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Despite my efforts to make the course interface as simple as possible, I’m getting feedback that students are finding it difficult to find their way around, and get all of the information that they need.  A couple have mentioned that they would prefer something a bit more like Blackboard.  😉

I’m not quite sure what to do about this.  I’m going to run a tutorial with some of the students who are having difficulty sometime in the next couple of weeks, and that should clarify exactly what the issues are (as it seems like it should be straightforward enough to me).

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I’ve been having a good time with Survey Monkey – Thanks Leigh. 🙂
Monkey picture comes courtesy of S.A.M. Licensed under CC-BY. http://www.flickr.com/photos/s-a-m/401970009/

Survey Monkey

I just set up my online experience survey on the web this morning, and am already getting the kind of information I need. The questions are

  1. Which of the learning modules have you started and which have you completed?
    The Study Skills course (which is what I’m assessing at present) is composed of a series of learning modules which have been built on the WikiEducator platform (still a work in progress) .
  2. How would you rate the difficulty of your online learning experience so far?
  3. What if anything are you finding difficult about studying online?
  4. What if anything are you finding enjoyable about studying online?

I’ve just checked in & 10 students have replied. 10/23 – I’m almost happy to treat that as a representative sample. I’m very happy with the class progress so far, and the quality of the information.

It’s funny – I’ve had the impression that much of the class was struggling, and I see now that it’s only because most of the class have been able to get on with it without needing to talk with me much. There is always a risk that the students who are less familiar with computer use will be lagging the others getting to the survey, I might need to touch base with them over the next couple of days to check.

I’m hoping to use this type of surveying as a type of action research, but I’ll need to go through the ethical approval process before embarking on it.

For now, it’s functional. I’m planning to run through an Introduction to Sustainability module soon. Before they get to the module they must be able to search effectively for information on the internet, and to communicate effectively online (as each group will include a distance student). Luckily it looks like most of them are already there. 🙂

Last week I did a presentation for the new DFLP students, outlining what I’m doing with what I’ve learnt over the last year or so. The sound quality is pretty poor, but it provides a basic overview along with questions & answers.

We’re through the second practical block, which has been another period of intense work. The task of getting assessments ready for three of the the four courses which have just started, led me to work until after 1pm two nights last week. Getting up at my usual 6am left me feeling like the Living Dead on Friday.

But I got there, and after a bit of a sleep in on Saturday, am feeling a bit better.

I get the sense that online delivery will be a bit like this – work peaks and troughs, as defined by the timing of practical blocks. I’m now through what I think will be the most intense period of the year for me. I’m about to launch into teaching Fundamentals of Massage as well as Study skills, and focussing a bit more on the second year students (it’s case-study season, and I need to get into developing the Business Studies course for them). I think I’m starting to get into some kind of rhythm instead of the frantic scrabbling to get everything sorted that has characterised my last month or so.

I haven’t managed to get the survey instrument out to the students yet, so I’m not sure exactly where the class is as a whole, but from a small survey of the students it seems that most of them have been doing far less than the amount of work they really should have been doing so far. To some degree it’s their cake that they’ll now need to eat (with four other courses starting up the demands on their time will increase quite dramatically), and the Study Skills programme has been designed to be self-paced, so it’s not the end of the world, but I am a little concerned. I’m going to send out the first survey on Monday, so I’ll get a bit more of a sense of where the class is at.

This is the first of what I hope will be many progress report logs.

We had the first practical block from Friday 22 – Monday 25 Feb. The students mostly seem to be pretty happy. There are several people within the class who are finding the idea of using computers fairly daunting. But they’re willing to give it a go, so I’ve been spending a bit of time reassuring them and pointing out the support options which are available to them (i.e. me, CLCs, Helpdesk, Open Access Suite).  It’s not helping that almost all students have had problems with their initial passwords not working, but we’re working through that.

We have 23 students enrolled.  Of these 5 are part-time and 4 live outside of Dunedin.  One of our students was planning to be full-time, but has had to move to Auckland at the last minute, and so is planning to study Bioscience 1 & 2 this year (which he can do by distance), then to come back next year or the year after & pick up the rest.

The online programme started on Tuesday. We’ve decided to only have Study Skills online in between Block 1 & Block 2 to give the students some time to get comfortable with communicating in the online environment.  I’ve been communicating purely via email so far, and today have started nudging the students into the use of Windows Live Spaces & messenger.

The students have a wikipage which contains all of the learning modules which make up the course. It’s a work in progress, but it’s not far away from being completed.  I’ve been working late most nights trying to pull it together – I’m just trying to keep a few steps ahead of the students. 🙂

The other resource which they have to guide their learning is their assessment. For the study skills course, the students have ten assessment tasks to complete. Click here to see the assessment overview.  Each assessment task has learning modules that support it. The students have been told that most of the learning modules are optional.  If they can complete the assessment without running through the learning modules, then I’m happy for them to do this.

We’re now three days into the programme.  Yesterday I did an audit of our email group, and found that four students were not receiving the emails that they should be, so I’ve added them in. Through marking the first assessment task I’ve picked up that 6 of the students are not participating as yet.  Some of those will be composed of the 4 that were not in the email group, but there are some others as well. So first thing tomorrow I’m going to ring them all, and find out what’s going on.

I’ve also realised that I need a regular feedback process to determine how the students are progressing through the programme, how they are feeling about the programme, and what problems they’re experiencing (if any).  It’s hard to get a sense of these things from where I’m sitting right now, but they’re so important in these early stages.  So I’ve drafted a survey up & am running it by our local expert before sending it out to the students.

So I’m mostly happy with how things are going.  I am a little concerned that so many students have not managed to participate at all, but I’m fairly sure that we should be able to work through whatever issues are there.  I’m also a little worried that some of the more competent computer users may be getting a bit bored, however the self-paced nature of most of the activities should suit them.  It’s definitely a learning curve.  🙂

I’ve been doing quite a bit of work building up resources on the WikiEducator platform for our Study Skills course.

The lack of formatting control on the WikiEducator platform is really starting to bug me. Formatting adds quite a bit of readability to documents. Using colouring and alignment you can empasize or de-emphasize aspects of the text.  I’m pretty disappointed with my recent effort.   Yes I know Leigh, I do need to add some images to flash it up.

While I was originally pretty keen on the open-office export to media-wiki text, I’m finding that it only seems to handle very simple documents.   It makes a complete hash of URLs for example.  Most of the documents that I’ve been working with recently require so much editing once I’ve copied and pasted them into the wiki, that it would be almost definitely easier to write the material straight into the wiki.

I’m now committed to working in the wiki environment, but I wonder if something like box net might be a better option for the future???

It’s 1 week to the launch of the new programme, and I’m feeling pretty good about it, but working damn hard, and there’s still an insane amount to do. All of our students are going to have Windows Live installed as part of their student account. I’ve been looking into it, and I think it’s actually an excellent platform for transitioning people into the web. As part of their login, students get similar services to what they got previously with Groupwise, but with a few extra services bundled in. There’s a spaces function, which I haven’t really checked out yet, but seems at first glance a bit facebook-ish. You can post comments about what’s going on with you, there’s a blogging function, you can post photos. MSN Messenger is also bundled into the package (although unfortunately not fully integrated with the other functions). This provides the potential for students to use IM & Voice-over IP communication (similar to skype).

My current plan is to get them started using messenger in a platform that’s already provided to them from polytech. In the first 1/2 week get students to communicate via messenger & google group. Set topics that require engagement through these platforms. Get students building profiles. Consider using the blogging function? Then start pushing them into Elluminate & Blackboard (we’re planning to use Bb for our Communication 1 & our Bioscience this year).

I’m looking forward to putting all of my planning into action.  It’s going to be quite fun I think.

Our teaching issues have been sorted out thankfully. I’m very happy with the staff that we’ve found to fill the spaces. Due to the timeframe, we’ve decided to hold back the start of teaching for Bioscience & Communication 1 to the second practical block (about 7-9 March).  This wasn’t the original plan, but on reflection I think that it makes a lot of sense to give the students space so that they can get used to communicating online before we start doing a lot of teaching online.

I’m going to be working for most of the weekend.  The 2nd years are back on Tuesday  for the beginning of their F2F programme (I’ve hardly even considered my teaching of them this year, but I’m pretty happy with the subject material that I used last year).  The 1st years are back on Friday for their first practical block (Friday – Monday).  My online teaching experience starts on Tuesday the 26th of February.

I’ll keep you posted.