Project update

The teaching part of our experimental online ‘pod’ is now 75% completed and – although most of the research activities to gather primary data from the student participants in the project team are still to be done – there are already several interesting issues which emerge from close observation of the work of the online groups. The activities are clearly structured, with task completion dates followed by prompt formative feedback. Here are some interim thoughts.

The inputs (teaching materials) used so far include:

  • Voiced-over Prezi and PowerPoint presentations presented on NILE as videos;
  • A series of 60 second videos summarising key concepts, (such as the Language Acquisition Device and the Zone of Proximal Development) which are posted on NILE;
  • Links to open access materials from YouTube;
  • Links to clips of a TV documentary (using BoB/Box of Broadcasts) as the basis of a small group mini-project.

Many of the outcomes (student produced materials) are excellent, and indeed have exceeded our expectations. The students have completed a range of participatory tasks exploiting the materials listed above:

  • Taking part in small group asynchronous discussions using discussion boards/wikis;
  • Creating small group PowerPoint presentations as part of a jigsaw activity (using the BoB clips) where each group had one piece of the puzzle to explore and explain;
  • Sharing individual audio summaries concerning the structure of certain types of spoken language (interviews, telephone conversations and such) which are posted on the ‘file exchange’ of each small group;

Several of the wiki discussions have a lot of in-depth discussions, though some remain rather like a listing of individual points with little to-and-fro discussion. There are several audio clips in the group file shares which are really excellent. However – and this should be a surprise to no one – we are sensing that after three weeks of online interaction some groups may be showing dwindling involvement.

Hence some (interim) reflections include the following, and these indicate further topics we need to explore and also suggest some outcomes the project team could produce:

  • Perhaps the 4-week stint with no face-to-face contact is simply too much – if so we need to try to establish what kind of ratio is effective and acceptable to the students.
  • For some students the amount of contribution they feel able to give to online tasks may be MORE than if the same activities were in-class. We have to make sure that our research does not have an inbuilt bias to assume that online/face2face is de facto better/worse than the other.
  • To follow up the underlying reasons for any non-engagement there are several areas we can explore in the primary research with the student participants in this project. For example we suspect there are several ‘design’ faults of the current pod:
  1. The choices we made about using discussion boards/wikis/file sharing were not always correct. These choices need to envisage clearly what/how the students should be doing AND the form of the final output (e.g. is the PROCESS of discussion the intended task outcome, or is there a PRODUCT they are co-producing)?
  2. The instructions for how to use the different tools were not clear enough (a simple example is the distinction between asking students to use ‘edit’ or ‘comment’ when using wikis).
    For both of these we can try to produce project outcomes (OERs/RLOs) aimed at colleagues (1 above) and students (2 above)

In order to delve more deeply into the students’ experiences of this pod I am considering using a three-tier distinction of factors relating to adaptations to change which I have used in other research previously, and which we may be able to adapt of this project. The types of factors may include:

  • AFFECTIVE which would relate to an overall liking/disliking of this form of learning;
  • COGNITIVE which relates to an understanding of the reasons why such approaches to learning are employed;
  • PERFORMATIVE which relates to a ‘knowing-how’ to do the various tasks (partly IT, but perhaps other more general things like feeling confident to email other group members to say ‘hey, let’s get this show on the road’).

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