Good online courses – related teams and design examples

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When we support staff to deliver effective online activities using technology, we inevitably help them to review their online course design. We want to know what’s the purpose of the online activity, what are the objectives of the course, and what are their expectations for learning outcomes. I read the article “Teaching the Principles of Effective Online Course Design: What Works?”. A diagram of Members of the Course Development Team in the article has attracted my attention. I asked myself questions “Where is the role of learning technologist in the this diagram?” “Is learning technologist a general term that covers the four areas in the diagram?” Thinking of my work, it seems the Instructional Designer work area closer to the Learning technologist.

Then I spent a bit time to read the article “What’s the Best Job Title for Those Who Build E-Learning Courses?” and the discussions underneath, and Multiple Skills that are required in developing e-learning courses. I prefer to focus on what skills we need to have and develop in order to support/deliver successful e-learning courses.

Back to the point of effective online course design, there are many excellent course examples to inspire us to create something original. Have a look at the available course tour, to see which design ideas will be the most helpful for your own course design.

“The Blackboard Exemplary Course Program (ECP) began in 2000 with the goal of identifying and disseminating best practices for designing high quality courses.”

Blackboard Inc.

“AU Exemplary Course Award (ECA) is to support staff in enhancing their modules on AberLearn Blackboard and to share good practice across the university.”

Aberystwyth University

LER & Uses of technology using action research – Week 6

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In this week, there are many reflective exercises on my own learning experience in this course study. I can see it tries to help me to gain a habit of thinking over the past activities I have taken and the comments other people made. The article “Effective Reflective Practice: In Search of Meaning in Learning about Teaching” shows an example of the benefits from taking reflective practice.

On these aspect, I asked questions and answered:

  • Have I found something I didn’t notice in the webinar recording when I watched it at the first time?
  • Why did the presenters do their research study using those methods? What’s the advantages and disadvantages?
  • Have I learned anything from other’s comments? If I were them, what would I do and why?

What knowledge have I acquired from this course? I listed the key ones for me.

  • Research method – ‘Video diaries’ which encourages students to contribute.
  • Research method – De Bono’s Thinking Hats which is to help increase productivity.
  • Inviting students as research partners (see the SALT project).
  • Conduct engaged dissemination, which is to engage the learner/user through the life of the project.
  • Collaborative writing needs people to see other’s editing and comments in a positive way.

Last but not least I submitted my assignment of producing a digital artefact to describe the next things I will be doing to take a project forward and what I found useful about the course.

LER & Uses of technology using action research – Week 5

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I am catching up the Week 5, which is about the strategies and techniques of creating a dissemination and publication plan.

Why disseminate? For me, it’s to share it and let people who are relevant to the area to recognise the research, and further to get feedback. Do you want to conduct a study that only yourself knows?

There are many channels to help disseminate a research study, however crucially it needs to be clear who are the audience and what the writing aims for. I have learnt to think about how to dissemination by considering (1) different modes of communication (e.g., texts, speech, visual, sound, etc.). There is a very useful resource of different modalities developed by UCL. (2) Different methods and platforms (e.g., conference, seminars, internal or external events, journals, report, social media, blogs, wikis, SlideShare etc.). I have used social media like blogs and tweets and workshops, but haven’t used TweetChat and Storify much. I would like to explore these more.

I particularly like the ‘engaged dissemination’ session as I haven’t had engaged participants in my investigation design and the writing a lot. I didn’t ask myself if the participants can be co-author or involve in the design of the project conduction. This will be my main concerned part in conducting a research study. There is a very useful suggestion from the Unit 4:

“People are generally more receptive to ideas and research findings if they have some ownership and engagement during the project, rather than just being presented with a ‘cold’ report at the end.”

I was glad to have the opportunity to see the SALT project led by the Teesside University. It’s a great example of developing innovative educational approach through encouraging student partnership to make real impact.  I’m also happy to notice the Know it Wall website sponsored by JISC, which is a platform for top universities to present on-going research to the public.

Through the activities such as TweetChat, Reflecting on case study, Reading recommended articles, and Writing my own dissemination plan in this week, I see that action research can be a very powerful methodology in my work as it involves a process that is thoughtful and focusing on the improvement that we want to enact through the study.

LER & Uses of technology using action research – Week 4

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I’m a week behind due to some unexpected work that took my spare time away. This week I started to learn more about action research. I quite like the definition from the “Action Research A Guide for Associate Lecturers”  (The Open University, 2015. P.4)

“Action research can be described as: any research into practice undertaken by those involved in that practice, with an aim to change and improve it. It is therefore, a process of enquiry by you as a practitioner (an OU tutor in this case) into the effectiveness of your own teaching and your students’ learning.”

It’s interesting to read the article “The Meaning and Evolution of the Word Parrhesia” (Foucault, 1999), which I had no idea what “Parrhesia” means. It is a philosophic article about the history of this word and a study about if people speak the truth and how true it is. For me, it’s hard to really know a person is telling the truth or not, and judge if the person knows he/she is telling the truth. I think what the researcher could do is to accept what it is, and collect a serials of evidence from different channels and analyse what it is.

Yes, always bearing in mind who are your readers and whom your article is writing for so you know why you write up in certain ways, and what the readers’ expectation of reading your writing.

This week’s sessions mainly help me to learn the process of writing up and the outcome of writing up. The aim of writing up action research is to present two stories (see below). Thus how to present my stories and writing in what structure become crucial.

  • The ‘Action’ story – the conducting in the research topic area and its development.
  • The ‘Research’ story – the researcher’s reflection on his/her own research experience.

Considering writing authentically, I used to be taught to avoid using “I” and “we” in academic paper. Therefore I hardly used the first person in my working reports, support articles, and academic papers. However, it’s different in action research writing. It is suggested here:

Undertaking writing in action research requires that you write authentically in the first person, bringing your ‘action’ and ‘research’ stories together into a coherent narrative.

I’m also glad to read the article “What is good action research?” (Huang, 2010). It lists seven features of good quality action research, which is helpful when thinking of the outcome of writing up.

  1. Articulation of objectives – are the aims of the action research study clear?
  2. Partnership and participation – to what extent did stakeholders actually participate in the research?
  3. Contribution to action research theory/practice – does the work make an innovative contribution to the field?
  4. Methods and process – are these articulated and clarified?
  5. Actionability – Does the study lead to new actions?
  6. Reflexivity – Did the researchers explicityly locate themselves as change agents?
  7. Significance – What is the significance of the study to area of study?

In addition, I learned three common misconceptions of action research from this article (p.101, p.103) and remind myself to avoid them.

  • Action research emerges from working with practitioners,  and it emphasised on “partnership and participation”. Interacting only with formal power holders is not action research. Thus, I understand that the research I have conducted about the “user requirements for virtual classroom/collaborative tools” is not action research!
  • Simply sharing one’s insights is not action research.  Ask yourself do practitioners engaged with actionable knowledge?
  • Action research is sloppy? No, it is not sloppy even though it raises confusion due to reflecting on paradigm differently.

LER & Uses of technology using action research – Week 3

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This week, I have learnt how to start “Action research”. The most interesting activity is to start a cognitive trial, which uses Plan, Do, Observe and Review as a quick test of my research questions I designed last week. I need to test a purposively chosen sample (at least one) of my likely participant/respondents. As I have mentioned in the first week that I am not in the position of undertaking a research study, in this activity, I took a face-to-face meeting with a user as an opportunity to try cognitive trial.

“In Action research you are explicitly placed as a participant observer, whose views are as much in consideration as those of your trial subject(s). A cognitive trial should always be conducted as an action research cycle: plan, do, observe, review.” (From Unite 2, week 3).

I have planned the observation and explained it to the user whom I had a meeting with. Unfortunately, in the meeting it’s mainly to respond the user’s feedback of their experience of using a learning technology so far, it’s not recorded. As I need to provide further information for the user in terms of their comments and our recommendations, the observation commentary will be included in the meeting minutes and guide for the next meeting. An analysis of my findings of the user’s experience so far will be added into our user case stage report.

The second activity is to read an article about the ethical challenges of researching in Facebook and to consider the problems of authenticity and validity relating to my planned research study. It’s useful to learn the AERA (2011) Guidelines and BERA Ethical Guidelines (2011). One particular point about “Confidentiality” in researching an open context is stated by AERA (2011, 12.02.c, p.150) as below. I would argue too that the participants have the right to be informed about the research observation, and their open personal information shouldn’t be identified in the research report.

Confidentiality is not required with respect to observations in public places, activities conducted in public, or other settings where no rules of privacy are provided by law or custom. Similarly, confidentiality is not required in the case of information from publicly available records.

Useful reading resources:

LER & Uses of technology using action research – Week 2

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This week sessions focus on three defining characteristics of learner experience research below. It aims to help me to clarify the learner experience research that I would like to conduct.

  • Gaining sustained engagement with participants (using technologies)
  • Trustworthiness
  • Participatory approaches (check back the data correct)

How do we gain sustained engagement with participants? 

When advocating an upcoming research study, it would be helpful to present some previous research studies that the researcher or the research team has conducted to the learners. It provides an opportunity for the participants to see how they can engaged in the research, what would impact on their experience, and what consequences would have after the research.

Student representatives in schools and the Student Union connect to students directly. They play a key role in encouraging participation.

Students often connect to their tutors/instructors and schools closely. They see the information coming from staff in the school is more trustful. A learner experience research study could be designed through discussing with the staff first. Then through the school, researchers can recruit more participants.

In my previous experience, I found many of our research studies University wide are large-scale survey and run annually. Considering an investigation of the VLE users experience, I have suggested that we also provide a permanent feedback/comments area in our VLE homepage. So when users have a common about something related to VLE, they can just send it to us. They don’t need to wait for the annual survey to tell us their experience.

A research should use multiple methods that it’s good for participants to participate. For instance, using both email interview, online survey, and video diaries all together.

In addition, it’s common nowadays to provide incentives for participants. Personally I wonder if there is research about how much incentives can affect participation? In my team, budget is limited, it’s difficult for us to provide incentives.

How do we establish trustworthiness in the research?

Trustworthiness is one of the quality criteria for qualitative research whiles rigour is one of the quantitative research quality criteria. To minimise the risk of avoidable errors, I think the key is to be aware of issues in qualitative research and apply multiple strategies. Here are some:

  • Ask research questions are important. It should avoid the researcher’s perceptions and not lead participants’ answer.
  • Ask participants to check and confirm their data during data analysis.
  • Make the research transparent and use peer debriefing to get wider review and checking by peers in the area.
  • To not exclude some group of participants (e.g., disabled people, or part-time students, distance students.)

What is the nature of participatory approaches?

This is an arguable area as it’s related to personal information. I think all qualitative research has bias just like each researcher has unconscious bias. Watching the ESRC’s National Centre for Research Methods video podcasts, I noticed that being different from conventional approaches, it’s to empower participation and encourage participants to collaborate with the researcher, and learn from participants. The inclusive, equal partnership, and ethics preparation in participation are essential.

I learnt new research methods which are developed over the recent 10 years. It’s good to see some of the first studies of learners’ experiences of e-learning used innovative methods to uncover learners’ lived experiences such as email interviewing and audio logs. Meanwhile, it’s necessary to have a look at the self-study materials on planning and conducting online interviews, questionnaires and ethical issues. I particularly like this statement: “The role of learner experience methods is making visible experiences of all learners“. I realised that many of the online research methods have not included the participation that could have, for instance, people with disabilities due to accessibility issues. As I haven’t thought and checked the accessibility of the common online research methods used in my work, this can be a valuable area for me to investigate.

In this week, video diaries as a method of qualitative data gathering for research has called my interest. I wonder how much the students are willing to reflect on their own experience in a video and how truly they’s like to show their experience. I see the potential in this method to include people who rely on assistive technologies to participate in research. It can facilitate learners to reflect on what might help or not help in their experience. Meanwhile the researcher can learn from the participants by watching their video diaries.

Digital accessibility course – week 5

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The last week is about accessibility for everyone in everyday life. I think we all have a lot linking to it.

On 1st October 1999 San Francisco unveiled the first accessible (talking) ATM in the United States. I haven’t noticed if any of the ATM I used in the UK has Talking accessibility. Therefore I searched and found that the first Talking ATM might be installed in 2012 in UK. The first ATM in China was installed in the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Shanghai branch in 1988. The first talking accessible ATM was installed in the Industrial Bank Co.,Ltd in 2015 in China.

The National Federation of the Blind in the United States has mounted a campaign The Home Appliance Accessibility Act: seeking sponsorship in 2012 for legislation on domestic appliances. I searched and found the UK law on the design and supply of products. In China, it covers by three laws:

It’s good to see learn the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). I didn’t realise there are many accessibility guidelines existed.

We can easily find an example of home appliances and self-service terminals (SSTs) outside the home which has accessible issues. Therefore everyone should try to avoid creating accessibility barriers using the universal design principles:

In addition, to reduce accessibility barriers, we should involve users in innovative technology research, design and development. The Research Institute for Consumer Affairs (Rica) is a good example. However, bearing in mind that a product shouldn’t make people feel stigmatising (see the first Principle of 7 Principles Universal Design which is ‘Equitable Use’).

So far I have learnt to be aware of accessibility issues and the Accessibility legislation in different countries, remember to refer to the universal design principles to design/choose products, read the WCAG2.0 guidelines to create accessible web content and use document accessibility guidelines to check document accessibility. More I will take into my practices.

At the end, I have to say thank you University of Southampton and the partner universities to help us understand how important the accessible digital technologies are and how we can overcome barriers encountered by people with sensory, physical or cognitive impairments.

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