Design Rationale

For my design project I have created a set of screen casts aimed at international students, shot with the purpose of showing them how to access journal articles through the library search engine, Summon.  The Business School has seen a rise in the numbers of international students who are mainly taught on post-graduate courses.  In February 2010 a survey of such students was undertaken by Academic Skills Tutors (ASTs) from the School.   When asked to contrast their UK learning experience with that in their home countries, three themes emerged which were independent learning, the breadth of required reading and research and critical thinking  (Harvey, 2010).   It also found that 51% of the students had never used any electronic resource materials such as those found on Summon.

The decision was taken to run a bridging course for new post-graduate international students in week 3 of the first term with the aim of improving the international student experience and raising achievement (Harvey, 2010).   I was to be part of the teaching team along with the ASTs and run a joint session on academic writing and research skills.   I was asked to show them how to effectively use Summon to find specific subject–related academic journal articles previously identified by Business lecturers as well as search for resources on a particular topic.  The ASTs would often interject with tips on note taking, critical evaluation etc.

This year it was decided to deliver the course as an online module called Academic Matters. I therefore had to translate my teaching for use in an online forum. With the help of a technical person called Friday, I made several short screencasts using Camtasia. The screencasts are available on the university video streaming package UniTube and also on the Virtual Learning Environment, Blackboard known locally as UniLearn.  The screencasts are structured into bite sized chunks.

I received a one hour introductory session on using the software from one of the Academic Skills Tutors who advised me to use PowerPoint with the hope of presenting a more professional product to the students.  I decided against using this forum as I thought there were more advantages of students seeing a “live” search for information.  I was conscious that my audience were international students, many of whom experienced language difficulties. By observing me conducting a search, they could monitor which features to click and when, know what to do if the search went wrong and observe in “real time” the time taken to retrieve the article.   I could also show them how to decide which key words to use and how to refine a search.  I decided not to practice what I was going to demonstrate in advance but conduct the research cold so that the end product wouldn’t feel too professional but would mirror the same issues they were likely to experience when searching.  I felt that this method helped reduced the speed of my accompanying narration which would help those students with language problems understand and also digest the directions and information supplied.  As with most learning objects, students can work through the screencasts at their own pace and return to sections if necessary. These design decisions are backed up by the advice given by John Biggs (1999).  Points he made about adapting teaching to suit the needs of international students include model using “think-aloud”, speak slowly, tape lecturers (in effect this was a recording of a search I would normally demonstrate face to face)  and provide additional visual back-up (Biggs, 1999, p. 133).

Feedback from the Academic Skills Tutors has been positive. The screencasts have apparently been well used and well received.  It is only now when I am accessing the design of the activities and relating it to the pedagogy that I can see improvements that can be made.

According to Mayes (2001) the challenge of online learning is how to achieve the same pedagogical experience as a face to face tutorial.  He claims that there are three stages of a learning process which are “conceptualization” where a learner is introduced to a new activity or concept; “construction” some activity where the learner has an opportunity to practice or apply the new knowledge and receive feedback in some form; and “dialogue”, also known as “application” where the learner exercises the new skill in a real life situation (p. 19).  I would argue that my activity if treated as part of a stand alone module misses out the “construction” stage.  Students go from watching the screen casts to applying the knowledge to a real life situation when they write their assignments.    If, however, the screen casts were used in a blended learning situation the tutor could introduce an activity with appropriate feedback to assess if learning had taken place.

The screencasts on the Academic Matters module noticeboard are essentially learning objectives.  Learning objects can be defined as “a digital piece of learning material that addresses a clearly identifiable topic or learning outcomes and has the potential to be reused in different contexts.”  Mayes and De Freitas (2004) claim that most e-learning material is “traditional instructional design” which “derives from the behaviourist perspective, but focuses particularly on task analysis” (p. 14)  They assign learning objects to this pedagogical strand.  I would agree that as they stand in the Blackboard module my screencasts are closest to this approach.   I would prefer an approach that was based on a constructive approach with a focus on activity and learning by doing and feedback (Mayes, 2001; Mayes and De Fraitas, 2004).   One of the main problems is that they lack a narrative.  Weller (2007, p. 29) explains that most forms of education have a narrative to provide “integration between concepts and facts in the material, helping students create a cohesive framework”.  He claims that the “autonomous nature” of learning objectives results in no cross-referencing and as a result the narrative is lost.  He make several recommendations to overcome this problem such as making the learning objects only part of the course, having some form of assessment and ensuring a dialogue takes place between the instructor and learner.

The screencasts could be a very useful in helping International Students learn how to use Summon and information literacy techniques for reasons stated above.  However, they need to be used in a blended learning format so that the learning acquired by the students can be practiced, assessed and feedback given or they should be assigned some kind of narrative plus an appropriate exercise plus an on-line diagnostic test complete with feedback if they are to fully achieve their aim.

Biggs, J. (1999)  Teaching for quality learning at university.  Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.

Harvey, H. (2010) Teaching and Learning University Project Grant: final report January 2011.  Huddersfied: University of Huddersfield.  http://www.hud.ac.uk/media/universityofhuddersfield/content/tlinstitute/documents/projects/projects10/Learning%20Culture%20Assimilation%20final%20report.rtf  [Accessed: 7th January 2012].

Mayes, T (2001) Learning technology and learning relationships.  In: Stepehnson, J (2001) Teaching and learning online: pedagogies for new technologies.  London: Kogan Page,  pp.  16-26.

Mayes, T and De Fraitas (2004) JISC e-Learning Models Desk Study.  Stage 2: Review of e-learning theories, fameworks and models.  http://www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/Stage%202%20Learning%20Models%20(Version%201).pdf  [Accessed 7th January 2012]

Weller, M (2007) Learning objects, learning design and adoption through succession.   Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 19 (1), pp. 26-47

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