What do learners DO online?

This blog post  continues to explore ‘online taught’, one of the four components in our new teaching and learning models. See earlier posts, entitled Remember when you were at Uni and Teacher Presence Online.

This post explores ‘online taught’ in relation to student online activity, and what our role is as teachers to support this. Below are some examples of activities that learners might do online and how we, as teachers, facilitate learning.

We mediate input

Flipping the classroom is ideal for blended classes. You can give students online input before they come to the class so that when they come together face-to-face, conversations can be deeper and you can check on concepts and explore the knowledge that students have already constructed about a topic. Your role as teacher is to curate or create opportunities for learners to engage with material. You might direct them to different ways of accessing already existing online material in relation to different learning styles. You might create a video in Echo360 for students to watch before they come to class.  You might use Zaption to insert questions into a YouTube clip. You might use the Explain Everything app to explore tricky aspects of content that learners need to know.

Traditionally, we have expected learners to work independently online. In the first flush of using the internet in education (around the early 2000s), teachers would often suggest websites that students might like to explore for themselves in their own time. A variation on creating a reading list for a course might be to create a class group on a social bookmarking site like Diigo and ask learners to contribute useful sites that they have found. Your role as teacher is to keep an eye on the group suggestions and comment on the value of specific sites.

We design for good learning

Web 2.0 was picked up by educationalists as a chance to get students more active online. While initially it was the teacher who created blogs or podcasts, more and more these became tools for to use, whether individually or collaboratively. The facility to create online material became a useful tool for learning, as did the ability to write/speak for an audience wider than the class. Collaborative spaces like wikis allow for interaction to occur round a particular task. Your role as teacher with Web2.0 tools is to design tasks that result in good learning. Set clear guidelines, model good use yourself, and give plenty of practice with new tools before assessing students’ work in them.

Conversations in class can contribute to learning. Just as you create opportunities for learners to engage meaningfully with each other face-to-face, as a blended teacher you can support online conversations.  Your role doesn’t end with setting up a forum or a chat space. Instead, you need to design tasks that require learners to engage with each other online.  Your role as teacher is to establish clear deadlines for contributions and then stay in touch with what is happening. You don’t have to read EVERYTHING that students write, but you do need a clear sense of what the discussion is about and should answer questions that evolve from online conversations – either in the forum itself or in the face-to-face class.

I hope there are some ideas above to inspire what ‘online taught’ means. There are further suggestions on the Blended Learning Moodle page What does ‘online taught’ mean? Feel free to contact us at TPA if you would like to discuss these ideas more, or if you would like to have us facilitate a workshop for you and your colleagues to explore the ‘online taught’ component in relation to your specific context.

Helping students into tertiary study

Transition describes the movement from the old and familiar to the new. Our lives are full of moments of transition; entry into tertiary study is just one of them. Recalling our own transition into teaching at tertiary level is useful in understanding the challenges and adventure of starting in a new place, learning new rules, doing new things with new people. Transition, for the purposes of this series of papers, describes the move for our learners into tertiary study. Unitec has chosen the following framework to describe transition and to raise questions about how we make the move to tertiary study less challenging for our learners.

From – where are students coming from? What are their experiences? What do they bring to the classroom?
From’ recognises the diversity of student experience and background. Diversity, including socio-economic, ethnicity, age, gender and language, has become increasingly significant, as tertiary education has moved away from an elite model. ‘From’ acknowledges that first year experiences are not homogenous.

The diversity of students is not simply demographic. At a deeper and more important level are issues of ontology and epistemology – the beliefs students have about themselves, their identities and their beliefs about knowledge, teaching and learning. Green’s (2007) review of the literature around student and teacher expectations and Gourlay’s (2009) paper on threshold practices and academic literacies both make the point that transition into the new environment is fraught and difficult in no small part because it is so different to where the students are coming from.   This is more fully explored in defining the of’, in the third part of the framework.

With – creating a sense of belonging, orientating learners to place, centres and people, both staff and peers.
Geography and familiarity with the campus are important elements of orientation, however more important is orientation to people on campus – peers, teachers and support staff. Orientation week and activities aim to provide these connections but the with’ is academic as well as geographic and social. The with’ is about a sense of belonging both to the institution and to the chosen discipline.

In summarizing the research on the impact of student support services on student outcomes Rivers notes that student outcomes are likely to be enhanced if there are:

Opportunities for students to establish social networks
Teachers are approachable and available for academic discussion
Orientation and induction programmes are provided to facilitate both social and academic integration
A comprehensive range of institutional services and facilities is available. (Rivers, 2005, p.2)

‘Of’ – understanding the ‘rules of the game’; developing an identity in the academic culture, both as a student in the institution and as a member of the discipline.
Orientation to the discipline is central to transition and is not a simple matter. It not only involves coming to terms with new content but also a new identity. ‘Of’ covers entry into a community with distinctive knowledge, practices and ways of enquiry which means engaging with threshold concepts, liminality and new literacies and epistemologies. The ways of enquiry deal with the ways in which knowledge is constructed, presented, negotiated and debated in a discipline. We need to recognize the situated nature of learning and the ambivalence surrounding literacies and the reality of student identity in writing. Tinto (2009) suggests that we don’t focus on how to retain students but ensure they acquire the disposition and skills to become effective learners at university, in our terms that they are ‘of’ the university and the discipline.

A misconception of the ‘of-ness’ which needs to be avoided is that it is simply about supporting students to acquire specific academic skills.    Lecturers must be aware that they are not simply engaging students with facts but also with a ‘hidden curriculum’ which lies below the content surface. This curriculum includes the enquiry nature of tertiary study, the way in which facts are constructed, debated and presented, the centrality of literacies (including digital and information literacies).

‘To’ – where students are headed
The ‘to’ applies to various horizons, as much to the micro (course and level – where does this fit and what happens in my other course, my next semester/year?) as to macro (what happens when I graduate?). The graduate profile is one answer to ‘to type questions’ as are work readiness and job opportunities. The ‘to’ is aspirational and may be the reason students are entering tertiary study as it provides the transition to move ‘from’ where they are, ‘to’ where they want to be.


Why do we need Mahara when we have Moodle?

We have had a large number of new staff to Unitec and they are being introduced to the concept of eportfolios.  Many of them are new to this tool and are struggling with the concept of it as well as the functionality.

Being able to see the benefits of it is crucial if they are going to use it effectively with their students.

One question that has been repeatedly asked is; “why do we need Mahara when we have Moodle?”

This short video illustrates the points nicely.


Unitec’s online support for teachers using Moodle

Did you know we have an online searchable resource to help teachers at Unitec to use Moodle? It is located in the “Help” dropdown here.

At Unitec we try to provide multiple support avenues to give our teachers the best help available. They can contact the Ask IMS helpdesk on 8484 for instant assistance, or email  eLearn@unitec.ac.nz for any complex enquiries, or use the great online resource to help themselves 😉

Help dropdown, Guide to MoodleOne of the exciting features of an online resource is that it can grow and adapt to the needs of the target audience. All support we provide gives us an opportunity to update this resource and rather than typing out sets of instructions in emails, we point staff to the correct entry in this online resource.

Looking for something not in here yet? Let us know so we can create it and make it available to all staff at Unitec.

Teachers: Defining Our Online Message

How to do we refine our online content for maximum clarity, minimum confusion, and full engagement?

I was talking with a colleague recently about the best way of structuring the information on her course’s Moodle shell. Her interest was around minimising the ‘scroll of doom’ and creating concise and engaging information that was pitched at the right level for her students. Much of this conversation was focussing on text content on the pages and ensuring there was not too much (that would make the message confusing), but also just enough (to get the message across clearly).

As academics (and I’m not referring to my colleague here) I think we can fall effortlessly into an unnecessarily roundabout form of wordiness (or periphrasis if you like) when talking about discipline areas close to our hearts. In its worst form, this looks like 12 pages of writing about a topic when one page will suffice. The problem for our students is that 12 pages of circumlocution about new subject matter is distracting and confusing when one page of fundamentals, threshold-concepts and key points could be much clearer.

So how does all this relate to ‘defining your online message’?

Firstly, realising and accepting that we can get too wordy and confusing, is the first step to rethinking how we communicate clearly with our students. We need to grit our teeth, give our egos the day off, and focus on providing clear messages and ideas to our students. We don’t need to prove how awesomely knowledgable we are. There is a real talent in refashioning complex ideas into simple concepts that our new learners can understand.

Here’s an idea on how to do this, and one I personally use almost on a daily basis. It’s a three-step guide which describes  the order and detail of our information, based on the type of content.

3-step guide.PNG

This image looks blurry – click on it to open in higher resolution


A key point about this three-step guide is the intent around the hierarchy:

+ The ‘headline’ is the short phrase that gets their attention.

+ The ‘overview’ provides an opportunity for users to assess the information quickly and with clarity, allowing them to make the decision to move to the ‘detail’.

+ The ‘detail’ is the nuts-and-bolts and of course includes all content and media you feel is necessary to indulge the topic. It should also be an all-encompassing document or information that can be read in isolation, meaning that if you include it as a pdf download on your course, you need to include the ‘headline’ and ‘the overview’. It’s a good idea to offer users multiple ways of accessing this rich information. An example would be to have the ‘detail’ both on your Moodle page AND as a pdf download. The online version can of course include audio, video and embedded content like Flickr, Slideshare and more.

There you have it. Three steps to clarity with your online written content.

After reading this, you’ll probably be aware that good magazines and newspapers follow this approach to their information flow…plenty of examples to look at.


Thanks for reading.

Amos Clarke

Teacher presence online

Think of an online course that you have been part of as a learner. What did it mean for you to be ‘present’ online? Were you aware of your teacher’s presence?

The Community of Inquiry model, developed by Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000) is used and researched widely. It identifies three different kinds of presence that are crucial for good educational experiences to happen in online environments.

Community of Inquiry model

It is important to note that these presences apply to all participants.  This blog post considers what it means as a teacher to be present in these different ways? Here are several comments from students that suggest their expectations of teacher presence.

‘Some lecturers are extremely supportive, others less so or not at all.’

‘We need lecturers who answer questions and reply to emails.’

‘It’s important that teachers actually read the Moodle forums they set as homework.’

 To start you off on your thinking, would any of the suggestions below give you more teacher presence in your online environment.

Teaching and Cognitive Presence: Selecting content

  • Chunk the content of your course into smaller bites than a textbook or academic essay. How can you get learners to interact with a single chunk? What task might help them to engage better with the content?
  • Think of the main points or headlines of your content. Has someone already created engaging content online that you can point learners to? Do a search.
  • Use a YouTube video or a TED talk as a starting point for getting learners to engage with a particular topic.

Social and Teaching Presence: Setting the climate

  • Be positive and friendly in your online interaction, whether it is a welcome notice, online input sessions or responding to students’ questions.
  • Establish office hours when you are available for chat, video conferencing, phone contact.
  • In your face-to-face class, talk about what learners have been discussing online. And vice-versa.

Social and Cognitive Presence: Supporting discourse

  • Ensure presence as a moderator in online discussion forums. How will your students know that you’ve read/valued their contributions?
  • Give feedback in both face-to-face and online modes.
  • Ask good questions that encourage students to engage in more depth with content, rather than just read or watch superficially.

For more specifics on what your presence as a teacher online might be, go to the Blended Learning Moodle which deals with the question How you can develop social and teaching presence with your students.

Image from http://dus.psu.edu/mentor/wp-content/themes/The%20Mentor/images/uploads/comm_inquiry.gif

Book a workshop with Te Puna Ako

If you haven’t already, book a space on a workshop with Te Puna Ako using their online booking form – http://tpa.unitec.ac.nz/professionaldevelopment

The workshops we are offering next week:

Title Start time End time Room Campus
MyPortfolio Mon 2015-Apr-13 01:00pm 03:00pm 510-2029 Waitakere
Bb Collaborate (blended session) Tue 2015-Apr-14 11:00am 01:30pm 183-1045 Mt Albert
Echo360 Wed 2015-Apr-15 10:00am 12:00pm 610-2023 Albany
New spaces workshop Wed 2015-Apr-15 02:30pm 04:30pm 183-1045 Mt Albert
Moodle Basics Thu 2015-Apr-16 01:00pm 03:00pm 182-1011 Mt Albert
Work based learning (WBL) Thu 2015-Apr-16 01:00pm 03:00pm 170-1008 Mt Albert
MyPortfolio Fri 2015-Apr-17 10:00am 12:00pm 183-1045 Mt Albert

We are looking forward to seeing you there.

Practice Passport

If you work at Unitec in an academic role hopefully you have heard of the Practice Passport. This post is a quick go to list of the main topics. We recommend delivery in programme teams to get the most benefit out of this professional development.

You are required to complete 5 compulsory topics:

  • Active learning and teaching
  • Work-based learning
  • Online/blended learning
  • Matauranga Maori
  • Assessment and feedback

There are also recommended workshops:

  • myPortfolio
  • Moodle
  • Blackboard Collaborate
  • Echo 360
  • Turnitin

These are by no means the definitive list. You are welcome to discuss with Te Puna Ako academic advisors any other professional development topics that might be appropriate for your programme team. Here are some ideas:

  • Flipped learning
  • Group work and peer assessment
  • Embedding literacy and numeracy
  • Student evaluation
  • Integrating and assessing unit standards
  • Using new teaching spaces
  • Success and retention
  • Learning design
  • Designing online learning objects
  • Gamification

The practice passport is a great opportunity to really develop yourself, and your programme team.  We look forward to working with you. Contact us!

Bullet points and information design

The informative content we provide for students is quite often text based, accompanied by media. We spend a lot of time writing and rewriting our content, searching for the right order of ideas, the right words, the perfect sentence.

In many cases we use bulleted lists or ordered lists to convey information in an organised way. It creates great whitespace on our Moodle page or Powerpoint slide, and feels more readable than paragraph text. And then, we end up with lots of bullet lists and suddenly, it’s boring.

So how can you transform some of your bullet points to visually appealing content?

The first principle to achieve this is to reflect on the type of information your list conveys. Bullet points, even though they all look the same, can be lots of things: a comparison, a process, a procedure, a list (!) of features, characteristics or requirements. Determining this type of information can guide you to a different view of your bullet list.

Let’s imagine a course about pancakes. It consists of 3 slides all together, each with bullet pointed lists. So every slide looks exactly the same. And still, they are so different in content.

pancakes_slide1pancake_slide2 pancake_slide3

Three bulleted lists that look exactly the same, but convey three completely different types of information. The first one is really a list. The second one is a procedure. The third slide shows a comparison.


As a first step towards conversion, we could stay in the plain text sphere.  We could stay with the bullet list for slide 1, make a numbered list for the procedure and create a table for the comparison, as shown below.


In a next step, let’s make it very visual.  As we want to convey in slide 1 that you need ALL these ingredients, a checklist seems a nice approach. It indicates all these items have to be ‘ticked off’ to be complete.

In slide two, we want to make the sequence of the actions quite clear. While this can be done by the numbers, we have used one of Powerpoint’s Smartart options to show a visual of the sequence. A set of photo’s or a video are also an obvious but more resource requiring option.

Slide three works well with the basic table layout as we are comparing characteristics. By incorporating pictures, we make the slide clearer: comparison becomes easier for the learner.


FYI – no fancy graphics tools were used to create the new slides, all was made using the graphic design functionality in Powerpoint.



Remember when you were at uni?

The tertiary teaching model which many of us experienced as learners was very centred round transmitting information, usually through lectures. Biggs and Tang (2007) identify that this way of teaching focuses on what the student is and what the students’ responsibilities are. So students attend lectures, listen and take notes, do assignments, sit exams – the onus is on the student to perform, in response to one-way delivery of information.

When considering what online taught means, it is tempting to focus on what the teacher does in order to transmit concepts and understandings. Rather than doing this face to face, what does it look like if we transfer it to the online environment? The Blended Learning Moodle page answering ‘What does online taught mean?’ offers some suggestions around how teachers might give input online, create online activities and support learners at their point of need.

However, Biggs and Tang (2007) identify both of these foci (in bold above) as constituting deficit models, and advocate for a focus on what the student does and how well the intended outcomes are achieved. Teaching becomes student-centred and the teacher takes responsibility for identifying appropriate outcomes and setting up activities to meet the required outcomes. The teacher has to decide how they are going to find out if the outcomes have been reached at an appropriate level.

So how does this help us define what ‘online taught’ might look like? Focusing on the student in an online environment suggests the following question as starting points for ‘online taught’.

  1. Thinking about the class/group of learners: What online activities will help students to meet the intended learning outcomes?
  2. Thinking about individuals: What does a student have to do online to demonstrate his/her understanding?

More about this in my next blog post where I discuss the concept of online presence and what it might look from a teacher perspective. In the meantime, read Mark’s recent blog post here for more details on social imaginaries as an important concept for making changes to what we do in education.

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university (Society for research into higher education).