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!

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.

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….

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?

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 del.icio.us 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….

The New Zealand government is in the process of discussing measures to strengthen the existing copyright laws.  They are collaborating with other countries including Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, Singapore, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and the United States on the Anti-counterfitting Trade Agreement.  Based on reports on the Ministry of Economic Development’s website, It appears that all countries involved in the discussions have agreed to the premises of the agreement, and are working towards implementation.  While domestic consultation is said to be part of the process, this is the first I have heard of it.
While on the surface this may seem a good idea, the terms of the actual agreement appears to threaten the openness of the internet in New Zealand.  Mark Harris’s submission covers the main concerns which many have with this act.  Colin Jackson believes that the implementation of this act could lead to ISPs filtering content from sites such as Youtube, and blocking incrypted services such as Skype.

Is it too late to do anything about this?  Officially submissions on this act have been closed since July 28, 2008, and the government does seem to have made it’s decision.

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…..