The Learning to Teach Online project lives…

October 28, 2010 3 comments

I hope you enjoy this video – it is the very first in a series of free resources I have been developing with colleages called Learning to Teach Online.

Wow – I have not posted in this blog for a LONG time! I have been working very hard with my great team at COFA Online – after much hard work traveling, interviewing, editing writing and testing, the first of many video and PDF episodes are now online free for all teachers to use! These professional development resources aim to help demystify aspects of teaching online, and help teachers get started in their own online teaching practice, no matter what their discipline.

Spread the word!

It is with great pleasure that we announce that the Learning to Teach Online project is now active with the first 12 episodes live in the COFA Online Gateway website, Youtube and iTunes U (coming in the next day or two). There are many more episodes being completed, and these will continue to be released regularly – so make sure you subscribe to our RSS feed to keep up with the latest developments. The first episdoes include:

Context, planning and teaching episodes
Welcome to Learning to Teach Online
Why is online teaching important?
Managing your time
Learning management system or the open web?

Case study episodes
Using Flickr as an online classroom – Lynette Zeeng, Swinburne University of Technology
Using audio feedback – Simon McIntyre, The University of New South Wales
Hippocrates: Online medical tutorialsDr Stephanie Eckoldt and Domininc Alder, The University of Bristol
Using Blogs for peer feedback and discussion – Tam Nguyen, The University of New South Wales
iLabs: Online access to remote laboratories – Dr Mark Schulz, The University of Queensland

Technical Glossary episodes
Setting up a simple blog in Blogger
Using the iLabCentral resourse
Getting started in Flickr

Each episode contains a video and supporting PDF document that explores the issues raised in the video in more depth. We hope that everyone who uses these resources will find them beneficial enough to share with colleagues, and embed in their own websites using the code under each video.

We’d like to extend our thanks to all of the people we have interviewed for the project so far. If you have been interviewed and don’t appear in a video yet, don’t worry, more episodes are on their way!

Let us know what you think!

Don’t forget you can join the Learning to Teach Online Forum to give us feedback about the episodes, suggest case studies you’d like to see, ask any online teaching related questions or share your own online teaching stories. You can also register with us (don’t worry we promise not to try to sell you anything!) to make comments directly under each episode video. We aim to make a real connection with the teachers out there who will be using these resources, so please sign up and share your thoughts about the project. We hope to see you online soon!

Click here to see the episodes! –>

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Categories: COFA Online Related

March 22, 2010 2 comments

We have Gained Some Interesting Initial Insights

Production on the Learning to Teach Online project continues, and so far we had some really insightful initial conversations with academics, a Librarian and a Dean!

One of the aims of the project is to speak to as many different academics as we can from different disciplines and institutions. The reason for this is to try to capture as broad a cross-section of tertiary teachers as we can to make the advice and information we’ll be sharing as authentic as possible.

We still have a lot of traveling and interviewing to do, but what has been amazing so far is the common experiences that are emerging from speaking to different people. It seems we all have the same type of challenges when teaching online, and some really amazingly positive experiences as well. This is very encouraging, because it seems that since many of us experience the same types of issues when teaching online (or even the same types of difficulties that stop us from trying), and this means that despite differences in disciplines and applications of online learning, there is a way we can all learn from each other’s experiences.

This project hopes to open a real dialogue between educators, whether just from seeing how others overcome common challenges, or putting people in touch with each other to further discus ideas and innovations.

So far its looking very promising! We are looking forward to releasing the first group of episodes in a couple of months and getting feedback from others out there!

Don’t forget, if you are a University academic who has a successful online teaching experience – or if you want to share your views about why you think online learning doesn’t work for you, let us know so we can help create a network of knowledge we can all benefit from…

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March 16, 2010 9 comments

Share Your Success with the World!

The ‘Learning to Teach Online’ project (LTTO) is based around sharing best practice in online pedagogy development, teaching and evaluation between practitioners. We want to encourage a dialogue between teachers from all disciplines, to help everyone out there who wants to start teaching online get the best advice from those who have done it all before.

The Situation

No matter how many books or research papers you read about teaching online, the hardest thing to get your mind around as a teacher are the practical aspects of running a class in an online or blended environment. COFA Online’s LTTO project will explore the real pragmatics of teaching online, and help give educators the head start they need to avoid the frustrations that usually emerge in the practical details.

To this end, the project will feature case studies of successful online teaching strategies from tertiary teachers from many different disciplines. These case studies will examine the context, planning, teaching, evaluation and technical set up processes used by different teachers, and enable users of this resource to see theory and strategy in action.

How You Can Help Your Colleagues

If you have taught in a fully online, blended or mobile context at University level, and have had positive results both from a student and teaching perspective, then let us know about your project.

We can discuss how your own project may be relevant to LTTO and other teachers, and if its a leading example of online teaching excellence, we can showcase your good work to the rest of the world. Your innovation can help encourage others to start teaching online, or help improve existing online teaching practice. So get in touch and discuss your project today!


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Preaching to the converted – how do you get the word out to those who really need to hear?

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment

I was reading a recent blog post by Kyle Pace which was discussing the issue of choosing to adapt your teaching practice now to be more inclusive of technology, or to wait for the world to change around you.

Personally I feel that teaching practice will change to be more technology inclusive, no question. As those growing up in our society today immersed in online networks, social media etc grow up and some of them become teachers, it will be as natural as using a whiteboard is most of us today – it is a question of natural evolution. I guess the question is whether teachers today choose to move forward to be a part of that future or refuse to acknowledge the changing society that surrounds up and adapt their teaching practices to suit.

Convincing people about the value and relevance of online learning and teaching seems to be the eternal question though, at least until the next generation arrives. We are in an interesting transition stage as technology moves so fast, it is no wonder that teachers can have a hard time keeping up with out help. And no wonder that many feel it is too much of an effort to start.

This brings me to the point of this post really…

There is a lot of interesting material out there about adopting online technologies into teaching, Kyle’s blog post is a good example, and I myself am in the middle of developing a project to help teachers new to online learning get started. However I have a feeling much of the time, it is people who are already convinced about embracing technology who watch, and not those who really need to.

As part of my role as coordinator of a fully online program, and as someone who trains academics to write and teach online courses, who has to sit on the academic committees that vote on allowing such courses to go ahead, I can say that for the most part, those who are not interested in online learning are deeply suspicious about its credibility. Often this is justified because what they have seen has been done so poorly in the past. Also there are many teachers who simply will not look at any material or seek to learn more about this topic because they are just too busy.

I think in many ways teachers can feel as if technology is being forced down their throats, and more often these days I think this is a justified feeling. More universities finally seem to be realising that they have missed the boat on including online learning in their curricula, and that there is a REAL demand for it. So all of a sudden there is a big rush to get content up fast, a ‘goldrush’ if you will, which can sometimes be ill considered and not approach the problem from the perspective of understanding how technology can enhance an individual teacher’s practice, and how it is relevant to their industries and students.

This is usually a ‘one-size fits all’ kind of approach, where one platform or technology is offered, and the teachers are told they must use it. In my own institution last year there were statements such as ‘every academic must have part of their course online’ coming from those higher up – but no thought went into why this had to be so, how it would effect the students’ learning or the teacher. It was just about ticking a box. No wonder academics get their backs up when technology supported teaching is mentioned!

I tend to agree with the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink”. When I first started helping to set up the online courses at my faculty, it was an incredibly hostile environment to such a venture. We found teachers who were interested, then worked hard to produce online courses and teaching practices that were effective. Feedback from students was good, and where it wasn’t we always tried to work as a community to help each other improve. Over the years word spread and more people wanted to try online teaching, bolstered by the success of their colleagues, and now it feels as though we are finally getting somewhere in terms of acceptance.

So in relation to Kyle’s post about do we move forward or wait, I guess I’d have to say don’t force anyone to start using technology in their teaching who doesn’t want to, or the results will most certainly be counter-productive. Let those who are not ready to move forward wait, while those who are forge ahead and build great examples for others to follow.

The material our team will be producing as part of the project I mentioned earlier will follow this philosophy, offering assistance to those who want it, and hopefully it will help teachers create sustainable, successful online teaching and learning initiatives that will inspire their colleagues to give it a go before the world catches up with them…

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So just how do you create and sustain an online community?

February 1, 2010 5 comments

I’ll start off by saying this blog post is NOT a ‘how to’ for community building. I have a good deal of experience with building community amongst a captive audience of students in online courses, but creating an engaging, voluntary online community is another kettle of fish, and I find myself seeking the council of those more experienced in this than I!

As part of the work I am doing for our ALTC funded ‘Learning to Teach Online‘ (LTTO) project at COFA Online, I want to establish a global online community for teachers, where they can get advice about teaching online, share their experiences, ask questions to solve their problems, and get some real help with the real nitty gritty issues that are part of the reality of teaching online. The community would also be there to supplement (read – add more depth to) the ‘how to’ videos and documentation the project will be producing.

This is both a very exciting prospect, and one riddled with anxiety and the potential whiff of disaster…

Now in my mind this community would be a great place to drop in, where primary, secondary and tertiary teachers from any discipline, and any level of previous experience in online learning could meet each other and share the woes and success stories of teaching in any online format (fully online, blended, mobile etc). I have seen a few online communities out there that seem to gather momentum and gain a life of their own, and others that seem to wither and die with no real input from anyone. There are also other online communities out there for teachers, and some work well, whilst others, even though they have a vast amount of interesting pre-posted content, seem to fail. The difference with what I am envisioning here is that it would eventually be a large scale community, allowing the cross-over of ideas across disciplines, cultures and a myriad of teaching scenarios. It all sounds good in theory…

The LTTO project is all about sharing ideas and best practice in online learning and teaching different disciplines – trying to break past the ‘silo’ state that seems to exist in teaching practice to a large extent, by (for example) showing how the way someone teaches secondary level mathematics online can inspire the practice of a tertiary art teacher and so forth.

What I am hoping is that this concept can be taken much further with the help of the community – to increase the potential of this interaction amongst those passionate about online teaching to collectively evolve online teaching practice – to stop teachers working in isolation and provide mutual support – to provide a dissemination point of successful, proven strategies for the benefit of everyone else who is trying to achieve a similar goal…

What I am afraid of is that I’ll create another one of those communities where digital tumbleweeds will be rolling around amongst the deserted forums. I am asking for advice and tips from people out there who are involved in great lively online communities, or have established their own.

To me (and these are just my thoughts – not some kind of guaranteed list for success!) a good online community will thrive if:

  • There is a direct benefit for a member to belong and contribute (or even lurk) – ie you get valuable information that encourages you to participate
  • It is clear what the community is about and what its purpose is
  • Members are free to create their own content and take ownership of their online space
  • Members’ contributions are acknowledged and respected
  • Members can gain some kind of status and authority within the community through participation
  • Content cannot be too prescribed or over-moderated
  • There isn’t another community out there doing the same thing better!

Now to me the tricky part of establishing a community seems to be that people will eagerly come and take a look, but unless there is some very interesting content and discussions already going on, the tendency seems to be for people to leave. It’s kind of like not wanting to hang out at party with only a few guests. This seems to be what is happening with the community (to be) I have just set loose on the world. I guess I had hoped that people would start their own conversations but I have since realised that the tone for the community had not been properly set – to give people an idea about what can be talked about, what they can expect to get out of the community and how they can contribute.

On reflection my strategy to circumvent this issue should have been be to invite certain people into the community to begin with to start interesting discussions, before promoting it to strangers. I wish I had thought of this earlier actually as it makes complete sense – you’ve got to have the cool people at your party to create a vibe that is attractive to others.

I know there are many of you out there who are involved in online communities, so I would love to hear from you – all advice is welcomed, and of course you are also welcome to pop into the community I am talking about as it currently stands and say hello, or even add your thoughts as to what would be useful and relevant to you! (please remember this is in its VERY early days, so not much has happened in there yet!).

I’m all ears!

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Online student interaction – a waste of time?

January 22, 2010 10 comments

Someone tweeted a link today that caught my eye to a recently published paper by Sharon Watson of the Chifley Business School in Melbourne. This paper was presented at the HERDSA 2009 conference at Charles Darwin University, Darwin.

The paper is entitled Distance education students’ attitudes towards increased online interaction: desired change or unwanted imposition?

As an online educator who builds his entire teaching philosophy around the concept of collaborative learning (or social constructivism), I was very interested to see what the paper had to say. I found it very interesting – have a read and see what you think. I had not thought much about whether interaction amongst students online was a bad or unwanted thing before, and perhaps this has something to do with my design background, where open conversation, peer review and critical exchange of ideas is not only encouraged, but a necessity – especially in the education process. It made me wonder if I have been inflicting my views of collaborative learning onto my students, or if I have been taking for granted that open sharing of ideas and knowledge is an essential part of the learning process…

The main conclusion of Watson’s paper was, that a student’s attitude towards online interaction with their peers seemed to be linked with their nationality in the context of the research that was conducted. Both Indian and Australian students made up the bulk of the study, and it seems that there was a marked preference for more interaction from the Indian students, and the Australian on the whole would’ve liked to keep things as they were with little peer interaction. She does also say that the courses were not well designed when it came to including discussion into the course structure, and that the study was done before any redevelopment to ensure changes would be received well by those studying the course.

This surprised me somewhat, because I know a colleague of mine, Ian McArthur, has done significant work with running online courses between Australian and Chinese cultures (through his Collabor8 projects) – and he has found that the Chinese students seem to find it more difficult to contribute effectively to online discussions in comparison to the much more active Australians, due to cultural differences in how they communicate and and how learning is usually conducted (In fact you can see an interesting presentation he has done on this topic here).

This to me suggests that perhaps it is not culture alone that influences preference for collaborative learning and student interaction online. Of course issues such as language, and cultural differences play an important part, but primarily I think we to begin with, the way the courses are designed and taught have to be examined first…

A Learning Community vs Distance Learning – decide what you’re aiming for from the get go!
I have always disliked it when anyone refers to ‘distance learning’ in relation to what I do. To me, the distance learning model is usually designed around the (dare I say antiquated?) concept of a student’s solitary involvement with the course content and perhaps their teacher, and is a completely different premise to what online learning these days really can be.

You just have to look at the abundance of social networking communities, online forums, social bookmarking out there to know that people love to interact and collaborate when it is relevant to them and when they can learn more from the experience to make the time invested worthwhile. Interacting with others online can lead to extremely rich learning experiences – but a student has to feel that interacting with their peers will give them a much higher level of personal satisfaction and a better learning experience for this to work.

I think a teacher has to decide right up front whether they want their online class to be community or a conduit for individual learning. If interaction is desired, then the course has to be designed to encourage this from the ground up.

My point is, that if you have designed an online course using a ‘distance learning’ mentality (students work individually to complete course assignments and get feedback from only their teacher), then of course interaction between students can become superfluous and pointless. Online students often choose to study online because of time constraints with their busy lives, so conversations that lead nowhere or serve no purpose are a road to disaster.

It is crucial that an online teacher establish a community, and engender a culture of collaborative enquiry amongst students from the start. This requires assessment to be designed such that discussion and review are necessary in order to reach the goal. Students should also have a space for unrelated social chat, and be shown what constitutes valuable contributions in a discussion. One of the most valuable uses of interaction in a class I have used is using general discussion (after a lecture usually) to help students build a set of collectively defined criteria about a concept that helps them make sense of the new information. They then take this into their project work, where they can apply it to their approaches in completing the task. Following this students present their work back to their peers, who review it based upon the criteria they established a a larger group earlier on. I have found this type of discussion is purposeful, and also allows students to apply what they have learned in constructive analysis of their fellow students’ work.

I definitely don’t think increased online interaction is a waste of students’ time – but these are of course my personal and therefore biased thoughts on the topic, but I would like to hear what others think. Perhaps I am too focused on collaboration and am running my students ragged – any of my students out there!?

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Is our higher education system on the brink of extinction?

January 15, 2010 5 comments

Well, maybe that may be a bit extreme for the here and now, but I don’t think it’s that far fetched – read on…

A response to Mike Bogle’s blog post “Expanding the role of the university”

I read an interesting post from Mike Bogle today about demand for university study outstripping available places. I really recommend that you take a look and read the full post to get the context of what I am saying here. Mike opens with…

According to an article in the Australian this morning, student demand is exceeding available spots in universities, with many universities in Queensland “struggling to keep pace with strong student demand, with the offer rate falling to 79 per cent, down from 83 per cent last year.

It got me thinking about an initiative we ran for a few years to try to engage members of the public in university level study online for a fraction of the cost. It ended up being a failure, and Mike’s post got me to thinking why. He went on to say…

This situation need not be a binary question of acceptance versus rejection.  Universities really need to be making opportunities available for informal study by individuals who either fail to gain formal acceptance to institution, or choose not to apply in the first place.

I agree with what Mike said in his post on the surface, but the interesting thing is that for a few years, COFA Online offered our university online courses to members of the public in a non-accredited format and for a relatively cheap rate via the ‘COFA Online Enrich’ program. The idea was to offer the public the chance to engage with others in intellectual exploration of art and design courses at university level – much like what Mike advocated in his post. Those that enrolled interacted online with full fee paying, accredited students and joined in the projects, discussion and collaborations, received detailed feedback to their work, but not a grade.

We found that there was a very low demand for this option of study, so after trying many different advertising avenues, and giving it the benefit of the doubt for 3 years or so, we canceled the program. Now this sounds like a poor reflection on the courses themselves, but they constantly receive a high standard of feedback and approval from our university’s students in formal evaluations, and those Enrich students who participated always rated them very highly – leaving glowing reports about their experience throughout the message boards in the courses themselves.

Yet despite this a relatively poor number of people engaged with the program.

This brings me back to Mike’s post – and while I really agree with the principles he is putting forward, I feel that there may be some other factors that should be considered here…

Saying it is is the fault of the institutions for not offering such options to the broader population out there is one thing, but have we fully considered the other side of the coin? Does the general population really want this type of learning from a university, or do they come to a university over the countless other education providers out there because they want that degree?

My experience with the Enrich program hints to me that there may be something to consider here…

I feel in the case of our Enrich program, the reason for it not taking off despite a lot of effort could have been that the types of courses we were offering may not have been to the taste of the public in general, maybe they were looking for more ‘community college’ kind of courses, but to me I think this raises an important point about the motivation of people to undertake the kind of educational opportunities as Mike has outlined in his post.

In other words, are people willing to engage in study at university if they don’t get credit towards a degree? Of course there are university systems in place to allow students to study a course, and gain credit towards a future degree at that institution, even if they are not enrolled in a degree program. But this is expensive, and in the end, you still have to qualify for admission to that university if you ever want to ‘claim’ the credits you have earned. Perhaps a vicious cycle for those who failed to meet the admission requirements in the first place?

Perhaps those that want to study for the joy of it find cheaper alternatives out there that makes the university option too expensive and complicated? After all if you are studying for the love of learning, is the university style of study and engagement with tertiary students worth the cost compared to other online or night classes at the local community college, if there are no higher qualifications to be had? For some yes, for the majority, perhaps no…

I agree with Mike that institutions are losing the opportunity to create a greater level of community engagement, and really need to rethink the archaic administrative procedures they have in place. Otherwise why wouldn’t people just visit iTunes U and join discussion forums to learn for free?

University education does have a lot to offer that the above options do not, but I feel it is a question of perceived value. And because of this universities are losing the opportunity to contribute to the larger society in a meaningful way, and in a way that will help break down those ivy covered walls many institutions still reside behind.

Furthermore, unless universities rethink their current stance, people will continue to be drawn to other learning alternatives. Our institutions are in danger of becoming more and more irrelevant to the way that contemporary society works, learns and plays. I am researching this very phenomenon (via the concepts of social reproduction – see Warschauer 2003 and mediation – read some Vygotsky) as part of my PhD thesis, and I find it incredibly relevant to, and unnervingly apparent in, the way many tertiary institutions are operating today.

I feel we (tertiary educators) are on the razor’s edge between making real change to our attitudes and teaching practices to ‘bring them up to speed’ with what is happening around us, and once again playing a central role in the shaping our future cultures – or keeping our blinkers on, and as a result falling further behind (and becoming an endangered species – the last turkey in the shop) as society evolves in the way it communicates, learns and works.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one – its a biggy, and perhaps I went off on a bit of a doom and gloom tangent here, but I hope you find it interesting none-the-less. Do you feel I am talking a load of crud, or if not, how would you think we should begin to address the issue?

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