5. Practical considerations for implementing technology
Regardless of mode of delivery, the principles underpinning designing effective approaches to learning, teaching and assessment are the same. However, there are several key additional issues to consider when developing blended and online activities and resources. These apply whether your aim is to enhance aspects of what you do in the classroom, or to enable predominantly or fully online learning.
• Start small. If you are completely new to using technology in your teaching, there are simple ways in which to Enhance your module while becoming familiar with online tools before incorporating them more fully into your teaching. For example, begin by using an asynchronous discussion as an online problems forum before moving on to moderating a subject-related discussion.
• Consider who your students are. If they are new to HE, will they have the skills to work effectively in blended and online contexts, and be able to cope with aspects of your module that you Extend or Empower through the use of technology? If they are distance students, what interaction might they want from an online course? What IT skills might they have, and what equipment will they need access to?
• Consider your subject before the technology. What are your students to learn, and how might technology support this? If critical understanding is important, might you Extend or Empower your module through use of discussion forums or blogs to offer a more reflective exchange of views? For the coursework they are undertaking, would your students benefit from having a rich range of resources 'up front' (for example to support problem-based learning activities), or having shared online working spaces (e.g. wikis)?
• Make online learning purposeful. Provide students with a need to use online resources such as having continuous coursework that requires students to engage with subject resources and with each other online, over the duration of a course. Ensure students understand their own responsibilities as learners, and are aware of the benefits of self-paced, autonomous or collaborative learning, and the importance of time management.
• Highlight the benefits of tasks which are using technology. Students are more likely to participate when they understand your rationale and how their learning experience will be improved. For example, if you are Enhancing your module with online self-tests, describe the subject coverage and how they relate to the overall module assessment. If Extending a group work activity using wikis, explain how wikis make individual contributions transparent and can be used in promoting a fairer approach to assessment of group projects.
• Provide relevant supplementary resources. Modules Enhanced with a glossary and links to further reading can help students try and resolve any difficulty in understanding at the point it occurs, and can place the core subject matter in a wider context for those who wish to explore this.
• Foster a distance learning community. Modules that are offered predominantly or fully online must have regular opportunities for online communication and collaboration between students to enhance learning, reduce isolation, and help ensure retention. In addition consider creating an informal discussion area ('chatterbox', 'teatime') for students to socialise online throughout the term.
• Provide a secure assessment process. If you are accepting the electronic submission of coursework, considering using the feature for this within the VLE, as this will automatically verify submission to the student and ensure work is collected at a central point. Regardless of how coursework is submitted, there should be some means of confirming its safe receipt.
• Consider a range of assessed activities. There are a wide range of assessed online activities that can Extend and offer Empowered learning opportunities to complement face-to-face lectures and seminars. Examples include; peer assessment of student publications, reflective learning journals, collaborative projects, portfolios, student-created tests and graded discussion participation.
• Consider your own role. Students should be aware of how frequently you will update resources and be available to provide online support. Ensure you monitor student engagement, and follow up absent students privately via e-mail for support. Participate in professional development seminars and workshops on online teaching and learning in order to gain and improve technical and pedagogical skills and to become aware of emerging technologies.
• Provide appropriate orientation. In advance of formal teaching, ensure your students are provided with an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the online learning environment. In advance of a summative objective test for example, provide a sample quiz to allow students to become familiar with the test format and identify any technical issues. Provide links to online study skills guidance for students, including online communication protocols.
• Ensure just-in-time guidance is available. This could take the form of explicit task-related pointers and instructions embedded within the online environment itself, and serve as additional guidance that is offered at the point in time it is most relevant. For example, use the online announcements tool to remind of current activities, and provide timely feedback to student queries.
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