Friday, October 23, 2009

Constructing Courses - Development Ideas 2

In both my flexible learning course and in constructing courses to enhance student learning I have focused on the big picture choosing to discuss the changes that I want to make to my overall program. I want to divert for a time and speak about one course in particular which needs to be changed for next year. This is the first course in my program and the only course I teach which I have not yet put online. All my other courses are on blackboard and I have developed online resources for these. Over 2010 I intend to take the next step in terms of developing these into online learning packages which I see as part of my overall program review and big picture plan. I need to take that first step for my first course and this is certainly a pressing task in my overall plan.

The first course is called ‘The Values Course’ and aims to increase student’s awareness of self, awareness of others and ultimately to increase their ability to work respectfully across cultures. Working respectfully across cultures requires some skills but is more importantly about being aware of ones own values in order that these are not imposed on others. The specific unit standard based learning outcomes linked to this course include:

  • Demonstrate self awareness for working with mental health consumers/tangata whai ora
  • Demonstrate awareness of own values and cultural identity and possible implications for practice.
  • Describe knowledge of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the implications for contemporary practice as mental health support workers.
  • Describe knowledge of at least two Pacific peoples and the implications for contemporary practice as mental health support workers.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of group and team work theory, group functions and group skills and participate effectively in group or team work.
  • Demonstrate awareness of the importance of integrating knowledge, skills and values in Mental Health support Work.

The course is currently delivered face to face. I combine self awareness and group work unit standards with aspects of unit standards related to working with whanau, working with pacific cultures, Treaty of Waitangi, and Recovery competencies. The course is unit standard light relative to the other courses but the teaching content is significant and much time in the first term is consumed by orientation and administrative issues. I am happy with the content although I intend to move teaching about the Treaty itself into Term Two where the focus is on policy, legislation and application. I struggle with the lack of contact time and constantly feel frustrated that I am unable to cover all that I would like to cover. I look forward to alleviating the pressure by adding more on line components to this course.

In 2009 I have set up blackboard and built up resources for all the courses I teach except this one. I didn’t set it up for this one because I traditionally have a high number of students who are not computer literate and I just could not see how to incorporate computer training into the first terms program which is already packed. I can’t just extend the contact days because many of my students are being released from work to attend. Workplaces can’t afford to cover staff for additional days so I have to work with what I have. I scheduled the computer training for the beginning of term 2 which was okay except it gave some students an opportunity to feel hard done by. I think there is something to be said for starting as you mean to go on and I really want to start 2010 with an expectation that students will need to be computer literate.

My plan is to schedule regular computer lab sessions throughout term 1 and to develop online teaching packages aimed at scaffolding students into confident computer use whilst also meeting course requirements. If the labs are scheduled as part of course time, I can be there to get a sense of confidence and competence levels. In addition I will make it compulsory for students who have no computing background to complete the computing basics course in their own time. Unfortunately I just don’t have enough contact time to incorporate it into their program.

I have the students for a three day orientation, then one day a week for the remaining six days of term one. I incorporate self awareness teaching into the three orientation days. We focus here on individual characteristics and needs. Students complete a range of personality and learning style surveys and evaluate themselves against the recovery competencies. They write a short piece critically evaluating the surveys in relation to the relevance they have for them. This is aimed at getting them to start thinking critically about material they are given. They also collate all the information and use this to write a one page profile summarising their characteristics and needs. They share their characteristics and needs in groups and collate these to create a group profile outlining the group’s characteristics and needs. They then share the group profile with the whole class and together we use the group profiles to create a class contract. This all occurs in the three orientation days alongside all the usual orientation activities. I am really happy with this activity. It stimulates some fantastic discussion, gets students excited, contributes significantly to the building of our learning community and can be broken into small chunks to fit around the various compulsory orientation activities. I currently give students hard copies of the surveys but this would be a great task for the students to access on line.

There does tend to be some difficulties with logging on, related to unpaid fees, technical difficulties and incomplete enrolments in the first couple of weeks so any online tasks during this period would need to be designed in such a way as to be accessible to all students.

I use the class contract to introduce group work theory and the group work assessment task. The group work objective is to create a poster depicting different ethnic and culture groups and subgroups in New Zealand and to present this to class on the final day of term. The group need to work through a guided group work process establishing a group work contract, recording minutes, clarifying the objective, identifying vision, goal and tasks and finally writing up a reflection on the process. This is presented as a formal written report.

I usually spend one day on the group work theory aspect but this does not allow the students time to adequately apply group work process and this is evidenced in a lack of depth in this part of their assessment. I am happy with the learning activities and the assessment but would like to spend more time playing with group work process. Shifting the Treaty teaching to term two will enable this.

I spend one day on culture and values, two and a half days on the Tikanga Maori and the Treaty, one day on Pacific cultures and half a day on presenting posters. The content is rushed but this will be greatly enhanced by focusing on Tikanga rather than the Treaty and by utilising online resources. This material is currently assessed in a workbook format where students provide short factual answers. The workbooks are very tedious for students and me but ensure that I meet all the unit standard requirements. I want to shift all work book material to either the reflective journal or to online self assessed quizzes but I will need to check that these will meet moderation requirements and I will need to learn how to use them.

Students also learn basic mihimihi and waiata during this time and are orally assessed on these. It seems to work so I will maintain this in 2010 then review again.

Finally the students are expected to begin working on self awareness tasks in their own time. Self awareness tasks are presented in a journal. This year I made it compulsory to submit the journal for feedback mid term, each term but not compulsory to complete the tasks. This was an excellent move as it allows students to pace themselves according to their own safety needs.

The self awareness tasks require the student to dig deep in terms of their family and ancestral experiences and values and the impact of these on their work in mental health. I never have enough time to cover the material related to family experiences and values as adequately as I’d like and this lacking is evident in the quality of reflection on related aspects in their journal. The principles and policy informing family/whanau participation is explored in term two and it has just occurred to me that I could cover this material here in addition to developing an online learning package for this material.

I am using the term ‘learning package’ when I am referring to more than just providing on line resources or lecture notes. Reflecting on what I mean by this, I am talking about my teaching plan written up and presented online in such a way as to be accessible to students and to provide a similar quality to the learning as I aim for in my face to face teaching. I like to present information in small chunks and use a range of discussion based, reading or interactive activities aimed at supporting students to consolidate their learning. I have been looking at some beautiful courses colleagues have developed using Exe. This is definitely the right tool for what I want to do but I will need to learn to use it which is primarily about setting aside some time. I also need to learn to use Moodle.

On or off line, I think content delivery should be lively, fun, varied and as interactive as possible. I think lecturer presence is really important in online courses and I’ve been thinking about ways to create that presence most effectively. Check out this site for my ideal. I really love this website but I imagine it is hugely expensive to create something like this.

I do think E-lluminate is a likely possibility and I really must get my head around it but I don’t think it’s the only way. I think a mixture of chatty informal webcam recordings, more formal videoed lectures, audios on powerpoint and regular feedback, emails and phone calls are also useful tools for creating lecturer presence in online courses. These are things I can already do which adds to their appeal but I would like to develop more skill and confidence in using video or DVD camera’s.

I would also eventually like to be able to make more adventurous instructional films but there are some pretty good resources online to tide me over in the first instance.

In my next blog I’ll get a bit more focused on the specifics of my plan.

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