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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.

In response to my recent post on my online assessment strategy for 2009, my colleague Leigh has commented “could you describe your ideas for assessment 1 and 3 more? I’m pretty familiar with blogging for assessment in the way you describe, but need a better picture of how you plan to do the other two. Hopefully with a clearer idea, I might be able to suggest something.”

Funnily enough, I’ve got a pretty clear idea about how I could use automated formative assessment (Phase 1) & final summative assessments (Phase 3).  We’ve been using similar assessment strategies in our face-to-face classes for years.  The thing I’m not really familiar with is assessing reflective blogging (apart from a couple of experiences as a student in recent years).

After a fairly superficial exploration of this topic using the net, it seems that most assessment of student blogging is based on the normative assessment model rather than a competency based model.  Here are two rubrics for assessment of student blogging that I think have potential for our course, although neither of them provide direct motivation for reading & commenting on the blogs of other students.

  1. Blog reflection rubric courtesy of San Diego State University Edweb
  2. Designing for flexible learning practice – courtesy of Otago Polytechnic’s Educational Development Centre.

Our course has a mixture of competency and normative-like assessment.  Do you know of any examples of competency-based assessment for reflective blogging?

Another other suggestions for the design of assessment of reflective blogging?

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!

Martin Weller of the Open University has recently posted to the Terra Incognita blog about his current project – SocialLearn.  Interesting stuff.

The Open University is working rapidly towards the creation of an open social networking platform that can be used to support both formal and informal learning.  “Think of it as “Facebook for Learning”, potentially combined with a Creative Commons open educational exchange, and an online marketplace where learning services are bought…”(SocialLearn)

The question is, how open is the service?  Would they allow students of Otago Polytechnic to participate in the learning community?  I’m investigating….

It seems now that the current group of students has settled into the swing of navigating through the online environment that I’ve set up to support their learning, and they seem at ease.

I put quite a lot of effort at the start of last year setting up the Pageflakes course hub to simplify their learning experience by aggregating all course-related feeds to a single place.  My rationale here was based on cognitive learning theory and an extensive body of research showing that learning is improved by a simplified user interface.  It was also based on my own experiences as on online student where I noticed that when first engaging with an online application most of my attention/learning was focussed on mastering the interface.  Once I had mastered it, I was then able to engage with the community behind the interface.

Now however I find myself asking – have I done the right thing?

Developing digital literacy

One of my main aims in moving the course online was to develop the digital literacy of my students.  Now I fear that they are now sitting comfortably within the walls of the learning environment that I’ve built for them.  Sure they all know how to search the internet for information which has been enormously satisfying and empowering for some, but few if any of them have developed more advanced information literacy.  When I think about how I keep current and in touch with content on the internet searching is definitely a significant part but understanding the use of a feedreader, social tagging with and the use of Miro are other incredibly useful aspects of my digital literacy which I have not introduced my students too.  I haven’t introduced them to blogging either at this stage.

Although I’m regretting it now, this was a conscious choice at the start of the year.  I was aware that for many of my students turning on a computer, engaging with email and other fairly basic tasks would be pretty challenging, and I chose to err on the side of ease.  The problem is that now that they’ve settled into the online environment that exists, my sense is that they will resist changes in the new year.

Induction 2009

With my experience of working with the students last year, I’m confident that I will be able to more effectively manage the scaffolding process for the first years.  I intend to get them all blogging and using an RSS feed reader from an early stage.  Once their feed reader is set up, using the reader should be of similar difficulty to the use of Pageflakes, although the potential for their digital literacy is so much greater.  From early on in the course I intend to get the students using their blogs to answer assessment, which should help them to quickly become comfortable in the use of blogs.   I also intend to support the second years in getting to the same stage (although I’m sure there’ll be some grumbles).

Learning community

I’m hoping that once the class gets in the swing of using this technology infrastructure, there will be some cross-pollination between the year one and the year two students.  I’m tossing around the idea of giving second year students some marks towards merit based on their contributions to the year one’s learning process.

As always I’m interested in your ideas, or experiences that relate to any of this….

A recent study has turned up some surprising things regarding NZ internet usage.

“Fresh data from AUT University, compiled for the World Internet Project places New Zealand as the country with the highest internet penetration of any of the countries surveyed.

Run out of California, the project compares internet use in 30 countries including the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia.”  (NZ Herald, 10 August, 2008)

That certainly wasn’t my impression before now.

The world’s first significant virtual massage conference will run over a six day period from the 17th of November to the 22nd of November.  Many of the most influential figures in the world of massage today will be speaking including

  • Leon Chaitow
  • Ruth Werner
  • Thomas Meyers
  • John Upledger
  • Bonnie Pruden
  • Marion Rosen
  • Steve Capelli

As far as I’m concerned, this makes the conference unmissable.

Access to the presentations can be gained from as little as US$59, with full access only US$199.  According to the website it’s also possible to make arrangements for your students to participate in some events as part of their course of study.

Can’t wait…..

The majority of massage students at Otago Polytechnic are assessed as being kinaesthetic learners on the VARK learning styles questionnaire (Fleming, 2006). Many sources consider the online learning environment ill-suited to kinaesthetic learners.

Visual and reader-writer learners seem to be more attracted to the online environment compared to aural and kinaesthetic learners (Halsne & Gatta, 2002; Drago & Wagner, 2004).

However once the students are enrolled, there are inconsistencies in the literature. Eom & Wen (2006) find that students with kinaesthetic and aural learning preferences experience less satisfaction and perceive that they had worse outcomes in online courses relative to reader/writers and visual. Drago & Wagner (2004) however find that there are no significant differences between kinaesthetic learners and the rest of the population for similar measures.

Meyer (2002) asserts that visual learners are more successful online than aural or kinaesthetic learners,
however Neuhauer (2002) finds no relationship between learning preferences and success.

What are we to make of these inconsistencies? Perhaps the differences are a result of course design.

Some online activities are likely to appeal to kinaesthetic learners more than others (Bonk & Zhang, 2006). Practical application is said to be key in the kinaesthetic learner’s educational process (Bonk & Zhang, 2006; Burd & Buchanan, 2004). Two approaches which may be of benefit to kinaesthetic students are the use of case-based learning, and alternating chunks of theoretical learning with exercises which require the students to practically apply their learning. Interactive graphical environments such as drag-and-drop interfaces, virtual reality environments, simulations and gaming interfaces are also likely to appeal to kinaesthetic learners (Summers, 2007), although the development costs involved in these types of learning environments are significantly higher than more traditional text-based instruction (Rumble, 2001).

Google have just released a new product, somewhat similar to a blog, but more customised for the release of educational articles – the knol.  It’s designed to facilitate collaboration, and to allow the publishers to define access & rights.

We’re currently developing our material on the WikiEducator platform, but one of the downsides of working WikiEd-side is the lack of a WYSIWYG interface.  I’ve been saying every now and again that I see this as being one of the main barriers to collaboration on a wiki as the interface is much less intuitive than what people are generally used to.  Perhaps it’s time to move to the knol platform?