Are our students ready?

ocTEL webinar, week 3: Digital literacies by Helen Beetham

I was sadly very proud that a quote from my blog post was included in Helen’s presentation! This social networking game is still new enough for me that I am allowed to be proud of such things so I hope you will excuse my vanity, dear reader.

The session was intended to be interactive and lived up to expectations with many of the Illuminate tools being employed. This was great although the session had a bit of a frenetic feel to it. I think we are all still learning about the time management of online engagement.

In considering the four examples of student readiness questionnaires from this week’s activities we were invited to think about and respond to a poll on the purpose of the using similar questionnaires on student readiness to learn in a technology based/ online environment. A related issue we might consider is whether such questionnaires are for the benefit of the learner or the teacher. A popular choice of purpose in the poll was that of setting or managing student expectations and participants feeling that this was often the current purpose but not necessarily a worthy one; such a purpose being more for the benefit of the teacher than the learner, perhaps. Another popular choice was that of using the questions to direct students to additional resources available to help them increase their readiness; the benefit here being mainly with the students themselves although obviously with the added benefit for teachers that their students will come better prepared to learn in relation to the course design. I see both of the above options as being of fundamental importance. Student’s need to know what to expect. All learners need to understand the context of a learning situation even though they may then need and be able to push against the limitations of that context. However, offering ways for students to adequately prepare for learning is paramount.

The issue discussed above formed a very small part of the week’s webinar but I hope will have a significant influence on my own practice as a learning technology advisor giving me a new perspective from which to consider supporting the use of learning technology and learning in general.

Some specific related points that I take away are to:

  • consider digital literacy rather than technical competence
  • ask questions to engage learners rather than test and judge them.

The session then presented a number of questions about learners’ preferences and after a couple of these it became clear to me and other’s that we don’t know the answers but could only guess based on personal experience or anecdote.  Helen said that we “Need to be careful about generalizing what learners feel”.

We need to be asking learners. At my institution this could happen through evaluations by asking questions about the students’ learning during the course replacing or in addition to the questions that ask students to judge the teaching!

There is a special interest group looking at this but I need to find out the details. I did pick up a useful link to a pdf http://oro.open.ac.uk/30014/ in relation to doctoral students.

Much more happened in the webinar but I was too busy to write notes so will only take an impression away! However, below are images of the digital literacies that Helen has developed/ is using and I hope to find out more about this model and other similar models.

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Readiness for online learning

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The four suggested online readiness questionnaires (as below) cover some common area which I have classified roughly as

  • Computing readiness,
  • Digital literacies,
  • Study skills,
  • Readiness for learning,
  • Learning background and
  • Learning Style.

The words in the image above are those used in the questionnaires and show the common themes. There is another version of this below with ‘capable’ and ‘comfortable’ removed as these are used repetitively in questions.

Penn State University: Online Readiness AssessmentSan Diego Community College: Online Learning Readiness AssessmentIllinois Online Network: Self Evaluation for Potential Online StudentsUniversity of Houston: Test of Online Learning Success

Providing a questionnaire for students at the start of their learning experience is an opportunity to set expectations -asking ‘Do you have…?’ is another way of saying ‘we expect you to…’ for example. I would not expect that the results of these questionaires are used to adapt the learning activities or content presentation but to give advice to students.

I purposely did very badly in all  the questionnaires and was pleased to see that I was offered some advice on my readiness or lack of it. In the case of the San Diego questionnaire there were helpful pointers as to how readiness could be improved whereas in the others the outcome was that just advice that I shouldn’t do an online course which was not particularly useful.

I would like to introduce something like this at our institution as a generic learning readiness questionnaire with lots of resources and advice for students to use to improve their readiness where necessary.

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Two online courses

Yesterday saw the start of ocTEL proper and the start of our own Teaching and Learning Online (TALON) do I have my work cut out. It will be good to compare the two online courses as they progress. On TALON we have 8 staff members compared to the 800 or so on ocTEL so presumably very different experiences. This week our TALON participants are going through their orientation week and will experience the ‘flood’ of emails although the flood will be more controlled. I will send out the ‘manage the flood’ forum post today.