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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.


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.

Practical exercises should be spread regularly through a student’s learning experience to provide opportunities for knowledge integration.

Practice Principle 1

  • Interactions should mirror real-life practice.
  • This increases the relevance to the learner, and also increases the chance for information transfer (as the material is learned in a similar context to practice).

Practice Principle 2

Important tasks require more practice

Practice Principle 3

Apply the media elements principles to practice exercises.

  • Directions to practice the exercise should be presented in text clearly and visibly near the question
  • Feedback should appear in text close to the question
  • If memory supports are used they should be visible near the practice question.

Practice Principle 4

Train learners to self-question during lessons that lack practice opportunities.

  • Model self-questioning by showing examples of self-questioning  and directing learners to self-question
  • The ability to self-question leads to significant improvements in learning
  • Exercises which cultivate the ability to self-question should be included within our study skills programme

I’ve just been reading through Ruth Clark & Richard Meyer’s excellent book e-Learning and the Science of Instruction (First edition – I notice that there’s a 2nd edition out now). This book primarily concentrates on the creation of content and learning resources rather than focussing on building community.

In one of the early chapters they discuss the need for online students to have what they call metacognitive skills. These are the ability to set learning goals, to determine how to reach their goals, and to make adjustments where necessary. Students with poor metacognitive skills need more direction where as students with good metacognitive skills tend to be more self-sufficient learners.

As discussed in a previous post, a lack of commitment to learning goals can be disasterous in online learning as in a flexible learning environment there may be many distractions competing for the student’s time. Poor metacognitive skills are likely to contribute to student drop-off in online courses.

Many massage students have not been particularly successful in the school system due to their kinesthetic learning preferences, and may have fairly poor metacognitive skills as a result. It’s important that our Study Skills module helps to provide our students with a base of metacognitive skills. Emphasis and reinforcement of these skills needs to be embedded within the programme.

In future posts I’ll go on to discuss some of the principles that Clark & Mayer describe in their book, but for now I’m going to go to bed. 🙂

Principles of Design for e-Learning 

Practice Principles for e-Learning

A couple of days ago I was directed to Pillay, Irving, and Tones article (2007) that compares different diagnostic tools which are used to assess students readiness for online learning. Their literature review triggered my own thinking regarding our proposed course.

In their literature review they found that students are often less satisfied by online learning environments than classroom environments. If this is true, it is likely to contribute to the higher rate of attrition that is often reported in online learning.

If we can determine which factors lead to satisfaction and achievement, and also attrition and non-achievement, we may be able to better accomodate the needs of online learners in our programme. I’m also interested in whether it’s possible to develop/incubate the qualities and skills that help students to succeed online.

According to Pillay, Irving and Tones the following factors contribute to good outcomes for students

  • Social interaction
  • Computer Literacy
  • Computer self-effiacy (or the perception of the learner that they can be an effective computer user)
  • Positive online learner qualities

They also found that the following factors contribute to poor outcomes for online learners

  • A predetermined pace of learning
  • Poorly designed or poorly functioning learner experiences
  • Dissatisfaction (which may be related to a low level of computer self-effiacy, or a low level of interaction with the learning community and/or instructors)
  • Negative online learner qualities

Social Interaction 

social interaction within the OLE supports and motivates students to complete their work and seek out new learning experiences. (Pillay, Irving, Tones, 2007)

Study Skills Programme 

I’ve already discussed how we plan to incorporate a computer literacy and study skills programme into the first semester of our massage therapy programme.  According to Pillay, Tones and Irving students who had completed computer literacy courses before engaging in online study were observed experiencing less anxiety and frustration than those who had not.  They also found that computer self-effiacy is enhanced by the development of technical computer skills.  A low level of computer self-effiacy is related to feelings of anxiety when required to use computer applications.  This anxiety leads users to interpret events more negatively than non-anxious users and therefore contributes to dissatisfaction.

Presumably, our study-skills and computer literacy module should increase the computer literacy and self-effiacy of our students.  In principle this should reduce any frustration, anxiety and therefore dissatisfaction that is felt by our students.  Our students will also be receiving many massages as part of their training, and the anxiety-reducing effects of massage are well documented, so this should also contribute to dissatisfaction minimisation.  A lower rate of dissatisfaction should contribute to a lower attrition rate.

The research also indicates a number of learner qualities which are related to learner success and satisfaction online.  Our study skills programme should aim to cultivate these in our learners.

The ability to select appropriate study aids, effective time management and the ability to concentrate on the learning process despite any distraction that may occur are learner qualities that contribute to academic achievement in the online context.  Distractions are legion in the flexible learning environment, and may range from the lour of the beach on a sunny day to the TV, children, partner, friends and family and many many more.

The learner qualities which are predictive of student dropout are the lack of ability to select the main ideas from educational experiences or articles, an attitude that the material studied was irrelevant to the student’s educational pathway and a lack of ability to resist distractions from the learning process.

In accordance with these findings, our study skills course should begin with an initial screening to determine areas of learner weakness and strength.  The course should be structured so that learners should not have to complete training in any area which they are already competent.  Within the course we should help the students to gain an understanding of both traditional study skills and the learner qualities which are important to online success.  Motivation to concentrate despite distractions will probably be the most challenging, but I can see that strategies in relation to time-management could work.

Regarding learner qualities that contribute to attrition the ability to select the main ideas in a piece of writing is something that is commonly covered in study skills courses.  I believe that if we concentrate on stressing the links between current study and future study that we should be able to avoid the trap of demotivating students because they think what they’re studying is irrelevant.

I’ve noticed this happening with Anatomy & Physiology this year.  When the students start studying Bioscience they need someone to make it clear that this is the foundation of their understanding of Pathology which is necessary for safe treatment, and that without a good understanding of Physiology they will not be able to adequately understand the effects of the massage strokes which they will apply to their clients.  Likewise anatomy needs to be related to both assessment techniques and clinical massage.  It’s very important that we do make this clear because

Prior research suggests that expecatations, perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use of online learning materials are more influential than either computer self-effiacy or technical skills in determining online learning technology use.  (Pillay, Irving, Tones, 2007)

Pre-determined Pace
In the literature review one of the factors which is found to contribute to poor student outcomes are when the course forces students to learn at a predetermined pace.  Our course will have a fairly well-defined structure.  Students will need to begin each module at around the same time and will need to complete assessment tasks at similar times, so there will be a certain degree of pre-determination.  However we should be able to structure activities to have an open-ended component so that faster learners can still remain motivated.  One way of doing this would be to have a set of activities and assessment tasks that are required for course completion, and to have a set of extension activities that sit on top of these.

Poor design / Dysfunctional technology

One of the factors which is strongly related to student dissatisfaction is learning activities that do not work.  The implication here is that it’s important to plan learning activities effectively, and to test any learning activities or web-based applications before they are provided to students. This is much more important than it is in the classroom environment.  In the classroom you may notice on the day that some of the activities you have planned are not appropriate for the current level of understanding and engagement that the class have, and as a result you may change your lesson plan to suit.  This is much more difficult online for several reasons.  The lack of body-language (and tone in text-based communication), make it more difficult to be “in touch” with the class.  Also the increased emphasis on assynchronous learning and communication mean that often you need to post the activity, and wait to see what happens.  It seems clear that regular communication with your class is necessary so that you can quickly determine if there are any problems, and arrange for them to be fixed.

In my opinion, online learning experiences are similar in many ways to software applications particularly if they involve multi-media elements.  I wonder if a software development model might be more appropriate than traditional classroom-based learning design models?


Pillay H., Irving K., Tones M. (2007). Validation of the diagnostic tool for assessing Tertiary students’ readiness for online learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 26:2, 217 – 234

Wayne McIntosh of Wikieducator visited Otago Polytechnic yesterday, and provided an interesting talk/discussion regarding Wikieducator and it’s place in contemporary education.

As part of his talk he brought our attention to the Commonwealth Computer Navigator’s Certificate project.

The Commonweatlh Computer Navigator’s Certificate (CCNC) is a free content project to improve access to computer skills training. Building on the foundations of the Open ICDL project, the certificate is unique because it enhances the freedom of learners to aquire and enrich their basic ICT skills using free software.

… so it’s got some strong commonality with the Computer Literacy Resources for Teaching (CLRT) project I’m involved with. Helen Lindsay (the CLRT project leader) and I discussed this after the meeting, and agreed that we needed to have a look at it. I’ve been browsing the course, and it has a significantly different structure to the one envisioned for our project.

The CCNC is composed of a number of structured modules that will be created to a certain level before being released. The modules are designed to provide a complete education, and are focussed purely on freeware.

Our vision is to create more of a living library of open-content resources that can be used by teachers in supporting the computer literacy of their students.

So whereas it’s probably not appropriate to merge our efforts with the CCNC project, I’m sure that there are fertile grounds for collaboration & resource re-use. I’ve contacted them via their discussion board, and asked if they are interested in this type of collaboration. Lets see what comes from that.

There was an excellent response from the Networked Learning Google Group. Helen Lindsay, Leigh Blackall, Sonny Teio, Dave McQuillan, Sandra Elias, Wendy Ritson-Jones and Phil Morrison all attended the meeting, and it was very productive.

We talked energetically about the benefits of having learning resources distributed over the internet via popular distribution channels such as you-tube, or having them centralised (on an OP server for example). We eventually decided that we could have the best of both worlds by having a centralised page (now set up in bare bones form on WikiEducator) linking to learning resources which may exist anywhere on the web. If you’ve got anything useful please jump in & create a link to your resource to get this page going.

We established that we need a fairly complete package or learning resources to be ready by the end of the year to send to all new online students (CD-ROM & Booklet is the current vision). The priority list of what could be included in this package is still to be made so let Helen know what your requirements may be, and also let her know if you are able to contribute to the project.

Resources will need to be continually developed/sourced to keep them current with the changing software environment.

Resources can be developed by either staff or students (The option of embedding this as an assessment item for Sonny’s BIT students was mentioned). Pre-existing quality resources could also be sourced from various web-sources.

Leigh showed us some software which could be used to create learning resources fairly quickly & easily (i.e. within about 10 minutes once competant). Cam studio / Camtasia – to create video resources, Screen Hunter (to take static screen shots out of video), several others that I can’t remember the name of??? There will be another meeting for anyone who’s interested in getting some tuition in the use of this software. I think this is next week on Wednesday, but contact Leigh or Helen for confirmation if you’re interested.

We talked about the need to support students with different learning styles by a combination of video & text-based resources.

We talked about the place of the community learning centres in online orientation. I said that my vision was for my students starting their online studies to be provided with a range of online orientation activities that were supported by the staff of the CLCs (f2f)and our departmental staff (online). It was pointed out that not all students are able to come into the CLCs for various reasons and we discussed the option of phone support which could also perhaps come from the CLCs? Helen is going to follow this up & see if this type of support for online orientation is possible.