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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

————————————–
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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