Monthly Archives: May 2015

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.