Friday, July 3, 2020

Online Learning for Remote and Complex Environments

Mr Andrew Laming MP,
Chair of the Committee.
The Australian Parliament is looking into the impact of COVID-19 on learning, as part of its inquiry into education in remote and complex environments. Public hearings are suspended due to COVID-19, although I suggest these could use video conferencing. The inquiry has received 64 submissions, including mine (number 50):

Train Teachers Online to Provide Blended Learning 

Submission to the Inquiry into Education in Remote and Complex Environments

This is a submission on online teaching during the COVID-19 Pandemici. Replicating the classroom using video conferencing is only a small part of the answer. University and school teachers need to be trained online to teach in blended mode, for the optimum combination of online plus face-to-face learning, to suit prevailing conditions. This approach made it possible to teach university students without interruption during the lock-down and is suitable for older school students, providing a smooth transition to normal teaching.

Blend Classroom and Online for Resilient Learning

In February 2020 with the prospect of COVID-19 keeping students from campus, I was able to quickly switch from blended learning, to fully online teaching at the Australian National Universityii. The course text and videos were already stored in the University's Learning Management System (LMS), which the students can access via the Internet from anywhere, at any time. Most student activities (forums, quizzes, and assignments), could already be undertaken online at any time. This left just the face-to-face workshops, to be replaced by video conferences. When students begin return to the classroom, video conferences can continue to link those who cannot attend, to their teachers, and more importantly, to the other students.
The ability to rapidly change from campus-based to online instruction is a by-product of a blended approach to teaching. To allow maximum flexibility, I first design for online delivery, then add campus activities, combining online and campus in chunksiii. If a student is unable to get to campus, they can still undertake most activities.
As an international graduate student of education, I had experienced the difficulties of studying at a distanceiv. In 2017 I realised my students could be stopped suddenly from getting to class and suggested preparing for this with online learningv.

Train Teachers Online to Teach Online

Australian universities and schools have the good fortune of access to high-quality LMS. One example is the Moodle product, developed in Western Australia, and now used by schools and universities across Australia, and throughout the world. Tools such as Moodle, allow a teacher to provide the materials the student needs, wherever they are. However, what is also needed are teachers trained to teach online, as well as in a classroom.
While we have the technology for teaching, what has been lacking during the COVID-19 Pandemic are university and school teachers trained to use that technology effectively. More important than technical training, is the ability to build a rapport with students who are remote from you. This can be done by having teachers experience being online students themselves. This dogfooding approach ensures that teachers understand the stresses of being an online studentvi. I suggest that school and university teachers should undertake at least one semester unit of instruction online, about how to teach online. This online learning should model good techniques, such as students working together to accomplish a task, peer assessment and an absence of formal examinationsvii.

Tom Worthington MEd FHEA FACS CP IP3P
22 May 2020

Biography: Tom Worthington is a computer professional and an honorary lecturer in computer science at the Australian National University. A Certified Professionalviii member of the Australian Computer Society, in 2015 Tom received a national gold Digital Disruptors Award for "ICT Education" and in 2010 was Canberra ICT Educator of the Year. He previously worked on IT policy for the Australian Government and in 1999 was elected a Fellow of the Australian Computer Society for his contribution to the development of public Internet policy. He is a Past President, Honorary Life Member, Certified Professional and a Certified Computer Professional of the Society as well as a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a voting member of the Association for Computing Machinery and a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Tom has a Masters of Education in Distance Education from Athabasca University, a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education from the Australian National University and a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment from the Canberra Institute of Technology. He blogs as the Higher Education Whisperer and is the author of Digital Teaching In Higher Education.
While an Honorary Lecturer at the Australian National University and a member of the Professional Education Governance Committee of the Australian Computer Society, his views here do not necessarily reflect those of either organization.

i Home learning and teaching during COVID 19, Media Release, House of Representatives, 14 May 2020.
ii Learning to Reflect, Learning Module Notes for the ANU TechLauncher WPP Exercise, Tom Worthington, November 2019. URL
iii "Blended learning and learning communities: opportunities and challenges", Fleck, J. (2012), Journal of Management Development, Vol. 31 No. 4, pp. 398-411.
iv E-Portfolio for the Athabasca University Master of Education, Tom Worthington, 6 December 2016. URL
v Digital Teaching In Higher Education: Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment, Worthington, T., 2017. URL
vi Dogfooding: Learning About Teaching by Being an On-line Student, Tom Worthington, 2017. URL
vii Blend and Flip for Teaching Communication Skills to Final Year International Computer Science Students, Tom Worthington, 2018 IEEE International Conference on Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE). In Press. Presentation notes:
viii Liability limited by a scheme approved under Prof. Standards Legislation

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