Posts Tagged ‘elearning’

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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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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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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Can learning online be a more ‘human’ experience than learning face-to-face?

July 10, 2009 13 comments

Let me start by saying “I definitely think so”!

Well, I have started this blog to hopefully generate some interesting discussion about the issues surrounding the design, implementation and management of innovative, successful and appropriate online learning and teaching strategies for teachers today. This is my first post!

I have been teaching collaborative design related courses online for about 8 years now, and it has been a constant learning curve. However I have to say that my most rewarding teaching and learning experiences have been online, and if my students are telling the truth, the same can be said for many of them.

For me this has been a great source of interest – given that many academics (and students) still feel that elearning is an isolating, inferior, cost cutting, lazy way of teaching. Teaching online is just like any other form of teaching – it can be done well, and it can be done, erm, let’s just say ‘not-so-well’. For many years online learning suffered a poor reputation from many institutions throwing up poorly conceived content, usually in the form of course notes or lecture powerpoints, with no thought of how to engage and motivate students in this new environment. Anyway this is an old story so I won’t go into detail now, the point is that many teachers still don’t know how to effectively teach online, and this in turn results in dissatisfied students, crying that their online course is some kind of cop out by the institution – in fact a year or so ago, the students at my own institution rated their online learning experience so poorly that an entire department was axed and the whole approach to online learning reconsidered.

Back to the point of this post though. I have developed, supervised and taught in an online masters program since 2007, after teaching various online electives before that at undergraduate level. Students are participating from all around the world, and from a range of different disciplinary backgrounds. Interestingly, the age ranges of these students is an equal spread from around mid twenties to mid sixties, and most students have never learned online before, nor used many social networking tools (yes I was surprised too!).

I have been continually blown away at the level of interaction between the students, and the depth of the relationships that they form with each other in the course of their learning. I have NEVER seen my students invest so much of their personality, knowledge and experience into a class as I have seen in this online environment. They tell me (through informal online discussions, and in formal evaluation reports) that they have gotten to know and trust their online classmates better than any they have known in a traditional face-to-face learning environment, and I have to say so have I (I can remember everyone’s name for one thing, whereas in a face-to-face class I would master this task 2 weeks from the end of semester!).

The reasons for this I think are varied, but primarily I think this has to do with the following:

  • The feeling of anonymity that comes with interacting from behind a screen
  • Everyone gets the chance to contribute equally – no time limits or confidence problems speaking in front of a crowd
  • The design of the assessment tasks – focusing upon collaborative process and idea generation
  • Most interestingly – students’ preconceived reactions to a person’s age, sex or appearance and even disability are eliminated, meaning the social dynamics are more equitable

I have found that the willingness for students to help each other and share knowledge is much higher than in a normal classroom where social cliques are more prevalent. Of course a lot of thought has to go into the course design and the teaching/moderation of the course in order to foster a good level of interaction and trust, but I have found that the natural inclination of students in this course has been to be open, honest and high contributors on the whole.

In short I have found my online teaching to be a much more ‘human’ experience than any face-to-face teaching I have done before. I have gotten to know my students better, and have seen the trust they share with each other deepen improve their learning outcomes.

I would love to hear from other online teachers out there about their thoughts on this, have you found something similar with your online students? Why do you think this is, and how can we enhance our teaching practice to maximise the potential of the social dynamic it creates?

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