Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Planning for flexible teaching and learning

My Plan

To be honest I have been putting off this weeks work because I took one look at the template and thought ARGH! Where do I start with filling this out and BUDGET! Where do I get information on that?

It took me a couple of re-reads to work out that this is just the beginning of this assignment and the object of this is not to complete the template in its entirety (I think that's assignment 3) but
to get ideas down and to get feed back from classmates etc. At least I think that's right and Leigh, Bronwyn please correct me if I'm wrong.

My first instinct is to look at the courses of the postgraduate programmes at the Occupational Therapy School (mainly because I coordinate them). Though these are distance based, I think there are a number of aspects to the courses that could be improved to enhance the learning experiences for existing students but also perhaps to reach potential students too.

One thing I've noted (both on my blog as well as at the school) about our distance programmes is that not all students are equal. The reality is students with Dunedin addresses are penalised in a way because they are expected to come into the libraries (yes all the University ones) if books or journals they require are there. I have been trying to think of ways that this may be overcome (other than me photocopying the books/articles to send to them). I view this as an important aspect because students have said to me they have thought seriously about withdrawing due to their frustration at trying to locate necessary articles etc.

Now Bronwyn in one of her comments to me makes mention that often the systems and procedures within the institutions aren't as flexible as the depts/schools that are trying to implement them. I realise trying to change policy might not be appropriate for this assessment so was looking as ways we at the school may overcome the problem. I have had some ideas about this, involving getting librarians attached to blackboard sites etc. As a school this has been highlighted and we are already looking at ways we maybe able to overcome these challenges. I would appreciate any feedback from either other course participant or Leigh or Bronwyn regarding these ideas and specifically if its ok to be writing about something we are going to be looking at in the foreseeable future.

I'm not sure how I will present it because when looking through the possible options on the assignment guideline I have to admit my first thought was "I'll need to work out how to use these". That will be my next step in this process.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Week Six: Examples of Flexible Learning - Open, Networked, RPL

Do you think open and networked education threatens or enhances formal education generally?

When spending time considering this question I found myself contemplating a number of questions regarding whether the concept was enhancing or threatening formal education. I think what surprised me the most was I wasn't convinced either way.

I started by browsing through the MIT Open course page, my first thought was WOW this is amazing, MIT is actually putting their courses online FOR FREE (I did however note the Donate Now tab on every page!), as it says that the courses cover MIT's entire curriculum! I then delved a bit further, thinking I should have a look at OCW (open course ware), to see that they clearly state in this page OCW is not an MIT education.

OCW does not grant degrees or certificates.
OCW does not provide access to MIT faculty.
Materials may not reflect entire content of the course.

I also looked at - CyberOne. Again here is a pretty well known school (Harvard Law School) putting classes on line for the wider population to participate in. In fact no registration is necessary if you want to do the courses for free. However if you choose this route then assignments wont be marked and credits wont be given for the course.

I think that overall open and networked education should enhance formal education. Not only for the potential student but also for the tutors.

For the potential students this gives them a way into study without having the pressures of formal assessments. They can "see before they buy" so to speak. Students can enrol as "interest only" in postgraduate courses at OT school, however they still are required to pay the full fees but don't complete the assignments.

The OCW (as outlined on their web page), courses are often used by educators to enhance their own teaching. I think one of the interesting questions is that of Intellectual Property. Who owns the material? and if educators are to then cut and paste materials into their own teaching resources should they ensure it is referenced? And how do you ensure the courses aren't then picked up by people who aren't as knowledgeable or have the expertise who will then reproduce these courses? I think one way MIT has addressed this issue is by ensuring their full curriculum isn't online and they are fairly obvious on the web pages that this doesn't equate to a MIT qualification.

Another interesting thought I have had is on the differences between "assessment of prior learning" and the "recognition of prior learning". I understand from Leigh Blackall's comment on the "Can OER really impact higher education and human development" Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is generally known and used in New Zealand (certainly in postgrad at OT school this occurs) and it's the process of recognising the prior educational achievements of the person applying (usually through qualifications) and aligning them with the assessment process being applied. I understand that, when I then listened to the recording of Willie Campbell talk about the practice of assessing for prior learning at Otago Polytechnic I was left with a couple of questions. If a person completes an online course (for free and without completing the assessments) and then applies for an assessment of prior learning at a different institution (and I assume pay for that) could they possibly get a qualification from that institution? If so then potentially people will have the opportunity to complete a wide range of studies and potentially qualifications.

Now I don't actually have a problem with this (because I certainly agreed with the hypocrisy and the frustration that went with it, that occurred with her student regarding the St Johns Certificate) but I do believe institutions (those doing the assessments of prior learning) need to ensure standards are maintained.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Week Five: Examples of Flexible Learning - part time, block, blended

My Impressions of the historical context for flexible learning

One thing that struck me when I was reading the Wikipedia article on Otago Polytechnic was the changes that have been made over the past 119 years. Though Otago Polytechnic wasn't officially known as that until 1964 the origins were there much earlier. Here is a good example that Flexible Learning has been around for a long time. Night classes covering 55 occupations shows the institution even then was trying to ensure it meet the needs of the students. However it didn't remain static, the needs of the students and the community change so therefore so must the delivery and methods used. During the early years the focus was getting people into secondary level education and studying part-time while completing apprenticeships. Finally in the 60's Otago Polytechnic was "born" when the tertiary arm of the college was developed. I think this shows evidence of how the Polytechnic has developed to meet the needs of the consumer. Today not only is there campuses in Dunedin but the Polytechnic has moved out into the regional areas, this certainly has been as a result of Flexibly delivery - why expect students to come to Dunedin, when the area they want to study is better taught in different locations?

How does Flexible Learning exist today and where does it heading for the future?

For part I think I have answered some of this question in the section above. Otago Polytechnic has campuses throughout the Otago Region, this ensures students get the best teaching and learning. By taking the subjects to the region the expertise is, ensures students get the level of knowledge they need. It is logical for the Qualifications in Ski and Snowboard instruction and Avalanche Safety be run in a ski/snow focused community.

As Ellis, Steed and Applebee (2006) identify the student learning experiences are improved when a combination of face to face and online technologies are used. In other words a blended learning appears to have the greatest results. It is interesting that in today's academic environment, when there appears to be a move away from face to face (because it is thought to be inflexible) the challenge will be how to ensure this component remains as research is showing its an important aspect to learning. I hear people out there saying what about using skype or even elluminate to put in the face to face component? I agree however we have to be mindful that not every person in Aotearoa/New Zealand has the ability of join up with broadband and the financial burden on alternatives will also eliminate others. So we go back to the age old question - IS EDUCATION ONLY FOR THE RICH?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Week Four: Examples of Flexible Learning - distance, correspondence, online

How can distance, correspondence and/or online learning create flexible learning opportunities in your context?

When I was spending time thinking about this question I was automatically drawn to the postgraduate programmes we offer at the School of Occupational Therapy. These courses are run by distance and all but one are 100% distance based. That one course requires students to meet for a 3 day face to face (usually in Auckland). They are required to do this because they are to learn the hands on component of the assessment tool they are being trained in. Now this may seem inflexible and pretty restrictive (especially if you are coming from Invercargill) but the reality is students need to see real clients, to practice with tutors being on site. They complete 10 assessments and these results (along with the ones they do at their place of work) get sent to America (via email) for marking and calibrating. The good thing now is students are no longer required to go to the USA for training in this very specialised assessment tool.

Getting back to the other courses - a combination of correspondence and online teaching methods are used. Students are sent CD's of readings, they participate in blackboard discussions and each course has regular, pre-organised teleconferences. On the whole these work very well. It enables therapists (who work full time) to participate in study. Like Moran and Rumble outline, the invention of the personal computer and the Internet has been key elements for this educational programme. However there are always challenges and I think for the most they still stand, this will just give me more of an opportunity to work on them!!!

One of the big challenges have been the access to library resources. Now for the most part students living outside of Dunedin have not had difficulties. They can access the remote library service for all their needs and will have books, journal articles etc emailed or sent to them. The challenge has been for the students who live in Dunedin, because though they are participating in a distance course they are classed as being a Dunedin student so can't access the remote library. These students for the most (yes I've said it numerous times) work full time and have family and other commitments to consider too. If they want a book or a journal article from the library (and its held at any of the University libraries) then they are expected to come in to get it. Now to get books from the library the students are then required to get an ID card. For our postgraduate students this isn't a priority for them. Of recent, accessing the databases from the Bill Robertson Library has also been a challenge. I have spent considerable time talking to the staff to look for solutions to this problem. We all agree it appears unfair for Dunedin distance students to be penalised solely because they live here. I have found myself photocopying articles etc, scanning them and then emailing them out to students so they don't have to find time to actually come into the library. One thing we are now investigating with the library service for the future is having a staff member attached to each of our courses that students can have a person to go to directly. It will also allow them to then comprehend the difficulties that some of the students have.

Annand (2007) talks about the silent struggle to implement the use of technology in academy is far from resolved. This is something I certainly agree with and see evidence in with the above example. I see it as the blurb for this week - its about changing these problems into challenges and working to find solutions to the barriers!

Week Three - Why we need flexible learning

Now I apologise for the lack of activity on my blog space. With being enrolled in three different GCTLT courses as well as my Masters and teaching I have had to prioritise and hence the delay. I think I'm back on track and will be catching up over the coming days.

Do we need more flexible learning? Is all this choice a bad idea?

What are you already doing in your practice that you believe enables flexible learning?

Now I think this is a loaded question, because the cynical side of me agrees with Backall's article in "Flexible Learning in New Zealand Part 3", that its all about money, less outlay and more intake! But of course that is a narrow view, especially if we are to believe flexible learning is more than online learning.

I would like to answer both these questions together, as I am finding my thoughts racing around my head and they don't seem to clearly go into one question.

Do we need more? Yes and No - hows that for covering my bases! I think recognition of students learning styles and adapting the way we teach to those styles are very important. If we don't then we run the risk of missing those students from our courses and all that they can contribute. For example the majority of OT students would be kinesthetic - learning through doing, while I am a reader/writer and quite frankly would bore them silly if thats all I did. Gone are the days (thank goodness) when it was ok to just stand in front of a class and read notes. The other flexible components available are the use of reader/writers both in classes and assessments. It allows students to be involved and succeed who otherwise might not.

However I do firmly believe we need to ensure the students are ready for the real world. In OT the therapist has to work to a timetable, they are under pressure and are expected to complete their work and documentation in a timely manner. We need students to understand that. Its interesting in Backall's article he identifies the stresses students undergo when studying. The fact that many need to work while they are studying to top up their meagre allowances. This then puts pressure on students coming to class. Its something we see here, it is interesting though when speaking to students who have had classes organised so they have a day free from being required to attend the school a number of them work, or take a break rather than completing the work for their studies. This then puts pressure back on them to find time else where to complete school work. A number have said to me they dont like the "flexibility".

On the other hand flexibility is required for our postgraduate courses. I was speaking with our Programme Manager and saying how great it would be to use elluminate instead of teleconferences. Then we thought about the impact this may have on some of the students. When completing work at their place of work they often have to share a computer between six, this makes it incredibly difficult. We send out CD's of readings so students don't have to try and down load large amounts, especially if their internet connections aren't good - no its not that we are putting the photocopying costs onto them either!!!

What I thought was good about this task was that I got to sit and think about how flexible our courses already are and to a certain extent what we could be doing for the future too.