Presentation on "Structuring an online course" and some prezi reflections

Last week I taught a session (with a couple of colleagues) called Structuring an online course: guidance and example. Here I wanted to share my contribution to this session: a prezi presentation and talk about it. it's not embedding well so I'll just link to it - Structuring an onine course: Guidance and example - public version

What I've attempted to do is group together different sections of the process with a view to helping educators organise their thinking on this issue. The hard part of this is knowing what to leave out. I see this as a work in process because I hope to get clearer about the issues and the relationships as I get more experienced. The point of this practically focused framework is to help a Higher Education institution in 2011 - I work at the excellent Institute of Education. The point is that many academics need help with the basics. Basics that aren't well defined or universally agreed. By basics I mean the key decisions that need to be made; the main structural decisions to take. Some may disagree with the phrases used in the structure but the point is to give a framework from which to work. Of course, it needs context. I work with individuals to give this context. However, I'm interested in the academic staff who aren't banging down my door to have these conversations and are only at this particular session. It's something for them to take away. I want to make the maximium impact I can; an impact that cover the foundations of what they need to know. If this is all the time I get with them I don't waste time focusing on a small piece of the pie before they have tasted a bite or all the slices (not sure that works).

It's true that the pedagogy is only implicit in the presentation, if at all. In an ideal world the pedagogy is the starting point and the structure flows from there. My rationale for leaving this out is based on my experiences working with educators over the years. Rarely do they want to talk in the abstract and apply these abstract principles to their teaching. My best guess is that most educators have only a sense of their pedagogical tendencies but have a firm grasp on what types of activities they like using. So what I deem important for a first stab presentation like this are the types of activity available to them in their context. For this scenario, this meant outlining the main communication/collaboration tools available to people in my institution. A footnote to this is that pedagogy is complex and discussions around is are complicated and challenging. All this takes time, and this could feel a waste if there is only this one chance of communicating with them.

My concern with any teaching session is to avoid cul-de-sacs of discussion on issues of minor importance. Often such discussions focus on processes which hinder the success of teaching online or strategic and sometimes philosophical standpoints. This leads sessions and discussions down a slippery slope. By presenting something like this first, the chance of a focused discussion are much greater.

So the prezi provided has the following sections:

Before designing section - Basically, what I'm concerned with here is ensuring that you know why you are designing a purely online or blended learning course. Our context has a focus of converting from face-to-face but it applies to creating something from scratch. The why question is a whole area in itself which I won't dwell on here. The other noteworthy issue is whether you replace what you are currently doing with whatever you are designing now. This refers to replacing something purely online with something face-to-face. Most will not want to teach solely online, this is not what they signed up for when they embarked on this career! So duplication is the preferred way to go. I will probably rework this section. I think most of important issues are there but I'm not happy about the title and some of the wording.

Structural considerations - The prezi above is minus screenshots of example structures within our VLE. However, we have the key considerations. In reality these considerations are not decided upon before the actually activity/content design. It is an iterative process.

An online course needs - bespoke content, activities, readings This is the meat of the presentation and the focus is on the activities. The categories feel a bit simplistic but I think they work. What I'm keen to do is to make the point that uploading your powerpoint from a face-to-face lecture isn't good enough for bespoke content. You want specially created documents or multimedia at the very least. So I describe this area as bespoke content. Because we are HE, readings gets it's own area (the things in this bubble refer to our systems). For the activities bubbles, my split between asynchronous and synchronous was an easy design choice. They are such different beasts that we need to talk about them seperately. What I've outlined are the main tools available to us in our blackboard VLE. Moodlers out there will notice that moodle has more to offer. C'est la vie. I probably should have put e-portfolios in there however. What this model doesn't acknowledge is the relationship between the activities and the bespoke content. A blurring of the boundaries here would have got in the way of the message but this can come out when you talk.

Finally, some reflections on using prezi for this presentation. I did a few prezis a year ago but haven't done any since. My intention here was to present large structures and show relationships which could then be used to focus on individual elements. Doing it this way forces you to think hard about how the pieces fit together. When I started I didn't know what these structures would look like and, to be honest, I had hoped for better. However, it was a valuable exercise and I think it has a better look and feel using this tool. With powerpoint you can often get away with casually listing things as they come to mind and talk about them. BTW, if you just jump of one thing to the next without any big picture there's no point using prezi. What's frustrating about prezi is that when you decide to move a bubble and all it's contents, it's a fiddly job. There's supposed to be a multiple select option but I couldn't get this to work so I was forever dragging things around. Perhaps sketching things out on paper first is a good idea.

Anyway, I hope you find looking at the presentation and reading these reflections interesting. Presentations without the talking can only be so useful but hopefully you can get something from it. Feedback would be gratefully received.