activities, comes out of the OU context, and this theoretical background. Salmon
developed her ideas and research while working at the OU and in 2002 her ideas were
published in E-tivities: The Key to Active Online Learning. You will find an ebook version in
MyOpenLibrary. As usual with ebooks, there is a limit to the number of people able to access
this book online at any one time.
We have chosen Salmon’s framework, not because it came out of the OU, but because it has
proved extremely popular with practitioners as a useful framework and checklist for guiding
the creation of online learning activities. It is the basis for many short courses and workshops
that train people to use online group work. The second half of the book provides a number of
Another book well worth reading if you are new to this subject area is Salmon’s practical book
on online moderation; a guide for teachers – and others – on how to be effective online group
facilitators (Salmon, 2000). E-moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online
addresses some of the issues mentioned earlier about the skills and literacies needed for
supporting online group communication.
Introducing Salmon’s five-stage model
Salmon coins the word ‘e-tivity’ to describe ‘a framework for active and interactive learning’
(Salmon, 2002, p.1). She sees the need for participants in online learning groups to be
supported in a structured way through a learning ‘event’. It is an absence of structure that is
usually the cause of any failed online tutorial discussions.
Salmon suggests that all interactive learning activities should be:
• motivating, engaging and purposeful
• based on interaction between people – individuals and groups and resources
• designed and led by someone who understands their role and has learned the skills of
online conference moderation
• simple, low cost and easy to run
The key features of e-tivities are:
• a ‘spark’ – stimulus, challenge, task, problem
• an online activity – students have to DO something
• a participative element – students have to respond
• a summary, feedback or critique – from the group or tutor
• guidelines – instructions for the activity, for taking part [the ‘invitation’].
Salmon’s five stages are:
• Access and motivation
• Online socialisation
• Information exchange
• Knowledge construction
Salmon’s five-stage framework provides the scaffolding structure for learning and, she
argues, each of the five stages requires different kinds of activities. The activity tasks that
follow will enable you to explore the framework in more detail.
Activity task 2: how do others use the five-stage model?
Timing: Allow about 3 hours
You will be clearer about the usefulness of Salmon’s framework if you read how others have
used it. Listed below are three articles that discuss the use of Salmon’s work. We suggest you
read them and make your own notes. A fourth article is included to give you a different
perspective on the development of elearning activities.
Muirhead, B. (2002) ‘Salmon’s e-tivities: the key to active online learning’, USDLA
Journal, vol.16, no.8 [online]
http://www.usdla.org/html/journal/AUG02_Issue/article02.html (Accessed 25 February
We suggest you read Muirhead first. He reviews E-tivities in the context of failures of US
online distance learning projects and is an enthusiastic supporter of Salmon’s work.
‘The Five-Step Model [he concludes] offers an excellent paradigm for combining theory and
practice into the teaching and learning process. It affirms the importance of … having
teachers who are prepared to share meaningful activities in a learner-centred atmosphere’
This a readable rhetorical piece. Muirhead is concerned by the very expensive failures of
elearning programmes, which forget to follow some of the basic principles of good programme
design. He sees Salmon’s book as providing a framework, which, if followed, would ensure
that the principles were observed.
Pavey, J. and Garland, S.W. (2004) ‘The integration and implementation of a range
of “e-tivities” to enhance students’ interaction and learning’, Innovations in
Education and Teaching International, vol.41, no.3, pp.305–15. This article is available
in the OU Library electronic journals archive.
You can access this article through the OU Library electronic journals archive.
You might find it useful to read this case study of a UK sport science course that used
Salmon’s framework to enhance student interaction.
As you read the article make notes on the particular kinds of activities that the authors
created using Salmon’s five-stage framework. These might give you useful ideas about
activities you could develop for your learners. This article also suggests a template for you to
use to map the particular aspects of an activity against each of Salmon’s five stages.
Jones, N. and Peachey, P. (2004) ‘The development of socialisation in an on-line
learning environment’, paper given at the American Educational Research
Association Annual Meeting in 2004 [online] http://www.ncolr.org/jiol/issues/viewarticle.cfm?
volID=3&IssueID=12&ArticleID=14 (Accessed 28 May 2010).
We have included this paper because it takes a critical view of Salmon’s five-stage model and
questions the validity and usefulness of all the stages as they are presently described by
Salmon. It is also an example of a small-scale piece of ethnographic research and evaluation
of the kind that you could carry out on your own teaching.
Laurillard, D. (undated) ‘Design process for teaching conceptual knowledge’ in H802
Applications of Information Technology in Open and Distance Education, Milton
Keynes, The Open University.
Finally, just to remind you that there are other checklists and frameworks to guide the
development of elearning activities, we have included a checklist produced for us by Diana
This checklist is based more on cognitive psychology models of learning, and has as its focus
the individual learner rather than the group. This kind of checklist can be very useful when
you are producing individualised learning materials. You are likely to want to produce these as
well as group ‘e-tivities’, and this is another resource you might want to file for later use.
However, we present it here only as a comparison with a different kind of staged framework.
We hope that you will use Salmon’s framework in a critical and reflective way, modifying it
where it does not fit your needs, or those of your learners, and comparing it with other
frameworks you come across.
Activity task 3: creating an e-tivity
This activity task has a number of parts and will take place over a period of about four weeks.
Your tutor will give you the timetable, with cut-off dates, for the different parts of this
1. Defining your learners and the e-tivity objectives (about 2 hours)
Drawing on the papers you have read and the information provided on Salmon’s
website we want you to create an e-tivity for a group of learners in a specific subject
area. The e-tivity should be one that can be completed online in two weeks. If you are
involved in teaching, it may be quite easy to identify which part of a particular course
would benefit from having an e-tivity component. If you do not teach, you may have
to be more imaginative in creating an e-tivity, and then making sure the instructions
are clear enough for someone else to run it.
Use Salmon’s handout and the template in it to help you design your e-tivity. You
should specify your group of learners, the learning outcomes or objectives and then
the most appropriate media to use to achieve these outcomes.
Salmon was working with asynchronous conferencing and her e-tivities are set in this
medium. You should not feel restricted to using this medium. In this course you have
experimented with a variety of communication media: asynchronous text such as
conferencing and blogging; asynchronous multimedia such as wikis and podcasts; and
you have also used synchronous text and audio in Elluminate.
‘New technology project checklist’ is another checklist by Laurillard that may help as
you think through your media choice. This checklist was originally produced to help
with media selection in a multimedia project. It was written some years ago but the
final section, a checklist of reasons for not using multimedia, is as valid today as when
it was first written.
We have provided you with a modified version of Salmon’s template in Word so that
you can write into it and save it. Describe your learners, the learning outcomes, and
the media you will use. Post this template into your tutor forum as soon as you can.
This will give your tutor and fellow students the opportunity to see your plans and for
the group to have some idea of the scope of the e-tivities that the group are planning.
2. Writing your e-tivity (about 2 hours over a week)
This should take you a couple of hours to write as long as you use resources that
already exist. You do not have time, for example, to make audio or web resources
from scratch for this e-tivity, although in reality you might want to. However, it might
take you some time to come up with the idea for what you want to do. We allow a
week for you to think about this. Keep checking your course forum. You might find
that as others post their ideas it prompts ideas for you.
When you have a full description of your e-tivity, timings for parts, etc., post it to the
tutor group forum.
Your tutor will tell you the final date by which all e-tivities should be in the forum.
3. Choosing which e-tivity to implement (about 2 hours)
Read all the e-tivities posted in your group. Feel free to comment or ask for
clarification on anything you don’t understand.
There is not enough time in the course to work through all the e-tivities each of you
produces. We suggest, therefore, that depending on the size of the tutor group, only
one e-tivity is chosen, or two if the group is large enough to split. The choice is made
by members of the group voting for a first, second and third e-tivity. We know this
means that only some of you will be able to experience moderating an online activity,
but everyone will be participating and giving feedback on both the e-tivity and the
Your tutor will confirm which e-tivity will run in the next two weeks.
4. Running – or participating in – the e-tivity (6 hours over a two week
period if it is asynchronous; a synchronous activity might have different
The group’s chosen e-tivity will now run over a two week period, while you are
engaged with studying other sections of the course. Please don’t forget about those!
Your course calendar and the schedule provided by your tutor should keep you on
track. If it is your e-tivity that is chosen by the group you will be the moderator, which
is likely to involve you in being more active online than others, at least in continually
checking to see if you need to intervene in any way. If you know that you will be away
during this period, please let your group know so that your e-tivity will not be put
forward as a choice.
You tutor will give you a timetable for the chosen e-tivity with a start date and a cut-
off date by which it should be completed.
5. Feedback and evaluation (4 hours over a week)
When the e-tivity is complete, in your role either as the moderator or as a participant,
please post comments to the tutor group forum on the following aspects of the e-
o What worked well?
o What did you like about the e-tivity (participant and moderator)?
o What didn’t work so well?
o What didn’t you like about the e-tivity (participant and moderator)?
You can use Salmon’s checklist to assess this.
o How might you have improved your engagement with the e-tivity
(participant and moderator)?
o Your evaluation of the helpfulness of Salmon’s framework?
o Reflections on the experience for your own future practice.
This activity has been one of the longest group activities in the course. However, if you have
no previous experience of designing online group work, we hope that you have learned
something from doing this activity in real time. You will also have had the chance to
experience different people operating as a moderator, and seen some different styles of doing
When you have completed the activity, even if only as a participant on someone else’s e-
tivity, you should be able to revisit you own e-tivity design and revise and improve it. This
work will all feed into your Examinable Component.
Brown, J.S., Collins, A. and Duguid, P. (1989) ‘Situated cognition and the culture of learning’,
Educational Researcher, vol.18, no.1, pp.32–42.
Salmon, G. (2002) E-tivities: The Key to Active Online Learning, London, RoutledgeFalmer.
Salmon, G. (2004) E-moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online (2nd edn),
Wenger, E. (1999) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press