Tel Tales

Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Tag: degree apprenticeships

Degree Apprenticeships

Wouldn’t it be great if you could work in your chosen profession whilst working towards a degree and not have to pay a penny toward tuition fees? Well, soon many will be able to do just that. In April 2017, the UK Government introduced the ‘Apprenticeship Levy’ in effort to encourage more people to take on an apprenticeship. The idea is that this will improve employee skill across a range of sectors whilst retaining them in the workplace environment.

All UK employers that have a total employee pay bill above £3m a year will pay the levy, which has been set at a rate of 0.5% of the employers pay bill. Employer’s eligible include the public and private sector, charities and education providers. Employers will get a £15,000 fixed annual allowance to offset against the levy payment, so for example, an Employer with a £3m pay bill would have a levy bill of £15,000. Therefore the allowance is offset against this so their levy payment would be £0.00. Employers will have the freedom to spend their money on apprenticeship training to meet their needs as they see fit, however funds will expire after 24 months so there is incentive for employers to use their levy fund.

For our University, and many other Higher Education institutions across the country,  we are going to need to work hard to develop and provide suitable courses for these new students. The most attractive courses will be those that can allow the student to obtain their degree without having to leave their workplace to attend lectures or study days, which would greatly benefit their employer. For this reason, the TEL team have been reading various literature to help piece together the best practices for creating distance learning courses that are taught entirely online.

The University of York provides a useful checklist as to how best to create and develop online distance courses and the key issues to consider. The main points of the checklist are as follows:

Planning & Team Formation

Have you:

  • Outlined a project plan and sought input from relevant advisory services?
  • Profiled your prospective students e.g. demographics, technical competence, time zones, prior experience of online learning?
  • Formed a project team and, where relevant, identified and signed up training required?
  • Resolved how any remote tutors will be trained?
  • Agreed roles within the project team i.e. who is responsible for site and content development, and who will be online at what frequencies to communicate with students and facilitate online activities?

Course design & development

Have you:

  • Used a structured design approach e.g. story-boarding to plan the course structure and learning design?
  • Evaluated online tools and identified the appropriate means to support design?
  • Devised active learning activities e.g. problem solving, case reports, journal writing, role playing and discussions to engage students?
  • Identified materials and resources to be written or adapted, as well as existing electronic resources (inc. copyright)?
  • Agreed a content development plan including responsibilities, milestones, and a deadline allowing for review prior to delivery?
  • Developed a style for format of materials e.g. template, optimised for on-screen reading with graphics etc.?
  • Set up a logical structure for online materials with clear headings that use student-friendly terminology?
  • Divided learning materials into manageable chunks or sections, in sequence, and clearly stated the learning outcomes for each?
  • Highlighted any plug-ins, readers or specialist software that are required for accessing online files that students will need to engage with and included links to download them?
  • Set up clear communication channels e.g. online discussion activities?
  • Balanced group and individual activities so students can still work at their chosen pace?
  • Provided self-assessments or other opportunities for students to consolidate after each section and check/self-diagnose their progress?
  • Identified a method for the submission of assignments and established how students will receive feedback e.g. by personal email
  • Set aside time to properly test your module as a student?

Student support

Have you:

  • Developed a student induction programme including instructions (perhaps sent by email) that enable students to master such tasks as online logging in, navigating and using key online tools e.g. blog, wiki?
  • Provided a prominent welcome and a “big picture” overview of the module?
  • Compiled introductory guidelines for students setting out:
    • Module outline?
    • Module timetable?
    • Staff contacts and expected turnaround times for responses?
    • Technical requirements for computers?
    • First points of contact for academic and technical help?
    • Reading lists inc. links to online library resources and student services?
  • Included a “Week 0” for addressing any access issues and for running online icebreaker activities to build confidence as well as begin to help generate a sense of student “community” (that fellow learners are also engaged in the process)?
  • Included guidance on how to approach studying online and also on being an independent learner? Such guidance might include online etiquette guidelines (language, “wiki wars”, copyright, file sizes etc.) and suggested frequency for logging in?
  • Integrated generic support materials where relevant e.g. information skills, plagiarism awareness tutorials, tool use hints?
  • Encouraged peer support groups or set up peer review activities within the module to encourage a supportive community?

Evaluation

Have you:

  • Established how you will gather feedback on the module? Such as:
    • Using entry and exit surveys to elicit students’ expectations and concerns about learning online and then follow-up questioning their actual experience in the module?
    • As an alternative, using an informal mid-module survey asking students what is helping their learning and what is most challenging for them, then using a formal evaluation at the end?

In terms of the best practices for teaching an online course, the information we found within ‘Best Practices in Online Teaching Strategies’ by the Hanover Research Council proved interesting. The HRC have summarised key practices in effective online teaching taken from VOCAL (Visible, Organized, Compassionate, Analytical, and Leader), which are the characteristics deemed most effective in online learning and teaching by John R. Savery. The key points are identified as below:

Visible

The online classroom differs from the traditional classroom in that text largely replaces in-person, face-to-face, verbal communication. This different dynamic makes it easier for students to feel as if the instructor is not participating in learning, thus making it more likely that students take a passive role as well. A lack of visibility may lead to students‘ critical attitudes of the instructor‘s effectiveness and lower levels of effective learning.

Visibility can be demonstrated through public and private communication channels, such as:

  • A section of the course website with personal and professional information about the instructor.
  • Timely return of assignments and feedback.
  • Regular course website updates and postings, and well as regular updates to a shared assignment calendar.
  • Mass and personal email communications with all students.

Organized

Because online learners generally choose to take an online course because they assume it will provide more flexibility for their busy schedules, they also need to know what is expected of them so that they can organize their time to meet course requirements. This increased time management responsibility of the learner also means that there is an increased organization responsibility on the instructor. In order to meet the needs of students, it is suggested that online instructors:

  • Require students to take an online self-assessment and report what they think are the characteristics of a successful online student.
  • Prepare syllabus and assignment due dates carefully and well in advance so that students know what to expect and when.
  • Prepare a documents of ―Do‘s and Dont’s for the course, including the rules of web etiquette, posting comments in discussion forums, and communicating concerns to the instructor.
  • Anticipate the need for a non-instructional venue for online discussions.
  • Use different formats for online resources and label each clearly so that students can select a format that is most useful to them (i.e. pdf, html, doc, ppt).
  • Fully use the capabilities of the available educational technology to enhance student learning.

Compassionate

Online environments can be surprisingly intimate, especially since email provides a combination of privacy and distance that does not exist in traditional classrooms. This intimacy increases the need for instructors to be compassionate of students‘ feelings and needs. This can be accomplished through:

  • Permission for students to communicate directly with the instructor.
  • Discussion forums in which students introduce themselves and provide personal information, or use ice-breaker techniques to get students to share personal information with each other.
  • Reminding, if necessary, student of the class expectations of conduct, participation, and the instructor‘s response to unanticipated problems.

Analytical

Instructors need to manage the online learning assignment to ensure that students are completing assignments and achieving learning outcomes. This includes the timely return of assignments as well as the analysis of student data. While many course management systems provide tools for assessment and analysis, it is the instructor‘s responsibility to determine if the assessment if appropriate to the subject. Suggested strategies include:

  • The use of smaller and more frequent assignments throughout the course to reduce test anxiety and provide learners with opportunities to process course concepts and content.
  • The use of satellite offices, if possible, to administer face-to-face exams.
  • Specify the format and file naming conventions for assignments submitted online to help easily organize and alphabetize assignments.
  • Provide opportunities for students to provide feedback on the course.
  • Provide clear expectations and guidelines for assessing participation.

Leader-by-Example

The online instructor sets the tone for student performance through teacher-student interactions. Consequently, instructors should attempt to model best practice strategies to assist student learning. Ways in which instructors can model good online learning and behavior

include:

  • Introductions in which the instructors shares personal information with students both formally and informally.
  • Model responsibility by returning assignments within the communicated established time period.
  • Model the right way students should communicate online.
  • Use public and private communication to ensure visibility.
  • Plan for and implement an activity at the end of the course that brings closure to the class, reinforces what was learning, and acknowledges the contributions of students.

What next?

There is a lot of information out there and we now need to work on creating our own Framework, so we as a University can be prepared for the development of these courses. Having this Framework in place will not just benefit those taking part in a degree apprenticeship, but also Home, EU and International students who are taking part in distance learning courses. Our aim is to give these new students the best experience possible, regardless of where they are based.

References:

Distance Learning Development Checklist, Elearning Development Team, University of York, 2011

Hanover Research Council, Best Practices in Online Teaching Strategies, 2009, Pg 8-10

John R. Savery. ―Be VOCAL: Characteristics of Success Online Instructors.‖ Journal of Interactive Online Learning. 4:2,Fall 2005. Pg. 141. 

 

A plan for the visual revamp of Moodle

Moodle is based on open source technology which along with it’s thriving support community is one of the big reasons it’s so successful. It’s relatively straight-forward to mould Moodle to fit the organisation delivering it. In our case Moodle is branded inline with the University style guide but we go further than that and include usability customisations and features to improve the overall user experience and accessibility of the site, with the aim of making it a useful tool for all.

Our Moodle site is due a visual revamp. The University is currently in the middle of a re-brand consultation which will produce a new logo and visual identity to our websites. Moodle HQ are also re-working the user interface to make it more modern and user friendly. The TEL team are working with IS to migrate Moodle to a new POSTGRES database system to keep pace with increased usage of our site. We’d also like to include some handy new features in our Moodle theme (the theme is where we customise the look and feel of our Moodle site).

We’re taking a staggered approach to the visual revamp of Moodle, here’s our rough road map.

  • June 2017 – Moodle 3.3 environment available to staff with helpful new features
  • August 2017 – New UoP logo is incorporated into the UoP Bootstrap theme design along with re-worked unit header
  • September 2017 – Work starts on our new Boost based Moodle theme
  • January 2018 – Student and staff usability testing of the new UoP Boost theme
  • April 2018 – Advance preview of the UoP Boost theme is available to staff
  • June 2018 – UoP boost theme in Moodle available to staff for 2018/19 

So what are these handy new unit features for 2017/18 and how will they help students and staff?

Re-worked unit header

Online Course Developers in UoP Faculties have come up with some great ideas to give Moodle units a common look and feel for each department and provide easy access to individual topics. We’d like to make this process easier and lessen the need for customisation on a unit-by-unit basis which can be very time consuming. The new unit header will allow staff to upload a cover image quickly and easily. There will be a ‘jump to’ box allowing users to skip straight to a topic further down the page and a filter box to help track down an activity hidden amongst the unit content. We’re also going to make accessibility options more visible and improve editing features for staff with a simple editing on/off switch.

At the top of this post you’ll see a mock-up of what we’re working on. It’s worth mentioning that the new header layout will only be invoked if a member of staff uploads a cover image, if not the existing unit header layout will remain, meaning customisations created by OCDs will be left intact.

Bootstrap elements front and centre

Degree Apprenticeship programmes are on the way. They will mean a lot more of our learning content is delivered online and students will likely be studying units from multiple University faculties at once. It’s important that these units have a unified look and feel along with common sign-posting. A quick an efficient way to achieve this is to make a library of common element templates available within the Moodle text editor. A member of staff will be able to add a styled text box to highlight further reading, an assessment brief or an accordion of categorised content which is styled in a way which makes it easy to spot whichever unit a student is on. Tom Cripps in TEL is hard at work putting together the library of common elements which should prove to be a really useful tool.

My Home (Dashboard)

Moodle 3.3 features a new ‘My Overview’ block which was developed to give students and staff a better view of their upcoming activities, and course progress and completion. We’re currently investigation whether the new block will be useful as a central part of the My Home page alongside or as a replacement for the current ‘My Sites’ block.

Inspiration from Snap

I was really lucky to be able to attend Moodle Moot UK in London in April. One session that really inspired me was on the Snap theme. Snap has some great ideas for modernising the Moodle interface. It’s probably fair to say that some of the features are too much of a departure from the existing user experience but we’ll certainly be looking at some of the clever features in Snap as inspiration for our own theme.

Big stuff for summer 2018

The navigation within Moodle is changing, blocks are being limited to dashboard and unit pages and the Moodle interface is generally moving closer to the Moodle mobile app. A nav draw on the left of the site will be introduced with only the most important navigation elements of units displayed. The course administration block is becoming a cog with drop-down menu, freeing-up screen real-estate and standardising where you go to make changes to units or resources. In summer 2018 Moodle should ship with a much improved dashboard (My Home page) which focusses on activity, course and assessment completion. This should become a useful tool for helping students and staff keep on track.

We hope this gives you a flavour of what’s to come in Moodle from an interface point of view (we’ll blog again with new Moodle 3.3 features coming to our Moodle site this summer). As always we’re all ears if you have ideas about how Moodle can be improved (feel free to leave a comment below or give us a call). We’ll also be looking for staff and student volunteers for theme usability testing early next year so if you’d like to be involved please get in touch.