Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My flexible learning idea

I’m looking at making one of my first year courses, Psychological Skills Training 1 (PST 1), a first year sport spychology course more, ‘flexible’.

Please note that although I will be making greater use of electronic media in order to make PST 1 more flexible in design I will be prepared to provide hard copy resources to students should they not have sufficient electronic access (i.e., they don’t have internet access) or, alternatively, do whatever it takes to enable potential students to learn any time, any place, anywhere.

Initial contact/block course

Although it will not be possible for all students to come this might be a good icebreaker and help develop a sense of ‘group’ within the class. Information covered in the contact/block course will be available in other forms (e.g., written, discussed on Eluminate).

Students could firstly identify why they are studying

The course could begin with a brief overview of what sport psychology is, which is important as sport psychology is often misunderstood. This way everyone will start off on the same page.

In an effort to develop autonomy and ‘buy in’ throughout the class, the next step could be to have them contribute to the design of the course by identifying common topics that they would like to know more about. Perhaps I could offer a range of different topics which would best fit with the aims and learning outcomes of the course and the students could vote or discuss and agree upon which one’s they feel will be of most value to their learning or sporting performance, or most interesting.

When the content of the course is established the next step could be to identify the preferred methods of assessment for the course and dates by which assessment tasks should be submitted. Again, this strategy may assist in the development of a sense of autonomy and help to create ‘buy in’ to the assessment strategies.

Lessons on how to use Moodle and Eluminate will also be provided during the contact course.

Main teaching strategies

At this stage I see the main learning material being provided on Moodle in the form of presentations with voiceovers. The information will also be available in written form for those without internet access. It may also be possible to make class material available on podcasts and down loadable from Moodle.

Note: It is important that this course remains more than just being about information transfer. As such, students will be challenged on a regular basis to consider how the information applies to their sporting experience, and how they can utilize the information in a practical sense. .

I will be available to answer questions via e-mail and telephone on a daily basis.

Also using Moodle -

‘Discussion’ boards could be organized and could be used by students and myself to ‘discuss’ questions that arise throughout the course. These could also be used to discuss current events in sport that relate particularly well to sport psychology, and anything else that students want to discuss.

Weekly Eluminate sessions could be used for tutorial purposes and could cover similar material to that covered in discussion groups.

Face to face lectures would be available on a regular basis in order to meet the needs of students who enjoy contact time.

By using Moodle, Eluminate and face to face sessions I will be able to keep track of the students and get a feel for who is ‘engaging’ in the course.

Students will also be made aware of suitable resources both electronic and hard copy that may assist in their learning including textbooks, journals, CD ROM, blogs and websites.

You Tube - With there being so much information available on You Tube these days I could provide links to relevant interviews or situations that link back to course material.

In lectures I use quite a lot of video footage from recent sporting events as examples of where, when, how sport psychology knowledge or lack thereof can influence performance. Such footage could be viewed in a contact/block course.

Lesson – Massey University used to send out DVD’s with video footage on them, however they reportedly found this to be quite expensive and have since reverted to showing video footage in extramural contact courses.


Please keep in mind that the majoirity of students studying PST 1 are between 17 and 18 years of age and are involved in their first year of tertiary study. The value of being able to run flexible courses cannot be denied, the ability to reach more students is likely to be good for all involved. However, looking back through my previous blogs (May 6th) reminds me how challenging flexible study and self-directed learning can be.

In order to succeed students must 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.

I have some concerns…

I am concerned about the capability of younger students (i.e., 17 – 19) being able to self-manage their studies. Although I am not yet aware of research looking at this issue (perhaps someone could lead me in the right direction) my concerns stem from a variety of experiences including:

1. My own experiences as a student around that age (“motivationally distracted”!)

2. My teaching experiences with students in this age bracket – many, especially young men, appear to struggle with time management and commitment to study responsibility, as did I.

3. Reports from colleagues in other institutions that student self-management appears to have become worse in recent years. It has been anecdotally suggested that this is at least in part due to recent changes in high school teaching and assessment structures.

In an effort to help my students overcome such concerns I will need to come up with strategies to help them get and remain on track.

Getting and keeping on track

In a previous blog (May 6th) I discussed the personal value of an exercise that involved me analysing my reasons for wanting to get and remain involved in my studies. This is why I will utilise a similar exercise in the initial contact/block course so that students are clearer as to what they want to achieve from their studies. If the students can identify such reasons they may be better placed to push through the ‘challenging’ times.

In addition to the exercise above, which relates back to both the students study and sporting performance I will make use of other strategies (see initial contact/block course, main teaching strategies) to, hopefully, both aid their studying and help keep them ‘on track’.

Well, that's a start, constructive comments and feedback on these ideas would be greatly appreciated.


  1. To keep self-directed students on track I suggest considering a S.M.A.R.T. approach:
    Specific and concise goals around small and achievable chunks of learning
    Measurable (well lets not get too carried away but give the students an idea of the scale of the output you're expecting on a topic area)
    Ambitious to the extent of extending their knowledge of the area but not so way out there that its not achievalbe
    Time-framed - ideally negotiated with the individual student, within the constraints of your course
    and don't forget to monitor and track their progress by frequent checking in with each other. If they are not progressing - why - it might not be laziness on their part - it could be boredom with the material, that they are failing to see relevance, ie not making the necessary connections between what you want to teach and what they want to learn.

  2. A great plan Gary - thanks for your comments to me too!
    I like the idea of the students coming to the initial "block course" - as you say this will give them the feeling of "belonging to the group".
    Is this course a compulsory course - (I refer to courses as modules I think!) Does it form part of a larger programme - my thought would be how will the students find doing a part of the course flexibly and then changing their method of study for subsequent courses - especially as you say they are all in the lovely 17-18 year old age group to whom study may not be their highest priority!
    Your plan is really well thought out with the options to use moodle,eluminate and face to face lectures. My other thought - and I know this is only your ideas! but - how is this to be assessed - does it have a written exam - could they produce a video of their own sporting performance? ?
    I don't know anything about sport psychology, so really can't give you much help on whether it would work!! but it looks a great plan - Helen

  3. Gary you have some excellent ideas for introducing flexibility into the sports psychology course. I cannot see how your group of young men could get bored with this subject. UNLESS there is too much of what they regard as "book learning" and not enough activity which will engage them. I see no danger of that so far.

    I love your idea about negotiating the topics with them right from the start. Immediately you are being inclusive and shifting the "power differential" away from you being in full control to one where they get a chance to be involved and have a say. It will also give them a chance to show you where they are coming from and what they already know.

    The f2f contact in a block course is an excellent starting point, and will be a great way for you all to do some team building. Would it also be a good chance for the group to attend a real sports event together? Perhaps then you could all debrief about it afterwards - from a sports psychology perspective.

    Or as you say, at least it will be an opportunity to watch some events on DVD. An economical way to provide material on DVD is to get ISS to copy them - they do nice labels and will copy material from TV as long as the date and time is available. Then you can lodge the material at the library on close reserve or 3 day reserve for on-campus students, and also lodge material for distance students. The library sends it out for you when the students request the material. You need to ask for the distance librarian at Central library.

    You might want to think about including some elluminate sessions during the block session to accommodate those who cannot attend the f2f.

    Another strategy which could really motivate these young men is to provide them with short regular podcasts - audio or video - which you release regularly from your blog where you write about the latest stuff pertinent to the course. This material could be downloaded by them on to mobile phones or mp3 players or looked at on a computer.

    A schedule up front would let them know what general topics they are in for in the time ahead, but the element of surprise about the podcasts could keep them interested in the content.

    Also regular texts to their cellphones would also help keep them on track about what they need to be doing if you send them an overview of the topic and what they need to be doing each week. This can be set up very easily with minimal time input from you.

    I think your ideas are well thought out and include a wide range of options and I think there is some scope to add some other options. The important thing is to find a range of approaches which will suit the learning preferences of your students and you have a very good idea already of who you are targeting. With your ideas so far, how sustainable do you think your approach will be to set up and maintain? And what do you think about the ideas I have suggested?

  4. Dzyanna

    Thanks for your points on goal setting


    Thanks for your feedback Helen, much appreciated. To clarify - PST 1 is a compulsory course for a couple of our programmes. Your comments regarding a flexible design in amongst a generally face to face programme have gotten me thinking a bit more about this. Given that students, at this stage, are on site it may not be necessary to run eluminate sessions…we could cover issues in f2f sessions.


    As far as sustainability goes I think the course will take some time to set up, but once I have the necessary resource kit together I shouldn’t have to do too much as far as content goes.

    I’ll need to be on the look out for topical events and happenings in the sporting world so that students have up to date examples to look at but I see these as being akin to a ‘variation on a theme’ rather than reinventing the wheel.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, (you have far more experience at flexible delivery than I), I think that most of my time would revolve around pastoral care and keeping in touch with students. The course I’m doing through Massey at the moment involves about 150 students and the Paper Coordinator seems to spend a lot of time reading and responding to students on Web CT (Massey’s version of Black Board), which is great, but it must take up a lot of time. Would it be more time than he would spend doing f2f and pastoral, I’m not sure.

    A comment from Helen has got me thinking some more about Eluminate – maybe it’s not worthwhile doing these sessions at this point with the other courses in the programme being mainly f2f so students are in Dunedin anyway. Thoughts…?

    Thanks for your ideas Bronwyn.

    I hadn’t thought about taking the group to a live performance, you are right though it would be another great way to identify sport psych issues from an external perspective

    Great idea about putting the video material on close reserve, I hadn’t thought of that

    Also, I like your ideas about the Pod Casts and texting to help students keep on track – upskilling on my part required.

  5. Hi Gary, thank you for your comments regarding my ideas. I think that giving the students an overview of what sports psychology is about is a great idea and I am sure it would save hassles later. Questions that were brought up for me as I also have the majority of students being school leavers is the following:

    - By giving students the autonomy to make choices about topics and or assessments how do they know what is best for them (without sounding condescending).
    -What happens if there is no great concensus on what they want to be taught or how they want to be assessed. How could this be managed from your end.
    - How are those students that dont get there preferred option going to be positive about the way the course will be run?

    Just some thoughts that I query myself about. Especially with the type of paper im running.

    I really like your ideas around podcasts, and video material. I need to expand my horizons in this area myself. You have some great ideas and its made me think more about what I can do with my plan as well!