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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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.