A Tailor Made Opportunity

Stephanie Day, a New Zealand tertiary student, shares her thoughts on the importance of communication in an online course.

CommunicationI have just completed a project for my Multimedia Course.  I was fortunate to have an assignment tailored to my interests and was given the opportunity to work with a Lecturer at EIT who facilitates an online course.  The assessment required the development of  some multimedia content, a collaborative/constructivist approach and was centric to my needs and individual interest in e-learning and design.
Initially focusing of providing the interactive Flash content and a tidy up of the online resources, my interest developed over the course of the semester into the areas of technology acceptance, collaborative learning spaces and the importance of communication.
I enrolled in the course as an observer and I followed the activities of the course participants and watched with some interest their interaction with each other. There was none. In a class situation, you talk to your peers, help each other out, form groups, bond.
With all the ways of communicating within the LMS (Moodle) – the Wikis, the Forums, why weren’t the students using this to keep in touch, share information and ask questions? I found the environment quite sterile. I did some reading on the Technology Acceptance Model – thinking about why perhaps the Students didn’t use the technology that was available. I gave some thought to social media. Perhaps forums are now outdated and the students may have been more comfortable using a less formal environment like Facebook. With the integration of Docs into the Facebook environment, there could have been a nice little bit of collaboration going on there, safe, friendly.  There were issues with some of the students not being able to read the documents online.  What about Google Docs? No proprietary software required.
I gave thought also to the course tutors acceptance of the technology. Does their technological attitudes, their willingness to experiment and adopt new technologies affect the willingness of participants also? Is there enough organisational and technical support to ensure there is a degree of comfort with using the tools?  I realised early on that one or two posts from the course facilitator each week was not enough.  There needed to be more interaction.  Its not enough to post material online and expect the rest to take care of itself.  Reading pages of word documents doesn’t help the learning process if that is all there is.  There was no opportunity to apply the understanding of these documents into a real world sense.  I attempted to remedy this by providing some Flash based interactive content using NZ based scenarios that required prior learning from the reading content.  There still seemed to be something missing.  I put it down to the lack of ongoing communication, although I could only compare what I saw, to what I would like as an online student. It was interesting to note that participation decreased as the course progressed.
I read and explored many ideas about e-learning over the course of the semester.  I attended webinars, listened in on Keynote speakers at conferences, expanded my twitter connections and followed edtech and edchat hashtags, read blogs and wikis in my quest to find some answers.  I read about Blooms Taxonomy, cognitive load theories and Instructional Design, focusing on their application and relevance in the 21st Century.  I downloaded and played with software tools that could be used to enhance the learning experience, installed a local Moodle to play with and learn from.  I wrote up all my Flash Actionscript 3 learning in a wiki for others to use if they so wished and started social bookmarking with Delicious instead of Evernote, so I could share my links.
What I also learned is that the enthusiasm and momentum needs to be driven from the top and that facilitating an online course so that it is successful, dynamic and interesting takes a lot of work – possibly more so than in a classroom situation.  For some, this will require a shift in their thinking.
I want to be part of this, leading change, moving forward and helping to create collaborative and dynamic student-centric learning environments and resources.  From my own learning experiences, I know this is the right way to go, I also know it wont be easy, but It could be incredibly rewarding.

Stephanie DayStephanie Day lives in Napier, New Zealand and is undertaking her own personal learning adventure. You can read more of her thoughts on her blog, and this article originally appeared there in Oct 2010.

To set her learning adventure in context her writes, “Us girls quite often put our own needs aside as we deal to those of our Husbands, Children, community and school groups and a myriad of other things that demand our attention each day.  Then suddenly, here we are, with a realization that we now have the time to devote to ourselves and that life isn’t a dress rehearsal, and by goodness we need to do something for ourselves before its too late!”

Her journey involves her love of technology and discovery, and along the way she is sharing all the cool things she’s learning, about herself and this wonderful time we live in.

Image by krossbow

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