Purpose of the blog: Online Presence

In 2011, the Learning Centre at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand, will provide extra online learning support to both distance and on-site students. We want to utilize the Internet more, and be available over a greater range of hours. The student-dedicated blog to accompany this is USE IT OR LOSE IT!

"Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people" - William Butler Yeats

Friday, 27 January 2012

As of July 20

If you are a student, please head on over to USE IT OR LOSE IT! (by clicking the link).

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Reporting back . . . with an eye to the future

In 2011, the opportunity to establish online learning support at a distance arose when I relocated to Japan. This proved to be invaluable from the standpoint of experiencing at first hand the realities faced by students who study at a distance. It was a unique privilege to be able to try something new, and I learned a great deal about what seemed to work and what didn’t. I hope to be able to build upon that groundwork in 2012.

The main finding was that online learning support requires a different model to the traditional one whereby students make appointments usually 1:1 with a tutor and sit together looking over their work. There are already a number of barriers which make that a difficult model in the flesh (and that certain groups of students (e.g. males, Maori, Asian) don’t easily overcome, apparently, as evidenced by statistics) and to add another complicating factor—technology—only makes things more difficult.

Only about a dozen students interacted with me more than once online. Another twenty or so made contact that lasted a single email. Several students were steered my way to interact on Skype, but although I contacted all of them only one took up the option (audio only) and the same pattern occurred on the two occasions that I attempted to hook up with Student Support staff (only Jean Monk contacted me regularly). On the other hand, the blog that I had set up prior to my move has accumulated two and a half thousand ‘hits’ without any pushing, and I received some very favorable comments from students from the Elluminate sessions that I sat in on.  In my view, it is crucial to develop an ongoing relationship if online student support is to operate optimally and if the current culture is to change.

From April, 2011, the first couple of months of the project were spent setting up the hardware and experimenting with the software. There were bugs that I needed to deal with, a hacking attack to counter, and I needed to attempt Facebook, Twitter, Bomgar, Linked-In, Delicious, Yoono, Skype, Elluminate, Adobe Connect, Moodle, Windows Office, Windows Movie Maker, Vlogging, Wikis and I created a Maths channel on YouTube. (I can’t claim to be an expert on all of these by any means.) At that point I expected our 80:20:1 plan (80% of the time dealing with students, 20% working on online resources and a small amount of time encouraging Student Support staff to use Skype) to kick into action automatically, but such was not the case.

Consequently, I went to Plan B, or Phase Two. This part of the project consisted of my trying to catalyze student buy-in. To drum up business, I went fishing! I dropped in on Elluminate sessions held by teaching staff. I frequented the Moodle forums, I sent global emails to the whole student body on at least three occasions to promote our initiative and to ask for feedback about what difficulties might be standing in the way. However, I only ever received two replies—from my two most pro-active and outgoing peer tutor volunteers. This to me was telling. Things weren’t working. Why not?

Ever since I came across the concept at an ATLAANZ conference (Association of Tertiary Learning Advisors of Aotearoa/New Zealand) I’ve been aware that it is vital to establish an ongoing relationship for effective student support to occur. (This poses a problem, since our goal at the Learning Centre is to make students autonomous and independent as quickly as possible.) To establish such a relationship, I made contact with and formed connections with target groups (Timaru nursing students, Vet Nursing distance students) as well as keeping alive previous associations (e.g. QuickStart).  My experience is that students often only require the one contact to resolve their issue(s). This makes it impossible to have a long-term involvement. The better you are as a learning adviser, the quicker is the student turnover! I came to see that dealing with student issues quickly and efficiently is like lighting a fire with straw; it burns brightly, but it soon expires. With the Timaru students, for example, I believe that I had got that group up and running before I ever set foot on the plane to Japan, and that thereafter help was surplus to requirements.

My conclusion is that it is necessary somehow to feed and to nurture online (and conventional) association with students over time. There needs to be an ongoing dialogue—as equals—established and maintained. Lifelong learning and the search for valuable input needs to be seen as cool and, dare I use the word, ‘sexy’. That paradigm needs to be established before students gets into difficulty, and continually nurtured. We need to dispel the prejudice that learning support is solely remedial. We need to nip in the bud the notion of “Cabbage Maths”. Furthermore, I believe that we need to address the whole, holistic student body (and why not the staff also?) by serving up motivational material. The greatest gift that a teacher can bestow is to motivate and inspire.

To this end, I plan to develop my blog to establish a community of students (et al) around the concept of a 1 minute per week commitment to lifelong learning. (I believe that it is best the Learning Centre has its own platform for this, as on a couple of occasions—when I tried to establish a niche on Nursing’s Moodle, and when I dropped in unannounced on an ‘open’ Elluminate session—people felt that their space had been invaded.) Its comments pages would constitute a forum and archive. I’ve seen this format employed on several unrelated blogs—in sustainability, minimal housing and even stamp collecting. The idea to flag generic tips and such each week on the front page of Moodle is a great one (Occupy Moodle!). I would then elaborate upon those tips on my site. This would be a groundbreaking exercise; I haven’t seen such an approach used elsewhere in other learning centres.

The strengths of the Internet are what we need to play to. We can reach many people easily. We can store a wealth of material online, we can archive our best attempts at explain, we can offer anonymity, we can cast our (Inter)net widely in terms of the scope of the resources provided (not just study skills), students won’t have to wait a day or three to be seen, and once they access the site it will be up to them will decide what is useful for them to view, listen to or read. On my blog I’m hoping to create links to our bank of resource sheets—to open the vault instead of requiring students to have to traipse to our F Block hidey-hole to collect individual sheets of paper. Also, It should be possible to provide the best explanations online instead of repeating ourselves ad infinitum in person (I’m thinking here of the hundreds of times I’ve gone over drug calculations). 

Though these thoughts are concrete, they are not set in stone. I’m open to suggestions. I can certainly timetable my hours so as to be available on the afternoons (NZ time) on days that there is otherwise no Maths or Science cover. Let’s set up an open Skype identity, ‘OPstudent’ password ‘LCsky9e’ to facilitate the connection. I’m happy to work through a list of Program Managers to encourage technological up-skilling (though keeping in mind that KISS ought to dictate our ‘normal’ operating mode). I am reluctant to concentrate only on a subset of students departments, but as long as I can keep tabs on the bigger picture, I’m keen to have a closer involvement especially with those departments that require Maths from students who are not necessarily well-versed in numbers. This February I shall work out how to proceed with Moodle and with setting up my blog to have it ready offer input right from the start of the academic year, 2012.

As far as SMART objectives go, let me work backwards from the 10 hours per week that I have to spend on the project to see what it is reasonable to expect to cover. I would want there to be some flexibility built into this so as to accommodate any increase in demand from any component. May need to prioritize.

•    Moodle tip plus associated blog post every week, respond to comments – 2 hours
•    LC meetings attended via Skype – 1 hour
•    Skype PMs at a rate of 2 a week – 2 hours
•    Admin and sundry – 2 hours per week
•    Vet Nursing, Midwifery, Nursing extra assistance – 2 hours
•    Skype with Maths/Science ‘Helen’s days off’ students – 1 hour

It is difficult to assign numerical targets to the blog, although its statistics are very easy to scan. We can look at numbers of numbers of followers and comments made. I’ll aim for a greater rate of hits than my previous peak. One tip or post per academic week is a firm target. I can make a tally of emails and keep a list of the PMs contacted. I shall complete progress and LC feedback reports.

Finally, having worked largely in isolation for the best part of year, I can report that it suits me in the main but there is a danger in that it is easy to grow isolated. I’ll guard against that.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Rainy season self-reflection

This is a follow up to the scope that I posted last March, just prior to leaving earthquake-prone New Zealand for earthquake-prone Japan. I want to address two linked questions:

  • Where am I at?
  • Where should I be headed?

I've been in Uto City three months now. On the home front, the accommodation question has been solved through forming an extended family of three generations (this is Japan, after all). For an office, I use my mother-in-law's bedroom. Internet access (wireless) has been organized (expensive at about $100 per month), and the issue of 100V electrical power instead of 230V has disappeared, after I discovered that the laptop's adapter handles both.

Other bugs I've been able to 'exterminate' include Microsoft Office authentication, a PDF problem, and the hacking of my Gmail account (the first two with the help our friendly IT people, using Bomgar). Another issue-that-wasn't was my need for a microphone and headphones, because my laptop is equipped with them (though as I write, there's an audio feedback issue that I need to have fixed).

I'm largely set up with all the tools that I require to offer students support online. Skype's up and running (as are Gmail and Facebook video chat). I seem to be green for go concerning Elluminate . I have installed Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube (as well as Yoono to keep simultaneous tabs on them all). And, of course, I've maintained this blog, with 2000 hits to date, averaging 200-400 per month

Likewise, I've made and maintained contact with various staff and colleagues on these various social networking platforms, depending each person's predilection. Prior to relocating, I had set up relationships with, and created distribution lists for, several groups of students. Finally, Bronwyn Hegarty and Sarah Stewart have offered useful professional advice that I mean to follow up.

I've dabbled in some possibilities for projects, such as using Windows Movie Maker to create an introductory video. I've started a YouTube Maths channel for interesting and useful numeracy clips. I've explored several vlogging models, with a view to creating one myself. Now, I need to ascertain exactly where to apply my efforts to get the biggest bang for our buck. The next task would be to report back to the team and work towards a consensus.

The key issue to address, it seems to me, is how to encourage students to actually utilize online support. Without their buy-in, there won't be much of a pay-off. I have sent out several global emails inviting them to contact me, but very few have. I, certainly, and perhaps the Learning Centre as a whole, need to ponder about how to reach out and sell ourselves. Proactivity is meant to be the name of the game. The original intent was to spend 80% of my time working with students both individually and in groups, 20% of my time working on a project, and a small portion of my time facilitating the training of S.S. staff in Skype and other online communication tools. I'm not yet there by any means. Students have never contacted me using Facebook or Twitter, and only occasionally by email.

Consequently, I've been exploring several options. If I take part in a regular Elluminate session for distance students, I could build up a relationship with them. I've already sounded this out with Judy Magee, who suggests that I join the distance Bioscience 2 stream. I could change my working hours, though I'm not sure that this would make a difference. We could set up fixed appointments through the front desk (there could be weekly Elluminate and or Skype sessions that students sign up for). I also feel that we could tweak our paradigm of mostly just working with students with needs. We are already doing this with Peer Tutors, but could actively seek the collaboration of abler students to help build up some sort of a wiki of learning resources that students take co-ownership of (I've set up a Wikispaces shell for that). I'm also toying with a weekly good study idea/website sent out globally so as to keep us in the public eye (for staff as well as students?). It is probably more productive to find or organize pre-existing material, rather than create them from scratch, though in areas where good resources do not exist, I could. Above all, though, I need to limit my focus to just a few things. Do them well and regularly.

Q: How long is a piece of string?
A: As thin as you can spread the jam

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Our man in Japan - Mark 3

It still takes me some time to create a video clip like this, but I'm getting faster, if not better.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Introduction - mark 2

A slightly more professional result, using Windows Movie Maker with a little editing and planning. I would still like to condense/speed up what I have to say, add in anything I've forgotten, and maybe catch myself on a 'good hair day', or should that be 'good face'. Hm, those days may well lie in the past :-(

Later . . .

Have come across a great model for doing an online clip. Tofugu has a channel where gives viewers tips improve on how to improve their Japanese. Great energy, pace, editing and presence. Check out his youtube channel and his blog.

and here's an example:

Monday, 23 May 2011

Jumping in at the deep end

A few minutes' worth of dabbling produced this:

Hey! It's a start.

Pics to prove a point

My first attempt to use my laptop's inbuilt camera. Something worked. Do I have any egg on face, or crumbs in the corner of my mouth? After today, it can only get better. (Last week I was hacked.) If I can get some moving pictures up and running, then I can develop my own channel like these people have whilst in Japan.

  1. Person 1
  2. Person 2
  3. Person 3
  4. Person 4
  5. Person 5