You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2008.

Those who follow this blog will know that I’m big on providing students with scaffolding for the academic and computer literacy requirements of their educational programmes.  I’ve been thinking more about this recently, and have come up with the following vision of where I’d like to move towards.  I’m not sure if it’s achieveable because it relies on some other parties within the polytechnic making changes to the way they do things, but I’m just putting it out there.


Either during the first week of course or ideally before this I’d like our students to be assessed for their computer literacy level and academic skills.  The community learning centres are the logical party to perform the computer literacy assessment, and the learning centre would be the logical party to implement the academic assessment.  In my ideal world, I’d like the learning centre to be completely integrated with the community learning centres (and possibly foundation studies) so that our academic and computer support services were distributed throughout Otago.

Developing academic skills & computer literacy

There are a range of ways in which students can develop academic skills and computer literacy.  Our students are currently able to access to online self-directed learning modules, learning centre support for academic skills (both workshops & tutoring), and the support of staff in the community learning centres in their academic development.

I’d like to see more flexibility in the computer support offered by the community learning centres.  My understanding of the current learning model is that it’s based on workbooks which the student works through one step at a time.  The workbooks are fairly comprehensive, and it’s fine for courses which can afford the time that it takes for their students to work through the books, but the credit value of the courses is unfortunately not able to be reasonably incorporated within our programmes.  Could the supports be made more generic and modular so that they were able to support the students in the tasks associated with their course of study rather than directing them to work through exercises whose point is only the development of computer literacy?  This would alleviate the problem to a large degree.  It would also be handy if the CLCs had their learning resources online, offered online support to enrolled students, and supported commonly used online services such as Google documents.  (I don’t ask for much do I?)

Support for the development of literacy

Ideally, students should be assigned a peer-tutor (2nd year?) to support them in their academic study skill development.  This would be organised through the learning centre.

I’ve been thinking about computer-support of students, and the most effective way that I can think of providing this support is to organise a pool of peer-tutors which draws from all programmes involved in elearning.  This pool of tutors would have a centralised communcation channel (probably a google group).  Any students needing help would post to the group, and hopefully receive a fairly rapid response (this is after all what you need when you have a computer-related issue).  Because computer-support needs will peak and trough from programme to programme, this distributed support should act to smooth the peaks and troughs of demand.

Baseline competency

Every programme has a (usually implicit) level of baseline academic study skills and often computer literacy which is required to engage with and be successful in the programme.  It may be advisable to reassess the students at the completion of the study skills programme to determine if they have reached this minimum level.  This may be done through the CLCs and the learning centre again, or evidence may be provided through the use of e-portfolios.  If they haven’t, then clearly the student would need further support.

Integration of academic and computer-related study skill

There’s some fairly good evidence showing that study skills programmes are not particularly effective unless they’re integrated with the main course of study (Wingate, 2006).  So academic staff throughout the programme should make efforts to encourage the use of these study skills.  One way of doing this is to initially remind students on a weekly basis of the study skills techniques that they could be utilising, then to gradually reduce the frequency of these reminders as the skills (hopefully) become second nature.

How would this work for your programme?


Wingate, U. (2006). Doing away with ‘study skills’. Teaching in Higher Education, 11, 457-469.

Martin Weller of the Open University has recently posted to the Terra Incognita blog about his current project – SocialLearn.  Interesting stuff.

The Open University is working rapidly towards the creation of an open social networking platform that can be used to support both formal and informal learning.  “Think of it as “Facebook for Learning”, potentially combined with a Creative Commons open educational exchange, and an online marketplace where learning services are bought…”(SocialLearn)

The question is, how open is the service?  Would they allow students of Otago Polytechnic to participate in the learning community?  I’m investigating….

I’ve just come across the wikibook – Study Skills

Currently we use a range of mostly wiki-based content for our study skills programme.  I’m hoping to find the time to pull this content into the Wikibook to further develop this resource.

Is anyone else out there interested in doing the same?

It seems now that the current group of students has settled into the swing of navigating through the online environment that I’ve set up to support their learning, and they seem at ease.

I put quite a lot of effort at the start of last year setting up the Pageflakes course hub to simplify their learning experience by aggregating all course-related feeds to a single place.  My rationale here was based on cognitive learning theory and an extensive body of research showing that learning is improved by a simplified user interface.  It was also based on my own experiences as on online student where I noticed that when first engaging with an online application most of my attention/learning was focussed on mastering the interface.  Once I had mastered it, I was then able to engage with the community behind the interface.

Now however I find myself asking – have I done the right thing?

Developing digital literacy

One of my main aims in moving the course online was to develop the digital literacy of my students.  Now I fear that they are now sitting comfortably within the walls of the learning environment that I’ve built for them.  Sure they all know how to search the internet for information which has been enormously satisfying and empowering for some, but few if any of them have developed more advanced information literacy.  When I think about how I keep current and in touch with content on the internet searching is definitely a significant part but understanding the use of a feedreader, social tagging with and the use of Miro are other incredibly useful aspects of my digital literacy which I have not introduced my students too.  I haven’t introduced them to blogging either at this stage.

Although I’m regretting it now, this was a conscious choice at the start of the year.  I was aware that for many of my students turning on a computer, engaging with email and other fairly basic tasks would be pretty challenging, and I chose to err on the side of ease.  The problem is that now that they’ve settled into the online environment that exists, my sense is that they will resist changes in the new year.

Induction 2009

With my experience of working with the students last year, I’m confident that I will be able to more effectively manage the scaffolding process for the first years.  I intend to get them all blogging and using an RSS feed reader from an early stage.  Once their feed reader is set up, using the reader should be of similar difficulty to the use of Pageflakes, although the potential for their digital literacy is so much greater.  From early on in the course I intend to get the students using their blogs to answer assessment, which should help them to quickly become comfortable in the use of blogs.   I also intend to support the second years in getting to the same stage (although I’m sure there’ll be some grumbles).

Learning community

I’m hoping that once the class gets in the swing of using this technology infrastructure, there will be some cross-pollination between the year one and the year two students.  I’m tossing around the idea of giving second year students some marks towards merit based on their contributions to the year one’s learning process.

As always I’m interested in your ideas, or experiences that relate to any of this….

The New Zealand government is in the process of discussing measures to strengthen the existing copyright laws.  They are collaborating with other countries including Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, Singapore, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and the United States on the Anti-counterfitting Trade Agreement.  Based on reports on the Ministry of Economic Development’s website, It appears that all countries involved in the discussions have agreed to the premises of the agreement, and are working towards implementation.  While domestic consultation is said to be part of the process, this is the first I have heard of it.
While on the surface this may seem a good idea, the terms of the actual agreement appears to threaten the openness of the internet in New Zealand.  Mark Harris’s submission covers the main concerns which many have with this act.  Colin Jackson believes that the implementation of this act could lead to ISPs filtering content from sites such as Youtube, and blocking incrypted services such as Skype.

Is it too late to do anything about this?  Officially submissions on this act have been closed since July 28, 2008, and the government does seem to have made it’s decision.