Online education has been in many recent headlines about how new technology and related new teaching and learning strategies means the sector is being impacted by ‘disruptive innovation‘. I have been in the thick of it, but I do not necessarily agree with the hype and scorched earth scenarios for existing institutions.
In Jan 2012 I took up the position of Senior Lecturer (Online Education) in GBS’ Department of International Business and Asian Studies, and the leadership role of
Program Director for GBS’ Open Universities Australia (OUA) offerings. Griffith University is an owner member of the OUA consortium, which has been offering distance education from Australia since 1994. Although my leadership duties include much mundane administration, I have taken advantage of my role to also serve and lead the program by the examples and strategic collaborations I have undertaken in developing and delivering many of the key units (courses) of the Bachelor of Business degree program. In more than one case, these approaches show evidence that in the two and a half years the program has been running, we have acheived a position as a premium provider within the OUA organisation.
Many of my teaching approaches are a little bit ‘disruptive’, especially when considered by more traditional and conservative teacher colleagues. But my implementation strategies are designed to integrate the existing assets in a kind way – particularly the knowledge and passions of experienced teachers- with the new pedagogies and technologies. I am particularly interested in pedagogies and technologies which improve both learning and scale. I will detail some of these below:
Extending the LMS
Earlier in my career, and reflected in this portfolio (see Optimizing the LMS 2003-4), I was concerned and active about the LMS being unfairly criticised, especially when few teachers and even educational designers attempted to use it to its full capacity. At this point in time, institutional imperatives and policy have us chained to the LMS, at least as a common point for ensuring the administrative and data functions that need to be integrated with operations related to, but not necessarily at the heart of teaching and learning. There has been some discussion about ‘Personal Learning Environments’ and I try to use some of the applications, particularly when (sadly this is not always so easy) I can make them work from within LMS as a portal. I guess what I try to do is extend the LMS into a ‘more personable’ learning environment.
When working with classes of 25 or less, the legacy discussion tools in an LMS work fine for all concerned. But as soon as the numbers of students increase above this threshold, the threaded discussion is too slow for a busy teacher to be able to monitor and project and maintain an effective teaching presence. I was not easily a fan of social media even 18 months ago, but I did realise that in teaching a class of 80+ that the discussion forum wasn’t working. I have in the past used assessment strategies to motivate learners to post, but the engagement is often superficial under those circumstances. I didn’t want to go down that road again, and at the same time, we were aware that student instigated Facebook sites with our OUA Unit Codes were being set up by some students, and the ones we visited had a healthier level of engagement that our ‘official’ discussion forums by far. I was hesitant to embrace Facebook for risk management purposes, but we had begun using Yammer within University staff. So I figured out how to set up a Yammer Network and how to embed it within the Blackboard site.
As evidenced in the evaluations and feedback linked below, this innovation has been largely supported and embraced by students. The increased leverage for teaching presence is something that is hidden from students, they do not realise that the teacher can scan and respond and ‘feel’ the vibe of the class much more effectively than with the older technology. It is available in mobile apps for Android and IoS, and has some badge functionality which we have experimented with. For detailed description and analysis of my migration to Yammer, you may find this paper of interest. A video presentation of my paper is on YouTube
I had been using QStream and its predecessor version as a learner myself for a couple of years, and from the beginning I had a hunch it could be useful in my own context as a teacher. I did not necessarily see the mobile uptake and the power of using personalised question banks, but I understood the cognitive psychology underpinnings of ‘spaced learning‘ and was sure that it was powerful.
Our students (both online and campus-based) have largely embraced this innovation also, and it is being adapted by other teachers. So far we have trialled using the system as a review aid, as well as an assessment in its own right. It has features which make it available on mobile format, and is supported with social features including comments and a leaderboard.
YouTube/Echo360/Synchronous Recorded Sessions
As an earlier follower of multimedia authoring and synchronous teleconferencing technologies, it has been pleasing for me to see these tools arriving beyond the point of critical mass. I have used them extensively myself and supported other teachers to use these technologies in appropriate ways.
Reverse blended learning
I have been proactive about working with other teachers teaching the same content, but not necessarily delivering in the same mode. One of the collaborations that I am most proud of is working with my colleague who teaches Business Ethics on-campus. When I was assigned to teach the online version, I went to him to see how we collaborate. I viewed his lectures and they were effective. I puzzled over how to recreate a similar experience for my online students. Then I realised that his lecture were ‘captured’ and available uploaded online in Blackboard. I also remembered that I am a decent hand with Camtasia editing. I also thought about an online teaching tool we use embedded in blackboard to provide individual/collaborative learning, known as LAMS (Learning Activity Management System). I put an idea to my colleague and he agreed that we were on to a ‘reverse’ strategy where I would edit his lectures into shorter clips which would be placed in to allow online students to interact with the content (as required assessment) in the same locations in the lecture where student discussion took place. Below is how it looks online in the LAMS platform:
Evidence of efficacy of these approaches…
Here is some supporting evidence that an online course featuring these ‘extensions’ works for students.
After my work to redesign and pilot deliver our flagship unit, IBA111 Management Concepts (Introduction to Management), this unit achieved ratings on all categories of evaluation which noticeably surpass the OUA Provider and Griffith University means with an enjoyable amount of white space.
Because of its high quality and retention rates, this unit has been selected as part of the OUA Pathways for Business
Just getting back to MOOCs for a moment….When the hype storm was at its peak, I tried to make the point to senior executives of both the University and the GBS that we should put out a press release describing how we were already doing them at Griffith Business School. IBA111 Management Concepts (Introduction to Management) typically starts with approximately 1000 students enroled, and we have had up to 1500. We deliver this one continuously year round, four times a year. Now that MOOCs have gone slightly out of favour…..I will not possibly be able to convince them that we doing so effectively…
Part of my efforts to softly disrupt within my institution have included evangelizing whenever the opportunity arises, for instance at our Teaching Community of Practice brown bags.
This video-clip captured an information session I planned and delivered along with other colleagues involved in teaching into the OUA program.
Many of my ideas about Mainstreaming the Disruption have their roots and/or were refined during my completion of the program of the Institute of Emerging Leaders in Online Learning, with Sloan Consortium/Pennsylvania State University during 2012.