#H800 Face-to-Face Tutoring vs Online Tutoring

The second paper of the week (Price et al., 2007) investigates the difference between face-to-face tutoring and online tutoring.  They selected one OU course in which students could choose between the forms of tutoring.  Face-to-face consisted of meetings, phone and e-mail.  Online tutoring consisted of computer-mediated conferencing and e-mail.  Aims, content and assessment were consistent for the two groups, presenting a nice opportunity for a comparative study.

Students with f2f tutoring gave more positive scores to their tutoring experience than students with online tutoring. However, their overall assessment of course quality was not different.  Exam results tended to be lower for students with online tutoring.

So, do students with f2f tutoring just perceive a better quality or does f2f tutoring provide a better learning experience than online tutoring? 

Interviews with some of the course students indicated that students have a variety of expectations about tutoring that are different from the actual role of a tutor in the course:

– Many students had both cognitive as affective expectations about their tutors.  The authors talk about a pastoral role, involving supporting, counselling and mentoring students aimed at helping them grasp the big picture (Price et al., 2007, p.14).  Unrealistic expectations may have fueled negative evaluations for online tutoring.
– Apparently, negative perceptions were related to one tutor who proved to be permanently elusive (p.16) (btw, I love this formulation).  This raises some questions about the reliability of the results.

Concept map of the study by Price et al. (2007) on tutoring

It’s unclear whether students were informed before or during the first weeks of the course about the role of the tutor.  Some participants seemed to consider the tutor as some kind of life-coach which should be permanently available for study and social problems.  In H800 the tutor acts as a moderator on the forum, starting discussions, posting short, encouraging posts and providing timely feedback on the papers.

I have the impression that in online tutoring the importance of student-student interactions is higher.  Many questions are answered and problems solved by fellow students.  Answers from the tutor are immediately accessible to all learners on the forum, reducing the need for “personal” communication.  I also guess that low login rates or weak assessment scores act as warning signals and may result in a more personal communication line with the tutor.

The authors suggest to train both tutors and students in the specificities of e-tutoring. Interestingly, they seem to conclude that online tutoring does not yield a lower learner experience (as the results seem to suggest), but that the differences are mainly due to skills (by tutors) and expectations (by students), that can be changed with sufficient training.  This may well be true, but is to be confirmed in other course contexts and with less “elusive” online tutors.

#H800 A critical approach to Richardson (2005)

Richardson fomulates a number of critiques on his own paper.  A crucial critique comes down to the adagium “correlation is not the same as causation“.  A correlation between perceived course quality and learning approach does not necessarily mean that the perceived quality of a module affects the approach to learning that students adopt.  It may also be the reverse, that students who adopt deep learning approaches will on average rate the quality of the course higher.  Or maybe, there is a third significant variable, such as teaching approach, that influences both these variables.

After reading the critique, I updated some of the arrows in my concept map on the article.

Two other critiques deal with the lack of a quantification of the relationships and a lack of inclusion of time in the relations.  I found these critiques slightly less poignant.  The article never claims to quantify relations and although I estimate that a time factor is important (learners may change their conceptions of learning over time), within the framework of one module (a few months) it looks fairly constant to me.  

Finally, Richardson points out that the relationship between learning approach and attainment is not so straightforward as one might intuitively expect.  Learners who apply surface learning tend to do poorly on exams (strong relation), but there is only a weak and variable relation between deep learning and doing well on exams.  The relationship may be clouded by the role and type of assessment that is used.

In Cambodia we assume that student-centered learning will lead to better learning and better exam results.  Although nation-wide assessment procedures are outside our scope, they may influence how students learn.  The article and the subsequent discussion call for caution for both relationships.

#H800 Students’ approaches to learning and teachers’ approaches to teaching

After a short Easter break the H800 course is back on track with this week, in week 13, a series of papers on students’ approaches to learning and teachers’ approaches to teaching.

Education is not a paradigm-driven discipline, unlike positive sciences, where there is general consensus on the problems, methodologies and interpretations required.  On the contrary, there has been considerable debate on the validity of research problems (“Is the Google generation different?”) , the methodologies used (quantitative vs qualitative) and their interpretations.  In education we’re not dealing with atomic particles in controlled settings, but with interactions between students, students and teachers, students and content and teachers and content.  All these relationships are complex and influenced by contextual factors.

Richardson (2005) presents an overview of 25 years of research on the relation between students, their learning, teachers and their teaching.  I tried to capture the main concepts and relations in a concept map.

Learning and teaching approaches (based on Richardson, 2005)

Richardson asserts there is a relation between how students perceive course quality, and how a course is structured (affected by learning design)  and how students learn:

” It has also shown that there is an intimate relationship between students’ perceptions of the quality of their courses and the approaches to studying that they adopt on those courses.” (Richardson, 2005, p. 674).

However, the relationship is complicated, since students within an identical course may still adopt different learning approaches:

Why should students with the same perceptions of the same course adopt different approaches to studying? One possibility is that students may adopt one approach rather than another, depending upon their  conceptions of learning and their conceptions of themselves as learners.”(Richardson, 2005, p.675)

Similarly, how teacher teach is influenced by their conceptions about teaching.  However, this relationship isn’t straightforward either, since teachers tend to be frustrated by contextual factors and often adopt a more teacher-centered teaching approach than would be expected based on their conceptions about teaching (Richardson, 2005, p.678).

In Cambodia we try to affect teaching approaches by equipping teachers with tools, materials and techniques to adopt a more student-centered approach in class.  Through capacity-building activities we aim at changing their teaching conceptions and by involving school directors, inspectors and the Ministry of Education we aim at lifting some of the contextual “frustrations” with teachers.  The article suggests that it would be interesting to investigate if and how pupils’ conceptions of learning and learning approaches change when confronted with a more student-centered teaching approach.

We use the TPACK (Schmidt et al., 2009) questionnaire to asses teachers’ understanding in integrating technological, pedagogical and content knowledge.  The article suggests interesting alternative questionnaires such as:
– Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) (Ramsden, 1991)
– Approaches to Teaching Inventory (ATI) (Prosser and Trigwell, 1993)
– Perceptions of the Teaching Environment Inventory (Prosser and Trigwell, 1997).

However, the article doesn’t discuss these inventories in detail.

#H800 Open Educational Resources

A first dip into the “hot” topic of Open Educational Resources (OER). Due to a blocking of all blogs on Blogspot by Metfone, a Vietnamese-owned cellphone operator, I can post this story only a few days later.

As an introduction we had a look at 4 “famous” OER providers and tried to evaluate if their materials were really open and if they could be of any value to practitioners and learners.

MIT OCW, iTunesU, OLU and OpenLearn
I found the MIT Open Courseware (OCW) site the least interesting of the four sites.  There are many courses available, but for many of them only scanned lecture notes are available, making them difficult to use for self-study or for repurposing.  Some of the lecture notes I checked even have several slides missing due to copyright issues.  Moreover, quite a few of the courses seem pretty old, which may not matter a lot for some courses, but for others like climate change or energy related courses, it does.  

Then, I liked the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) (Carnegie-Mellon University) site better.  The number of courses on offer is more limited to mostly science courses, but courses are complete, including course texts, exercises and solutions.   I’ll really keep an eye on those courses for when I need a refresher, e.g. on statistics.  Course materials can be remixed with an instructor account, and a small fee for some of the courses.  I didn’t check whether you need a university affiliated e-mail account to get such an account.

I used the iTunesU a few times in the past, for a beginner course Spanish and for refresher courses on introductory physics and astronomy (both from Berkeley U.).  It’s convenient when you have an ipod since you can upload the lectures (audio and/ or video) to it.  Usually there are no accompanying course texts or exercises available and some of the courses are not complete.  I like iTunesU  for “stand-alone” lectures, such as a lectures series on “Darwin’s Legacy” last year from Stanford U. or regular lectures from LSE on international politics.  

As an OU student, I tried to be extra critical for the OpenLearn website, but I have to admit that I liked it a lot.  Here’s why:
        • Attractive homepage with context-specific content (like 50 year anniversary of Gagarin’s spaceflight)
        • Information available as combination of text, audio and video
        • There are discussion forums
        • Course materials include learning outcomes, quizzes, activities, links etc. Just like a real OU course.

The course I sampled  (Introducing International Development Management (TU870) was a “taster” unit, so not the whole course was available.  Nevertheless, I found the site very addictive and I think it gives an excellent view of the course for prospective students.  

Repurposing Learning materials
OpenLearn encourages the sharing and re-using of educational resources. LabSpace is a community-led environment which fosters the concept of sharing and reusing educational resources. You can edit the course materials in the browser and upload your changes.  Materials are available under a Creative Commons License (Attribution – Non-Commercial – ShareAlike).

The emergence of OER has implications for learning design.  The past weeks we studied how practitioners make pedagogical and technological choices when designing activities based on (selected) learner characteristics, course objectives and content.  OER render course content even more to a commodity, but there still remains an important role for educators to transform these OER into meaningful learning activities.  Therefore I think that OER only have an added value when they can be repurposed (remixed and changed), allowed both by the copyright license and by the format in which resources are published.

#H800 Blog about blogging

Week 20 almost reaching its end and one of the topics this week is about blogging. Can blogging be used as a tool to enhance learning?  How should blogging be integrated into course outcomes and tasks?  Why do some students keep a blog?

Kerawalla et al. investigated blogging behaviour and motives of a group of MAODE students (Kerawalla et al., 2008).  They distinguished between 5 motives for blogging:

– blogging avoidance;
– resource network building
– support network building
– self-sufficient blogging
– anxious,self-sufficient blogging just to complete suggested course activities.

Related to these types are other variables such as the number of posts and comments, quality of spelling and grammar and the presence of emotional statements as opposed to academic ones.

The authors conclude that learners give a variety of meanings to blogs.  They suggest to use blogging as an optional instrument, leaving some flexibility for learners.

I created this blog as an instrument to make sense of the abundance of information during the LAK11 open course on learning analytics and to keep track of my learning during the course.  It also turned out to be a discipline-creating instrument, trying to force myself to create one coherent blogpost per week.  Comments have been rare, but useful during the course.  During the H800  course use of the blog has been a bit more haphazard since the online tutor forum takes a bit the role of the blog during the LAK11 course.  I do intend to keep the blog running though, trying to evolve it into a place to reflect on issues on the interchange of work at VVOB Cambodia, the MAODE and various informal learning opportunities on the way.

#H800 Learning Design Concept Map

Weeks 8 and 9 of the H800 course provided an introduction to learning design.  As learning design is rather new to me, I tried to create an overview of the concepts, ideas and tools that passed by means of a concept map (using VUE).  Clicking on the picture results in a bigger map.

#H800 Learning Design

Learning design is documenting learning activities in a systematic way. It helps to make pedagogical decisions by teachers explicit and enables re-using and sharing learning activities. Conole et al. state that the purpose of a pedagogy planner is to offer a way of enabling teachers to exploit technology while creating pedagogically sound activities (G. Conole, Littlejohn, Falconer & Jeffrey, 2005).

A key challenge in today’s technology-enhanced educational environment is providing course designers with appropriate support and guidance on creating learning activities which are pedagogically informed and which make effective use of technologies. ‘Learning design’, where the use of the term is in its broadest sense, is seen by many as a key means of trying to address this issue ( Fill, Conole and Bailey (2008)).

There is a variety of representations for learning design available, ranging from the very abstract (models, patterns, visualisations) to the more contextually-rich (case studies).  Conole (2008) calls these representations mediating artefacts.

During week 8 and 9 we experimented with some of these artefacts and available tools.

The scheme below represents an activity from week 1 of the course.  It starts from the outlines for the activity and outlines the (formative) assessment, activities, tools and resources to be used.  It distinguishes between the role of the student and the role of the teacher or tutor.  Green activities are optional.  The scheme was created with the freely available Compendium LD.

Learning design intends to avoid technological determinism and put pedagogy first.  It stimulates you to think about a learning activity as an integrated set of outcomes, tasks, tools and resources.

The table below uses the Hybrid Learning Model (HLM) to capture the different tasks during a session for teacher trainers on Concept Tests.  The HLM takes a learner-centered view of design, since it focuses specifically on what the student will be doing.  It utilizes a set of eight key characteristics of learning, from both the learner and the designer perspectives.

There is a set of 8 cards you can print and laminate to help you preparing a learning activity.  The HLM was very positively evaluated in the forum.  It is very straightforward to use and helps to think through and structure learning activities.

Conole, G. (2008) ‘Capturing practice: the role of mediating artefacts in learning design’ in Lockyer, L., Bennett, S., Agostinho, S. and Harper, B. (eds) Handbook of Research on Learning Design and Learning Objects: Issues, Applications and Technologies, pp.187–207, Hersey, PA, IGI Global.

Fill, K., Conole, G., & Bailey, C. (2008). A toolkit to guide the design of effective learning activities.