Friday, 21 March 2008

Wk 3: Why we need flexible learning

Thanks for all those comments on my previous blog. I agree with you Athena, I am really a people’s person too, don’t think I will do well by teaching in front of a 15 inch rectangle box.

Anyway, I started reading Leigh’s postings on Sunday, but I had a busy week (I’m sure this is a lame excuse ; ) because everyone is just as busy as me), haven’t had chance to update my blog. But now I have placed myself in front of the computer with a cup of tea and some marshmallow eggs……

So, do we need more flexible learning? Does flexible learning mean an equal opportunity for everyone to have the chance to get educated? Related to Leigh’s posting, “free learning, fee education”. We are here to inspire our students, to “get them into an educational setting, getting them comfortable with structured learning, helping them develop independent learning skills, and building confidence with the idea of assessment”. Q4U has done it, why can’t every other department follow? I have only been here for 5 weeks; maybe I haven’t seen it all. Somehow I don’t see how more flexible learning is going to help me to teach my students who are desperately wanting to get into nursing next year but can’t do the times table (within10) by head. As I mentioned in my previous posting, I had success getting my students to practice maths exercises on line. I feel that flexible learning would be helpful in conjunction with class learning, but when using flexible learning as the only learning tool, it may conceal its real potential. For example, My colleague is running a distance stream for mathematics (for students living outside of Dunedin). After the first day of workshop, he lost almost 1/4 of students, because he quickly went through all course contents and give instructions on how to communicate on the internet and that really beat up some of the students’ “self-esteem”. He had run two Elluminate sessions after that, hardly anyone turned up for the session and most of time, he felt like he was lecturing by himself.

What I’m trying to say is, we do have wonderful recourses on internet that we can use and we can create the second space that is outside of classroom to interact with our students. But we should not always rely on such technology, from the example I gave to you above, it does not always work for you. There is a policy to support the concept of “free learning, fee education”, most courses have a 2-3 weeks trail period, if you don’t think that is what you would like to learn within such period, you get a full refund on tuition. But when we lost people during this free learning period, we shouldn’t see it as a loss of tuition or government funding, more importantly, we might have lost someone’s confidence or someone’s chance to be successful.

Happy Easter everyone...


Leigh Blackall said...

Hi Michelle,

I think we all need to be careful of not falling into the trap of thinking flexible learning means online learning. For sure, online learning can enable more flexibility, but for some of the reasons you point out, online learning can also mean inflexibility. Take Elluminate for example. There really isn't anything all that flexible about it is there? People have to get to a computer, that has adequate bandwidth and the right software, and be online at a specific time. I would say that is almost as inflexible as classroom teaching! And then, within all the different teaching and learning techniques for online learning, there are many many ways to be flexible, or not.

So, with the students you describe.. what would be a better way to offer flexible learning opportunities? You've outlined some of their characteristics.. they want to get into nursing as soon as possible, they struggle with basic maths... and they appear to be not responding to the online learning your colleague is offering. Do these people use Myspace or Facebook? What about MSN and text messaging? Perhaps those devices might be more useful to them in terms of online learning...

But what other ways are there to offer more flexibility? The 2 - 3 weeks "free learning" you mention.. is that really flexible? Depending on the course, 2 - 3 weeks isn't really enough to know if it for you or not.. do you think you have a good idea of what you are in for with this course? Now that we are 2 - 3 weeks into it? Maybe you do.. but I know there are at least half of the people in this course that do not have a clear idea...

So, do your students need more flexibility? Are there people who are not enrolling in your course because they cannot afford the fees? Do you require them to move to Dunedin to do your course? How many ours a week do you require them to study? I worked it out.. to survive and maintain a healthy life in this town, people have to work at least 20 - 30 hours on minimum rates! Does this leave enough time to study? Do your class times (if you have classes) clash with anyone's working hours? etc. Do your students need flexible learning? Maybe they don't. Maybe it is simple enough for them to just fit into a regular routine of class times at a single location...

Michelle Liu said...

Hey Leigh, you are quite right. I did confine my posting to on-line learning than the actual flexible learning. Thanks for the tips, guess I could try a different approach to make the flexible learning (all just on-line learning in my posting) more applicable, like MSNspace and facebook you mentioned, however, another question arises…… how much time and vitality is required from teachers to make sure flexible learning is really flexible for students (i.e. choices about where, when, and how learning occurs).

I just thought of some other ways of flexible learning that exist:
(a)Increase number of tertiary education institutions: if university is not your cup of tea, try polytechnic, schools of technology, schools for tourism and correspondence schools etc;
(b)Increase number of papers/qualifications to choose from: hundreds of subjects and thousands of papers you could choose from University/Poly;
(c)Increase flexibility on how to achieve the course requirement: compulsory papers plus papers of your own interests and choices ( they can be completely irrelevant to the course/degree)

I thought the ideas of 2-3 weeks trail period was quite good. You and Bronwyn ran a one day workshop before starting the course, just to give everyone an idea what they are (we are to be exact : )) getting themselves into? I know maybe not everyone can decide whether the course is right for them or not in such short period of time, but at least, students were given the chance to make their own choice. That’s why I consider the “trail period” as part of the flexible learning.

Carolyn said...

I just put this comment in the course blog comments but thought I would also post here for you. Hope this helps.
Here is a link to a YouTube video about RSS feeder Michelle.
Hope that helps.
Also I did a short post about igoogle in my other blog here is a link to that
Maybe these things will be useful to you as well.

Carolyn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolyn said...
once more

Leigh Blackall said...

Hi Michelle, thanks for coming back to this.. great ideas! I hadn't thought of flexibility that way, and you are right.

The balance of workloads for teachers is an ever present concern. Many teachers I work with decide right off the bat that becoming more flexible will increase their workloads too much.. that's a shame.

We used to have a week in teh DFLP to look at this issue. I just checked and it seems like we have dropped it. From memory, we didn't drop it so much as incorporate it into the week we look at sustainability (wk 9 and still being sorted out this end, so I'll remember to add in a reading on workloads).

This course has been through some changes in the past 2 years. It started as a combined online and face to face, with the online being in Blackboard. Then we tried it online outside of Blackboard still with face to face. Our workload blew way out of proportion and the quality of the course suffered. This time we are using the wiki only and no face to face. Our workload is now managable, but we are worried at the level of engagement... apart form you :)

As for the free trial.. our course is free to do at anytime. Anyone can access the wiki, and anyone can start doing the course. We will support them too. If they want formal recognition and assessment, we ask that they enrole. We call this open access learning. It has proven successful a number of times already and we have gained enrollments this way. Feedback has been that our students appreciated the flexible intake. If we did it this way more often, we could reduce our drop out rates too.. But our students are different to yours...

Bronwyn hegarty said...

I am a bit late jumping in here but thought I would add this to the mix.

When we are thinking about changes which could be made to help create flexible learning opportunities - we do need to try and go beyond the traditional first ideas we have of changing the content. For example, adding in some online resources. as leigh says it is not all abut going online.

Creative ways of communicating with students might "push their buttons" - perhaps in the example you gave, a poll using cellphones might have enabled the lecturer to find out how the class was feeling - during the workshop and afterwards.

Maybe they needed some tighter hand-holding to get comfortable with the elluminate sessions. I have found for something like that the first session needs to be pretty relaxed and playful.

For many people maths is a turn off at the best of times so if it all seems too hard with added extras they cannot relate to - as you say they will drop away for sure. as you say "beat up ... students’ “self-esteem”."

I agree the trial period is very important so not having to enrol until you have tasted the course can be a good thing...unfortunately in terms of establishing teacher's workloads, the organisation likes to know how many have enrolled.

at least we no longer have the model of efts per enrolment, rather we get a cap on $ and we are monitored more closely for completions now.

So we so need to get the FL mix right to keep our students happy.