Blended Learning

I am currently doing the BlendKit MOOC through canvas.net.  Our first task has been to read an introductory article on what is considered blended learning.  The authors of this reading highlight that there is no agreed definition for blended learning in the Higher Education sector.  This really struck a cord with me, those of you who know me will know I often say the same when asked for a standard definition for e-learning.  Personally, I think context plays a very important role in what we do as educators and there is ‘no one-size fits’ all approach to training and education so it is not surprising we can’t always agree on a standard definition.

The article encourages to ponder the question

“Is it most helpful to think of blended learning as an online enhancement to a face-to-face learning environment, a face-to-face enhancement to an online learning environment, or as something else entirely?”

Again, context plays an important role in the answer to this question. If you are a teacher who teaches mostly in a face to face learning environment, offering blended learning solutions might be an enhancement to your current teaching strategies.  You might find your learners can’t always attend classes at the time they are scheduled. They may increasingly be seeking more flexible ways to complete their learning outside of the classroom.  If this is the case you could use a learning platform like Edmodo (free, quick sign up and has some excellent strategies for keeping our youngest learners safe in the online environment) or a learning management system (LMS) like Moodle to make your class resources available for those who are unable to attend.

In my world, blended learning allows me to customise my training solutions to meet the needs of the learners I am currently working with.  I tend to use a LMS, interactive PDFS or e-books, quizzes, videos, blogs and discussion forums (for self-reflection and feedback).

So my definition might be:

“Blended learning provides teachers, facilitators and learners the means to offer training in a way that best meets the needs of those involved in the training program.  It combines a combination of classbased and online learning teaching strategies and activities”.

How does blended learning look in your world?

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But first…. let me take a selfie

Okay, have I got your attention now?

If you are a regular visitor to this blog you are probably wondering what on earth does this have to do with e-learning? Good question but before I answer I wanted to share with you some interesting statistics.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) at the end of June 2013 there were 12,358,000 internet subscribers in Australia, representing an annual growth of 3%. At the same time the ABS reported that there were 6.2 million mobile broadband connections in Australia.  The ABS also said that wireless broadband is the most prevalent internet technology in Australia. It accounts for half of all connections. Of these 6.2 million connections people are connecting via dongles, tablets, DSL, satellite and dial-up.

That is amazing don’t you think!

The next thing I found of interest was the number of users by age group (yes nearly there …. but first, let me take a selfie LOL).

The ABS found in 2012-2013 that the largest group of internet users were in the 15-17 years age group. Ninety seven percent of people in this age bracket were internet users. Close behind them were the ages 18-24 and 25-34, this continued to drop down (surprisingly not by much though until we get to age 55-64 where approximately 78% were internet users. In the 65 and over age bracket this figure dropped down to approximately 42%.

[if I could I would have that annoying record scratching noise here to get your attention, I would]

Hang on a second what did you say? ….. check out those age groups!…. Now who do you think would take the most selfies?

Now that you are thinking along those lines, let me get back to e-learning (or what I commonly refer to as the use of technology in education).  People love to use their smart phones and tablets and of course we know they have camera and video capability.  They also have the capability to record interviews, comments etc.

So how can you make your training more appealing to younger audiences…. but first, let me take a selfie

A strategy that has worked for me in the past  is to encourage learners to take photos and videos that can easily be added to an e-portfolio of evidence, report or presentation.  This can form part of their assessment evidence for a formal or informal training program.  Collecting evidence is especially appealing to young audiences… and increasingly some of us oldies too! It puts some fun back into learning and if combined with social media can provide quite a rich learning experience.

There are numerous apps on devices to capture these images and if you need to pretty them up too (just remember what it is the learner is there to learn, engagement is one thing but over emphasis on technology is another).

So why am I inspired to write this post.  Well I came across this catchy song and I just couldn’t get it out of my head. Some of you will automatically know the song I mean and well others may not so here’s your chance to hear it.

I will leave you with these words….. but first, let me take a selfie

I also found this cool blog post about the history of the selfie craze by @archivesmous. Hope you enjoy it!

The end of the year is a good time for reflection

Well its the end of another big year in my world, how about in yours?

As the NSW E-Learning Advisor, I can happily say 2013 has been big year and some great things have happened in the Australian E-Learning space. In this post I won’t spend too much time recapping all of those events but what I will do is reflect on what I have seen that seems important… maybe they are to you too!

Starting with the NSW VET sector, there has been so much talk about government reforms, reducing government funds and of course ‘Smart and Skilled’. The good news is Smart and Skilled has been delayed to 2015 to give training providers an opportunity to better understand the reforms and get ready for them. Smart and skilled reforms provide funding for subsidised government places in qualifications up to and including Certificate III.  Details about the types of programs that may attract funding can be found on the 2014 NSW Skills List.

In Australia, only registered training providers can issue Australian Qualifications Framework qualifications.  The body that has the responsibility of enforcing this is, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA). A core part of what  ASQA’s does is to regulate training courses and training providers to ensure they meet and comply with nationally approved quality standards. On 1 July 2012, the VET Quality Framework became operable in most states and territories in Australia.  This framework aims to provide a structure that will result in a national approach to the way providers are registered and courses are accredited (ASQA 2013). ASQA has the power to audit training providers at anytime and many Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) have undergone an ASQA audit in 2013.  The word audit can be scary but here’s hoping the experience was positive and there was lots of positive reinforcement for those who underwent an ASQA audit in 2013.

It is important to acknowledge that E-Learning can come under the microscope in any such audit.  In 2013 I was privy to many conversations between practitioners discussing how to better demonstrate and improve on e-learning quality and student participation. A tool you may not know that can help is the Flexible Learning Advisory Group’s  (FLAG) E-Learning quality model. This interactive model is a great tool to take to your next e-learning team meeting.  Start by examining the quality indicators.  Use the criteria as triggers for questions at your next team meeting.  For example, if you were looking at an existing course you could say ‘How do we know that… the e-learning experience effectively engages our learners’.  Having conversations around the quality criteria can highlight existing processes as well as identifying new opportunities for improvement.  If you haven’t seen the quality model I suggest you take a moment to have a look.  The end of the year is a great time to reflect on existing practice and to explore opportunities for continual improvement.

E-assessment remained topical in 2013.  Teachers wanted to know how they could create authentic assessment opportunities for learners as well as reflecting on existing practices for recognition.  The National VET E-Learning Strategy (Strategy) has some excellent resources available to you on their website.  These resources include National Guidelines for assessment through to a whole host of e-assessment case studies.  In the NSW 2013 e-capability program we had an exciting webinar on e-assessment, I am sure you will find it useful if you have some time to listen to it. For those of you working in TAFE NSW an exciting evidence collection tool was launched during Skills Week 2013.  Check out SkillsLocker and sign in using your DEC username and password.  If you are short of time, checkout my storify page to find out more about SkillsLocker.

E-Capability of individual teachers, trainers and support staff involved in e-learning received a lot of attention in 2013.  Both the NSW team and the National team coordinated an extensive free program to build the capability of those interested in e-learning.  If you have some time in December and January I suggest you listen to the recordings from NSW and the National Program.  Webinar topics included tips to help you get started in e-learning, gamification, augmented reality, cloud technologies…. etc.

So what will 2014 hold for the NSW E-Learning Advisor role?  Glad you asked.  I am busy working on a new and exciting webinar program with some talented guest speakers. Flyers and details on how you can register will come out in January.  I am also establishing an e-learning community for NSW with representatives from right across the VET sector.  If you are interested in being involved, enter your details on the e-community webform.

On a personal note, I have moved into the research phase of my masters.  There are three phases to this research and I would love it if you would stop by and check out my ‘how you can be involved’ research page.

If you love surveys and you are a teacher using technology in education you might be interested in completing  my teacher survey and if you are a student who wants to have a say about your experiences using technology in education, there is a quick survey for you too.

Have a wonderful and relaxing holiday period and I will be back posting in 2014.

References

ASQA (2013) ‘National VET regulation’ accessed online http://www.asqa.gov.au/about/national-vet-regulation/national-vet-egulation.html on 17 December 2013.

State training services (2013) ‘Smart and skilled’ accessed online http://www.training.nsw.gov.au/smartandskilled/ on 20 December 2013.

Yes, you read right, I have started another MOOC

Sorry I haven’t posted for a while, you see I have been busying MOOCing.  My last MOOC was through canvas.net and I was studying learner analytics.  This was a well organised course, with lots of information, activities and directions.  I did find it just a little overwhelming though.  I decided to glean what I could (time was short) and forget the assessments.  I asked myself the question, do I really need this piece of paper and my answer was NO!

I have realised that this is the great thing about MOOCs.  You can choose how you participate, what you participate in and what you want to learn.  I don’t know if you are like me but if I pay for a course and I don’t complete, I feel a bit disappointed with myself.

MOOCs are free, there are no costs associated and there is no real disappointment.  I choose upfront what I want to gain from my involvement.  I like this approach.  So even though I didn’t do the assignments I learnt a lot and I have some great references for future use.  If you want to see the links I have saved them in a pearl tree for quick access http://pear.ly/bXmNj.

My current MOOC is also through canvas.net and it started yesterday.  I am really excited about this one as we will be exploring instructional design techniques for mobile learning.  I can’t wait to see where this MOOC will take me.  To keep track of the web resources I will access through this course I will also use pearl trees.  If you are interested you can keep track at http://pear.ly/b5YC1.

image represents the current layout of Gail's Pearltree

Gail’s pearl trees

Okay back in touch soon, wish me luck.

My second attempt at converting my blog to an e-book

A colleague sent me an article titled 3 Easy Ways to Convert your blog into an E-book for Free

The first thing I tried was Anthologize.  The article said to download the plugin and upload it to your blog via the plugin feature.  Of course I was forgetting that there is a difference between wordpress.org and wordpress.com.  WordPress.com is a hosted version of the WordPress software.

So faithfully I downloaded the plugin but of course my blog didn’t have the plugin feature.  This is because WordPress.com is a free blog service provider and they take control of which plugins are installed for use by their users.

Fortunately, they do ask you to post your wishlist to their discussion forum on plugins.  My only resort was to do this….. so this too was a dead end.

Do you have a better alternative?  Please share your knowledge  and experience with us.

 

Converting your blog to an e-pub

My next few posts will explore what is involved in converting a blog to an an e-pub or e-book.

Why would you want to do that you might ask? …… well for one, wouldn’t it be cool to download your blog as an epub and read in apps like ibook on your ipad.

Step one: Let’s try E-Book glue

Using your phone or ipad go to https://ebookglue.com/ enter the URL for you blog and select the option download as an epub. It will ask you which app to use to open it so I have picked ibooks and to my surprise there it was in less than a minute on my bookshelf.

The issues

The blog converted nicely but the main issue I can see so far is that it didn’t bring across my images or embedded videos.

Back to the drawing board to try out some other platforms suggested by my colleagues.

If you are a bit of a techno you you might like to try out ebookjuggler http://ebookjuggler.com/conversion/website-to-epubmobi/

I will leave that one to last and look for something a little more simple.

Have you done this? Please share your experiences and favourite platforms – especially those that will bring over images and videos with little or no programming. I would love to hear from you.

First assignment for #LAK13

Our first assignment is to explore the logic, structure and intent of an analytics problem. I have chosen Course Completions as the key area of exploration for this assignment.

 

What do you want to do/understand better/solve?

The vocational education and training (VET) sector (career oriented training for those of you who might not understand the Australian Training system) in Australia is undergoing dramatic changes due to government reforms.  Many of these reforms are driven by the desire for the VET sector to be a key driver of Australia’s prosperity.

One of the key initiatives offered by the Government is an entitlement model which provides potential students with entitlement payment for publicly funded training places.  This payment will be made available to those who do not have an appropriate Certificate III qualification.  This has not been well received by all stakeholders in the VET sector who believe reforms such as this will lead to the demise of public education.

Previously, training providers such as TAFE have received funding to offer training places from the Government.  An entitlement model changes this creating greater incentive for private providers to seek funding which would normally have gone to the larger public providers. Part of this key reform is a proposed completion model that attempts to correct the low completion rates experienced within the sector.  Payments for training places under an entitlement model will mostly be paid on completion. As you can imagine this reform too has been met with mixed emotions and resistance.  The Australian Education Union a key stakeholder of the VET sector suggests that an economic reform such as the proposed entitlement model is purely a shift of costs from Government to students. Unfortunately, whether we like or not, these reforms are not going away. 

With this in mind, I would like to explore an automated system that provides VET practitioners will data that clearly identifies students that are most at risk of not completing their VET qualification in an online/e-learning environment.

Defining the context: what is it that you want to solve or do? Who are the people that are involved? What are social implications? Cultural?

As a head teacher of a large public college I would like to consider ways in which I can explore a student’s online behaviour  and predict those that are most at risk of not completing. This will greatly assist both my own practices and those of the practitioners I work with.

The Australian Education Union explains that completion rates are a problem for the sector and learning analytics offers a potential tool to explore completion rates before the problem escalates and becomes a funding nightmare for the teaching section.

Brainstorm ideas/challenges around your problem/opportunity. How could you solve it? What are the most important variables?

Educational Data Mining enables the VET sector to consider data collected from educational settings and use this data to better understand student behaviour and performance.

All of the students involved in this study are completing a qualification either online or in a blended learning environment using a Learning Management System known as MOODLE.  Moodle provides some potential for monitoring student engagement with learning content online.  The system will identify login dates and times and in some cases the activities completed and assessments submitted.  Unfortunately it cannot provide details of activities completed by the student in an offline environment.

Given that a blended learning environment offers a number of ways for a student to interact with their teacher and other learners the analytics provided in MOODLE should not be considered in isolation.  Having said this, the analytics provided in MOODLE can and should be used to assist a practitioner to keep track of learner behaviour  if the learning environment has been well planned and due dates for completion of activities and/or assessments can also be taken into consideration. Attendance in other activities such as traditional based classrooms or virtual attendance in a virtual meeting room can also identify if a student is still engaged with the learning environment.

Managing student participation in all of these platforms may present a challenge to the organisation and the practitioners who rely on the systems to provide the information required.

Explore potential data sources. Will you have problems accessing the data? What is the shape of the data (reasonably clean? or a mess of log files that span different systems and will require time and effort to clean/integrate?) Will the data be sufficient in scope to address the problem/opportunity that you are investigating?

Regular records need to be kept to document student attendance, participation and submission of assessment.  Educational software such as electronic roll books is used to capture this information. The data collected if interpreted in a timely manner can assist the practitioner to identify factors that might suggest student failure or non-retention in courses however, within the organisation I work for there we do not have access to early warning reporting.  Data mining relies heavily on the teaching section or practitioner who must wade through roll books and examine attendance patterns, submissions of assignments and grades.  This is time consuming and if not completed by the practitioner themselves it may result in time delays if individual head teachers must analyse hundreds of student’s data and report back to their staff.

 

Fortunately, MOODLE itself does offer reports that can easily identify student progress and participation.  This can highlight potential issues and assist in the process of data mining within individual roll books.

 

Consider the aspects of the problem/opportunity that are beyond the scope of analytics.  How will your analytics model respond to these analytics blind spots?

Given the need to encourage participation and student completions educational data mining methods will provide the teaching section with information that will enable them to determine student attributes in real-time making it possible to identify those most at risk.  This is beneficial as teaching can then schedule in additional contact times, support and assistance where necessary.

 

Learning analytics cannot provide teaching staff with details of which pedagogical support is most effective only knowledge of current teaching theories for the 21st century can accommodate this.  The analytics model will need introduce teaching staff to common theories such as heutagogy or peeragogy and guide teachers through a decision process based on analytics and learning theory.  A decision tree could be an appropriate solution for this task.

 

Please note: this post does not include the selection of tools but will be used in later assignments to guide tool selection.