Ben R. Atkinson

Writer, Musician & Presenter

EDU720 Week 8: Designing Online Learning Environments I

EDU720 Week 8: Designing Online Learning Environments I

Starting off in Week 8 of this EDU720 module, there was a focus on how our thoughts about designing key considerations related to designing learning environments in HE might differ between the traditional and online. This was a great way to segue into the second half of the module and there were some interesting ideas shared on the forum. For my part, I referred back to what we had studied in earlier weeks and the prior EDU710 module to come up with a list that encapsulated ‘the approach you wish to take’, ‘how you will assess’ and the ‘kind of students’ that are being taught. For this, I took a lot from MacDonald and her advice on blending learning and online tutoring where it is important to ‘understand what it is they [the students] are expected to learn, how they are expected to get there and in what timescale’ (Macdonald, 2006). This point of understanding the students is, I feel, particularly important as it informs all other aspects of curriculum design. I was pleased to get feedback from Federica who agree that ‘it can be quite important, especially with large cohort courses, to really be confident of the full range of ‘learning styles and needs’ that might be spread across the cohort’ (Orandini, 2019). We also agreed on the creative approach of module design which can be one of the most fun aspects of the task.

Moving on, I enjoyed the reading for this week from Salmon’s E-Tivities book which has a lot of useful examples of application for online programmes of study. I was pleased to see that Salmon recommends not to ‘get fixed on technology or providing wonderful resources’ (Salmon, 2004) something that has been repeated to us throughout this course by Andy Peisley and others – the student’s learning is obviously paramount and often the students are not worried about the quality of the resources, as they can end up feeling more ‘real’. Instead, Salmon promotes a focus on ‘sharing, shaping and elaborating’ while moderators and successful design can provide ‘key guidance and set clear targets’ (Salmon, 2004). From the reading for this week, it became clear that there is a greater focus on guidance and signposting when working in the online environment, which makes sense given that students will not have the traditional familiarity of attending lectures, seminars and having their tutor available to answer questions as needed. There are frameworks available which can help with this process and I understand we will be learning more about these in the future weeks of this EDU720 module.

The learning challenge task for this week involved writing up our ideas for an online programme of study. I decided for this task, to take a step away from the focus I have had throughout this course on the subject of my micro-teach session from semester one, that is to say that for most of the tasks I have focused on this session or a part of it and reimagined it in a number of different ways. This time I was interested in thinking about developing a MOOC, which could be something that students on a variety of different courses might be interested in taking in addition to their usual programme of study. The course would focus on one of my other areas of interest, the history and unique storytelling style of Pixar Animation Studios. The studios have their own online course, Pixar in a Box, which is very similar and provides students with a ‘behind-the-scenes look at how Pixar artists do their jobs’ (Khan Academy, 2017). One of the key considerations I made when planning my online course was the adequate provision for e-moderators because, as Salmon outlines in E-Tivities, ‘skilled e-moderators can handle large groups of students’ (Salmon, 2004). This approach would fall into the ‘humanistic’ learning theory, engaging students through peer to peer activity (Fry, Ketteridge, & Marshall, 2015) which, I believe, is very important in a completely online course. In addition to this, I returned to one of the other key principals that has been important in all of my work on this PGHCE course so far, the inclusivity and accessible of learners to ensure that there are adequate resources so that students are able to work through the course in their own time and still achieve all that is required of them to meet the learning objectives. When thinking about inclusivity aspects I took a lead from MacDonald who suggests ‘one needs to plan for diversity’ (Macdonald, 2006).

Overall my understanding of developing online learning environments has changed a lot over the course of this week. As previously mentioned this is not an area I had any previous experience in, so I imagine I would have taken a quite traditional route towards delivering an online module had I not encountered the reading and set tasks for this week. I can now see there are major differences between the way in which you would teach in a traditional classroom and setting and your delivery in an online environment. While the key principles of understanding your students and their various learning styles, having a clearly defined set of LOs and strong assessment processes remain the same, there is certainly a call for more stringent guidance and support when teaching online. Students are also likely to be quite siloed, so encouragement towards group work and sharing ideas would also be a good idea.

Reference List

Khan Academy (2017) Pixar in a Box, Partner content Khan Academy,. Available at: https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/pixar (Accessed: 25 March 2019).

Macdonald, J. (2006) Blended Learning and Online Tutoring: A Good Practice Guide. Aldershot, UK: Gower. Available at: https://www.gowerpub.com/TitleDetails.asp?sQueryISBN=056608659X&sPassString=Y&sKeyword1=Blended&sKeyword2=&sBooleanSearch=AND&sSearchFrom=Title&sSubjectCode=999&sNewTitle=999&lStartPos=1.

Orandini, F. (2019) Topic: Week 8: Forum – Designing Curriculum and Online Learning Environments. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/344/discussion_topics/8476?module_item_id=19564 (Accessed: 22 March 2019).

Salmon, G. (2004) E-Tivities: The Key to Active Online Learning. Taylor & Francis. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=FT-QAgAAQBAJ.

About The Author

Ben R. Atkinson is a writer, musician, and presenter who can be heard broadcasting on radio stations around the world, is known for his novels, radio dramas, and who writes and performs his own music in the country/folk genre. Ben is currently studying for his PhD in Ethnomusicology at the University of Lincoln in the UK.
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