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Going the distance: supporting a teaching team to move to distance learning. A Case Study. How ready are academics for the ‘Only Connect’ world?

Gibbs, Graham R. and White, Stephen (2014) Going the distance: supporting a teaching team to move to distance learning. A Case Study. How ready are academics for the ‘Only Connect’ world? In: HEA Social Sciences Conference, 21 -22 May 2014, the Studio, Birmingham, UK.

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Abstract

Introduction
The generally positive and conflict free version of the future portrayed in the FutureLab ‘Only Connect’ World suggests that students, at least, will be familiar with a democratised, collaborative, dispersed, asynchronous and digitised learning landscape. However, teaching staff with their experience of conflict between researcher and educator identities along with university systems supporting them are less prepared for this world.
This paper reports on the experience of converting a face-to-face Master’s course to a wholly online, distance learning (DL) course largely following the Open University DL model but based on using and creating open educational resources (OER). The original course was an MSc in social research methods and had been running for 17 years, but it needed to reach a wider recruitment market. Two key aspects of this conversion were that many of the teaching team were not experienced in teaching DL, and that the changeover was not a special project, with special funding, but a run-of-the mill course development.
The development was taken through the standard university approval process but as a fully DL development it had to meet two specific criteria: the QAA DL precepts and our university DL regulations. Both, to varying degrees, assume that the course development and/or the course delivery will be undertaken by fully experienced staff. The teaching team was overwhelmingly a research active and research focussed group of academics and thus well qualified in the subject matter of the course, but although many had taught the previous, in-person Master’s for many years, they had little demonstrable experience with DL.

Methods
This dilemma was addressed using a mentoring approach. An academic from another subject area in the school, who already had experience of leading a DL course was brought in to assist the team. Both he and the lead technical support had formal DL qualifications and this met the formal university validation criteria. The academic worked with another teaching team member (who is a NTF and has experience of technology based and distance learning teaching) as key facilitators/mentors to the remainder of the teaching team. In addition, the technical support team helped with the creation of the OERs we needed and in running the webinar and discussion software we were using.
There were several key tasks:
1. Convert existing face-to-face curricula to OER based DL versions
2. Find, appraise and adapt existing OER materials
3. Create new OER materials
4. Develop teacher skills with DL pedagogy and associated tools
5. Develop open access web pages for the OER materials and closed VLE pages for registered students.
Two pilot modules were offered in Jan 2014 and the student experience was evaluated using a range of learning analytics, including a number of in-depth interviews.

Results
Initial curriculum development/conversion was undertaken using an Australian design system. One of the mentors undertook this conversion for one module and other module leaders followed the model to ensure consistency in teaching approach.
To develop teacher skills in DL software and pedagogy, we ran a series of staff development sessions, and used the two pilot modules to modify our pedagogic designs and to disseminate DL teaching skills more broadly. Attendance at and scheduling of these sessions was problematic and in some cases we had to resort to distance learning approaches to the skills development.
OER materials were mainly videos and one mentor had considerable experience in making them. He advised other teachers on the options and the pedagogic focus of the OERs. Some teachers were reluctant to appear in person in these OERs and this was addressed by a combination of screen capture approaches and the use of already existing OERs – fortunately common in the areas concerned.

Discussion
A key tension in this development was between the research active and research focus of the teaching team and the need for the teachers to acquire new skills in both software use and in distance learning requirements. The individualistic focus of the researchers was often at odds with the collaborative, connected and communal needs of DL. Consistency in curriculum design helped here as the teachers could easily adapt their modules using the model. In the case of skills acquisition, the two pilot modules were crucial. This diminished the initial load on the mentors whilst technical and pedagogic experience was built up and it enabled the establishment of guidelines for good practice in OER production, curriculum design, DL pedagogic practice and in the software use on a relatively small scale to start with.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Lecture)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Schools: School of Human and Health Sciences
School of Human and Health Sciences > Centre for Applied Psychological Research
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Graham Gibbs
Date Deposited: 04 Dec 2014 12:22
Last Modified: 04 Nov 2015 18:58
URI: http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/id/eprint/22748

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