Reflections: Online resource personalisation; Work based learning (ALT-C 2011)

By Matt Cornock

This is the second of a series of blog posts covering my reaction to the ALT-C 2011 conference sessions.

Effectiveness of technology to support work based learning: the stakeholders’ perspective

Rebecca Strachan, Lalith Liyanage, Biddy Casselden, Roger Penlington

Northumbria University

This presentation focused on an implementation of technology enhanced support for work based learning. As indicated by Strachan in her presentation, and supported by an extensive library of research, work based learning is a significant approach to education which involves students actively learning and participating in a work environment. Within the work environment, students have a context in which to ground theory and apply what they have absorbed as knowledge in order to understand it.

Key points for elearning

I won’t discuss this approach in detail here, but briefly highlight some of the points that emerged through Strachan’s presentation and the subsequent audience discussion:

  • Students may feel isolated whilst in work based learning, communication and interaction are important.
  • Skype wasn’t seen as a viable solution due to the work commitments taking precedence over time. Shorter exchanges which could take place in pockets of time are recommended.
  • Students responded positively to the online learning environment, however staff responded negatively due to the “clunky” nature of the interface and the complexity of the environment. [I presume, such a large amount of functionality is unused, and so is seen as clutter – this is a very valid point which unfortunately designers of VLEs fail to consider.]
  • Students see Facebook as a personal space and do not want to mix work/social lives.
  • Communication between the employer/professional body and the course creators must begin as early on in the planning stages as possible.
  • Quality of online content was not seen as an issue, but mechanisms to support students who may be unfamiliar with technology (in particular accessing information) need consideration.

Towards a personalised learning mesh: implementation of a low overhead, multipath learning tool

Iain Stewart, William McKee, Kevin Porteous

Glasgow Caledonian University

Lectures aren’t all bad

The general principle is to take a lecture capture video recording and bring supporting materials in around it. Unlike a lot of arguments in modern higher education teaching which oppose the lecture model, Stewart indicated that lectures are indeed very pragmatic in the context of mass-scale teaching. He makes the point that everyone gets a baseline of core knowledge, the lecturer can check (by questioning or body language) whether the students are struggling with the content, they’re cheap in terms of teaching cost, offer opportunity for immediate questioning (particularly if the group is relax or an atmosphere is established with allows students to interject), and if well structure the lectures can be useful learning aids.

Personalisation of the resources

Most teaching staff will use VLEs as a repository for lecture slides, or if the students are lucky, additional resources. There are a few who engage more fully with elearning to create meaningful learning activities. What this project aims to do is provide the revision resource of lecture capture videos with the contextual and further reading resources that form a more complete repository. For instance, the lecturer may reference material in his presentation which can be provided as links beneath the video. Essentially, a method for extending usage of the VLE beyond a static repository into something which is engaging and personalised. A more technical advancement has been to use an XML file to tie together the video and resources, allowing students to quickly navigate the video based on the change of the PowerPoint slide. The feedback from students was unsurprisingly positive, and supported the way resources were “pulled together.”

Whilst the technical approaches by Stewart et al may be regarded as refined use of existing tools, the approach does raise the level of resource provision to meet that of students’ expectations. If we consider how students entering HE are exposed to IT at a far more personalised and engaging level, the traditional lecture-hall mode of delivery can be assumed to be very impersonal and not engaging at all. Stewart et al indicate that their future developments will look at incorporating the social/personal aspect that technologies can offer through facilities which allow students to comment on resources, rate resources and suggest their own. Personalisation is brought in through these functions as students can, either individually or as a group, decide upon the most worthwhile resources. Though use of comments by students at the moment is low, this is down to a lack of meaning given to the comment functionality and if tied with an activity which bridges the VLE and face-to-face environment (e.g. based on this lecture, comment on how this differs from X theory which will be used as a starter for the seminar), meaning and value is brought in and may motivate further engagement.

Transferable aims

What I would like to draw attention to are the aims that Stewart et al based the project around, and I think these should be translated to almost every technology enhanced learning project:

  • Easy for staff
  • Does not impact on lecturing style
  • Works on a range of platforms
  • Must be flexible to allow changing and adding of resources

To summarise, this is a useful project which develops the ‘baseline’ model of resource repository into an approach which offers students ease of access to resources and the potential for personalisation of resources.

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