Down a rabbit hole without a paddle

Last year I was approached by the lovely Kate Judith from USQ’s Tertiary Preparation Program to be on the reference group for their ‘Active Success at Uni’ open textbook project. Of course I agreed and now the time has come for me to provide feedback on their finished initiative.

In the first instance I took a quick squiz around the site (it’s clean, sharp and smooth) then quickly realised that I would end up down a rabbit hole if I didn’t follow some kind of map.

My first step was to contact my institution’s Centre for Teaching and Learning to see if we had an existing framework for evaluating online courses. The answer was ‘No. Have you Googled it?’

As it turns out ‘Googling it’ was good advice. My search for ‘framework for evaluation online courses’ lead me quickly to Debbie Morrison’s blog, ‘Online Learning Insights’ and her post ‘How ‘Good’ is Your Online Course? Five Steps to Assess Course Quality‘ (see it in the blogs/articles section of this website). It’s a great place to start.

But of course, there is more than one way to peel a carrot, and just as each of our enabling programs look and work differently because they’ve responded to their environments, so too, the evaluation frameworks we use to assess them (and initiatives within them) should be sympathetic to the context. ‘Effectively evaluating online learning programs‘ by John Sener (2006) offers some wise advice about the purpose of evaluations (evaluators are ‘meaning makers’ not judges) and about using tried and tested frameworks designed originally for face-to-face course evaluations.

I hope to be putting together a framework that will work for the USQ project and for our own projects in-house by cobbling together what I’ve learned from my Googling and reading and fashioning it into something that will make meaning and provide a launch pad for possible improvements. (I promise, Kate, it’s coming!)

P.S. The USQ team evaluated one of our online courses last year (Academic Survival Skills Online) using a comprehensive Criteria Standards Checklist (thank you very much!). If any of you have used successfully a particular framework to evaluate an online (or face-to-face) course that you’d like to share, please let us know in the comments section.

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“All the students in my lecture are on their phones! . . . That’s perfect”

Blog post by Dr Anthea Fudge, Jennifer Stokes and Tanya Weiler
UniSA College, University of South Australia

This has been the sentiment of course coordinators at UniSA College, as we move to implement the UniSA Digital Learning Strategy into enabling education. As part of the broader shift towards digital wisdom (Prensky 2011), UniSA College has embedded key digital strategies to improve student engagement and interaction. These developments focused on the redesign of the Learning Management System (LMS), course videos and the introduction of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) technology into both lectures and tutorials (this is where the phones come in!). Below is a summary of what and how the use of technology has enhanced our teaching, and more importantly, student learning.

“The course site looks great on a mobile device.”

Despite our pleas for students to engage with the LMS, all too often this is a case of ‘death by scroll’, or reams of information that are overwhelming or poorly timed. The introduction of key icons into the LMS, in this case Moodle, has allowed for students to access the online environment, find information quickly, and stay up to date with weekly tasks. We created images in Photoshop, which we then coded as responsive HTML elements and hyperlinked to resources available elsewhere on the site. The use of these icons enables students to focus on each stage of the course, easily identify upcoming deadlines, and link back to previous materials. This staged release of information helps build student time management skills and reduces the stress often felt when seeing volumes of course content. The use of similar icons with different colour palettes for varying courses, created a familiar structure, and feedback on this system was positive when compared to the defaults available in the LMS.

 UNISA default layout  UNISA new layout_1  UNISA new layout_2

Default layout on the left compared to icon-based site redesigns on the right.

“If they have a phone anyway, we might as well put something on it for them to watch.”

Course and program support videos were produced to help students with aspects of their studies. Created by the academic team at UniSA College, these videos provide a familiar face to guide students through course content and an opportunity to explore complex or detailed concepts. These short lecturettes and vodcasts were implemented using a flexible learning model to engage and excite students through familiar technology. For example, a suite of science laboratory videos were filmed for students to use in conjunction with their practical procedures and notes to allow for multimodal learning and revision. Students were able to see the spaces, equipment and chemicals that they would be working with before attending the labs. These videos were designed to enhance understanding, deliver better practical outcomes and ease the anxiety that foreign lab spaces can provoke. As one student noted: ‘I enjoyed the videos . . . because they gave me a sense of familiarity to the process and I wasn’t overwhelmed’. For external students, this enabled a connection to the physical spaces, despite their inability to attend in person.

UNISA course video_1 UNISA course video_3

Course videos familiarise students with the lab space and course concepts.

“Let’s take it to the next level and use phones as learning tools.”

Interactivity in lectures and tutorials has been extended through the implementation of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). In the past, systems such as Clickers and Turning Point provided opportunities for students to interact with course content and respond to questions during lectures. 2014 data collection through these systems identified that 97 per cent of students had a smartphone or tablet, suggesting that it was timely to implement BYOD as it would create minimal access issues. This constructivist approach lowers the threshold for accessing materials as students use familiar tools to connect with unfamiliar course concepts. Embedding interactive elements encourages greater engagement and tests student knowledge, while also providing the instructor with real-time feedback about student understanding. Shared responses are de-identified which allows for full class participation, and enhances team based learning. The College also has a bank of tablets which students can loan for course sessions if required. Feedback from students has been positive, indicating they enjoy the freedom to use their own devices and the extended interactive opportunities created through this approach.

UNISA Poll image

BYOD helps students engage and test their retention of material during course sessions.

“Message received.”

The implementation of these strategies provides great benefit to students, as shown through increased engagement, course satisfaction surveys and verbal feedback. These benefits have far outweighed the challenges and 2016 teaching at UniSA College has these (and other exciting developments!) embedded.

It is clear that digital innovations are powerful tools connecting university with students’ lived experience through familiar technology, while also providing multiple access points for students to engage with the exciting possibilities of 21st century learning.

Reference

Prenksy, M. (2011). From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom. MarcPrensky.com, http://marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky-Intro_to_From_DN_to_DW.pdf.

USQ’s ‘Active Success at University’

Blog post by the USQ team

A team from the USQ Open Access College (OAC) has been awarded funding under a Teaching Excellence scheme to create an open textbook. From the outset however we found that ‘textbook’ was actually a misnomer. Our creation, ‘Active Success at University’, is a series of discrete online learning objects, which can be used separately as stand alone learning activities, or connected via links.

The materials are being designed to develop user confidence, self-efficacy, study knowledge and active engagement, all of which are key factors in successful university study. Didactic instruction will be minimised through design strategies, based upon gamification, that teach through encouraging active involvement, providing immediate feedback and a sense of progress. Illustrated below is a screen capture of one of the media resources, which is a live graphic allowing students to interact with the main support features of a typical university campus.

Image from open textbook: Welcome to USQ: A day in the life of a student

Designed by Zoe Lynch, Lead Animator for Media Services, USQ

The goal is not to create a large collection but instead to target particular important learning spaces, including academic writing, referencing, the daily experiences of students, stress and time management and the postgraduate study journey. A user’s guide will be included as well. The team is mindful of the ‘paradox’ at the heart of resources created for reusability, in that the less context is provided the more something can be used but the less truly useful it will be. To that end the choices of topics have been carefully made to provide optimal relevance and the user’s guide will suggest ways to integrate and adapt the resources. The coverage extends from pathways into both undergraduate and postgraduate study.

The learning objects are works in progress, but through collaboration with learning and teaching services at USQ they are shaping up as exciting and innovative resources through the inclusion of multimedia and graphics, character avatars and with plans to include artwork. As work continues, we benefit from the advice of our critical friends from the University of Newcastle.

Because of the nature of the project, the team’s commitment is to the open access of their resources. WordPress has been chosen as the platform for delivery.

The team members are Kate Judith, Marcus Harmes, Charmaine Davis, Barbara Harmes, Anne Kerridge, Julie Penno, Heejin Chang, Lalanthi Chulika Seneviratne, Geoff Parkes and Jessamyne Clarke.

Online Enabling Education @UoN

The English Language and Foundation Studies Centre at the University of Newcastle is committed to opening access to higher education for all students, including regional and remote students and students with carer obligations. Part of that commitment is a recognition of the importance of online education for some ‘non-traditional’ students. To grow the Centre’s understanding of online education across the enabling and broader higher education sectors, the Centre’s Blended and Online Learning Team (Evonne and Liz) had the opportunity to travel to UWS, MQ, USQ, UNE and CQUniversity in late 2014 to talk to colleagues working in online education and begin forming knowledge-sharing networks. This post will take a quick look at online enabling education at UoN, then move on to present four points of discussion based on what we learned about developing online and blended courses and programs on our travels.

Open Foundation Online

While the Open Foundation is one of Australia’s oldest enabling programs, it has only been offered by distance since 2003 with its first offering as a fully online program in 2012. The paper-based distance program was re-designed utilising Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) funds, as part of a carefully considered full-year project involving multiple expertises and drawing on current online learning pedagogies and educational design principles. It consists of seven discipline-based courses (students choose two) delivered fully online via the University’s LMS, Blackboard.

Week Zero

An integral part of the re-design of Open Foundation by Distance was the development of an online week-long transition-in program called Week Zero which has since received both Vice-Chancellor’s and Office for Learning and Teaching Citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning.

Academic Survival Skills Online

As well as delivering the enabling programs, Open Foundation, Newstep and Yapug, the Centre administers the University’s suite of short Bridging courses called UoNPrep. In 2013, the first of these F2F courses was re-developed into a fully online offering. Academic Survival Skills Online was developed by a small, collaborative multi-expertise team and funded (again) by HEPPP. It runs for two moderated 3-week periods a year and is open for students to dip in and out of at all other times of the year.

Work in progress

The Centre’s small Blended and Online Learning Team are currently overseeing two course development projects as part of the overall UoNPrep online project:

  • Uncovering the Secret Life of Matter: Foundation Chemistry
  • Online Mathematics Project—a three-year, four-phase project with the aim of producing a broad range of resources to facilitate the learning of foundation mathematics concepts

Points for discussion

The following four discussion points form part of the recommendations we presented to our Centre Director following our travels in 2014. We stress that while the points are reflective of our views at the moment, they are intended as discussion points only, not prescriptive or critical statements.

photo of Liz and Evonne meeting with UWS colleagues

Meeting and greeting with UWS blended and online learning colleagues

1. Adopt a collaborative, team-based approach to online and blended course design
When the multiple expertises of a team of academics, educational developers, technical experts and others can be drawn on, innovation, quality and sound pedagogy are likely to result (Hixon, 2008; O’Reilly, 2004; Swan, Scott, Bogle & Matthews, 2014).

2. Support an innovative environment for blended and online (re)development through strong leadership, professional development and key ‘peak performers’
For blended and/or online course development activities to be successful, academic staff in the roles of content experts or specialists should be engaged and willing participants in the process. Strong leadership at all levels, strategic professional development which includes both online and face-to-face resources and activities, and enthusiastic ‘peak performers’ should all contribute to a supported environment in which to carry out (re)developments.

3. Showcase successful/innovative online and blended learning (re)developments within and beyond the institution
As part of successful professional development, exemplars of innovative practice in online and blended learning and teaching should be showcased via special interest groups, symposia, conferences, etc.

4. Develop an online pedagogy for enabling education
It has been identified through a literature review and anecdotal evidence that current theory in online pedagogy may not suit online enabling students. It is suggested here that work take place in developing an online enabling pedagogy drawing on an eclectic mix of behaviourist and constructivist principles (Irwin & Goode, 2014) as well as evidence from evaluations of current online programs and courses.

We want this to be a lively space for discussion, so please feel free to add your comments regarding our four points of discussion or to add your own!

If the comment box does not appear below, click on the title of the post above and you should get there.

References

Hixon, E. (2007). Working as a team: Collaborative online course development. Paper presented at the 23rd Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning, 8–10 August 2007, Madison, Wisconsin.

Irwin, E. & Goode, E. (2014) ‘Building Academic Survival Skills Online: A collaborative, team-based approach to online course design and production’. Peer-reviewed paper presented at Foundation and Bridging Educators New Zealand Conference, 4–5 December 2014, Tauranga, New Zealand.

O’Reilly, M. (2004). Educational design as transdisciplinary partnership: Supporting assessment design for online. In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonal-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds.), Beyond the Comfort Zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp 724–733). Perth: ASCILITE. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/oreilly.html

Swan, K., Scott, L.D., Bogle, L.R. & Matthews, D. B. (2014). A collaborative, design-based approach to improving an online program. Internet and Higher Education, 21, 74–81.