The first year of the blended delivery programme is up.  What have I learnt from the experience?  What worked, and what didn’t work?

Teaching online requires different skills to teaching in the classroom

It has been a huge learning curve.  I feel that I’m only now just starting to become competent as a teacher in this environment.  I’m not sure there’s any way around this.  Teaching online is significantly different to teaching the classroom, and perhaps you can only develop the skills for this while doing it.  What do you think?

Don’t take knowledge for granted

I didn’t realise how much I knew until I got another teacher to cover a couple of modules for me early in the year, and this didn’t go very well.  It was a lesson in taking things for granted.  Really I’ve now had 2 years of engaging with online education fairly intensely, and it’s probably unrealistic to assume that others will be easily able to pick up the threads of my teaching without a fair amount of oversight (at least initially).  Next year I’ll be working with another teacher on the facilitation of online learning, and am anticipating an apprenticeship type of arrangement, where we share teaching across the course.  I think this’ll work quite well, although working in this way will mean yet another learning curve.

Structure is very important online

One of the comments that I’ve had is that students have found it difficult to find material at times.  Links to all of the course material that was covered was on the course blogs, and I assumed that these would be easy enough to navigate & find material, but I’m now thinking that this was not a good assumption.  The plan for 2009 is to do all of the primary development through a Google docs structure where there is a main course page that links to all of the learning units.  This should provide a fairly easy to navigate structure for any students who are running behind, or want to refer back in their notes (Here’s an example).  Week by week directions will still be facilitated through the blogs.

(I’ve decided to go with Google docs – I’ve found them much easier to use as a development platform than my experiences with wiki-based development, and anything that saves me time gets a big plus in my book)

Set clear expectations

This is a lesson that I learn every year to some degree.  Setting expectations early on is so important.  Some things that we didn’t define expectations clearly enough for this year were

  • the number of hours committed to course-work (even though I tried to make this clear on more than one occasion)
  • clinic work and the penalties for not meeting our expectations
  • what it means to be a student at the level 4, 5 & 6 stages of our programme
  • participation in online activities (e.g. checking emails every 2 days at the least, participating in all elluminate sessions either at the time or at a later date)

Assessing online activities

Many of the online learning activities were not engaged with by the majority of the students.  I found this hard to understand, and fairly disappointing.  Much as I’d like to think that my students will be motivated by learning in reality, I’ve generally found that at some stage in the year even the best students seem to become mainly motivated by assessment.   So it seems that if I want students to engage with the online learning activities that I’ve set for them, I will need to assess them.  Unfortunately, I can’t see any way to do this apart from defining online learning activities before the start of each programme, which doesn’t leave me with a lot of flexibility.

Making use of personal learning environments (PLEs) is not as straightforward as it might seem

Earlier this year the pageflakes course hub that we used to aggregate all of the course RSS feeds stopped working properly.  After a week or two it became clear that the Pageflakes management had no interest in actually fixing the issue, so I hacked up a solution using iGoogle.  I essentially replicated the page on one of my iGoogle tabs, then shared this tab with all of my students.  It seemed simple enough, and it appeared to work fine once I’d sorted out a few teething problems with a couple of students.  The problem was that I then had no way of telling what my students were seeing.  A couple of weeks before the end of the course, one of my students told me that ever since the change over, they had not been able to view some of the feeds.  Quite soon after this I heard the same thing from another student.  I also found out that several students were unaware that this solution had even been organised for them.  This is despite me sending several emails out through the course email group (our central communication channel) asking people to contact me if they were not able to get the iGoogle page working on their computer!!!  The lesson that I’ve learnt here is that if I want to move away from providing a centralised hub toward getting the students to create their own PLE, I will need to regularly monitor the students to ensure that they are getting the information that they need.

Studying a 20 credit course (1/3 of full-time) over a single semester while setting up and running a new full-time blended delivery programme is completely nutty

Don’t do it!