Thursday, February 11, 2021

How to Teach Online as Part of a Team

These are the notes for an extra webinar, in addition to the four on "Engaging students in the online environment", Wednesday, 17 February at 11 am AEDT Sydney time (Tuesday, 5 pm MST in Edmonton). This is part of the Microlearning Series at Maskwacis Cultural College in Canada, curated by Manisha Khetarpal. Please register for the webinar and send your suggestions. Presentation Powerpoint and PDF available.

Manisha suggested an additional webinar to explore issued raised in the previous ones. In particular,  how can teaching staff convert courses for online delivery, while continuing to teach and carry out other responsibilities. This is an issue confronting educational systems, institutions, and individual teachers.

The Australian National University recently invited comment on its ANU 2025 Strategic Plan. As with the previous 2017-2021 plan, I suggest the major issue is the transition to online working. However, this has to be done while keeping the day to day teaching and research happening. 

There may be educational designers and educational technologists brought in from a central pool, or contracted companies, to help convert courses. However, teachers need to do a considerable amount of work to collect teaching material, discuss online learning options, evaluate proposals, review drafts, alpha test designs, beta test with students, collate test results and recommend changes. 

As an IT professional and educational designer, I have decades of training and experience in design, test and delivery of such complex systems, but it is still not easy.  Many teachers have no formal training in online education and don't have years to do it (or the tens of thousands of dollars this education cost me).


"Blended and Online Learning Design" from UCL through Future Learn

The first step I suggest is for the teacher to experience being an online student in a short course about teaching online. Such dogfooding is useful in showcasing good online teaching techniques, building the teacher's confidence and giving them the sense they are not alone by participating in group exercises with other teachers. There are many courses of a few hours, to a few days, duration available free online. One I tried out recently was "Blended and Online Learning Design" from UCL through Future Learn (set up by the UK Open University).


Live Discussion on Hybrid Learning at ASCILITE 2020 Conference

Teachers should look to their professional associations, both teaching and discipline based, for guidance and support with online learning. As an IT professional who teaches I am a member of IT and education bodies which provide training, advice, and someone to listen. This is not just about the technical aspects of teaching, but of being a professional. It is useful to remind teachers that being a professional is not about working long unpaid hours, it is about deciding what is most important to do with the resources available (especially your own time). 

When given an impossible workload, the responsible professional makes recommendations to their boss as to what should be done and not accept the reply "do everything!". Where given no workable set of priorities, the individual professional must apply their own judgement. Attempting to do everything, knowing this is impossible is bad for the teacher, for their students, and ultimately for the community. Professional associations can be useful in seeking guidance and getting support in this situation.

As an IT professional I am a member of the Australian Computer Society (which is affiliated with the Canadian Information Processing Society). As I teach at a university, I am also a member of education bodies, such as the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE). Last year I attended weekly online meetings of ASCILITE's Mobile Learning Special Interest Group, then help write and deliver some papers at the annual conference, with some of the group.


Mapping SFIA skills to public service levels

Online learning lends itself to the use of standards. Rather than trying to invent everything from scratch, the teacher can apply a standard set down by international, national, local, discipline or professional bodies. When designing industry training or a university course I look for some defined skill definition to base the learning on. This might be set by the institution, or the profession. They then can look for pre-prepared learning materials, including free open access ones, to use. This can include electronic versions of old fashioned text books, as well as videos, interactive materials, and educational games.

As an example of standards the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) has a set of skills definitions for computer professionals. The Queensland State Government in Australia has mapped the SFIA Skills to public service levels. If designing a vocational course, this provides a useful shortcut (once you have found your way around all of SFIA's levels).


Unit of competency details CPCPSN3011 - Plan the layout of a residential sanitary plumbing system and fabricate and install sanitary stacks

The teacher needs to keep in mind the aim is to provide skills and knowledge for their students. The best way to do this may not be to teach everything which was in a face to face course, or test it the same way online. Often courses have accumulated content which someone thought a good idea in the past. If the content is not going to be tested, then it should not be included in the course. If there is no way to test it, then there is no point in teaching it. Online communication offer new options for teaching and testing. The student can learn using simulations, or in a real workplace, with their performance of the task as the test. This approach works for plumbers and programmers. As an example in the Australian vocational education system, a prospective plumber needs to plan the layout of plumbing, to show they know how to do that.

Loose Integration

Robert Lester and satellite communications for K95
Tom Worthington updating the K95 website at Mallacoota

Online courses delivered to thousands of students have to be tightly integrated for maximum efficiency. The learning materials guide each of the thousands of students through the steps required. However, this requires a large team of highly skilled staff to design, test and maintain. This is not something a teacher can do part time on their own. Instead they can design an online shell which tells the student what the steps required are and provides pointers to the materials needed. The materials can be in many different formats on different online systems. The student will need more frequent help from a teacher with this, and there will be more manual work for the teacher to do. However, this is much quicker to set up, and allows greater flexibility.

As an example of loose integration providing flexibility, in 1995 I was on holidays on the Australian south east coast. At the same time I was updating the website for an Australian Defence Force exercise taking place at the other end of the continent. The defence media people would send me reports by email, which I would then add to the website. I did not have to speak to the media people, or have any video conferences, just collect, post and reply.

Senior Science TeachMeet, February 21

"meriSTEM are hosting a simple online TeachMeet for the meriSTEM Teacher Community. Whether you’re perfectly organised for the year or wildly rushing about the staffroom, take an hour to reflect, inspire and invigorate your lessons for the second half of term." 

From meriSTEM (modular educational resources in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), The Australian National University, 2021

ANU's meriStem provides science teachers with free teaching materials, plus forums on how to better teach science.

ANU Coffee Courses on Teaching & Learning with Technology

"The coffee course is equivalent to a one-hour or two-hour training session, but broken down into small pieces. Grab a cup of coffee (or tea) while you do a short reading or activity at morning tea time, at your own desk. It should take about 15 minutes a day, over one week. You just need to subscribe to the ANU Coffee Courses blog to get the updates as they happen, and join in at any time.

We often also schedule an optional face-to-face catchup to discuss the topic over coffee." From "ANU Coffee Courses on Teaching & Learning with Technology", ANU, 2021

There are longer online teaching courses provided free though consortia such as edX. Canadian examples are "Teaching With Technology and Inquiry: An Open Course For Teachers" from University of Toronto, Blended Learning Practice and Learning to Learn Online  from Athabasca University. 

ASCILITE Open Educational Practice SIG

"This webinar was presented by the ASCILITE Open Educational Practice SIG on 24 September 2019 and presented by Jay Cohen, Associate Professor Transform Online Learning at Charles Sturt University. The SIG convenors are Adrian Stagg (University of Queensland), Carina Bossu (The Open University UK) and Michael Cowling (CQUniversity).
The session detailed how Charles Sturt University’s Transforming Online Learning (TOL) project has incorporated an agile approach to online subject development so that learning design for an online cohort of students can occur at scale, by presenting the experience of a pilot within the Business Faculty. Agile is an iterative approach to project management that, in this instance has afforded learning designers the opportunity to develop online learning subjects at scale more quickly quicker and with fewer errors." From: ASCILITE OEP-SIG webinar "Scaling Online Education" by Jay Cohen, CSU 24 Sept 2019

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