Archive for the 'Cascade' Category

The importance of piloting for real

Monday, July 12th, 2010

We are currently in the middle of piloting our new online assignment handling system as part of the Cascade project.  While we are finding out all the usual technical glitches, more than anything what testing this with real students, real course directors and real tutors, submitting real assignments has revealed is:

  • how generous people can be in trying a new system for something which is so important to them.
  • how you can think you have thoroughly mapped all processes in abstract but there will always be some aspect which nobody mentioned until it happens in practice.
  • how completely random people can be.

While we certainly did not think our documentation and support assumptions were going to be perfect, with a lot of testing on trial assignments we thought we were probably on the right track, and for most of the process and the vast majority of  students and tutors we were.

However where things did deviate from our expected norms, they did so in unanticipated ways.  I won’t go into the minutiae here but it is certainly making us think about what are the issues you can plan for and design out, and what is going to happen no matter what you do.

Piloting VLE support for F2f courses 1 year in

Monday, June 28th, 2010

As part of the Cascade project  one of the things we have been looking at is how to take the best of what we know about supporting our online distance learning students and use it to see how we should use a VLE to support students who are essentially studying face to face courses with the Department.  As part of this we piloted this activity with a few courses in  over the last academic year, including our Undergraduate Diploma in Archaeology and our Psychodynamic counseling Certificate, Diploma and MSc.  We’re still collecting feedback from our students (more on this later) but have finished our initial collection with staff.

Some of the findings have been reasonably predictable – using the VLE to easily contact students (especially during extreme snow) and to share materials are clear winners in the value stakes.  However some are slightly less so.  We have a lot of courses with many different sessional teachers, and while we did a good job at explaining Moodle to our core staff, piloting partners and students we did a less good job of engaging with these stakeholders, who often remained confused or oblivious about what Moodle was for and how they could use it.

So a new task for the summer to develop materials for this group.

Testing Moodle templates

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

In the Cascade project we are in the middle of an intensive period of testing Moodle templates with departmental staff.  In the terms of our project the “templates” are Moodle courses with certain core materials and structures already in place which hopefully offer the following benefits to our staff:

  1. Save them from recreating the wheel in terms of identifying resources, links etc
  2. Ensuring all expectation setting and contextual materials are in place – what is unacceptable online behavior? does an online course support site mean my tutor will answer my emails 24 hours a day?
  3. Improving chance of producing something which will be truly valuable to students from the start, rather than having to try and work out what might be useful from scratch.

We have shaped the templates from the results of our pilots over the last year or so as well as our experience in learning design and from the literature more generally .  With this in mind we were pretty confident that the elements we were including were likely to be appropriate and useful, however it is fascinating to actually work through the process with  practitioners.

I think what has really changed in the last few years is the baseline awareness of the sorts of things technology might be able to offer to support a course – this has moved on immensely even in the last couple of years – even if staff are not always confident of how to get the technology to do what they want.  It also feels like for many academics that their perceptions of their IT competence is often worse than the reality.  Moodle is easy enough to use,  that if you can add an attachment to an email you really should be able to get pretty far.

Reuse in action

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Having been involved in several research projects around the area of OERs (especially OpenSpires) and more specifically the reuse of existing content (Mosaic and Cascade),  it is really gratifying to see some of this work enter our mainstream course production practice.   A major benefit of Mosaic was a real tightening up of our approaches to reuse, copyright and IPR across our entire short course programme and this is now starting to really pay dividends.

An example is the course we are currently developing on Globalization, available in May.  Among other things, this course is using podcasts recorded by the author Jonathan Michie with the OpenSpires team.  As we will be providing transcripts to make the course fully accessible we can make sure that these are fed back to enhance the original OERs – a virtuous circle.

Hurrah for repeat students

Monday, October 5th, 2009

We know we have always had a loyal following of students at the Department for Continuing Education, but what has been especially gratifying in recent years is to see this developing online.  On a purely commercial basis it is great, with about 30% of our students returnees each term it helps our recruitment, but as someone interested in  learning design there are a lot more plus points that this.  It is great to know we are creating something they like – our course designs work, but more importantly we have a group of students who have bought into this way of learning.

This is more significant then it might seem – our students are only a minority internet “residents” the majority are at best “visitors” (see our isthmus work on this) in addition we know they value traditional ideas of teaching and learning – when asked, they want an expert to teach them the course.

This means that online study based around a model of learning through activities, exploration and discussion, as much with each other as tutors, may make for good elearning, but does not meet their expressed preferences and is not  in their comfort zone. Yet it is working and it is our students who make it work.

Our repeast students are improving the experience of study for the whole cohort, by modelling the sort of behaviour that make these courses work best.  They want to discuss, they are happy to contribute (admitted some a bit too much!) and are prepared to support each other.  It is great to go into a course in the first few days and see new students being supported as much by thier peers as the tutor – and it makes our lives easier.

I do feel very strongly that you cannot expect all students to contribute all of the time (being a lurker is not intriscily bad) but this sort of learning does not work unless enough students are happy to join in – so it is great to know that you can rely on our repeat students as much as our expert tutors, wonderful academic authors, and excellent course design, to make courses that work.

Attitudes to online assignment handling

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

As part of Cascade we are updating our online assignment handling system.  Currently the vast majority of assignments in the department are handled in hard copy, so that making this service available more widely will be a big change for many of our students, administrators and academics if they use it.

In our relatively informal consultations up to this point we have encountered widely differing reactions to the prospect of moving this online, both negative and positive and we are now moving forward with a more systematic survey in this area. As part of this we are trying to come up with a list of  attitudes which stakeholders can indicate agreement with or not – we started out with about 5 statements each for academics and students but since consulting a bit more are now up to well over 10 for each.

 Academic statements

  1. Many of my students hand write assignments
  2. I would be technically confident handling assignments online
  3. I am confident that online assignment handling is secure
  4. I do not want to spend more time at a screen
  5. I think that online assignment submission would speed up the marking process
  6. I would welcome being able to use plagiarism detection software
  7. I am worried about having to remember more passwords
  8. I think typing feedback will take longer than writing it by hand
  9. I am worried about students submitting assignments in file types I cannot read
  10. I do not want to have to print out assignments
  11. I am worried about having a good enough computer to deal with marking assignments online
  12. In my subject it is difficult produce electronic assignments e.g. maths notation or Cyrillic script
  13. I am worried that online submission will make it easier to plagiarise
  14. I think online assignment submission will be more stressful for student

Student statements

  1. I currently hand write my assignments
  2. I would be confident about the security of submitting my assignments online
  3. I have the technical skills to submit an assignment online
  4. If I submitted an assignment online, I would like to receive confirmation of receipt by email
  5. I would welcome the additional time the option of online submission would offer in meeting a deadline
  6. I would be happy to receive my work back electronically
  7. I think that online assignment submission would speed up turnaround of my assignments
  8. I prefer handwritten comments on my assignment
  9. I find typed feedback easier to read
  10. I currently submit my assignments by hand
  11. I currently submit my assignments by post

We are hopeful we have captured the most common attitudes, but it is hard to balance the positive and negative and there is always the worry that this will draw attention to points of view that would have never have occurred to our stakeholders if we had not brought it up.  If anyone has any experience in this area and can suggest anything they found useful it would be great to hear from you.

Cascade Update

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

We have just had a steering committee meeting and submitted out interim report to JISC for the Cascade project which has acted as a good chance on reflect on where we have got to thus far.

While this project started out with a huge scope we have managed to focus our activities so that we are now working in 5 main areas:

  • Online assignment submission
  • VLE support for courses
  • Generic content
  • Online payment
  • Course design

There is considerable overlap between these areas, VLE support for courses is likely to contain online assignment submission and generic content, course design will look at ways to best implement VLE support for courses etc.  However this classification definitely helps in terms of communicating our activities to stakeholders as well as focussing our  evaluation activities.

There is a brief overview of what we are doing for each area on our website here and we will have a more detailed overivew of each area available very soon.

Activity level design and learning design tools

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

One of the challenges in working in the learning design/pedagogy planning tools area  is that the most practitioners we encounter don’t want planning tools, they want content creation tools that work seamlessly with their delivery environment.  Or they say they want planning tools, but when you clarify their requirements they want is really all around content creation.

Liz Masterman and I were discussing representations of activity level design, when we had one of those realisations that make you wonder why you have never seen it before – and suspect that perhaps it was obvious to everyone but you – that at the activity level, design is most often done within the delivery tool.  I may plan a face to face teaching session in Phoebe or (getting back to basics) Word, but usually I work out the details of the specific activities of a face to face training session in PowerPoint as that is what I use to present it to the students in class.  With online courses again I am far more likely to start writing straight into the wiki itself when working out how I want a wiki based activity to work and what instructions I need to give students around it.

I would be interested if others would agree with this?  If it is not just me, then for projects such as Cascade and LDSE  this has implications for where it is best situate guidance and support, where planning and support tools have a role to play, and where they are just adding an unnecessary additional tool into the process.

Technology and task

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

After talking to individuals in the department over several months we finally arranged our first wide scale events open to all departmental staff.

To try and move away from suggesting how we thought they might use technology and  to keep the focus on what they would really find useful, we started by asking them to identify challenges around specific tasks and only then moved onto thinking about using technology to support these. These were mapped against a matrix of “things you want to do” versus “things you have to do” and “student’s pastoral/administrative experience” to “students academic experience”.  In a couple of the groups we worked with there was a diagonal sweep (see below)

Technology and Task

with required tasks more on the administrative side and aspirational tasks more academic, as might be expected, but others were far more mixed.  As has been a continuous theme in this project an overwhelming impression was how much we do as a department. More specifically it proved a useful addition to our attempts to rein in the scope of the project from its original, far too broad starting point to the more manageable place that we find ourselves today.

Curriculum design, guidance and Phoebe

Monday, June 15th, 2009

I recently demonstrated Phoebe to the curriculum design and delivery projects for JISC (if you are one of these projects you can access a recording of the talk here – otherwise there is an older video of me demoing it here).  Tim Linsey from Kingston University Blogged this and it is interesting to see that his conclusions about where Phoebe might be most useful very much chimed with our evaluations.

After not having done much with Phoebe for a while,  we are seriously looking at how we can use it in out curriculum delivery project, Cascade.  More specifically we are revisiting ways that we can make the Phoebe guidance more usable,  useful and sustainable, both for ourselves and as something that could be consumed by other tools or projects, especially in the context of the LDSE project, but also more widely.

So if you think you might be interested in this, do let us know. The more information we can gather about how people might want to use and develop this content the more likely we are to take it in directions that suit us all.