Saturday, 21 June 2008

I'm often asked what it is that I do ...

I am often asked what is it that I do? I wrote this to help me answer the question, and refer other people to when I see them drifting off…

I currently help lecturers in higher education with e-learning and related issues. Areas include:
• Strategy
• Awareness
• Training needs analysis
• Training provision
• Consultancy
• Co-operative design of courses
• Review of online curriculum

All of this work is underpinned by a wide and deep reading of literature, conference presentations and cutting edge implementation, review and discussion in my workplace. I draw from internationally recognised experts in e-learning, pedagogy and curriculum design. Authors include: Biggs, Bonk, Brabazon, Laurillard, Littlejohn, Goodyear, Kirschner, Nicol, Oliver, Papert and Salmon and Smith. I also draw from colleagues in my department and teaching staff that have expertise in the e-learning area.

To expand with more detail, here are some of the main characteristics of courses that I have created or that I have heavily influenced:

  • Modules (courses) are split into “units of learning”, similar in size to one lecture or face to face session.
  • Materials are time released, to maintain pace and user engagement
  • Background reading is released prior to the main materials being released
  • Each unit of learning is presented with natural language structures, making the learning accessible to a wide audience, highly readable, and engaging.
  • The text is permeated with pauses for thought and reflection – consistently distinguished with colour or location to orient the learner.
  • Relevant links to internet resources are limited to those that are a major contribution to the learning outcomes – and never jeopardise the completion of a unit within a two / three hour timeframe.
  • One activity presented at the end of each unit of learning – usually involving discussion of the topics presented with other students – often asking the student to recontextualise the theory presented in their own practice or anticipated practice.
  • With low student numbers the tutor is expected to read and moderate every posting. Each posting is not graded. In small groups formative feedback may be given by the tutor, often commenting to the whole group.
  • Feedback in large groups is facilitated by sub groups, peer feedback and quantitative monitoring of students contributions by teaching assistants. The quality of a student's contribution to the discussion is sometimes assessed, though often on a pass/ fail grading structure to reduce tutor workload.
  • One assessed exercise at the end of each unit – usually involving a patchwork of their and others contributions to the discussion board generated by each units activity.
  • Sometimes the assessed exercise includes a discussion of their contribution to the online discussion – giving the lurkers their chance to discuss how lurking affected their learning.
  • Support giving encouragement and formative feedback must be present.
  • Usually an assessed reflection on their contribution to the discussions.
I recommend that contributions to the discussion board are graded pass / fail at a very course level – the reflection can be graded (this method has been through university validation panels)

I am gratified to see elements of my approach being espoused at international e-learning conferences by leading figures in the field such as David Nichol (Strathclyde), George Siemens (Manitoba) and Peter Goodyear (University of Queensland).

Perhaps one example of recent work would be a suggested assessment exercise in a health module. The teaching staff had transferred much of a unit online, but were unable to transfer the assessment because it involved the student interacting with the tutor in a role-play situation. I suggested a video be made using actors playing the roles of practitioner and service user, embedded with a number of errors and good practice. The student was asked to view the video and then identify and discuss at least three elements of good and bad practice. This idea was welcomed not only by the academic staff, but also the academic management at the university.

Perhaps you think I could help you with your course …