By Tom Preskett
Last week I taught a session (with a couple of colleagues) called “Structuring an Online Course: Guidance and Example.” My contribution to this session was a Prezi presentation.
What I’ve attempted to do is group together different sections of the process with a view to helping educators organise their thinking on this issue. The hard part of this is knowing what to leave out. I see this as a work in process because I hope to get clearer about the issues and the relationships as I gain more experience. The point of this practically focused framework is to help a higher education (HE) institution in 2011. (I work at the excellent Institute of Education.) The point is that many academics need help with the basics – basics that aren’t well defined or universally agreed upon. By “basics” I mean the key decisions that need to be made, the main structural decisions to take.
Some may disagree with the phrases used in the structure, but the point is to provide a framework from which to work. Of course, it needs context. I work with individuals to give this context. However, I’m interested in the academic staff who aren’t banging down my door to have these conversations and are only at this particular session. It’s something for them to take away. I want to make the maximium impact I can – an impact that covers the foundations of what they need to know. If this is all the time I get with them, then I don’t want to waste it focusing on a small piece of the pie before they have had a chance to see the whole and how the different slices fit into it.
It’s true that the pedagogy is only implicit in the presentation, if at all. In an ideal world the pedagogy is the starting point, and the structure flows from there. My rationale for leaving this out is based on my experiences working with educators over the years. Rarely do they want to talk in the abstract and apply these abstract principles to their teaching. My best guess is that most educators have only a sense of their pedagogical tendencies but have a firm grasp on what types of activities they like to use. So what I deem important for a first stab presentation like this are the types of activities available to them in their context. For this scenario, this meant outlining the main communication and collaboration tools available to people in my institution.
A footnote to this is that pedagogy is complex and discussions around it are complicated and challenging. These discussions take time, and they could feel like a waste if I have only this one chance of communicating with participants. My concern with any teaching session is to avoid cul-de-sacs of discussion on issues of minor importance to the task at hand. Often such discussions focus on processes that hinder the success of teaching online or strategic and sometimes philosophical standpoints. This leads sessions down a slippery slope. By presenting a basic framework like this first, the chances of a focused discussion on the subject of my presentation are much greater.
So the Prezi provided has the following three sections:
Before designing: Basically, what I’m concerned with here is ensuring that you know why you are designing a purely online or blended learning course. Our context has a focus of converting from face-to-face, but it applies to creating something from scratch. The “why” question is a whole area in itself, which I won’t dwell on here. The other noteworthy issue is whether you replace what you are currently doing with whatever you are designing now. This refers to replacing something purely online with something face-to-face. Most will not want to teach solely online. This is not what they signed up for when they embarked on this career! So duplication is the preferred way to go. I will probably rework this section. I think most of the important issues are there, but I’m not happy about the title and some of the wording.
Structural considerations: The Prezi above is minus screenshots of example structures within our VLE. However, we have the key considerations. In reality these considerations are not decided upon before the actually activity or content design. It is an iterative process.
Online course needs – bespoke (customized) content, activities, readings: This is the meat of the presentation, and the focus is on the activities. The categories feel a bit simplistic, but I think they work. What I’m keen to do is to make the point that uploading your Powerpoint from a face-to-face lecture isn’t good enough for bespoke content. You want specially created documents or multimedia at the very least. So I describe this area as bespoke content. Because we are HE, “readings” gets its own area (the things in this bubble refer to our systems). For the activities bubbles, my split between asynchronous and synchronous was an easy design choice. They are such different beasts that we need to talk about them separately. What I’ve outlined are the main tools available to us in our Blackboard VLE (virtual learning environment). Moodlers out there will notice that Moodle has more to offer. C’est la vie. I probably should have put e-portfolios in there, however. What this model doesn’t acknowledge is the relationship between the activities and the bespoke content. A blurring of the boundaries here would have got in the way of the message, but this can come out when you talk.
Finally, some reflections on using Prezi for this presentation. I did a few Prezis a year ago but haven’t done any since. My intention here was to present large structures and show relationships that could then be used to focus on individual elements. Doing it this way forces you to think hard about how the pieces fit together. When I started, I didn’t know what these structures would look like, and, to be honest, I had hoped for better. However, it was a valuable exercise, and I think it has a better look and feel using this tool. With Powerpoint you can often get away with casually listing things as they come to mind and talk about them. BTW, if you just jump from one thing to the next without any big picture, there’s no point using Prezi. What’s frustrating about Prezi is that when you decide to move a bubble and all it’s contents, it’s a fiddly job. There’s supposed to be a multiple select option, but I couldn’t get this to work so I was forever dragging things around. Perhaps sketching things out on paper first is a good idea.
Anyway, I hope you find looking at the presentation and reading these reflections interesting. Presentations without the talking can only be so useful, but hopefully you can get something from it. Feedback would be gratefully received.
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