Thursday, May 14, 2009

OISA Flexible Learning & Teaching

Our flexible learning and teaching policy appears to be quite ‘open’ and broad. However, it does appear to provide serious attention to flexibility in teaching and learning and states that “It is our intention to have 25% of all courses being delivered” in such ways; although, I am yet to identify when this target is to be achieved. Further, the document in several areas appears to have an on-line focus in terms of flexibility.

Our policy identifies a wide variety of flexible approaches that are and can be utilised by staff and students including: blended delivery, e mail, online resources, animations, simulations, video clips, audio material, (pod casting) case scenarios, discussions as well maintaining face to face contact. Pretty impressive!

Several staff members both internal to the OISA and external have been identified to lead the continued development of our flexible delivery approach. Significant training has been undertaken by staff already to ‘upskill’ in the use of on-line tools including BlackBoard, and will continue to take place as and when required. Otago Polytechnic Information Technology support is also available for the upskilling of our staff.

Returning to my previous comment about the flexible delivery appearing to have a slant towards on-line content in our document, in relation to student support the document suggests that “the majority of OISA students are under the age of 25 and are generally computer literate with the mature students often requiring additional support”.

The document indicates that in addition to face to face support, students will “be supported by an orientation to Otago Polytechnic Learning Management System at the beginning of each programme. Texting, emailing and announcements on Blackboard are the main support tools used. Team work and peer support is an integral part of OISA programme delivery and pastoral care is provided in the first instance by lecturing staff and if need be referral is made to appropriate support services. Students at a distance are supported by telephone and e mail with referral options (e.g. to another Tertiary Institution) being made available".

Despite having a slant towards the on-line aspect of flexible delivery, and there being no mention of flexible assessment the OISA appears to be making significant efforts to provide students with flexible delivery options.

Bioscience at Otago Polytechnic

I had a chat with Megan Gibbons who teaches Bioscience on the Midwifery programme at the Otago Polytechnic. The Midwifery programme caters to students throughout the South Island of New Zealand.

Flexible delivery on the Bioscience course involves use of both Elluminate and Moodle.

According to Megan, Elluminate is used because it allows high quality distance interaction between the tutor and the student during tutorial sessions. Students have the opportunity to discuss various issues during such sessions. Elluminate sessions take place at 9.30am on the days that these are run so as to allow parents sufficient time to drop off their children at school, should they need.

Megan felt that a downside to using Elluminate is that it does not allow the tutor to pick up face to face signals such as student body language which would help the tutor to pick up on whether students “get it”. However, she felt that tone of voice may assist in this judgement.

Moodle is used on the Bioscience course for a number of reasons.

1. The Midwifery programme is run in conjunction with CPIT (hyperlink) who were existing users of Moodle
2. It is cheaper to use than the existing on-line tool at the Otago Polytechnic.
3. Moodle is a great way to get information to students. The Bioscience course has the following types of information and resources.
a. Course outline
b. Objectives for each session
c. Reading materials
d. Lecture notes and slides – with the capacity to do voice overs to go with these.
e. Quizzes
f. And crossword exercises
g. Extensive use is also made of the forum facility on Moodle which allows students and tutor to “discuss” any issues or topics of interest and relevance. There is also the capability to make forums open to the public or closed. Megan felt that a closed forum provided students a sense of safety in the on-line environment.
h. Also, the tutor is able to take a roll to identify who is taking part.

Megan and the team at Midwifery have taken this flexible approach because it allows mature students to fit in study commitments around their busy schedules. Students are able to access the information when they want it.

Megan did point out that it takes a lot of time to develop the resources for Moodle, however it is well worth the effort. From her experience it also means that there is quite a bit of pastoral care in order to help the students when they have issues and such on-line learning options were favoured by some students and not by others, as will, no-doubt, be the case with most learning tools.

The on-line nature of the Midwifery programme also allows students to complete a four year degree in three years because students can access the information over holiday breaks.

By all accounts the Midwifery programme is doing very well this year, with part of this success being due to the flexible nature of its courses and staff.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Flexible Learning is no Cake Walk

One of the main things that’s struck me from the following resources (Panel Discussion; Reading; Video) in reference to flexible learning is the need for students to develop the ability to monitor and control their study habits. Without this ability, no amount of flexibility in learning and teaching is going to enable the student to achieve.
One of the most valuable things I’ve done while being an extramural student through both Otago and Massey Universities’ is the need to become absolutely clear as to what it is that I want to achieve from my studies.

Deep and Meaningful

Following Massey’s suggestion I sat down with paper and pen and wrote out my deep and meaningful (to me) reasons for wanting to carry on with my studies. Since that time, three years ago, I’ve come back to that piece of paper on several occasions when my motivation has been...challenged.
Studying as an adult is tough going at times. We all have our ups and downs, when it comes to study and fitting it in around life but if you’re clear in your mind why you’re doing your studies you are better placed to get through those most challenging situations. Write out your whys and come back to them when you need.

Lean on them/me…

Throughout my time studying through Massey I’ve been faced with some pretty hefty life changing situations. Aside from the unwavering support of my wife, extended family and friends, something that has enabled me to stay on track is the “flexibility” and understanding of the teaching staff that I’ve been involved with. When I contacted them about this and that going on in my life they were totally understanding and gave me the extension/s or support that I required in order to stay on track. If I’m to be a successfully flexible teacher, then I need to display an empathy and understanding towards my students in order for them to succeed, whoever, and wherever they may be.