I had an interesting discussion with and academic the other day when discussion the creation of online resources for the masters in Teaching and Learning (MTL) for the cohort start in the middle of January.
The nature of the group is that the programme will be mainly distance learner. I have been helping the programme leader in a collaborative effort to create the infrastructure needed to support distance learners and therefore distance assessments. We are working through the curriculum and looking at the different modules that the learner will have to complete and seeing how these tasks lend themselves to online assessments and the products that Tulip (SharePoint) has the capability to provide.
This then lead on of the first assessment being that the learner must contribute to a discussion. It doesn’t take a massive leap of faith to see that the technology can enable this through discussion boards, which within Tulip sites are relatively easy to setup. I have promoted discussion board since I started as a learning technologist but I have only seen it used as method to enhance the learning experience rather than an essential part of the assessment.
The discussion that it had with the academic started with the reluctance of the students to engage with this type of online discussion. Not because they were not familiar with the technology as all of them are young qualified and have had experience with such site like Facebook but because they are uncomfortable with the way they have to input information that is seen to be a coherent point and academically put. The fear come in that the learners are used to the informal nature on online discussions in which in formal language is used and abbreviations such as text talk is used. Now the students are expected to form comments and arguments that their academic peers can go through and scrutinise and assess but still expected to contribute to the flow of a discussion.
As none of the students have been required to do this they are worried that they have no framework of conduct that they have to adhere to that would minimise ‘unprofessional mistakes.’ These mistakes will inevitably happen as the students learn to use this system. The good thing about the University’s Tulip system is that it is a closed system that is not open to the general public. This therefore provides a safe learning environment in which the students can make mistake and not have suffer the full brunt of the effects.
In the middle o January I will be there to introduce the Tulip site from which will be the student primary point of contact to academic and the source of all of their learning material. From the discussion with the module leader of the site I am going to have to include some key points to help the students engage with the technology as an assessment tool. The first will be a ‘model discussion’ that the students can use as reference of how they should be conducted. This will be created by the academics and will demonstrate how to convey ideas in an academic way. The next will be a ‘test’ area which I will, in collaboration with the academics will create. This will involve a number of topics for discussions being posted on the Tulip site and the students will be able to post replies to. These will not be assessed but the academics will however go through and point out if there any areas of concern and how to improve on them. Finally I will have to locate if there has been other who have done similar things and find out if they have created a best practice guide that I could incorporate into this learning task.