Tuesday, November 11, 2014

#Entry 28 IDT1415 Effective Use of VLEs - Introduction to VLEs Infokit

This was a very interesting reading as it helped me revisit some of the concepts and information about VLEs which I was already familiar with such as the different features available for tracking student progress, collaboration tools and the like while realising that the Group Presentation Tool is not available in Moodle as we usually use Blackboard for this both in mu current course and the one I moderate in. At the same time, I found the tutors' reports on their experiences interesting as they seem to appreciate the faster and less burdensome handling and distribution of materials as one of the positive aspects.

However, the part of the infokit I enjoyed the most was the one on approaches to course design with technology and the theories of learning. I was immediately captured by these as I was able to make connections and parallels between the VLE I use for my online moderation courses, for this current course and the online courses I have done in the past. I fully agree with Sigala (2002 in What's a VLE Infokit) in that often 'tutors webify their face to face sessions'. This automatically made me think of an online training course I took 6 years ago and how the experience was not positive at all mainly because of this sense of the sessions having a format which was restrictive and not what I would now say in line with the online learning principles outlined by Chickering and Gamson (1987 in op.cit.) and how these are based on Vygotsky's ZPD Theory of which I am fond of, namely:

            1. Encourage student-staff contact

            2. Encourage co-operation amongst students

            3. Encourage active learning

            4. Give prompt feedback

            5. Emphasise time on task

            6. Communicate high expectations

            7. Respect diverse talents and ways of learning

First of all, student-staff contact was not encouraged and after enrolling on the course it was not easy or immediate to have contact with the tutor (No.1 above). Co-operation amongst students was not encouraged but each one of us was asked to display our work rather than share it and discuss it (No.2 and 3). Feedback came rather late in the course (No.4) even if it was positive and respect for diverse talents and ways of learning (No.7) was missing! I clearly remember how another candidate negatively criticised, almost ridiculed, my work and the tutor did not intervene in what I now know was a flaming attack as I did not engage. Along the same lines, my experience of FirstClass with a tertiary institution in the UK 12 years ago was neither positive. However, I would say in their defense that 12 years ago VLEs were still in their nappies.

I was lucky to then have come across TheConsultants-e.com as the following online courses I attended (CertICT, Online Moderation, Moodle Starter, and Gaming in ELT) immediately helped me realised that good online teaching and learning is possible.

Now, reading this infokit was an exciting experience as I was able to see different parts of Mayes' Conceptualisation Cycle, Laurillard's Conversation Model, but above all Salmon's 5 practical steps. First of all, I found particularly interesting the concept of 'scaffolding' as addressed here as because of my teacher training I am familiar with, but only at a surface level as I have come to realise. The four levels of cognition at which scaffolding can exist are somehow an eye opener for me in the sense that I was not aware of what these were but can identify behaviours in my own practice which fill me up with a sense of hope. I can see how the 'Conceptual' level is present in my use of Concept Checking Questions both personal use and training of others on how to use them. The 'Metacognition' and 'Strategy' levels are the ones I find most interesting as I have read Oxford's work (2011) on Learning Strategies extensively and believe in strategy training to be a key element in becoming and making better learners. Last but not least, the 'Procedural' level is also very relevant to my own context as I constantly create materials which aim to support them through their courses in the form of guidelines which are shared with the students via our shared COPY folder, videos which I share on my YouTube channel or the like.

I believe Mayes' Conceptualisation Cycle and Laurillard's Conversation Model characteristics are readily identifiable in our own use of the Moodle and the way I use it in my moderation courses. For instance, we go through Mayes' conceptualisation stage through primary courseware through access to our readings (the equivalent of Laurillard's narrative); we approach the construction stage through the secondary courseware where we answer questions related to our readings (a mixture between narrative and interactivity) and complete the cycle via the dialogue stage through tertiary courseware via our forum conversations and online weekly tutorials which allows us to flesh out different concepts thus creating dialogue (Adaptive and Communicative/discursive), which I believe to add value as it shortens the distance between the all those involved on the course. This of course omits the 'Productive' stage, but I believe is embodied via our assignments and presentations of ideas such as the exercise on our design of our PLEs.

Finally, I found Salmon's 5-stage Model and e-Moderating the most accurate representation on my own online learning and teaching experience so far. The 5 stages are clear and easily mapped out in terms of course structure:

S1: Access and motivation - we gained access to the Moodle and given the tools to be able to navigate it (links to videos and tutorials).

S2: Online socialisation - we were encouraged to complete our personal profiles for all to be able to see who we are and our reasons for doing the course, our contexts, etc.

S3: Information exchange - the forums, the links to the materials and the encouragement to open discussion both in the forums and video conference tutorials.

S4: Knowledge construction - the guidance from all the tutors as to the readings and how they lead the conversation without imposing their presence or rank, but rather as initiators of a dialogue and guides for development.

S5 Development - and this is the best part of it all as we become more critical thinkers thanks to the encouragement, guidance, activities and materials which ensure we are constantly thinking of how these apply to our own contexts.  I believe this relevance between my experience and theory the key to increased motivation for me as I feel like I am finding answers to my questions and realising I am on the right track yet having still a long way to go in my learning path.


JISC Infonet Applied Infokit. www.jiscinfonet.ac.uk

OXFORD, Rebecca, L. (2011). Teaching and Researching Language Learning Strategies. Applied Linguistics in Action Series. Eds. C.N. Candlin and D.R. Hall. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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