Explorer Activity 5.4: ‘in-house’ vs. ‘off the shelf’ solutions

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Depending on the organisational approach to “external” funding for projects, I would consider using outside contractors or systems, if allowed. External solutions providers can in my previous experience be quicker to complete a project due to their skill set matching exactly what is required. Can be financially more cost effective, providing exacting specifications are outlined and adhered to, and can be tailored to fit easier. All of this is not to say that you can just set the ball in motion on a project and relax, external providers can be more difficult to communicate with, and can let you down leading to stress and more grey hairs!

So what about “in-house” benefits, I have found they offer more control, due to location and possibly less costly depending on financial structures that are in place. They can be slower though, especially when working with a small team, and if you have no control or influence over the “team”. The exact skill set or system you are looking to work with may not exist, which can cause your project to be adapted or at worse be something that is bolted onto an existing failed or failing system or process!

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Explorer Activity 5.3: What TEL support is available to you?

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Hmm, the question “What TEL support is available to you” is an interesting one.

It all depends on the level of interest that the “team” or “manager” you report to holds on the subject of TEL. I have worked in teams where I have been the only employee on the project with TEL skill-set this can make for a difficult or delightful relationship, but roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined from the project start.

People whose view is to resist the changes that TEL bring will in my opinion only be “won around” once they can see the benefit it will bring them, have access to adequate training and support, and or see the institutional gains that a successful TEL project has delivered. In these respects, all of the previous are what I offer an organisation as a TEL expert and by banging the TEL drum and correctly “advertising” what you are doing, can be of great benefit to organisations new, or dare I say it bored with failed o outdated “TEL” approaches.

Often within the University field I have found that the expertise and technological solutions are:
1. What you bring to the role
2. What or whom is currently used in/for similar projects
3. What you wish for, which may not be deliverable
4. What your limited budget will afford

I would consider approaching a funding body for “help” in piloting a project, but it would depend on how long the funding stream would take to come to fruition.

Successful Failures

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After reviewing Tom Cochrane’s conference paper, I have evaluated the projects Key Successes &
Key failures, these are outlined below:

Key Successes:
A supportive learning community was created and facilitated.
Lecturer and student participants were provided with an appropriate choice of technology.
A sustained and supportive community of interactions were created.

Key failures:
International time differences were initially not considered important, we did find differences in time-zones problematic for live support sessions.
International and local broadband failure was not initially considered, after the “week 0” support week, we thought technical glitches were ironed out; unfortunately these did re-occur due to Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity.
Staffing issues were not initially planned for, but staff levels did alter as the project progressed, leading to delay.
Financial provision was weak, leading to limited resources at project start.

Back On Track

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Much as the “course level project” that was discussed, I too have found that “time” is the key factor when working to develop a new template or e-learning course. The issue of “planning” was covered in depth in the project review, in my experience though I have found that too much planning can hinder the process of getting the job done, especially when you only have certain “time-windows” from which to work with key staff, planning needs to be flexible too.

When working on one large e-learning programme development for professional CPD, I worked alongside University management and academic staff as my immediate stake-holders, with delegates once enrolled taking a “key” stakeholder position.

The resources fell into similar fields, staff time, finance, office space, facilities, knowledge, computing server space, hardware and systems, promotional staff, advertising; space, time, finance.

The project plan was clear initially, but as with all life’s best laid plan’s things altered and changed as the project progressed. Staff left the project and new academics were appointed. Finance became tight, but the initial roll out was successful, partly due to the extra time that I facilitated as launch date approached.

Failure was not really planned for, but the one fail safe if time became too tight, or if enough delegates did not enrol, was that we would delay the launch for 3 months, this wasn’t required though as all systems were ready, and delegates enrolled in such numbers that extra academic staff were required to facilitate the course, which wasn’t anticipated to occur until the second time that the course would run.

Evaluation was an ongoing procedure at key monthly intervals we took a snap-shot of progress on the course, and asked academic staff and delegates for feed-back at weeks, 2612, from with the course system. We also asked for feedback via University administration staff at the course end.

We marked the success of the course on levels of retention, complaints and feedback that we received, from this we gained repeat admissions, as further courses rolled out and utilised the same design systems and feedback process.

FeEdback

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Unless starting out from scratch designing a new method of feedback, users of e-assessment are in my experience limited to the technology that their University or organisation currently use or specify meets organisation feedback guidelines.

I have worked with Moodle, Blackboard and SharePoint implementing feedback via many methods but find multiple choice quizzes one of the easiest to implement. More recently, in fact this week I have used a similar feedback system whilst completing an Edx course as a “learner”.

All of the quiz systems discussed work in a similar vein in that once completed you can “check” the answers that you have entered, thus revealing the correct answer, whilst also revealing explanatory notes on the correct answer. This helps learners understand why the answer they gave was either correct or incorrect with the supplementary supporting notes expanding knowledge and helping learners understand the correct procedure.

Self-directed learning to me works best when there is an “open” approach to a course, users should feel freedom but also responsibility in what they decide to learn. This is not to say that they can simply enrol, coast and or not partake. I’m thinking of the phrase “OCTEL” the MOOC you cannot fail here! But that along with being set a list of goals and levels of participation/pass marks (if quizzes or multiple choice) are used as assessment, that learners can feel supported in their level of activity and what they will achieve from participating on the course. Peer support, can be facilitated using collaborative exercises, and self-assigning groups (those whereby users are able to set up a group and have other learners join).

Technology is key here; there are features on all modern VLE’s that can facilitate this type of course activity.

For tutors there are many challenges in setting up this type of “open” course, I think these are mainly in planning, and meeting with course objectives and guidelines. There is a fine balance in letting the course flow, whilst having some guiding direction. There are also the challenges of dealing with a new or changes to marking procedures and or technologies that are used and reviewed as evidence of participation. These changes may also have to be approved by institutional and or academy moderation boards. There may also be a shift in personal working procedures and processes, I’m thinking of Skype support sessions etc. There are great opportunities alongside the challenges, in that research can be undertaken, via monitoring and feedback from course participants and via external feedback. New processes can be created, and course templates and methods of learning can be planned, devised and developed.

Feedback welcomed.

Resource evaluation

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So it’s the end of week 3 of OCTEL and its time to go exploring! I have chosen to review resources based on the topic of Veterinary Ethics, using the Higher Education Academy – Resources Centre (HEA) and TED sites.

Of these, one is more traditional and the other new and “open” in nature. So what did I find, when typing the phrase “ethics” into both?
HEA, returned over 500 top phrase results and TED 1260, now that was ok, but in reality I would choose to drill down as I may be after a certain topic and not just a resource where the word “ethics” was mentioned.

I altered the phrase to “veterinary ethics”, HEA provided over 500 results, but I wanted to “filter” the results and was able to by choosing a “discipline” filter. This then “refined” the results for me leading to a mere 15 pages of results or roughly 150 topics.

TED on the other hand only provided 1 result. The lack of information provided by TED comes as no real surprise, due to the resource being newer and there being only conference video style sessions.

So what conclusions can be drawn, at present the “traditional” sites, HEA in the example above provide more stable solid results to text based documents for research, if there were a specific conference that I had been made aware of I would point users in the direction of TED. Provided that copyright and licencing / accessibility were allowed.

Traditionally within UK Universities, I have found copyright of “resources” has limited options top specific sites, although licencing exists, the “copyright” of resources can quickly become a mine-field. Likewise in my experience the use of resources without the “home” university y logo emblazoned onto them is frowned or not allowed.

What does open mean to you?

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Pedagogical Approaches & Platforms

I think that the technology and platforms that are being used for MOOCS like that on this OCTEL course are so new that the pedagogical approaches are still developing, and may always continue to do so due to their scale and flexibility in design.

I do feel though that the “open-ness” the amount of resources and the numbers of participants can offer both benefits, due to the collaborative nature of online working, meeting and airing views with like-minded folk, but also draw backs, due to the feelings of too much information, and the “where do I start” this week swamped feeling that a user of a MOOC may face.

If the platforms and content were “open” source, then their materials audience would grow, be it through the original point of publication, or due to their “mashed-up” nature within their new homes, on blogs and other learning information sites.

Past learning initiatives, of ITUNESU for example, have relied on either audio and or video content, and have been informal in their recognition of achievement, offering almost a “self-help” approach to learning, you would scroll through a list and find a piece of content that interests, learn it and go on your way.

The new initiatives are becoming closer to traditional institutional learning, with providers aligning their courses in topics and subjects, mixing resource content, and expecting users to do more than just watch or listen, but commiting their time in blocks, be it in a for a semester or weekly.

This new style of online course, comes with a more solid educational background, provides flexible access universally and for free.

Comments welcome…