Archive for November, 2007

Reaching into the Web

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

As part of our JISC funded ‘Isthmus’ project we have launched a pilot Facebook group for students on our short online courses. The overall concept is to encourage a ‘community’ of students that exists beyond the run of any single course. It’s been running for 6 days now and so far we have 45 members (about 10% of this term’s students) and around 20 posts.

Deciding to use Facebook and then deciding exactly how to set-up the group was complicated and generated a lot of discussion here at TALL. Our students are generally older than a traditional university student and many of them are retired. The recent OxIS Internet survey reported that 42% of students signed up to a Social Networking site last year but of those in the retired ‘life-stage’ category only 2% signed up. In contrast Saga recently launched a Social Networking site for the over 55s and claimed that ‘Silver Social Networking’ was on the rise. Surveys of our students revealed that not many of them were members of Social Networking sites (around a third) but that only 26% were not interested in communicating with other students after their course had finished.

As well as the difficulty in deciding to run the pilot it was also not clear exactly what form it should take because it cuts across technical, pedagogical, social and legal issues. Each area for consideration pulls the design and principle of the pilot in different directions. The core challenge was how to strike the right balance between supporting and structuring the group without ‘owning’ or managing it. This involved consulting JISC legal, Oxford University’s Legal Services Office and a range of stakeholders (including the students).

So far the group seems to be working, but it is early days. More significantly I feel we have made inroads into how to manage our relationship with third party services such as Facebook. If we can establish some principles in this area then we will be able to take advantage of the wider web much more efficiently in the future.

Keeping students on course

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Although I am very closely involved in the development of all our courses, we have so many now that I can no longer follow them as closely as I used to when they finally go live. The course stops being the thing that the author, project manager, web developers, and I (as learning technologist) have laboured over and becomes something that is owned by the tutor (often, but not always, the author) and the students.

As an external observer you can dip in and get a sense of how things are progressing but it is not the same as visiting a course every day, getting to know everyone, and really being part of the course experience.

Unsurprisingly it sometimes feels odd guiding people in creating effective online learning when my “hands on” involvement is so much less than it has been in the past, so I am reduced to getting my affirmation that we are on the right track in other ways. Evaluation forms are always interesting reading (and we do monitor these very closely) but recently we got some very gratifying hard statistics that I had not personally seen before.

In continuing education funding is often predicated on the mysterious completion rates – i.e. it is not just the students who start your course but those who finish who are important to HEFCE….especially hard for us in our fully online courses (an area where completion rates can be VERY low) .

So to the meat – we got the latest stats and we are averaging a 91% completion rate, even more amazing is that this is higher than the face to face rate of about 85%.

Designing courses to encourage completion is something we have given a lot of thought to over the years and we have devoted a lot of our learning design energy in creating learning and assessment in such a way to keep students on-board and motivated. It seems that in 91% of cases it is paying off….