So finally completed the 2 weeks of part 2 of Blended Learning Essentials (and for a number of reasons they felt longer than the 5 original weeks…) and so here are some final reflections…
How was it for me?
- Long – apparently it should have taken 12 hours but I spent 8 hours on the second week alone. I will feed this back to the team as it is a good illustration about how realistic predictions of these things are important – if anything I guess it is better to under-estimate as we all like to finish early! Once you have got ‘behind’ in a course like this, it does get harder to finish, however interested you are, as it start to feel less and less like a ‘live event’.
- However, the second part of Blended Learning essentials was definitely more interesting for me as someone who has been working with technology in a college for a while but feels they have only had limited success in ’embedding’ – it was both a relief and disappointing to see other people’s comments and realise we are not that different to everyone else and the same issues are arising everywhere – a reflection on the scale of what we are trying to change and the increasingly limited resources available to us?
- On reflection, the risk of looking at some of the difficult and challenging issues in the second part is that we become disheartened and lose sight of how far we have come and the brilliant examples we are starting to see in practice – for myself who has a had a very difficult year both personally and professionally it is important I do not focus on what we haven’t achieved too much and can still see the positives in the wonderful national projects we got to join in with last year – Learning Futures and the Jisc Interactive Learning Resources for Skills project.
- As part of my MSc in Technology-Enhanced Learning at Huddersfield University , I am going to carry out a small-scale action research project to evaluate how staff at my college found participating in #FLBLe – what got in the way, whether it inspired them etc?
- Blended Learning Essentials Part 1 starts again on 7th March! Whilst I obviously won’t have time to work through it step by step again, I hope to continue hanging around as a mentor and to continue posting encouraging comments, probing questions and links to useful information as well as encouraging more of my colleagues to join in – it you haven’t done so, sign up now!
- Take a little time to be proud of myself – if nothing else, this is the first MOOC I have ever completed – next step is to look at CMALT accreditation…
This week the course has had many challenging discussions – particularly around what is currently possible in our sector with so many demands on our time, money and energy. I have often been told I am a ‘good operational manager’ – a double-edged complement as as a pragmatist and a realist I feel the ‘vision’ of a senior management role will never be for me. However, maybe the advantages to this are that I find it easy not to strive for perfection and instead to appreciate and celebrate the small steps forward we can make even if we can’t change the world just yet.
So to this week’s themes and ideas on how we cope with what may be less that perfect:
A lot has been said about staff unwillingness to collaborate and share resources – this has certainly not been my experience – staff I have worked with have been keen to share (or more accurately ‘show off’ ) the things they have done on a local and national basis in exchange for very little reward except the occasional biscuit! Where there is reluctance I think it is often due to the fact that they lack confidence in what they have done or feel no-one else would be interested rather than a desire to keep everything to themselves and a fear of ‘freeloaders‘.
- Independent learning
No-one is ever going to be a completely independent learner – those that come to us will always be a work in progress are are aim has to be to help them on their way, whether that be with great strides or tiny steps. As a library, we provided 1-to-1 support to help students develop their study skills and with increased Blended Learning we are looking at ways to deliver that support in a Blended fashion too. We already have support via chat and email during our opening hours but it is difficult to provide support for longer hours. One thing I would like to do next is offer support via a video-conferencing solution so students could send us their assignment and we could ‘talk’ them through it. It has taken me longer than I’d like to develop this but I am determined not to give up – one day I will have the time to put it in place and the students at that time will hopefully benefit from it be that in 6 months or 6 years!
- The cost of innovation
There have been lots of nice Moodle examples this week and Moodle is one place where we have been able to innovate at very little cost (staff time is a cost but few of the things we have done have really taken excessive time. So, in case you are interested, here are 3 of my favourite things about our Moodle.1. Customisation – I know many colleges are keen on a branded template for consistency but we have always tried to help staff choose a format to fit the type and amount of information on the page and used Themes to try and give a visual identity to pages from the same area. Here is an example of this – ‘a landing page’ for courses in our HE Business & Science school that uses their them and a grid layout:
2. The Beauty Therapy Resource Library page – our Beauty Therapy staff have shown their firm belief in collaboration by using one huge Moodle page of all the resources for one subject e.g. Beauty therapy and then small course pages that redirected students to resources on the main page rather than individual tutors creating their own. Not only that, but as you would expect from this department it is a visually appealing page too!
3.Moodle Page of the Month – this scheme was introduced by me and my much-missed colleague Val Maybury and at first we nearly talked ourselves out of it – would staff even be interested in a ‘virtual’ medal and a mention in the college newsletter. It turns out they really would – even to the extent of some staff having ‘Get Moodle Page of the Month’ set as one of their objectives! One thing Val and I always remained strong on was that this was not about ‘perfect’ pages – one nice innovative thing might be enough to win you the medal and we give constructive criticism as well as praise to pages where we can.
Well it’s the end of week 2 for most of you but I have finally finished working through the week 1 materials. It has been hard to fit in alongside everything else but definitely still feels worth while.
Words of the week
- Embedding – a useful reminder that this is key and that we are always working towards the idea that ‘Blended Learning’ will eventually become just ‘Learning’. The Learning Designer, with it’s ability to alter the balance of delivery types of the same content was a useful illustration of this.
- Healthy competition – the power of this should never be under-rated – I certainly recommend giving the Socrative Space Race option a try. Recently, I realised that our Moodle Page Of The Month scheme was still generating an unexpected amount of ‘healthy competition’ as having missed a few months I got several email from staff asking me to consider their course page for the next award.
- Video – once again, more evidence of the power of being able to provide video demonstrations in vocational subject areas – our previous research suggests there are lot of benefits to having these videos created by and starring the students themselves as students take great pride in having their work filmed for other students to watch – see our Learning Futures project: http://lfutures.co.uk/project-blogs/Hull+College
- Independent study – we are all in favour of less spoon feeding but it is important to consider the increasing need this may create for good information literacy skills and the ability to evaluate as well as locate information – time to talk to your librarian!
- Collaboration – this still seems to be an underused aspect of new technologies – we still have groups in the library creating a Powerpoint by creating one slide each and then piecing it together – much more could be made of Prezi, Google Docs and Office 365 by both staff and students.
- Advantages – there are so many to having an online element when you sit down and think about it – being able to testing yourself and get immediate feedback, the ability to work at your own speed, where and when you like and to quietly repeat bits when you find it difficult – we must provide these things to our students wherever we can.
- Basic information – looking at staff Moodle pages I can’t help but feel that it is the most basic things that sometimes get missed – information about hand-in dates, use of calendars and reminders, letting them know how to contact their tutor – it’s odd that the simplest things often cause us the most difficulty.
- Complex information – Learning Analytics can give us so much information but I can’t help feeling this is something for the future – many of our tutors are still at a stage where they feel overwhelmed and confused at the idea of introducing blended learning – we need to be careful not to add to this by getting in to the practical and ethical issues of data gathering too early on.
The main thing however I have taken from this week was from a response by Errol Pitts to my despair at the difficulties of getting staff together to share good practice face-to-face. Inspired by this, I have created a Yammer group and am off to try and get them talking about the potential uses of the Learning Design.
Thanks for reading – see you next week (hopefully)
So, as with most other MOOCS I have tried, I have found I have got a little behind … Reflecting on the problems with my own motivation and barriers links nicely to identifying similar problems that may impact on our learners.
1. Blended vs Online– as I’m have been off work, this course for me has been entirely online learning. This has made me realise how much I have missed the face-to-face discussion and support I would have had from peers at work. I ‘followed’ my colleagues so I could discuss the course with them online but found both their and my comments decreased as the weeks progressed. The motivating element of comparing notes, advice and friendly competition from our peer is as much what makes Blended Learning an effective model as tutor support.
2. How big a bite? – I have managed most but not all the tasks within the course each week and wonder if I would have kept up better or worse if each part had been spread over more weeks? I managed to complete some of the work each week though which is better than my experience on previous longer MOOCs where I have ended up weeks rather than days behind. There is however a valuable lesson to be learned here about the implantation of Blended Learning in terms of making sure we accurate estimate the time our students have available to complete the online activities.
Key things I want to think about more before the next part of the course.
1. Personalised learning – how can we use technology to help students learn in different ways and at different speeds?
2. Promoting re-use and recycling – how do we make it easier for teaching staff to find high quality materials and apps they can use or adapt rather than needing to create everything from scratch?
3. Supporting employability and transferability – how do we support our students in taking what they have learned with them when they leave and showing it off to the outside world?
Some of my thoughts for this week:
- Underused Bits of Moodle
Reflecting on a VLe, it occurs to me that Moodle is sometimes under-rated – it may not be the most ‘fashionable’ bit of software we use but staff and students generally like it and it does have a great deal of flexibility that sometimes we don’t exploit enough – things within it that I would like to promote to staff to use further include:
-the Grid format ( a good way to escape the ‘Scroll of Death’)
-putting up PDF versions of documents to improve accessibility
– creating Quizzes to provide quick formative feedback
– using the data Moodle provides to see what your learners are doing, how long for and when to help you identify where more support is needed.
- Keeping up with new technologies
Obviously, new things are appearing much quicker than we can find them let alone experiment with them but that is no excuse for us to abandon out natural curiosity and enthusiasm to try something new. It is very easy for us to develop loyalty to the familiar and to write off suggestions for new technologies to try without giving them full consideration.
To try and avoid this, this week I have developed the same piece of learning material using 2 different authoring Tools – Gomo and Xerte. At the end of the week, my preference is still Xerte which is the one we traditionally use but at least I can hand on heart say I gave Gomo a proper try – the end product it produced looked good but I did not find it initiative to use ( no auto-save?) and as a new product that were some useful things missing (ability to embed Youtube videos) – however the main factor as far as I can see is the cost – at approx £1k a year rather than free, Gomo needed to significantly outperform Xerte to be considered as far as I can see.
In terms of how we keep up with technology, I think 3 things are very useful – social media (especially Twitter) to see what others in my job role are exploring, Youtube and websites for ‘How to do it’ instructions when you get stuck with a new bit of technology and particularly the role of other people evangelicising about some software they have found – our eLearning leads are still my best source of new ideas as you can’t beat individual persuasion and demonstration from someone who has found something they love!
- Let’s try something else new!
Inspired by the course, I have also had a go with Thinglink to bring together some of the new technologies I love in the areas I think tutors will find them useful to consider.
Here it is: https://www.thinglink.com/scene/724950721417445377
Let me know what you think and feel free to suggest additions!
At the end of the 2nd week I find myself reflecting on these 3 Ps:
One of the main things my MSc in Technology-Enhanced Learning is teaching me is that I have a bit of a mental block about this ‘P’ word. I am very conscious that I am not a teacher and the bits where I have to teach actual students fill em with terror. (although I love staff training and would happily define myself as a facilitator…). However, I can see that looking at pedagogies when planning Blended Learning can be very helpful – we used this technique at the start of our Learning Futures project and it seemed to work well- we used the LSIS Ten Pedagogies Underpinning Lifelong Learning but also used the opportunity to consider important related issues such as accessibility, usability, flexibility and reliability.
- Prescription (or is the VLe dead?)
There is certainly a lot of great things out there that tutors can be using and while I am keen to support our staff in using as many new and innovative things as possible (and they normally find the new stuff quicker than I do), as a librarian I feel it is very important we consider discoverability too – I think colleges should have a ‘one-stop-shop’ (VLe or equivalent) where students know that they can go to find the ‘blended’ element of their course – for us this is currently Moodle but I can see how it could be Google Classroom or OneNote in the future. I think choosing this main college system is important and it is the one area where some sort of ‘enforcement’ and standardisation is needed so it needs to be user-friendly (single-sign on makes the world of difference) and capable of linking seamlessly to everything else out there people want to use as well as providing tutors with the data they need to see who is using what, when and how effectively. As I say , at present Moodle does this well for us but it will be interesting to see how things evolve.
- Paranoia (or can I learn to love Facebook)
This week there have been a lot of comments about the use of social media and this has brought home to me an issue where I am not sure I am effectively separating the emotional and the rational. I love Twitter, can see the attraction in Edmodo, am happy using LinkedIn and have used Yammer successfully as part of my course but … I have yet to be convinced that Facebook is a good idea in education.I use Facebook personally but still feel Facebook has become associated with the negative aspects of social media (and in our college with one particular violent incident). Many students I have spoken to are against the idea of using it as part of their course as they see it as their own ‘personal space’. As learning technologists, we have no admin rights to Facebook groups and so cannot provide support (e.g. fixing broken links). Tutors have argued to me that Facebook is good because ‘students already know how to use it’ but I have found most students are OK with learning to use another system as well, it’s the tutors who struggle!
For now, I will continue to recommend other alternatives, particularly ‘closed’ systems such as Moodle forums, Edmodo and Yammer where tutors intend to use social media to communicate regularly with their students – am I wrong to do this?
Contemplating the Padlet wall created a t the end of week one, I find myself (as well as pondering how few academics can stock to 40 words!) trying to answer the question – Why Bother with Blended Learning? There are many answers I could make to this question:
- Most students like technology – helps with engagement and support
- Beats purely online learning – we can use technology for the bits it does well and still use face-to-face for the rest
- It is a good way to address reductions in classroom hours in FE
- It helps students with particular difficulties by enhancing flexibility
It is obviously there are key difficulties with the adoption of more Blended Learning in FE, in particular how we can provide time for staff to develop their skills and experiment but when it comes down to it, I think my view is:
WE DON’T HAVE A CHOICE!
If we try to ignore technology, we will just lose out to other providers who don’t. This is the way the world is going and if we don’t embrace it we will fund ourselves . as the great Bob Harrison so eloquently explains like Milly’s school asking her to bring a disposable camera.
I think we will know when we have got it right when we stop calling it Blended Learning and it just become Learning again…
Watching the course intro video it occurs to me that there are many things tutors might be looking to achieve with their blended learning and it is important to know what they are shopping for, before finding a ‘product’ to see them – for example:
- Making Learning More Active
This is often the main thing we focus on and we have some great examples being used by tutors – quizzes on Socrative, Xertes with Drag n Drops exercises etc. but we must remember that there often needs to be a balance of active and passive elements and not ‘write off’ the ways technology can support more passive learning in the process – the provision of lectures notes, videos of lessons or access to academic journals articles through Moodle for example may seen ‘old fashioned’ but are still really important to some of our higher education students. A key part of interactivity is of course feedback and where this can be provided online (either in a utomated way or by peers) this helps a lot with motivation -sometimes the feedback may still need to be part of the face-to-face element but even then it is worth encouraging tutors to give studuents an online verison they can refer back to. (we love Turnitin!)
- Central to the course or ‘extra credit’?
Tutors might feel more comfortable starting with ‘voluntary’ online aspects if they are concerned about their students ability and motivation to undertake Blended Learning and often making any online activity ‘compulsory’ can open a can of worms – all tutors need a plan as to how to handle the student who turns up at the next class withoput completing the online part – whether for valid or dubious reasons! Even providing materials that are not assessed can help students learn at their own pace and learn to learn independently – after all we are all doing this MOOC!
- Making it More Exciting…
Of course some students will find using any technology more interesting that not using it (we find this is more common in students than tutors…) but to keep benefiting from the ‘novelty value’ tutors may need to experiment with a wide range of different types of technology – provision of a series of template-based online learning tutorials can soon become as dull as a textbook…
It can also be a way to use a wider range of sources in your teaching (beyond what the tutor and the textbook know and discuss) and so make your course more international and diverse. Sometimes it can take a brave tutor to let students present their ‘internet sources’ in class but online sharing of research and discussion with peers through something like Delic.i.ous or a Google doc can tell tuors a lot about what their students do and don’t understand.
- Something Easy, Reliable and Convenient
If it is possible to use the technologies your students have to hand all the time then that is of course great (we love video created by students on their mobile phones – so quick and easy and better for reflective practice than a polished film of the tutor doing everything right) and of course everything we ask them to use should be convenient to access (single sign-on can make a massive difference – minimise the usernames and passwords).
Even if a tutor does nothing else, using video resources as well as printed ones makes a huge difference to learning – after all we apparentkly retain much more of what see than what we only read or hear…
So the task is to find a relevant open access resource I could use in my teaching …
1. OpenLearn- Safari
As the OU are our new validating partner, they seemed a good place to srat. I have heard about Safari before but not explored it – my first impressions are that it is very detailed and text-heavy – whilst it encourages you to thing about the issues raised and even (shock, horror!) use a pen and paper to reflect – there are limited activities and instructions for the ones there are aren’t always clear
However, the content itself is good – I will definitely add this recource to our VLE in case it helps students in their independent learning or other tutors and I suppose I might use small sections in my teaching but my overall impression is that it is too intimidating
re:Source doesn’t seem to have any study skills type materials. On Merlot I found a nice research tutorial by Buffalo Libraries which while a bit American and library-specific, has potential for editing to produce a similar one for our own library and has some nice use of video files. As with many external resources I am more tempted to ‘steal’ ideas and part of it rather than use it outright due to differences in terminology etc.
Overall, I found the ‘official’ recsource banks more useful than Youtube, TED etc where it was difficult to identify anything relevant/credible in the mass of material on there
Looking at the examples given e.g.
University of Houstonthere seems to be some confusion as to the purpose of these questionnaires.
If the purpose is for an individual tutor to assess likely barriers to learning at the start of a course, then a better method might be through a forum where the group can see each others responses and the survey can stimulate discussion and promote peer support
If the purpose is to set student expectations of an online course, then less questions and more guidance and support might help – is it any use knowing I’m rubbish at time management without suggestions on how to improve it?
As far as I can see, the main use of a survey with these type of closed questions would be for institutional information and benchmarking around the digital literacy of our students e.g. what devices do they own? what do they use them for? and how is this changing year on year