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Last Friday I did a presentation on the use of Google reader & delicious in creating a personal learning environment for the Facilitating Online Communities course.   I talked about how these tools work well together, how they can be used in education, and I used the evolution of our massage programme’s online communication structure as an example.

Here’s a link to the session – Creating a personal learning environment using google reader & delicious.

(It was held in elluminate.  If you haven’t used this environment you should probably run through the process on the elluminate support page to ensure that your computer is set up correctly.)

As part of Otago Polytechnic’s recent staff development mini-conference, Tim Brazier presented as the keynote speaker to the selfcare panel. His presentation was based on a model which he uses to motivate his clients (top-level triathletes) towards the achievement of their training goals. While there was nothing particularly innovative about the model, I found it interesting to think about using this or a similar model to support and reinforce the motivation of our students.

There are parallels between tertiary students and athletes. Study at a tertiary level can be fairly demanding, and if a student wishes to achieve at a high level they need to have the ability to perform consistently at a high level. Motivation is a key factor in performance in any field, so identification of strategies that might help our students to be motivated towards their study goals could potentially aid achievement. While facilitating the use of intrinsic sources of motivations is probably preferable in most cases, the use of extrinsic motivations also probably have their place.

The model which Tim presented includes six stages

1. Inspired

2. Inspire

3. Plan

4. Commit

5. Monitor

6. Recover

Inspired/Aspire

In order to enrol in a course of study, a student must be inspired by something. What do our students aspire to? Why do they want to be a massage therapist?

Any student is likely to have in their mind a picture of what working as a massage therapist entails which will be based partially on what that term means to the influential people in their life (their family and friends), and based partially on their own experiences. Their expectations will probably include the type of work that a massage therapist does, the scope of effectiveness of a massage therapist, and the potential pay-rate of a massage therapist.

Students coming into a course of study typically have fairly unrealistic or incomplete expectations of study and the realities of the profession they intend to enter. Ongoing discussion of these realities with the students should help to mold these expectations towards a set which are more reflective of the actual reality (James, Baldwin, McInnis, 1999). While this process of shaping expectations may not help to motivate students, it should help to prevent the dissatisfaction and therefore de-motivation that occurs when expectations are not met.

Inspire

How can we as staff inspire our students towards the achievement of this aspiration? Helping our students to clarify their reasons for study, and more specifically their learning goals is a good first step, but currently this is where we stop.

The question that we now need to answer is once we have identified the desire that is motivating our students to study, how can we as staff motivate our students towards the achievement of their goal(s)?

Some ideas

Regular review & possible revision of goals (the source of inspiration).

Identification of barriers & strategies to overcome these goals.

These overall goals are likely to change through over the course of study. This needs to be kept in mind.

Can we as staff model what the students are aiming for? This is probably partially provided by staff sharing stories of work-based experiences.

How can we make use of the second year students to inspire first year students? More interaction between first and second year students should help first year students to see where they are going.

  • Second year students providing massages to first year students in the massage clinic.
  • Peer tutoring.
  • Massage swaps in the classroom.

Plan

Once the goals have been set, a plan needs to be made which describes how these goals are to be achieved. This plan should include both long-term and short-term priorities as well as the time which should be committed to each element of study.

It is generally expected that students will be able to manage the planning and time management requirements of tertiary study. The experience of the author is that this is often not a realistic expectation. It is therefore advisable to embed tuition in planning and time management within the course of study.

Currently we teach time management as a element of our study skills programme, which is simpler from a teaching point of view, but not ideal from a learning point of view (Wingate, 2006). Next year we plan to embed this within the programme by regularly putting aside time where the students are guided to plan their study. This direction should be fairly direct in the early stages of the course, and should taper off as the students progress to enable the students to internalise the skills of planning and time management.

Commit

Once the plan has been made, the student needs to commit to it. This commitment is largely in the hands of the student, however all of the interventions discussed so far will contribute to building the motivation which underpins consistent commitment.

We could support this commitment further by reminding students to review the previous period to see if they have met the goals which they set.

Monitor

Once a programme is in motion, the performance of the student needs to be monitored.

In education we typically monitor performance through assessments. While this is fairly effective in providing motivation through compulsion, it does not tend to provide very useful feedback on the intrinsic motivation of students. In fact, compelling learning in this way seems to gradually drain the interest in learning about the subject material which students often begin with, the natural result being a reduction in intrinsic motivation.

It could be argued that if we are really interested in the achievement of our students then monitoring motivation is of similar importance to monitoring achievement. How could this be done?

One of my colleagues has a regular practice of a one-to-one meeting with each of her students several times each year. She describes this as an invaluable way of building relationship with each of her students. She gains an in-depth understanding of the challenges that each of them faces, and is able to act as a learning mentor as a result. While this is undoubtedly a fairly expensive exercise in terms of time, she believes that the time is well spent in terms of pastoral care and student retention.

I’m interested in any other ideas that any readers of this blog may have.

Recover

After any period of exertion, the athlete (student) needs to recover. I believe that the standard term & semester breaks fulfil this role adequately. There is often a tendency amongst academic staff to see the term breaks as a chance for students to complete assessments and study, however it is my belief that the aim of the programme coordinator should be to allow the students a period of time to recover from the demands of study so that they can more effectively apply themselves in the next period of study.

References

James, R., Baldwin, G., McInnis, C. (1999) Which university – the factors influencing the choices of prospective undergraduates?. Melbourne: Centre for the study of higher education.

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

I’m getting into the specifics of designing my assessments.  Last night I was thinking about how to structure my blogging assessment.  In my research methods class, I want to use blog posts in the early days to assess their development of knowledge and skills of research.  To do this, I want them to make four posts

  1. Describe the research process (Week 9)
  2. Describe how information from different sources may vary in quality and how to differentiate good quality information from poor quality (Week 10)
  3. (Given the choice of several topics)  Describe your search process including the creation of your search query, databases accessed, sources found and information quality (Week 12)
  4. (Given several research articles of different types)  Assess the quality of the research findings in each case (Week 13)

I think these four posts will help to scaffold them into the task of performing first a joint literature review, then an individual literature review (more on the joint literature review later).

So that’s all fine, but when considering our assessment policies I realised that for every assessment, our students have the opportunity to resit the assessment if they’re marked as not competent on the first attempt.  At first glance, I thought that this was going to create a monster, however with a bit of thinking I’ve come up with a solution which I think might work.

The plan is to give the students two submission dates, one week apart.  To meet competency, the students will need to make a post on the topic, and have that post graded at a minimum of 2 on the blogging rubric.  The marker will need to review the post of everyone in the class briefly, record key points of misunderstanding, and provide individual feedback on the blogs of students who have not met the competency requirement.  They will then create generalised feedback for the class as a whole which clarifies the main areas of understanding.

The students will then have a week before their final assessment to read the posts of other students, to develop their understanding, and update their original post if they like.  My hope is that this period of reflection will help to stimulate cross-fertilisation of ideas.  At the end of this week the blog post will be graded using the complete rubric.  This rubric has been updated based on the feedback of Whitney & Leigh – thanks guys.  Here is the updated version.

This process will be reasonably time-intensive, but I think it should be managable.  It strikes me as a teaching model much more along the lines of George Siemen’s curator.

A curatorial teacher acknowledges the autonomy of learners, yet understands the frustration of exploring unknown territories without a map. A curator is an expert learner. Instead of dispensing knowledge, he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected. While curators understand their field very well, they don’t adhere to traditional in-class teacher-centric power structures. A curator balances the freedom of individual learners with the thoughtful interpretation of the subject being explored. (Siemens, 2007)

Siemens talks about the role of the curator being to locate and structure an “exhibition” of learning objects or resources which the students are then free to explore.  The teacher as a guide rather than the font of all knowledge.

Carrying on from my last post, I’ve developed  a rubric for assessing the blog posts of my students.

Initially I intended that the rubric should motivate the students to

  1. Develop understanding of key subject areas
  2. Act in ways which will support the development of a learning community

However as I got into the process of nutting-out how this was going to work, I realised that it’s also important that it motivates the students to write well, reflect on their process, and develop good scholarly habits (i.e. referencing and referring to sources outside of the ones provided in class).

The rubric is a work-in-process rather than a finished product.  It contains 5 categories with a total of 20 marks.

One of the problems I’ve identified is that understanding of the subject of the blog post is perhaps not weighted heavily enough.  I think it should probably have a weighting of 2 or so, but I do like that nice round number 20 as a total, so I’d need to either merge two of the other categories or weight two of them with ½ weights.

Perhaps the second option is the best.  This would provide me with a certain degree of flexibility.  If I was using this rubric in a  course where reflection was particularly important, I could weight writing quality and scholarship with ½ weights.  If in another course scholarship and writing quality were particularly important, I could weight community involvement and reflection with ½ weights.

What do you think?

I’m getting into writing assessments for next year, and it’s clear that some aspects of our assessment model need to change. The main drivers for me are the need to increase engagement in online learning activities, workload reduction, and improving feedback.

Assess them and they will come

In my review of how things have gone this year, one of the things that’s really stood out for me is the fact that the level of participation in the learning activities that I set for my students this year was not even close to a level that I would be satisfied with. It’s clear to me that their learning has been impaired as a result (or at least their learning of the material that I wanted them to learn), and I’m pretty sure that the one thing that would have led to more participation would be more assessment.

Taming the workload beast

But we already spend too much time marking assessment! In a recent staff meeting, we talked at length about workload reduction. One thing that takes up a considerable amount of our time is marking assessment. I’m sure that I can design assessments to involve less workload for the assessor.

Anderson describes a range of methods that may act to reduce assessment-related workload for teachers (2008)

  • Automated assessment processes – ranging from formative tests (simple) to virtual labs and simulation exercises (complex)
  • Online automated tutors
  • Use of neural networks & other artificial intelligence methods
  • Peer review (of either students within a specific course, or students within a network of similar courses)
  • Student creation of open educational resources which are then assessed by lifelong learners who are using the resources (Farmer, 2005 as cited by Anderson, 2008)

Formative tests are fairly straightforward to implement. They take some time to set up, but then they’re there to use year on year. I have thought about creating a simulated clinical environment in second life, but at this point, the creation of automatically marked simulations is well out of my financial ballpark, so I’ll move on.

The next two are also a bit too high tech, and high budget.

The last two options are possible if the students of the course are a part of a learning network. (Anderson, 2008). One of my goals for the future is to develop this network, but I think it’ll take at least a couple of years of students moving through the programme before this happens to any particular degree.

Feedback

Feedback is crucial to the learning process, and this is something that we can definitely improve on. Formative tests that provide feedback directly following the student’s performance provide a wonderful development opportunity for students, and I believe that this is one of the real strengths of online education. According to Shepard (2000 as cited in Caplan & Graham, 2008), and Wiggins (2004), providing detailed feedback as close as possible to the performance of the assessed behaviour enhances student learning.

We should strive to “create assessments that provide better feedback by design” (Wiggins, 2004). I was inspired last year by the way in which Montessori school activities are based on this principle. Learning activities can be designed to provide feedback to students in the absence of the teacher. This can be facilitated through instructional design (Wiggins, 2004), or through social networks (Anderson, 2008). In my experience when courses I’ve been engaged with have required blogging, a community of learners has developed, where the learners have begun to support each other in their learning.

3 phase assessment process

After considering all of this, I’ve come up with a three phase assessment process that I think would be fairly ideal for most of our online courses. Phase 1 and 2 here test different grades of knowledge (simple/moderate complexity) & overlap in temporal space.

  1. Automated formative testing to test knowledge of discrete chunks of knowledge.
    Facilitator’s role: establish test, monitor results
  2. Reflective blogging on key concepts in the first ½ of the course. Students required to post on each topic, rewarded for commenting, updating the work they’ve done based on future learning, and referencing.
    Facilitator’s role: Monitor class activity, encourage engagement, Provide generalised feedback
  3. Final theoretical assessment which integrates learning.
    Facilitator’s role: Mark assessment, provide feedback & opportunity for resubmission

Students are therefore rewarded for acting as good community members, are given feedback on their developing understanding & are assessed for their integration of knowledge.

The one slight issue with this model is that if anything, I can see myself doing more assessing in this than I was doing previously. However the formative assessment that I’ll do in the early stages of the courses will be integrated with my teaching, so in effect I believe I could save time with this approach.

What do you think? Can you see any big holes in my thinking here?

References

Anderson, T. (2008). Towards a theory of online learning. In T. Anderson (Eds.). The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed., p. 45-74). Canada: AU Press, Athabasca University.

Caplan, D., Graham, R. (2008). The development of online courses. In T. Anderson (Eds.), The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed., p. 245-264). Canada: AU Press, Athabasca University.

Wiggins, G. (2004). Assessment as feedback. Retrieved December 11, 2008 from http://www.newhorizons.org/strategies/assess/wiggins.htm.

I’ve been using Google docs quite a bit this year, and I’ve noticed that in the last couple of months they’ve added some features that increase their attractiveness quite a bit to me.

You’ve been able to publish your documents to the web for some time so that anyone can view them.  But recently the function of making the documents able to be edited by anyone has been added.  In my mind this provides the openness that makes wikis so attractive with the usability that has always been an issue.

I’m now considering moving all of my development to the Google docs platform.  Can anyone think of any reasons why this wouldn’t be a good idea?

I’ve just converted one of my wiki pages over to two different Google presentation formats.  Here they are as a comparison

  1. Wiki page
  2. Google document version
  3. Google presentation version

Which do you like better?

Google docs have also recently release a survey form which shows promise as a formative testing programme, but it doesn’t yet do what I want it to.  I’m sure that within a year they’ll have something that does the job.

I’ve been using collaborative document editing a lot with my students this year, and while this has been one of my more successful educational experiments, referencing is a problem.

The issue occurs because I would like my students to correctly reference their sources using APA referencing (the gold standard in the health professions), however it’s also important that they record their contributions.   Typically when a document is published, the authors write their names at the top either in order of contributional significance or status.  When many authors are collaboratively editing the same document merely recording the authors names at the top of the document as an author is really insufficient.

If student A comes along & contributes 2/3 of the content, student B contributes most of the rest, and students C-G make merely superficial changes, why should all of them be given equal credit for this work?  It seems that there’s a need for each contribution to be referenced according to both the original source of the material, and the contributor of that information to the collaborative document editing project.

So far, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how this can be achieved, but it seems that the old style of referencing doesn’t stack up to these new methods of document creation.  Perhaps we need an APA 2.0, or something new altogether.

I’d be interested to hear about anyone else’s experiences and/or thoughts on this matter.

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.

Induction

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?

References

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

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?

I’ve just been reading through a fascinating analysis of student expectations of higher education.

James, R. (2001).  Students’ changing expectations of higher education and the
consequences of mismatches with the reality

Here’s a wee snippet

Broadly, the findings of the CSHE research suggest many applicants are not in a good position to judge the appropriateness of programs for them or to assess the features of courses overall. Many prospective students base their planning on quite limited, subjective information. We found that many prospective students do not rigorously seek information and their information-seeking skills are often modest. As a consequence, university applicants’ draw on chance encounters and questionable sources when shaping their thoughts about suitable courses. Many prospective students seem to work on a superficial set of ideas about curricula being more or less ‘applied’, ‘analytical’, ‘practical’ or ‘hands on’. In most cases, they accept on faithwhat they are told and are highly susceptible to the serendipity of word-of-mouth testimony.”  (James, Baldwin,McInnis 1999 as cited in James, 2001)

I find this interesting because it implies that some of the best marketing we could do would involve getting out there and educating the public as to what our profession does, and what the process of studying towards our relevant qualification involves.

But this is by no means the only material of interest in the article.  It’s worth a read.