“The University makes good use of its strong and extensive expertise in the development and delivery of e-learning methods”
(QAA, Institutional Review, March 2013)
The Quality Assurance Agency conducted an Institutional Review of Glyndwr University in March 2013 and their report identified our use of e-learning as a strength.
The report states:
“The University provides a small but growing number of programmes that combine traditional, campus-based, face-to-face teaching with online learning and teaching through its virtual learning environment. The development of these programmes has been assisted by the Postgraduate Certificate in E-Learning. Specialist support is available from the CLTA, which offers staff development workshops in e-teaching and supports an informal network of those with skills and interests in e-teaching, some of whom have over 10 years of experience in the delivery of these programmes.” (Page 18)
“The review team concluded that the University’s good use of its strong and extensive expertise in the development and delivery of e-learning methods is a feature of good practice.” (Page 19)
Following demand from students completing the Postgraduate Certificate in E-learning, that programme has now been extended and enhanced to create the new MSc Learning and Technology which will welcome its first cohort in September 2013.
The MSc is delivered entirely online which enables students to study flexibly and at a time and place of their choosing.
Organising conferences or symposia is not something I normally enjoy; persuading people that they really do have something interesting to say or that their work is really innovative can be challenging but this time I very quickly got a group of willing volunteers. What was most pleasing was the fact that speakers came from across the university from subject areas as diverse as engineering to therapeutic child care, from nursing to early years. Not only that, their talks revealed how different technologies are being used to support students.
The symposium also attracted two excellent external speakers; Sian Murphy, Training and Development Technology Designer for Virgin Media, opened the symposium with a presentation on how Virgin Media are using their learning platform to facilitate professional development. Our other external speaker, Lis Parcell from RSC/JISC gave a fascinating talk on the challenges and opportunities of Open Education Resources (OERs).
First up of the internal speakers was Mike Bellis from nursing. Mike has been using audio feedback for some time now and he took us through both the process of producing the audio files and the benefits he believes this form of feedback has for both tutor and student.
Our next speaker was Barrie Birmingham from engineering. Barrie and colleagues has been using ‘quizes’ within Moodle to help students check progress and to re-enforce learning.
Liz Sheen, Early Childhood Studies, who has considerable experience of online and blended learning programmes, explained her approaches and how online is quite a different learning environment to the physical classroom.
In an intriguingly entitled talk ‘A stich in virtual time: creative threaded discussions’ Viv Dacre (therapeutic child care) explained her approach to facilitating forum debates and how she uses questioning to stimulate student online conversations.
Our final presentation came from two speakers, Alicia Owen (VLE technologist) and Kirstie Edwards(Business & Management) who are both using screencasting. Alicia spoke about her use of this to provide training materials for both tutors and students whilst Kirstie uses screencasting to provide student feedback.
News of the new MSc Learning and Technology must be spreading as applications are already coming in for September start. Building upon the successes of the Postgraduate Certificate in E-learning [PGCEL] (‘This PG Cert in eLearning is of a higher standard than many others offered in the UK’ and ‘The curriculum offered in this programme is superior as it mixes theory and practice.’External Examiner Report 2011-12), and in response to student demand (‘Get that Masters written so there is somewhere to go :-)’ Student comment 2012), the programme will enable students to explore in more depth aspects of technology-enhanced learning.
Delivered entirely online and designed to accommodate professionals in a range of working contexts, the programme facilitates cross-sector and cross-disciplinary interactions; students and tutors learn with and from each other. Perhaps the greatest success of its predecessor, the postgraduate certificate, was that it facilitated the development of ‘communities of practice’ with individuals from higher education, further education, schools and those in the public and private sector working and learning together. Underpinning the programme is the philosophy of ‘social constructivism’ and the programme team embrace the concept of people coming together to learn together. It really was a joy to see students sharing practice and developing innovative approaches to using technology to support their learners in such diverse contexts.
Another striking feature of the PGCEL has been its ability to attract guest speakers from around the world; notable guests have included George Siemens (Athabasca University), Howard Rheingold (MIT and Berkeley), Michael Henderson (Monash University), Tom Wambeke (United Nations College, Turin) and many others. Students on the programme have been able to listen to these great speakers from the comfort of their own homes; albeit for some, more distant speakers, at rather odd hours of the day (one of Michael’s talks was at 9 am on a Saturday morning)
As I shift through the applications I have been especially pleased by the number of ex-PGCEL students returning, in some cases two years after they completed the certificate and I am really excited by the prospect of teaming up with them again.
On the 16th April I delivered a staff development session ‘Designing your online or blended learning course’ at the Wrexham campus (PowerPoint Presentation below)
During the session a couple of themes emerged:
In discussion with the attendees the main driver for migrating at least part of their teaching to the digital medium was to support their learners, especially those studying part-time and those on placement away from the university. For part-time students, the flexibility of online study combined with some face-2-face contact in a ‘blended’ (not a term I like but is one that seems to be popular and understood) learning structure was seen as an attractive option. For placement students, the possibility of remaining in contact and providing on-going support was also desirable as students can sometimes feel isolated when away from the campus.
Two main challenges to moving ‘online’ were identified; a lack of understanding of best pedagogic approach and a lack of technical skills. Attendees recognised that moving online meant that simply transferring their classroom methods and, in particular, classroom materials such as handouts would be insufficient but struggled to identify how to modify their approach for best practice. I found this to be refreshingly honest and welcomed the fact that colleagues recognized they would have to change their approaches, as it seems to me that many teachers do not. In terms of acquiring technical skills, this was seen as a significant challenge, much greater, I suggest, than it actually is. I am a believer in the KISS (“Keep It Simple Stupid”) approach and, even with limited technical skills, provided the pedagogy is right, basic technologies can be used to great effect.
My talk centred on two main aspects of online (or blended) learning and teaching.
The issue of self (slide 17) and the essence of community (slide 18).
These apparently conflicting attributes are, to my mind, core to successful online learning and teaching. ‘Self’ or ‘presence’ of both the tutor and the learner is rather difficult to define. In the classroom both tutor and learner project their respective personalities, whether that be through verbal interaction or body language and this can be difficult, if not impossible in terms of body language, to transfer to the digital medium. I would, however, argue that the tutor’s personality can be transferred by careful programme structure, by injecting personality into the content and by appropriate communication. For me, course materials should reflect the personality of the tutor and this is a different approach to that normally employed in the classroom, where the tutor’s personality is apparent from the ‘delivery’ rather than the ‘content’. Learners also need an avenue to express their own personality; in my online course we make extensive use of forums including a ‘café’ forum which is used for general ‘chit-chat’. I think we all recognise that traditional classroom study is more than just the course; it is also those informal interactions that occur in the corridor, the coffee shop or wherever; online we need a similar environment.
Leading on from the concept of self is the idea of community. Forget what has been said about the isolation of online study (outside of MOOCs), generating a sense of community online is achievable but requires a different approach. For me, allowing personalities of both tutor and learner to emerge and by facilitating both formal and informal discussions, communities will evolve; in some cases it is almost impossible to stop them! Establishing a community not only eliminates the potential of isolation, it also provides a support system for both tutor and learner.
As the staff development session ended I was struck by two things; colleagues were excited about the possibilities offered by online teaching but also realistic about the challenges they face in doing this successfully; if only more realised that ‘going digital’ is not as simple as it may, at first, seem.
I am optimistic about, and look forward to, future developments at Glyndwr.