Thomas Scherz has contacted me recently with some questions regarding the programme.  I spent a bit of time writing my response to his most recent email, and I thought it might be useful to some readers of this blog, so here it is….
Thomas’ queries (reformatted)
  • In general could you explain to me, what you did expect by setting up such a programme?
  • What is your overall impression of the programme? Does the Blended Learning Style work well?
  • What do you mean by saying you encourage students digital information literacy?
  • How do you use case studies?

My answer

We have traditionally taught only students who are based in Dunedin city.  In 2007, I talked to quite a few people who were interested in studying with us who were based in our region, but not in Dunedin.  I had to tell them that it was not possible to study our programme, but I started to think – why?  At the time I was studying online learning because I was intending to enhance our face-to-face programme using online learning, and could see that this barrier didn’t need to be there.
Around the same time, we received news that the national standards (NZQA unit standards) for massage would be deregistered (there’s a very long & involved story around that).  I needed to redevelop the programme to remove the unit standards, and figured that we might as well redesign it with flexibility in mind.  As a result we moved to a blend of block practical courses and online theory.
I have to say that in terms of making the programme available to students, it has been a dramatic success.  I haven’t sorted out any statistics on this, but I estimate 1/3 – 1/4 of our students this year are studying either from outside of Dunedin, or are studying and working part-time.  These are students who we would not be able to teach previously.
In terms of academic success, in general the students appear to be benefitting from the blended style.  There is a big learning curve involved with moving to online teaching, and the first year of students bore the brunt of this.  Some aspects of their course were not ideal, and their learning has suffered in some areas, however in other areas they are performing at a higher level than previous students.  I was disappointed with the engagement with online activities, however I believe that I understand this & have blogged about it.  This year we are implementing some changes to the way our online programme runs which I believe will dramatically improve engagement & academic results.  Throughout this year, I will be conducting an in-depth assessment of the efficacy of the blended programme, and will post results to this blog as they are produced and analysed, so watch this space…
When I speak of digital information literacy, I am talking primarily of the ability of our students to source and be critical of information sourced through the internet.  I’m not happy with the level of digital information literacy which our students developed through 2008, and will be making some changes to improve this.  As an example, in 2008 all of our courses ran through blogs, but I managed the work of aggegrating the feeds for all of the students thinking that I wanted to make life easier for them.  I realised later that because I did this for them, they ended up at the end of the year not able to do it for themselves.  This year I intend to get them to set up an RSS feed reader, then subscribe to each of the course blogs so that they become able to make use this type of information aggegration without me.  There are some challenges with this type of approach (e.g. how do I ensure all students are receiving all course information), but I’m sure that we can work them out.  There were other aspects of our students’ digital information literacy which I wasn’t totally happy with, and I intend to make changes to improve these aspects as well.
I’m not a fan of LMSs because they are a closed environment.  I like the idea of having the majority of our course openly available, so that external people can dip in and out of content/discussions/etc.  However at this stage of the move to being an open-education course, having a locked-down environment is useful because it provides us with the ability to use copyrighted images.  Quality creative commons licensed anatomy & bioscience images are hard to come by on the web, and there will need to be some time & money put into moving to an open-education platform at some stage (not my top priority right now).
Re: Case-based learning
We use case studies in a number of different ways.  We are building a library of massage-relevant case-studies over time which can be used to support teaching, or in examinations.
Many of our assessments particularly at the later stages of the programme require our students to apply the theory they’ve learnt to work with a particular population (pregnancy, elderly, injuries, chronic pain, etc.), then to reflect on how effective their treatment has been with their client.  This process is a particularly rich way of encouraging students to integrate theory with practice.