Wednesday, 1 July 2015

University Sheffield International College and technology enhanced learning: Developing MOLE Courses and the working relationship

Over the past few months the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team here at the University of Sheffield have been working in close partnership with the University Sheffield International College (USIC) in developing their courses on our Blackboard 9.1 VLE (Virtual learning Environment). The VLE here at the University is branded My Online Learning Environment (MOLE). 

Previously, USIC were users of the Moodle platform, and at the point we started working with them, had limited or no experience in the Blackboard 9.1 environment. 

My main contacts for USIC were Barbara Gardener (Learning Technologies Manager), Tom Pyecroft (Learning Technologist) and Laura Murray (Academic administrator). They are all employed by StudyGroup

As there would be no direct migration of courses from Moodle to Blackboard either, we found ourselves in the position of having to start course building from scratch. On the face of it, this sounds like a bad thing, but it represented a great opportunity for us and the module developers in USIC to be able to rethink their curriculum delivery. 

At the start of discussions it was clear that USIC wanted a consistent approach to course design across their programmes. This consistency would help a) ensure students experience with the VLE was uniform and of high value and b) help make course management more efficient. USIC had a number of module developers available to them who would be in charge of developing these courses. These staff, as mentioned above, had some limited or no experience on Blackboard.

So, the first question was... How would we develop this consistent approach to course building, whilst giving the module developers some hands on time with blackboard? ...The answer came in the form of a full day training session for the module developers, at the Corporate information and Computing Service (CiCS) training room (and Hicks Building due to availability!). 

We split the day into two sections, morning and afternoon, with a much needed lunch break in the middle! 

The morning session was dedicated to the “nuts and bolts” of course building in MOLE. We demonstrated the basic elements of course navigation and structure and building/deploying content in the system. Nothing too advanced was attempted, and this was important as often the key to good course design is in making it simplistic.

Staff in the group session wrestling with course template design - Image courtesy BGardener - StudyGroup and USIC

The afternoon session was all about building USIC course templates in MOLE. Barbara had very kindly put together a cards activity that really helped invite discussion and debate. 

The cards activity involved attendees being given a set of 40 cards. These cards contained a single item relating to course design and delivery. For example we had: “All items include descriptive information”, “All grades available through grade centre”, ”A class wiki”, “Formative tests”,”Adaptive release”, “Content collection”. Attendees were then asked to put them into three separate piles:
  1.  Launch - These items should be available at the launch of the courses 
  2. Intermediate - These items could be delivered in the near future but after launch 
  3. Exemplary - These items would require more thought and investigation but are items that in an ideal world they would wish to have in the courses.

MOLE training card activity (3).JPG
Cards used in the session - image courtesy BGardener StudyGroup and USIC
The activity generated some really useful discussion around the key elements that needed to be in the courses from the get go, as well as the higher level content that would take more time to implement. A couple of the key areas covered as being essential (and therefore launch) were:

  •  Use of the content collection in managing overarching programme content 
  • Directing students learning through effective use of adaptive release.

Importantly the theme of exemplary course design (something we are having a real push on in TEL at the University of Sheffield) was woven into both the morning and afternoon sessions. This theme was highlighted in another activity we devised, which involved attendees being enrolled in both an “exemplary course” and a “bad course”.

They were split into two groups and asked to do the following:
  1. Try and improve the bad course
  2. Provide feedback to the group as to what they would do to improve it, if they had the time 
The best thing about this activity was the fact that both groups had some really good ideas around what a MOLE course should achieve. The main idea being to avoid it being a file repository and instead have it enhance learning and encourage collaboration. Both groups again agreed that consistency across courses was key. For example: clearly labelling content with descriptions, formatting, chunking up learning content into manageable sections and displaying it correctly through combined use of the navigation menu and content pages. 

 We finished at 4pm tired, but with a sense that we had achieved some clear ideas about what the USIC courses will look like, and of course it also aided the forging of a good working relationship between TEL and USIC. But we weren't finished there….Day 2 beckoned... 

 The following day saw the TEL team train USIC staff on the use of PebblePad, with demonstrations of the versatile ways Pebble+ can create templates and workbooks, and ATLAS, the institutional space where assignments and assessments can be managed. Some valuable discussions were had at how the system can be used for logging achievements and capabilities, and how workbooks and webfolios can be used to aid student reflection and learning. 

 The module development team also took part in a workshop introducing Smart Notebook software which will be available in all USIC classrooms and enables valuable collaboration opportunities. The team had seen the interactive whiteboards and software previously at a classroom technologies drop in session run for all the teaching and professional service staff in March. 

Many thanks to Barbara Gardener  and Pete Mella (University of Sheffield TEL team) for their contributions to this blog post. 

Stay tuned for more developments over the summer on this topic! 


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