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I’ve just been browsing an article discussing Web 2.0 and Education 2.0.

A bit heavy for a lunchtime read, so I haven’t travelled to the article’s depths, but it has triggered some thoughts.  The articles describes a transition in educational philosophy that is driven by the growth in Web 2.0 functionality (leading to social collaboration potential).   In reading the article, I remembered the query made by a colleague recently – What do you do when students don’t want to learn in this manner?

I don’t think I’ve seen anyone really exploring this question.  In much online literature social constructivism, facilitation, and collaborative learning are assumed as the implicit methodology of online education.   Are they necessarily the best strategies for student learning, or are they just the hot trend in education at present?

I don’t really believe the second suggestion here.  It does make sense to me to utilise the collaborative potential of web 2.0 in the appropriate setting, but I’m not convinced that any of these attributes are optimal in all situations.  It’s my experience that constructivist learning scenarios work well in some cases, but I wouldn’t teach all of my subjects and classes in that way.  Sometimes it works for me to act purely as a facilitator of student discussions, at other times it works for me to be more directive and assume the traditional teacher’s role.  Sometimes collaborative learning is great, but some students may learn better as individuals.

What about student expectations?  I think we need to be aware that some students may not be used to the self-directed collaborative learning environment, and we need to have some strategies for dealing with this phenomena.  In a classroom it’s a lot easier to see if a student is not comfortable with a particular style of lesson, and issues can often be eased by the facilitator explaining the rationale for the exercise.  How do we see this online?

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Lately I’ve been reflecting on this ellusive creation of community and relating it to my own experience of using different online technologies.

In any type of online community, participants communicate through some type of technology interface. There are a variety of these, both synchronous and assynchronous. Will some of them be more effective than others in the creation of community?

In my experience communication through syncronous media (such as elluminate, instant messaging, etc) seem to lead to a feeling of relationship quicker, so I’m going to consider synchronous media first.

I think that a significant consideration has to be the complexity of the interface. My initial experience of using elluminate was that for perhaps the first 30 minutes of the meeting so much of my attention was taken up with trying to get to grips with how the interface worked, and how to control it that I did not engage significantly with the group. I was primarily engaging with the elluminate interface.  At roughly 30 minutes into the session I stopped being aware of the interface & plunged into communication with the group.

Now elluminate is a fairly simple interface really. Second life is commonly touted as a fantastic way to create community, and I can see that it could potentially have real benefits. Being able to communicate with an avatar instead of a faceless being has appeal. My experience of second life however has been quite frustrating. I’ve probably visited the virtual world three times, maybe about 3-4 hours total time, and I’m still not a competent navigator/controller. Most of my attention is still consumed by trying to figure out how to do things. I presume that this would disappear with experience, but how much experience I wonder? I consider myself to be fairly computer literate, and when I think about the computer literacy of a typical massage therapy student, it is fairly clear to me that this environment is not going to be the best way to build a sense of community in the class.

What about Gtalk/Skype? I haven’t used skype yet, and have heard that it’s better than Gtalk, but I’ve found Gtalk to be excellent. The interface is simplistic to the point of being invisible. In theory you could set up your class in your list of contacts, then everytime you turn on the computer you will be able to see who else is online. You can send instant messages to classmates, or phone them directly. I haven’t experienced this yet, it’s purely theoretical for me at the moment, but I think this would really help to create a sense of community.

So what about assyncronous communication?

Blogging is the main technological driver of community building that has been promoted in the course I’m participating in at present. It did take a while, but I am finding that as I follow other people’s thoughts & experiences, I’m developing a sense of relationship with the other bloggers in the group. For this to be effective in a group of students I believe that everyone would need to become familiar with both the process of making blog postings (fairly simple) and using RSS feeds (fairly simple, but this may take some time for students to really get it). Once this technology has been mastered, there’s probably some time before a real sense of community forms.  According to Debbie’ posting James Farmer said that it typically takes about 5 weeks for his classes to become comfortable with (blogging? / community?).  I wonder if that includes time taken to get familiar with the tech?

Email groups – I think they’re a useful communication medium, but I’m not sure they are particularly good at facilitating a sense of community/relationship.

Discussion boards – I don’t think I’ve ever had a good experience of using a discussion board.  At the start of this course I was open to the possibility that they could be used effectively for communication, but that hasn’t really been my experience yet again.  Functionally I think they’re not too much different to an email group, although perhaps a little more unwieldy.

We’re just embarking on a collaborative wiki-building exercise.  I think this again has potential, but I guess the proof will be in the pudding.

I’ve been considering how we structure assessment from time to time through this development process. I quite like some aspects of competency-based assessment, but don’t think it motivates students to excel. So after consultation with Diane Begg (head of school), Robyn Hogan (academic quality), Irene Hundleby and Karole Hogarth (academic staff) I’ve come up with a model that I think maintains the best parts of competency based assessment, while also encouraging engagement.

Practical assessment

Formative competency-based assessment in the earlier part of each course feeding into a summative integrative assessment.  Competency for summative assessment = 80%.

Theoretical assessment

Summative assessment of individual modules.  Competency for these assessments = 80%.  An integration paper at the end of each programme brings together all strands of their learning.  Total marks are aggregated into a weighted overall theoretical mark.

Competency and Excellence

If students do not attain competency (80%), they are allowed to resubmit / resit their assessment once.  Any student who attains competency on resubmission is given a mark of 80%.

Students must complete all components of the course to gain the qualification.  A students final mark will be a weighted aggregate of their theoretical & practical assessments, and this final mark will be what decides the assignment of distinctions or merits.

Practical exercises should be spread regularly through a student’s learning experience to provide opportunities for knowledge integration.

Practice Principle 1

  • Interactions should mirror real-life practice.
  • This increases the relevance to the learner, and also increases the chance for information transfer (as the material is learned in a similar context to practice).

Practice Principle 2

Important tasks require more practice

Practice Principle 3

Apply the media elements principles to practice exercises.

  • Directions to practice the exercise should be presented in text clearly and visibly near the question
  • Feedback should appear in text close to the question
  • If memory supports are used they should be visible near the practice question.

Practice Principle 4

Train learners to self-question during lessons that lack practice opportunities.

  • Model self-questioning by showing examples of self-questioning  and directing learners to self-question
  • The ability to self-question leads to significant improvements in learning
  • Exercises which cultivate the ability to self-question should be included within our study skills programme

Continuing on from my previous post E-Learning and the Science of Instruction, this post aims to describe Clark and Mayer’s principles of design for e-learning.

The following principles are all evidence-based. The authors have engaged in research, and have reviewed the research of others to support the principles. Application of each of these principles has been shown to have fairly significant effects on learning.

Principle of Multimedia Design

  • Information is easier to understand when presented with graphics. However decorative graphics that do not have instructional value tend to detract from learning.

The Contiguity Principle

  • Place printed words near corresponding graphics
  • The effect of this is that connections between words and graphics are more clear, and the user has less need to search the page for meaning. As a result they are more able to attend to the content of the learning.
  • This principle is commonly violated in e-learning
    • Scrolling screens where visuals and related text end up becoming separated
    • Feedback is displayed on a separate screen from the exercise or practice question
    • Links leading to an onscreen reference cause a pop-up window which covers the related information on the initial screen
    • Directions to complete exercises are placed in a separate screen from the screen in which the directions are to be followed.

The Modality Principle

  • Where possible present words as speech rather than on-screen text
  • According to cognitive learning theory we have a visual and audial channel for receiving information. If words are delivered as audio this clarifies the task of the visual channel to interpret the picture.
  • I would add to this a kinesthetic channel. Much of the learning in a massage therapy class occurs kinesthetically.
  • In some cases it may be optimal to present text as a reference

The Redundancy Principle

  • Presenting words in both text and audio can impair learning
  • Redundant words may be useful when there is
    • No graphical representation
    • The pace of the presentation is slow
    • It’s difficult for learners to comprehend spoken word (e.g. a high proportion of non-native english speakers / Learning difficulties / Verbal material is long and complex or contains unfamiliar key words)

The Coherence Principle

  • Adding entertaining material (e.g. stories, music/background sounds, pictures) can reduce learning when the material is not strongly related to learning outcomes
  • The learner will often focus on and recall the entertaining material at the expense of other material

The Personalisation Principle

  • Use conversational rather than formal language wherever possible.
  • This is closer to natural human communication and is therefore easier to absorb
  • Virtual coaches (animated tutors) improve learning outcomes
    • No difference between realistic and cartoon images
    • Human voice seems to be more effective than artifical voice (limited evidence)

I’ve just been reading through Ruth Clark & Richard Meyer’s excellent book e-Learning and the Science of Instruction (First edition – I notice that there’s a 2nd edition out now). This book primarily concentrates on the creation of content and learning resources rather than focussing on building community.

In one of the early chapters they discuss the need for online students to have what they call metacognitive skills. These are the ability to set learning goals, to determine how to reach their goals, and to make adjustments where necessary. Students with poor metacognitive skills need more direction where as students with good metacognitive skills tend to be more self-sufficient learners.

As discussed in a previous post, a lack of commitment to learning goals can be disasterous in online learning as in a flexible learning environment there may be many distractions competing for the student’s time. Poor metacognitive skills are likely to contribute to student drop-off in online courses.

Many massage students have not been particularly successful in the school system due to their kinesthetic learning preferences, and may have fairly poor metacognitive skills as a result. It’s important that our Study Skills module helps to provide our students with a base of metacognitive skills. Emphasis and reinforcement of these skills needs to be embedded within the programme.

In future posts I’ll go on to discuss some of the principles that Clark & Mayer describe in their book, but for now I’m going to go to bed. 🙂

Principles of Design for e-Learning 

Practice Principles for e-Learning

There was a meeting of our permanent external advisory committee on the 29th of August, 2007. During the meeting I presented the planned programme changes. After fielding several queries, the programme development was unanimously approved.

I am in the process of seeking feedback from several members of the PEAC who were not present.

I completed a flowchart of programme structure, and programme sequencing yesterday. Here it is.

Programme Sequencing

Our consultation process with the Spa industry has focussed on four key areas.

  1. What key competencies spa owners look for when considering employing massage therapistsThe competencies that have been most commonly mentioned are massage competence (including relaxation and deep-tissue), being a team-player (able to fit in with spa systems and work with other people), Interpersonal skills, having a professional manner, and having competency in other specialisations (e.g. Aromatherapy, hot stone massage, reflexology, indian head massage etc.)
  2. What key competencies are often not found in massage therapistsCompetencies mentioned here included a lack of commitment to professional conduct and systems orientation, and a lack of ability to communicate with confidence
  3. Common pay rates of massage therapists in the spa industryThere is quite a bit of variation here.

    For massage therapists who are new to the spa industry the hourly rate varies between $18-25 per hour depending on the spa and the quality of the therapist. Some spas noted that time not spent massaging might be paid at a lower rate ($12-14 seems to be the range here). One spa mentioned a difference in employed and on-call rate with the employed rate being lower.

    Massage therapists who are experienced in the spa industry can generally expect to be paid more. The range here seems to be from $20 – 40 per hour depending on the level of experience and the spa. Therapists who are employed may sometimes be paid at a lower level than therapists who are on-call.

  4. If graduates of our Certificate of Spa Therapies and Stress Management would be attractive to employers in the spa industry.The response to this was overwhelming with all participants agreeing that a qualification that focussed on the needs of the spa industry would be attractive to them.

This consultation strongly supports the development of the programme as outlined, and has provided us with some important data which we will use when developing courses within the programme.

As part of the development process of the massage therapy programme I’ve been consulting with key stakeholders such as our Permanent External Advisory Committee (PEAC), other massage education providers, parties related to Stress Management, and the Spa Industry.

I’ll discuss the outcome of this consultation in future postings.