Friday, July 3, 2009

My Flexible Learning Plan

My Flexible Learning Plan

Flexible Plan on Power Point


The National Certificate in Mental Health Support Work is a unit standard based programme worth 122 credits. The course runs over the 34 contact weeks of the standard academic year. Students attend classes one day per week so there are 34 contact days in total. There are four courses corresponding to four terms broadly dealing with: self and cultural awareness; legislation and policy; theories, models and practice skills and finally developing a recovery based framework for practice. Unit standards are integrated throughout the courses and assessments are designed to meet unit standard requirements whilst being accessible, manageable and fun for students.

Historically the majority of students attending this course have done so while working full time in mental health support roles. These students access the course as professional development and are encouraged and in some situations financially supported by their employers. These students have additional motivation to complete the course in the form of a $2000 grant paid in full when they complete the course.

In the past two years there has been a shift in this tradition so that in 2009 nearly 50% of my students are not working in mental health. This trend looks set to continue in the current economic and political climate as organisations are less able to support staff to access the course and the industry is less transient. Employees are holding on to their jobs meaning that there are less new staff needing to complete the training. This in itself would not be a problem as the programme could just make a shift to more general promotion and aim to attract students from the wider pool however there tends to be a high drop out rate for students who are not working in mental health in this course.

I believe that the high drop out rate is attributable to two primary causes. The first is that students not working in mental health may select this course because they believe that it's one day delivery format makes it an easy option when in fact the exact opposite is true. The second and related issue is that the demands this course places on students in terms of independent time and work commitment are too high for students who don't have some grounding in mental health.

Consequently there are some significant sustainability issues for the certificate programme and several options as I see it;

  • Stop running the programme altogether
  • Merge it with the Certificate in Human Services and make mental health a specialty
  • Shift to a blended online and block delivery format

Even with diminishing numbers the programme is relatively profitable. It employs me at .6 and I have several guest lecturers through out the year but employment costs are relatively low . The one day delivery format means minimum cost in terms of additional resources. While the programme continues to be promoted within the mental health industry and supported with a grant it will continue to be profitable even with relatively few students so it would be foolish to discontinue offering it.

Merging it with the mental health certificate would probably be the easiest option but evidence from the diploma programme indicates that this may reduce accessibility for people working in mental health. Both the local certificate and diploma are run as full-time contact courses.

Shifting to a blended online and block delivery format is the most useful strategy and my flexible learning plan is based on this ideal solution.

The Plan

My Flexible Learning Plan is to restructure the delivery of this programme so that it is more accessible to;

  • Distance students
  • People working night shifts
  • Parents and care givers
  • Students with literacy issues and other learning support needs
  • Students who want to self pace

The purpose of this restructuring is to increase numbers generally, widen the potential pool of students already working in mental health and to provide a more supportive programme for students whose learning needs are not supported in the current high intensity format.

The Delivery will be restructured as follows;


Retain four courses and maintain status quo re each course as prerequisite for the next.


Retain status quo regarding delivery of one guided course per term within NZ academic year


Increase flexibility re start and finish dates of each course – no set times


Increase flexibility re study times – no set times


Use of Elluminate to record joint sessions to increase flexible access


Standardise the number of weeks in each course and adjust content to match (8 or 9 weeks for each course)


Reduce contact from the current 36 days to 16 days. 5 day block in the first and third terms and 3 day blocks in the second and fourth terms


Move current course material from blackboard to Moodle


Modify lesson plans and resources for online environment in line with flexible learning ideas (see previous bog)


Modify assessments for online environments in line with flexible learning ideas (see previous blog) and as follows;

Self Awareness Journal

Experiment with using Google docs shared between student and facilitator. This tool will enable a more formative approach while protecting students privacy rights and keeping them safe.

Course Workbooks

Convert worksheet based tasks to quiz format for pre and post topic self evaluations. Convert all other workbook material to Blog format. Use blog as day to day facilitating tool.

Collage/posters and Presentations

Retain in face to face blocks or convert to online presentation formats. Pamphlets; Use publisher.

Essay and Report

Retain as they are.

Group Work

Google groups or a moodle equivalent and collaborative google docs

Resources and Support required to carry out this Plan

I can’t see that my plan needs particular resources other than for me to have a little more skill, knowledge and rather more time. I don’t intend to create any fabulous resources other than those I can create with the technology that is readily available to me primarily because there are already so many wonderful resources freely available on line. I anticipate building the online course up over several years just as I have done with my face to face programme.

Resources Required

Where will I access this


Advice regarding organisational requirements that need to be met in order to make a programme change this significant.

Sally Pairman


Information regarding the student experience of block contact sessions and how these work best in terms of financing and accommodation needs, length and timing

Colleagues including;

Mid Wives



Cert in Health Studies


Upskilling me

EDC staff and community learning centre



Dianne Begg

Amber’s Questions Revisited

Amber’s questions

My Response

Could she start the course immediately?

Yes she could

Could she do it on line in her own time and from her own home?

Yes she could

Could she access resources online?

Yes she could. Everything she needed and more was available

Could she leave at 2.30 in order to be home by three for her children?

Not an issue as she was going to access the course on line but there are some block courses which will run for full days . Did she think she would be able to organise some childcare for those? If not, perhaps we could give the students training in childcare a practice session!

Did I provide any additional support?

I explained that there are lots of course specific support resources on line as part of the programme and that she could email or ring me anytime. Also that if she need additional support I could link her to the online or face to face support services at provided at Poly.

How would I cater to her learning needs and to her learning style?

I explained that there are a range of learning activities and assessments built into the programme that cater to differentlearning styles and needs

Since she had to come to class would there be plenty of opportunity for social interaction?

Not an issue as she didn’t have to come to class but since the bulk of the day to day material would be delivered and processed on blogs there was plenty of opportunity to engage in social interaction with other students. Also the contact days would involve a lot of social time.

Amber was delighted with the responses I gave to her questions and signed up on the spot!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

My Ideas For Flexible Learning

Drawing on the ideas expressed and explored in my blog, I have come up with three summary sheets that capture flexible things I have always done in my teaching, flexible things I have added since starting this course and flexible things I intend to do. I include examples of flexible learning that my ideas draw on, outline the fit between my ideas and Otago Polytechnics strategic direction and discuss the considerations, risks and concerns that will need to be resolved before implementing my flexible learning plan.

Flexible Things I have Always Done

  • Considered and attended to learning styles and individual characteristics and needs in overall presentation of content. I use a variety of lecture, film, discussion, research, activity, reading, case studies and experiential methods in delivery of course content.
  • Delivered material in such a way as to minimalise exclusion.
  • Attended to culture, characteristics and related needs by adapting course material, case studies, examples and assessments to fit with the cultural make up and characteristics of the group.
  • Providing a range of assessments catering to different preferences. I have experimented with encouraging students to develop their own assessments and I have adapted assessments to meet the needs of individual students.
  • Attending to learning support and extension needs of students by providing options for more or less tutorial support and options for more or less independent study
  • Changed the course timetable to better cater to parents and giving student choice re staying for late afternoon sessions
  • Providing a full time course in one contact day per week enabling flexibility around work and family commitments.
  • Developing accessible lecture notes, handouts and topic summaries and making these available to students in a variety of print sizes depending on needs.
  • Scaffolding as required building towards higher expectations and more complex assessment work as the year progresses.
  • Providing clear course books, assessments and assessment due dates and a fairly structured program but I am fairly casual with extensions trusting that students will complete work when they can.

Flexible Things I have Added Since Starting this Course

  • Using blackboard and power point. Online resources have enabled much more flexibility in terms of the resources that I am able to provide for students.
  • I have had all my students attend the computing training and set up additional support and sessions for those who need it.
  • I use a lot more technology in the classroom and am now much more able to utilise excellent online sites which enhance my teaching and delivery and inspire students.
  • I now provide lecture notes in colourful presentation format, in a printable version and in note taking version so that students have options as to how they use this material.
  • I still provide hard copies for students who require this.
  • My power points set the material out so that it is succinct, accessible and provides students with essential information.
  • I provide links to additional sites and are gathering links to more relevant and interactive sites for students who like to play.
  • I provide an 'Additional Resources for Enthusiasts' folder with each topic and continue to add links to interesting articles, and relevant documents, policy and legislation. I make it clear that this folder is over and above course expectations but encourage students to look - many do.
  • I encourage students to contribute material they find to these folders too (currently via emailing it to me but I know there is a less labour intensive way)
  • I am encouraging students to use lap tops in the class room.
  • I have encouraged a student who was otherwise going to have to drop out to continue working through the material and communicate with me by email since the material was now nearly all available on line. She has wanted to be apologetic but I have been able to reassure her that she is helping me become more flexible. This arrangement is working well and I have a second student who needs to leave Dunedin and we have agreed to the same plan. So far I have just been depositing resources but this is encouraging me to move more towards incorporating lesson plans.
  • Increased variety in assessment I am now giving students the option of presenting assessments on line. In a recent assessment in my Level 4 class students working in groups could choose to do posters or power points. Three groups did poster and two did power points.
  • In my level 6 class students used power point to present legislation and leading up to this we all had a session with community computing learning how to use PP 2007. They went on to create collaborative google docs. I had no idea what I was doing but we all figured this out together which was mutually empowering and probably one of my best experiences of teaching ever.
  • Increased technology has increased opportunities to get students to share their work with one another and this enhances the whole teaching and learning experience all round.
  • I have also started to write more flexibility into assessments so that rather than accommodating students who struggle to present material in a specific way, I am working towards providing students with more choice regarding how they present and to a certain extent what they present. I still feel somewhat restricted by unit standards but think I am considerably more creative in my integration of these than some.

Flexible Things I Intend to Do!

  • Optional audio clips for all power point presentations
  • Optional audio clips for essential readings
  • Key words and terms linked to a thesaurus or a course based glossary of terms and optional audio clips with these.
  • Pre and post topic interactive quizzes/self evaluation survey's that are marked automatically and provide evidence of student having met course/unit standard learning outcomes. If students pass these at the beginning of a topic they could choose to skip the topic, identify their own learning outcomes to enhance overall learning on the topic or focus on one particular area or gap.
  • Increased range of interactive activities, games and or structured and guided lesson plans rather than just resources for each topic.
  • Second life based assessed activity - this could be great for demonstrating interpersonal skills
  • More creative assessment options for online
  • Capture the sense of connection and human interaction experienced in face to face setting - use of video introductions at the outset of each term and encouraged ongoing use. Use of blogging in plain English type information video's
  • More student directed learning / less spoon feeding and information shovelling
  • Remove the stress point from assessments as much as possible.
  • More peer and self evaluation, more collaborative assessment including collaborating with the teacher.
  • More use of online strategies that enable students to collaborate on course resources and content
  • More flexibility in assessments from the outset
  • Shift to 'Learning Facilitator rather than teacher or lecturer
  • Less summative and more formative assessment - blogging and google docs good for this
  • More emphasis on Journal tasks
  • More use of online discussion groups set up around group assessment tasks

Examples of Flexible Learning That My Plan Draws On

1) This Flexible Learning course
2) My Current Programme
3) Massage Course
4) Mid Wife Course
5) Occupational Therapy Course

Fit between my Flexible Learning Plan and Otago Polytechnic's strategic Direction

Otago Polytechnic's strategic direction in terms of flexible learning can be summed up as; 'accessability, learner autonomy and cost efficiency' . My plan is in synch with this stategic direction.

Considerations, Risks and Concerns

1) Upskilling me - I still haven't done an elluminate session, I haven't learnt to use moodle, I'm not comfortable with video, film and sound equipment and there is a lot I have to learn. But I'm not in fear of the technology anymore and I'm also not afraid of learning alongside students as I go. That said, I'd want to keep use of technology fairly basic at the outset

2) Personal sense of grief re loss of regular face to face sessions with my students. I find this group of students particularly rewarding to work with and will miss the contact.

3) Concerned about how to replicate my passion and enthusiasm on line as I think these qualities motivate and energise students. How to make it fun for everyone.

4) Concerned about how to get enough creativity and variety into online assessments and teaching - variety is the spice of life!

5) A little concerned that the course may not actually prove accessible to students in an online forum. Many are adamamant they would not want this format

6) Some concerns about timing of this change and related organisational requirements. Do I need to rewrite my programme document first and have it go through the academic approval process? Do I need to wait another year since prospectus has already gone out? Can I afford to wait another year in terms of my course sustainability?

7) How much time to reasonably and realistically expect from students completing the course on line and how to get this right

8) How do distance students afford contact blocks? Where do they stay? Are costs incorporated into fees or are they seperate.

9) How am I going to find the time to do this on top of my existing workload.