Louise's eLearning Blog

I was excited to be attending MoodleMoot 2010 in London, with my VLE Manager (Lewis Carr), on the 13th and 14th April; it was my first! This blog post includes details of the sessions I attended and main highlights – as I saw them from day 1. I would like to apologise now for the length of this post and the next; despite splitting to reflect the 2 days separately, they are still very long. Also I am sure several shorter posts will follow as time allows, relating to different key points, I will tag and tweet them all with Mootuk10 for those who want to follow them
The organisation was good for ‘signing in’ and collecting a name badge (with bright orange lanyard) and storing additional bags and coats, however the table with individual letters, with details of our own wifi login details, was very disorganised by the time we reached it – though once we worked out what the system was we found our sheets.

For future events I organise / host, creating individual accounts for all delegates may be a good way to enable access to wifi connectivity while retaining control / security of the system?

It was clear from the start that there was a lot of technology in the room. Many of the delegates (including myself) were using netbooks and laptops to record notes. Most were also accessing, following & contributing to a twitter conversation using the #mootuk10 hashtag – I have included my own (@loujak78) as well as others’ relevant tweets throughout this post, including some of mine that were retweeted by others!. Later during the conference comparisons were being made to the number of tweets per delegate against a JISC conference – I think MoodleMoot won, which was not surprising as the engagement with Twitter continued throughout the whole of the 2 days!

mattlingard: How many delegates at #jisc10 ? Rumour has it that earlier #mootuk10 was out-tweeting #jisc10 per delegate… 13:47 PM Apr 13th

tutor2u_econ: #mootuk10 1st conference I have been to where at least 2/3rds of audience continually scanning Twitter during the key note presentations! 13:51

On the second day, between presentations, the tweets were being displayed on the big screen in the main hall using http://visibletweets.com/

It was a great talking point and something I have already used myself at a JISC RSC-YH Moodle User Group event!

Welcome (Professor Geoffrey Crossick): Through trying to find out who had come the furthest to the conference it was discovered that there were participants from the UK, Europe, Middle East, Caribbean, USA and Australia! Lots of the delegates were from HE, Some (including me) were from FE, with only a few from Schools & Other Areas.

Some departments that use Moodle, including how / why, were highlighted as:

  • Education department – PGCE (communication)
  • Media and Communications (international collaborative work)
  • Widening Participation (reaching disadvantaged learners)

Morning Keynote: Professor Sugata Mitra (Newcastle University): The Hole in the Wall:

After catching the 7.30am train in Newcastle Prof Mitra arrived at Senate House to deliver his speech just after 10.30am!

A testimony to British transport, but I’m not sure I could plan to arrive at an event that close to the time I was due to deliver a big keynote and still have the energy that was visible on the stage during this speech?!

Sited as the inspiration behind the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ the ‘hole in the wall’ project, led by Professor Sugata, researched autonomous learning in primary age children in India and the UK.

It started when he realised that computer teachers wouldn’t go into a slum to teach as most have made money doing things other than teaching! His aim was to use a computer ‘outside’ in order to reach more people. A computer was installed in a ‘Hole in the wall’, then they waited and wondered what people would do? Evidence was shown of a little boy who had figured out what it was (after someone, walking past, showed how to use the touch pad), he then showed a little girl about browsing. Prof Mitra questioned what would happen if no-one could show them what to do? The second installation was in a more remote location, after teaching themselves how to use it, their response … “we want a faster processor and better mouse!”! In another project “Speech to text” software was used to improve individuals’ pronunciation (after ‘training’ initially with an English accent). In order to learn, students’ downloaded voice based material (including a speaking oxford dictionary) and took turns to correct each other!

The keynote featured the thought that encouraging self-discovery could be as simple as responding with ‘I don’t know’ when the student initially asks ‘how’. However, the real differences between younger and older individuals is their attitude:

  • Child: “if I teach myself the language, I can (learn to) use the machine” (2 positives)
  • Adult: “I don’t understand the language so I cant use the machine” (2 negatives)

I hear the second phrase many times from teachers as I am trying to teach them how and why to use technology to enhance their teaching and learning. At what stage/age do individuals have this change in attitude?

A key finding from the project is that children enforce self-regulation and order when left alone but they know that everything is being monitored. Also because the technology was installed in a public place, it appeared less formal and reached many people but there was very little misuse or damage – which goes against what many people assume will happen.

Bbarrington: RT @loujak78 over 300 children become computer literate in 3 months – with one computer! #mootuk10 10:49 AM Apr 13th

jamesmichie: RT @loujak78: #mootuk10 keynote – important to put computer in place associated with fun and play to encourage self development & learning 10:56 AM Apr 13th

The project has developed through the addition of a ‘questioner/supporter’ like a critical friend / ‘grandma’ figure and more individuals and groups are being supported through the use of video conferencing to teach and help others develop. There are now ‘clouds’ of mediators being ‘beamed in’ to a variety of different environments! Prof Mitra talked about his projects with such passion and enthusiasm that the whole audience was captivated. His inclusion of humour was perfect (though I’m not sure he realised just how funny he is) and his delivery was inspiring. Despite not having any direct connection to Moodle it set the theme for the event exceptionally well. 

mhughes2k: Oh yeah … RT @loujak78: Excellent, inspirational (and very funny) Keynote by Prof Mitra at #mootuk10 Great start to the conference! 11:34 AM Apr 13th

Tuesday (am) Breakout session 1 – Moodle Showcase – Using Quizzes:

There were 3 presentations: from; Wissam Nahas, Eoin Campbell and Tim Lowe

  • Wissam spoke about the use of Moodle quizzes as a formal assessment / online testing tool. In his organisation they focus on developing tests for teachers, they also facilitate lab based timed tests and help teachers with the task of manually grading some question types as well as analysing results. They had found that with larger numbers of individuals accessing a ‘quiz’ at the same time it negatively affected the server / speed so they now stagger the start at intervals of 2 minutes, and limit questions to 5 per page – in case any are lost.

Particularly useful tips during this 20 minute slot included: The importance of staggering start times and the use of Moodle quizzes as online tests –> it would be good to have a conversation with awarding bodies to establish the validity of this. However we do not have a large enough team to provide the level of hands on support as in this example, however we do encourage tutors to create their own resources, including quizzes, so that they take ownership and the eLearning team’s available time is efficiently used.

  • Eoin spoke about research he had done with primary learners about giving individuals permission to generate quiz questions as a differentiated activity, that encourages higher order thinking skills. He identified that the interface of the Moodle quiz was not friendly enough to use directly though as it added barriers to the learning process / potential of the activity. Nonetheless he had found that students were very interested in and keen to create their own questions and naturally differentiated the activity, with less able individuals opting for simpler question types (e.g. True/False, Multiple Choice), while more capable learners writing more difficult (Matching / Cloze / Short Answer) questions. In response to this he developed a word template based around a table and wrote some code to help import the questions into Moodle. There are aims to release as a plugin after a rewrite but the existing resources can be found at http://www.moodle2word.net.

mattlingard: Word to Moodle question authoring looks great http://bit.ly/ao3Xwr but would be better if it were just easier in Moodle #mootuk10 12:31 PM Apr 13th

digitalmaverick: RT @mattlingard: Impressed with OU Quiz interface & it’s use on this Maths course #mootuk10 Are these OU amendments feeding in to #moodle2 12:45 PM Apr 13th

While it was good to hear someone talk about using question generation as a learning activity it wasn’t something new to me and I wish that it had linked more to the core features of Moodle – maybe the new quiz in Moodle 2.0 will solve some of these issues? Alternatively there may be an option to tweak the code / appearance ourselves to improve some of the negatives highlighted, however it may be that working with older learners from 14+ the interface wouldn’t be such a barrier?

  • Tim demonstrated some of the features of the quiz module that the Open University (OU) have been developing and using, specifically related to the Maths and Statistics department. He explained that the OU do not like the term ‘quiz’ as that is something ‘done in the pub’ – instead they use the term ‘iCMA’ (Interactive Computer Marked Assessment)! They have found it important to create at least 5 versions of iCMA questions and deliver them randomly so that students can have almost unlimited attempts at practice tests. The additional functionality of a question navigation panel, with colour coding for right / wrong answers, was shown and examples of providing links to coursework through feedback and using the drag and drop question type for equations were highlighted as good practice.

Again some great tips were included in this presentation, that I can use to encourage staff to make greater use of the quiz module. I especially like the use of drag and drop for equations that could easily be used for scientific formula too and the development of large banks of questions to improve the flexibility of resources.

sukhwantlota: it’s funny how all the #mootuk10 tweets suddenly stopped – it must be lunch time 13:38 PM Apr 13th

Dr Ross MackenzieAfternoon Keynote: Dr Ross Mackenzie, Strategic Development Manager, Open University (OU):

Ross started with a brief history of the OUs journey with Moodle. The original decision to change to using Moodle was taken n November 2005, following a major review of all their systems in May of that year. They piloted from May 2006 and had a full launch in February 2007. They decided that they would release all developments back to the community – which would be different to their previous engagement with the open source community. Dr Mackenzie highlighted how they would often work with beta releases – and in one case even went live with an alpha release – just to have the functionality they wanted!

tomtiros: #mootuk10 OU went like with beta releases! described as living on the edge 13:53 Apr 13th

vaughany: OU once went live with an alpha release… that’s fairly hardcore! #mootuk10 13:54 Apr 13th

Ross continued to present details about the many developments they have worked on, including a new forum and blog, resource page and study calendar course layout as well as huge changes to the quiz and the creation of a way to author content via Word. He reported that they release quarterly with a cycle that includes 3 months development and 2 months testing before it goes live. They are also making links with Elluminate and Google Docs to improve the flexibility of the delivery and increase synchronous teaching and learning opportunities. He also highlighted the number of changes to Moodle code (2,000) and the impact that it could have on their upgrade, or not, to Moodle 2.0 as they may have to decide to not replicate some so that the site is done more the Moodle way and less the OU way. However they have already had some influence over Moodle 2.0 content in relation to the conditional resources functionality and the very different, updated quiz module.

digitalmaverick: Incredible that OU would CONSIDER changing THEIR ways to do things more Moodle-y shows how high a regard they have for it #mootuk10 14:12 Apr 13th

With 5,330 courses on the main VLE (579 currently active as they archive as read only and allow learners to have continued access for 3 years after the end of a course), 648,000 users (168,000 currently active) and 2,000 to 3,000 concurrent users the key messages delivered were:

  • Never underestimate the traffic, and,
  • Keep evangelising the platform (sell, sell and sell again!)

digitalmaverick: @rossmackenzie In 24h period OU Moodle has 35-50,000 unique users with 2-3,000 users on at any one time! Incredible stats #mootuk10 14:06 Apr 13th

Ross concluded with their roadmap which includes mobile and ePortfolio developments, increased links with Google Apps, user generated content, personalisation and life in the clouds. The developments just go on and on!

vaughany: RT @MichBalazs: RT @loujak78: #Mootuk10 OU Keynote: The VLE is never finished! 14:08 Apr 13th

Tuesday (pm) Breakout session 2 – Blending Moodle:

There were 4 presentations: from; Anna Holloway, Joanna Butler, Ludmilla Smirnova and Jo Burbidge

MichBalazs: #mootuk10 at the blending moodle workshop. Headstart project at Newnman uni college 14:28 Apr 13th

  • Anna, from Newman University College, spoke about how they had developed an online course to support new university learners through the development of skills required via a group project. They linked sections using meta courses and developed their own navigation bar that was at the top of the page. She showed how they used Moodle books for content to reduce the length of the pages and included audio files (with text transcript for accessibility) from fellow / provious students – which continued throughout the activities. Anna highlighted the issues surrounding getting the learners into Moodle because this ‘course’ was takin place before their official start date, and that the temporary accounts created had not been completely successful. However she concluded with the positive impact the course had with two thirds of learners resitting the previous year with only half following the introduction of this type of preparation.

loujak78: Good use of “Moodle book resource” by Newnman university college, HEADstart project in the #mootuk10 blending moodle workshop. 14:39 Apr 13th

A fellow delegate asked if it would be something the University would consider doing with Further Education learners before they leave their course. This is something that I could develop where I work as we provide a lot of help and support for individuals moving on to Higher Education and having a formal, structured programme could improve the learners experience and ongoing success?

  • Joanna explained the changes to the eLearning development at Blackpool and the Flyde college in part related to staff development. From just having eLearning Champions in departments training and supporting their colleagues they now have a dedicated eLearning Facilitator post. She reported that they have had rapid growth in the use of Moodle year on year but that despite small pockets of excellence most tutors were still using it as a repository and were no even aware of simple course settings (like changing the number of topics displayed, regardless of the amount of content in there!). Therefore they were trying to encourage tutors to think about the student’s online experience during training, specifically via a 12 week (3 hour a week approx) online courses exploring the basics, where the outcome was to translate the new knowledge and skills into practical actions in their own courses. Screencast video training materials are developed with camtasia and an evaluation is included at the end of each session. Joanna added that staff liked the fact that they could access and print off their own certificate (from within Moodle) when they had completed the course. She concluded with statistics that 96 had completed so far with 84% of them interested in an advanced course that would be developed. Joanna believed that the course had reached some of the usually ‘ unreachable’ teacher as a result of best practice spreading.

This is something that I am already in the process of developing – a basic suite of 3 online courses, at beginner, intermediate and advanced level, that can also be used as the foundation for ‘traditional’ face-to-face deliveries too. I am conscious of the numbers of tutors I need to reach (around 1,500) so I am designing the courses to be self directed, with the minimum level of facilitation possible for many tutors. However checking the quality of the ongoing Moodle use will be strengthened through individual projects where the tutor will be expected to rationalise the design of an area and the inclusion of resources and activities.

  • Ludmilla presented a case study on an online course that had been developed to deliver ‘Moodle for Teachers’ – internationally! So far 32 countries have participated and the initial basic course with 3 facilitators has grown to a larger course that include sandbox areas for practical application with 10 facilitators. she showed how they use a range of technologies to communicate and engage with the participants including, Ning, Skype and a weekly WiZiQ session that enabled live audio/video conferencing. Ludmila demonstrated some of the courses that had been created throughout the last delivery and mentioned that an advanced level course was being developed.

It was interesting to see how a course could be delivered successfully by and to such diverse and geographically dispersed individuals. I definitely need to look more into the use of video conferencing services, especially given the links the OU are making with Elluiminate and Ludmilla’s example of using the free WiZiQ and Skype services – however there will be the ongoing battle of IT always using the ‘too much bandwidth’ answer to any request for opening access!

  • Jo from Lewisham College shared the experience of the eME project (taking the VLE from vision to implementation). Formally a Blackboard college they investigated Fronter (used by most schools in the area) before deciding to go with Moodle – following discussions with ULCC. After deciding that they would have a small pilot first they very quickly changed to a whole organisation launch instead! Jo explained how the name of the platform (eME) was chosen by the learners, which was felt to be an important way of helping them take ownership and use it, along with their own ‘Get Involved’ section which encourages engagement with issues that matter to them. Functional use is improved through the use of a ‘stick block’ on every page with links to PDP (including attendance tracking), MyPortfolio (which is Mahara and is used by all students, and staff for CPD) and MyTimetable. Tutors use the chat tool, often for 1-to-1s between a learner and their teacher, the lightbox and Moodle Lesson and include lots of online assessments. The learner voice is valued and prior to the internal inspection process all students are asked to complete an online questionnaire to collate ‘real views’. Showing the additional sections, Jo made it clear that it was much more that just a VLE as it included a dedicated area for the Learning Centre including links to the library management system and for Careers who have online ‘career fairs’ and ‘hot jobs’.

This is a good example of how the VLE can be a portal to other tools. However for me it would be important to ensure that staff and students were clear about the differences, so that every problem wasn’t followed with ‘it must be moodle!’ and that key individuals had responsibility for maintaining and developing each element.

Closing Keynote / plenary: Philip Badman, Vice Principal Funding & Planning, Newham College:

Philip Badman Newham CollegePhilip’s introduction introduced their term for ILT/ICT/eLearning as ILCT and the rational behind the technology focussed project as an inspection comment in 2005 that there was ‘insufficient use of ILCT in the classroom’. He explained the diverse mix of the 16,000 students at the college and the positive things happening and investment being made, in part because of the Olympics in 2012, in the area – which is within the £29 Billion regeneration investment (pointing out that for comparison the Olympics was expected to cost ‘only’ £8 Billion).

digitalmaverick: Newham poulation is 61% non-white, 33% are born outside the UK #mootuk10 15:51 Apr 13th

Philip continued detailing that the college had agreed to invest £8.3 million over 3 years to improve the network, hardware (including a Promethean IWB in every classroom, with a dedicated person to support problems / encourage use and Activote kit in every faculty) and software (versions). They developed a 78point dynamic action plan (checked bi-monthly by the ILCT Committee) and put emphasis on staff training and responsive support mechanisms as well as giving all tutors a portable device (netbook, laptop, tablet etc.). The project was linked to teaching and learning and quality and he pointed out that if a teacher at the college receives a grade 4 they are given a 6 month ‘capability programme’ of support, however if they have then not improved termination of contract proceedings begin!

digitalmaverick: Newham attached HUGE importance to on call classroom support for software issues #mootuk10 15:55 Apr 13th

Philip explained that they had called their VLE ‘NewLearning’ and that they were using Mahara as their ePortfolio – adding that they had been asked by UCAS for details from it on applicants and they were planning to offer an exported version of their portfolio to learners when they leave. One of the support mechanisms is an eLearning development centre, where tutors can ‘play’ with new technology / software and start to innovate with their teaching methods. They also audit tutor skills / competencies every year and provide individuals with a personalised development plan, which could be supported by one of the 4 dedicated eLearning posts or via the annual ILCT Fair, which consists of a full day of activities (around 15 short workshops) that tutors are required to attend as part of their ongoing CPD.

mickelous: Annual ILCT Fair – required CPD day for teachers <– sounds like an excellent idea #mootuk10 16:05 Apr 13th

thestubbs: Newham VP: teacher engagement essential; ILCT added to classroom mentoring, CPD, funded innovation projects, annual ILCT fair #mootuk10 16:07 Apr 13th

The presentation included details of the numbers of learners without mobile phones (12%) or access to the Internet at home (20%), however despite explaining that the Learning Resources Centres had increased opening times to allow access for individuals without connectivity one of his concluding statements contradicted, when he said that during the recent heavy snow 35,000 texts had been sent over 3 days – I hope they used alternative methods to reach the other learners!?

Final thoughts from day 1: It was good to hear a variety of different views of both Moodle being developed and used and Teaching and Learning more generally and I certainly have lots to think about. It was encouraging too that many of the ideas being shared are similar to what is already happening or in the planning stages where I manage eLearning so I guess I am on the right track and should just keep innovating moving forward.

Thanks for reading!

The next post starts from the Moodle Moot UK 2010 Party and goes through to the end of day 2!

The YouTube video ‘Online Student Experience’ (below) shows one of the biggest reasons why it is important to add context to resources within a VLE to provide learners with a valuable learning experience. My post (below the video) details how an online course can develop from a repository to an interactive site with some simple steps.

Encouraging lecturers and students to use online learning environments can be a challenge. With this in mind, I developed a five-step descriptive model (shown below) that provides manageable steps staff should be able to follow to gradually embed online elements into their courses through blending the use of online learning environments with traditional classroom delivery through to entirely online courses. The model was introduced and explored in the professional development section of my first (so far) book chapter (Jakobsen, 2008).

Embedding eLearning in Further Education - vle embedding 5-step model

Five steps to embedding online elements in courses (Jakobsen, 2008)

Step 1 The first step, of use, of an online environment, is the storing of basic course documentation, like the traditional ‘course handbook’ – often just uploaded as existing ‘print based’ files.

Step 2 A ‘learning’ / revision repository is developed with the addition of ‘learning’ resources that students can access at any time. Again it is often the case that these simply comprise of existing handouts / presentation files and links to websites, uploaded / added as a long list!

The first and second steps of use of an online environment are often the only steps evident in many Further Education (FE) organisations. Many teaching staff think that uploading lots of files makes an area where learning will happen, however without contextualisation and relevance they are often not even effective as a revision tool.

Step 3 Differentiation is possible through the third step, when additional materials, links, interactive resources, and quizzes are uploaded to stretch more able learners, and audiovisual, revision, and explanatory materials are provided for individuals who require additional support. Providing options for learning the same subject enables individuals to personalise their own journeys.

Step 4 The fourth step requires lecturers to become “communal architects” (Woods, 2003) as online communities are developed through the use of Web 2.0 social networking tools including blogs, discussion boards, and wikis to stimulate alternative communication, collaborative working, and reflective thinking. Essential to this step is the inclusion of a range of different feedback strategies to support learners and help them move forward.

Step 5 Assessment completes the steps in this model and includes a broad range of processes including gathering information in e-portfolios, providing opportunities for learners to check their own progress, accepting electronic submission of assignments, and testing online.

Final thoughts…The five-step model works effectively in FE colleges where it has been introduced to encourage and support tutors through gradual implementation of online technologies in courses. However the best courses, for effective learning, are developed when the following strategy is followed:

  • Steps 1 and 2 are used as a foundation to provide essential information to learners, however this is better if the content is converted into online web pages rather than static files, as they can be viewed on a wide range of devices and are easier to edit / update.
  • Steps 3, 4 and 5 are used in combination with each other to develop linked activities that build on and expand previous learning.

I would be interested to find out if this model would be received in other organisations as positively as tutors I have worked with have found it. It would also be great to see what readers of this blog think about the order / configuration of the stages in the model. Let me know if you use it within your organisations!

References:

Jakobsen, L. (2008) ‘Embedding eLearning in Further Education’ in Donnelly, R. and McSweeney, F. (eds) Applied E-Learning and E-Teaching in Higher Education, New York: Information Science Reference

Woods, R. (2003). “Communal architect” in online classroom: Integrating cognitive and affective learning for maximum effort in Web-based learning. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 6(1). Retrieved May 2007 from http://www.westga.edu/%7Edistance/ojdla/spring61/woods61.htm

While checking how long a document I had written was I stumbled upon another great feature of Google Docs that can help identify when a document may not be as accessible as it could be.

The Word Count (Tools: Word Count) function not only shows the number of words and characters in the document it also includes information / statistics from a selection of different readability scales.

Google Docs Word Count Screen

The document the screen grab is from is one of my own blog posts, which would not be very accessible for readers with lower literacy levels – but where should individuals be aiming? Should the content sometimes dictate the audience and their ‘assumed’ ability? Do I naturally write at the level my own education has reached – and is that therefore a problem if I need my documents to be easily digestible by a variety of people?

Flesch–Kincaid readability test – From Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flesch-Kincaid_Readability_Test

Scores can be interpreted as shown in the table below.*

Score Notes
90.0–100.0 easily understandable by an average 11-year-old student
60.0–70.0 easily understandable by 13- to 15-year-old students
0.0–30.0 best understood by university graduates

Reader’s Digest magazine has a readability index of about 65, Time magazine scores about 52, an average year 7 student’s (eleven years old) written assignment has a readability test of 60-70 (and a reading grade level of 6-7) and the Harvard Law Review has a general readability score in the low 30s. The highest (easiest) readability score possible is around 120 (e.g. every sentence consisting of only two one-syllable words); there is no theoretical lower bound on the score

* The Flesch Reading Ease Readability Formula

Therefore by using the numbers proactively it is possible to make a document more readable. For example by shortening sentences and using simpler terminology, readers with a lower reading age will find the document more accessible to them.

So next time you are creating a document why not see how readable it is – even if you don’t need to know how many words it has got!

I have just discovered a cute little tip for using Google Docs to create accessible learning resources!

Having collaborated with a colleague to create a how-to sheet, for a tutor wanting to know how to add a Hot Potatoes quiz with images to our VLE (Moodle), we discovered a good use for the alternative types of downloadable files.

Initially we were just going to save the file (which included screen grabs) as a PDF and upload to Moodle. However on noticing the “HTML (zipped)” option we decided to give that a try. It works really well!

The advantages in relation to accessibility are that the images are named so have alt text in the code generated (whatever they were named as individual files) which results in roll-over pop-ups. Also because it is HTML individuals viewing our VLE from a mobile device or games console for example will still be able to see the content, which would not be the case (generally) with PDF files.

Give it a try!

Why do teachers often struggle with contextualisation when developing their online courses?

Generally good teachers have no problem adding context to their delivery (though some presenters do struggle – see previous post), however many do not understand why it is important to put more than files into a VLE to make it a useful resource for learners.

Online Course showing just links

Online Course: Example showing just links to files and activities

Sukhwant Lota included the recommendation to add context to an online course in his blog ‘5 tips to enhance your Moodle course‘, but this doesn’t address how to do it or how to demonstrate / explain to teachers so they fully understand. Hopefully this post will address those issues.

The first technique I usually use when training teachers how to create and develop their online presence is to get them to talk through the ‘normal’ classroom delivery of a session from a lesson plan. Then I introduce the scenario that there is no tutor in the classroom when the students arrive, just a pile of handouts and resources on a table. Then question:

How would the students know what to do with the bits and pieces on the table?
Would they be able to learn effectively or at all?

This usually results in individuals realising how much and what type of input, linkage and contextualisation, both planned and incidental, a teacher integrates into a session to help shape and ensure the success of a formal learning opportunity. Once teachers realise that, they begin to look at online learning (designing) in the same way as classroom delivery planning. It is usually at this point that teachers acknowledge that they need to replicate / reproduce their own input so that the online learning becomes more relevant and effective.

Key elements that could / should be embedded in and around files, resources and/or activities, to improve the quality / ease of use of a course, include:

  • Section Headings – to clearly separate each element / unit of learning
  • Introductory Statements – to set the scene at the beginning of a section, task or activity
  • Navigation Text – to help individuals find their way around the site before and/or after completing activities / tasks. (i.e. Use the breadcrumb trail to return to this page after completing X.)
  • Instructional Text – to help individuals understand how to complete something (i.e. Watch the video clip and then add your thoughts to the forum.)
  • Motivational Text – to encourage engagement, participation and/or continuation.
  • Feedback Comments – to keep learners on task and motivated. To confirm where participation / engagement has been positive / correct and/or needs additional work. (The different types of feedback that can be used in different situations will be detailed in a separate post)
  • Concluding / Summary Statements – to clarify / recap what has just been covered (or should have been), usually with information that details how this links to the next / future sections, units, activities and/or tasks.

Finally the image below shows how much better an online course looks with the addition of both text that adds context / direction and images that improve the visual appearance of the course.

Online course with additional text and images

Online course: with additional text and images to enhance the course

Leeds City College recently selected Moodle as their VLE after the merger of 3 colleges (full press release), however the real challenge is what to do now!

Two of the three colleges used Moodle prior to the merger, however it is important to ensure that all staff feel comfortable (and happy!) with the decision – especially those who previously used Blackboard, who will perceive that they have the biggest challenge / task ahead of them.

In reality all staff will need to change to a ‘new’ VLE because the best elements / working practices from each of the platforms should be integrated into the single one. Therefore I have drafted the following message to go out to all staff, along with the questions I will be posing to gather information to shape the new Moodle installation and hopefully also make sure that most staff feel valued and take some ownership in the new system, which ‘should’ result in them ‘wanting’ to use it!

Shape your new Virtual Learning Environment!

As some of you may already be aware the college executive team (CET) recently selected Moodle as the Leeds City College Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). This decision, based on a recommendation from the eLearning workstream group, will result in a brand new VLE for the whole college – encompassing the best bits from all the existing systems.

This is where we need you!

Tell us what you like and don’t like about your current VLE (Moodle or Blackboard). How do you want it to look? What functionality and/or tools would you like it to have? Use this opportunity to think about how you will engage your learners. How will you make your courses interactive? How can we make this new VLE really enhance the learners experience? You can help shape the new platform.

Simple questionnaires will be made available on your current VLE for comments and opinions to be voiced. Screen grabs / dumps are also welcome (from existing, internal or external, VLEs, platforms, websites, software etc.) to highlight / show specific layout, design and functionality, which can be sent by email to …@…

A small working group is likely to be formed as developments progress so please also take this opportunity to express your interest in being directly involved in the development of the new VLE.

Thanks,
Louise Jakobsen – eLearning Curriculum Manager: Park Lane Campus

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Questionnaire
What would make you use the new VLE? (Please add comments)

How, do you think, learners will want to use the new VLE? (Please add comments)

What tools would make it easier for you to create/adapt, develop and maintain a dynamic, interactive course? (Please add comments)

What do you like about your current VLE? (Please add comments relating to the 4 sections)
* Layout/design
* Usability
* Functionality
* Tools

What would you like to change / improve about your current VLE? (Please add comments relating to the 4 sections)
* Layout/design
* Usability
* Functionality
* Tools

Would you be willing to share your resources with other teachers via a central repository?
* Yes
* No
* Additional Comments?

Would you be interested in being part of a working group as development progresses?
* Yes
* No

The results and engagement will be interesting to watch, but I hope that by encouraging staff to focus on the learners’ online experience, more effective and interactive content will be developed making the online environment much more than a simple repository – though it is important to remember that is a valid first step to using a VLE.

How important is context to a successful &/or inspirational lecture?

This post is inspired by the variety of seminars, presentations, lessons etc. I have seen.

It is easy, I guess, when you are an expert on a particular subject to deliver content to groups of individuals. However I am beginning to question how difficult some people must find it to extract the key concepts from their subject specialism and link it to prior/alternative knowledge / understanding in order for their message to translate to individuals / groups from other areas / environments. As a result a topic that could be inspiring and/or enlightening could leave the ‘audience’ questioning the relevance (to them) of the speech / lesson, reducing the potential for personal &/or team growth.

Having been part of a variety of different observation (of teaching and learning) teams for over 5 years I have witnessed teachers who know their subject inside out, but are so immersed that they are not able to break down the content, or relate it to learners’ experience and understanding, to enable some students to even begin the learning process. Do they forget how they learnt in the first place or do they simply forget that they started from the same / similar place as many of their students and had to learn to reach the level they have?

Similarly when ‘celebrities’ are booked to deliver an ‘inspirational’ message, often as part of staff development / team building activities, they are usually briefed to ensure their delivery has the desired feel / outcome. However in the same way as some teachers, many get too involved in the detail of the subject and/or include personal opinions, which are in opposition to the ‘expected’ theme of the lecture.

For example: A lecture by an Olympic champion, aimed at promoting team building (as part of a merger process), fails to be as inspiring as it could be when too much time is spent describing the logistics of ‘the race’ and includes comments which show that he thinks some people shouldn’t have equal right to getting medals.
Positives that should have been exploited / emphasised throughout include goal setting and explaining why each member of a team having their own strengths / value results in organisational development.
It is interesting to see an Olympian enthusing about winning but if his speech is about how his targets & goals led to the Olympic games, the audience need to know what their ‘Olympics’ are – context needs adding so that they understand what are they working towards, to ensure that they see the value / relevance in setting targets & working towards goals for the good of the organisation as well as themselves.

In this particular instance it could have been more inspiring to have a ‘speech’ from a group of ‘local celebrities’ (like the Leeds Rhinos Rugby League team) who could have shown how and why team building/working is important through their own ‘many’ achievements, some of which relate directly to the merits of education.

This ‘mixed message’ can lead some members of the audience to question the validity and value of the session / training, which can be extremely negative for individuals and impact on organisational development.

In contrast: When a teacher / speaker has really grasped the concept of contextualising, often splitting down the content into smaller ‘pieces’, a subject comes alive and even individuals from diverse backgrounds are able to gain something from the message being delivered – from the (abstract) ideas integrated throughout the information being delivered.

Surely inspiring and enthusing individuals / groups, by contextualising content and adding relevance, is what anyone ‘delivering’ should be striving to achieve?

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