Operational Issues 1a) An understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technology.
You should show how you have used (or supported others to use) technology appropriately, given the constraints and benefits it provides within your context. Evidence in support of such statements might include a brief commentary on the choices behind the development and use of learning technology that influence its fitness for purpose. (This might discuss issues as affordances of the technology, viability, sustainability, scalability, interoperability and value for money.) You may already have something like this in the form of a design outline, proposal, conference presentation or similar. You should include such existing documentation wherever it seems relevant. Alternatively, you might want to take this opportunity to find out more about a technology you have deployed and produce a report on its viability.
Prior to 2017 our method of training partners was by either travelling in person to other institutions or delivering training via webinar’s using our virtual classroom tool Collaborate Ultra.
The benefits of visiting partners to provide face to face training were that it was possible to support their learning needs by providing realtime demonstrations and answer questions as they arose. However, the disadvantages were that these are very costly.
Webinars, in comparison, were much more cost effective. But, when running these as two-hour training sessions I found that the level of interaction was much less than in face to face training and much of the same content was repeated between sessions with few questions from those participating. Also trainers were often asked for these to be recorded as videos so that they could be shared with other staff.
As a result of these observations I proposed to the Academic Partnership Office that we develop three new structured training courses: Basics (Introduction to Blackboard Learn), Enhancements (Additional tools for teaching and learning) and Assessments.
The main benefit of these was that they would be scaleable resources. In addition the Academic Partnership Office requested our courses provide tracking of staff engagement.
When considering which platform to use to for these I looked at four of our existing licensed learning technologies;
- Blackboard Learn – Organisation.
- Edublogs site (Manually created WordPress site).
- CoursePress (WordPress plugin included with Edublogs).
- Xerte (Standalone Elearning package).
After initial testing, I discounted Xerte and a standard Edublog blog site as neither could record or track user progress. In evaluating the benefits and considerations of adopting the remaining options; CoursePress and Blackboard Learn Organisations, I identified the following points.
Benefits of using CoursePress.
- All Northampton staff including partners, can self enrol on courses.
- The template derived course pages are fully accessible and responsive on all devices including smart-phones.
- Tests within the course content can be used to record learner progress.
- Administrators can run reports on learner progress.
- The platform is provided and supported by Edublogs and is available at no additional cost.
- Media can be added from our video host Kaltura.
Constraints of using CoursePress.
- CoursePress is a template driven platform and changes to the platform are limited by the functionality of the plugin.
- Reporting features have limited functionality and users cannot be grouped.
- The plugin has not been previously tested at the University of Northampton.
Benefits of using a Blackboard Learn Organisation
- Flexible design with folders, or learning units to present information.
- Integrates with other systems such as Kaltura (Video).
- Tests can be used to record progress and linked by a weighted column to show overall progress.
Constraints of using a Blackboard Learn Organisation
- Blackboard Learn 9.2 is unsuitable for mobile devices (currently non-responsive).
- The enrolment process requires manual intervention.
When comparing these two options I recommended CoursePress on the basis that it provided better features for monitoring staff progression, the templates were better suited to online training, and the platform’s responsive layouts displayed well on all devices.
Feelings – what were you thinking and feeling?
Having visited a partner institution in 2017 to provide Learning Technology training I found that I would deliver a maximum of four hours training per day before the trainees’ attention wavered. From the four-day visit, I spent 12 hours travelling, but only 8 hours providing training. And noted that staff found it difficult to follow demonstrations when they became complex
I felt that this was an expensive and some what unproductive way to train partner staff, both in terms of the cost of travelling and accommodation, but also in the time I was away from the office.
When moving the basic training to webinars it was difficult to know at what level to pitch the training.
I found that some partner staff had previous experience of VLE systems such as Blackboard Learn, whilst others had note. To ensure all the content was covered I script the sessions to cover the range of needs. I experimented with providing a recording as pre-learning and then using the webinar to answer questions but was asked to repeat the steps in the webinar as most of the participants had not watched the videos.
The new online courses aimed to address these problems and improve on our provision for training partners by covering a much wider range of information than was possible in online webinars or by campus visits. And offered the additional benefit of being available at any time for the tutors to refer back to.
My recommendation to develop our courses on CoursePress was based on research and testing of the platform. However, we ran into a few technical problems after adopting the tool. Fortunately, the developers fixed these issues whilst very few students were enrolled on the first course, and after these problems were ironed out. We found CoursePress to be stable and reliable.
Evaluation – What was good and what was bad about the experience.
I was very fortunate to have access to CoursePress to develop these courses, this is included in our Edublogs license and we are therefore provided with full technical support. Other options I considered such as Blackboard Learn would not be as feature-rich nor allow us to report on user progress.
Analysis – What sense can you make of the situation
All three of our online Learning Technology training courses have been successfully released to staff, and as a result, we no longer visit partner institutions to provide training, and only offer Collaborate training for partners upon request.
The courses are running well, and are regularly updated by myself to reflect changes with our Learning Technology systems.
Conclusion – What else could you have done?
In hindsight, it would have been useful to have formulated development teams for each course and not to have been solely responsible for the build of each. One drawback of building the courses myself is that others in the team have not been motivated to recommend them.
Action Plan – If it arose again what would I do?
If I started this project again, I would ask for the scope to be extended to look at training platforms that could integrate with our staff records. When discussing this with colleagues it has been suggested this would require the purchase of a (costly) new elearning platform, but given the potential benefits, I think this may be worthy of future consideration.
Email from Vicky Brown (LearnTech Manager 2015-18) on role of APO courses in training strategy for partner staff.
"At the EWO Operational Working Group meeting on Monday I put forward our recommendation that the NILE Basics and NILE Assessments courses now be officially rolled out and promoted as the first point of reference for NILE training for a) all new partners b) all new tutors at existing partners c) all existing tutors by way of providing up-to-date and consistent information. If partners / tutors then subsequently have questions / further training requirements are identified, these can be referred back via APO (Maggie/ Rashmi/ Jacob) to me in the first instance. Depending on the subject area, these will then be allocated to the relevant LT if available and delivered jointly with either Maggie/ Rashmi/ Jacob or the UoN link tutor, the latter who will be able to provide learning & teaching / subject input. Does that sound acceptable?
I informed Lorraine and others that the APO now have the ability to track who has enrolled and completed what in the CoursePress sites – we need to show them how they can run these reports.
Lorraine did point out that she thought that there would still be occasions when LearnTechs would be required to deliver f2f training at the introductory level: I think this needs further exploration and discussion as I am not quite sure what the rationale is behind this, but I did point out that if that’s the case, we had agreed between us that we would be using elements of the CoursePress content in this delivery. In that way, there is no requirement to create new resources at that introductory level, there is consistency and partner tutors can revisit in their own time – it will also raise awareness of these resources that they can draw on as and when need dictates."
NILE Online training courses (Project Coordinator / Content Creator)
Email to Vicky Brown (Learning Technology Manager 2015-2018) on effectiveness of Collaborate for training Partner tutors.
15 November 2017 12:06
I found delivering the Collaborate training session this morning quite challenging as there was one intermediate tutor asking questions (which were hard to understand), and seven beginners who didn’t interact at all.
It was therefore hard to pitch the training and gauge any responses..
One thing that did come up is that the staff this morning don’t yet have Blackboard logins, can we add this to our list of training considerations?”
UoN Learning Technolgist.