Saturday, August 20, 2011

Learning On-line Tertiary Teaching for Research-Led Education

In "Postgraduate Certificates in Tertiary Teaching" I looked at some of the courses of study for those wanting to learn about how to teach at university. After looking at the options, I decided to enroll in the Australian National University (ANU) program, as that is where I am an Adjunct Lecturer. However, I decided to do two of the four required units at the University of Southern Queensland, using provision for cross institutional study. This is possible as USQ offers their program on-line. Given that I wanted to learn about how to teach on-line, doing on-line courses from a institution which specialized this is area seemed to make sense.

Units Selected

The courses selected at USQ, in consultation with my education adviser, were:
  1. Assessment, Evaluation and Learning EDU5713, Semester 3, 2011
  2. Online Pedagogy in Practice EDU8114, Semester 1, 2012
These will then be followed by a course at ANU in "Research Supervision" followed by the capstone course.

The intention is to try to develop a form of e-learning which suits a research oriented approach to teaching. While it is easy to say that research should make for better courses, it is difficult to do in practice. World class researchers do not necessarly make world class teachers, nor do they want to take time out from research to give lectures.

But it should be possible to use e-learning techniques to supervise research work by students and also to run better courses, at least at the postgraduate level. These courses may use the same tools, such as Moodle, as undergraduate and vocational courses, but will need to be more flexible, to take into account the fluid nature of research.

Online Research Lead Education for Social Inclusion

Such an on-line approach to research informed teaching might address the problem ANU had with the "2012 Good Universities Guide". The Canberra Times reported ANU did not rate well in some teaching measures ("ANU's teaching score confusing, chief says", BREANNA TUCKER, 18 Aug, 2011 04:00 AM). The university needs to improve teaching quality, without compromising the excellence of its research. One way to do this, would be to provide the staff with on-line tools and training to use them, in a way specifically tailored to researchers.

Early career academics should receive training in how to collaborate on-line as part of their basic education. They would be encouraged to use these skills both for research collaboration and for tutoring students. Staff would then not spend so much time on administrative parts of teaching, not feel the teaching is taking them away from their research and the students would benefit form a more personal, more relevant education.

Some of this is already done in the ANU course "Green Information Technology Strategies" (COMP7310), which uses on-line mentored and collaborative techniques developed by the ACS. These techniques would also help with social inclusion issues, such as gender balance, entry flexibility and the proportion of TAFE accredited students and provide a way to implement the "research-led environment" promoted by the Vice Chancellor, Professor Ian Young.

Enrollment On-line Not Too Daunting

One very useful aspect of enrolling in a course is that it gives a teacher an insight into the difficulty of being a student. Cross-institutional enrollment is just about the hardest thing to do, as it involves coping with the administrative procedures of two different intuitions. At one point it appeared to me it was not possible to do, as the procedure for each institution seemed to say that I had to enroll at the other one first (a situation know in the computer discipline as "deadly embrace"). However, as I was at ANU I enrolled there and then applied to USQ for cross-institutional courses.

The procedure at USQ proved remarkably easy. The information about courses and requirements is complex, but the web site is reasonably well laid out. I sent a message to the inquiry service and received a prompt and helpful reply. What was a little disconcerting at first was that as part of making an inquiry I ended up with an account on the USQ system. This seemed a little intrusive, as I was just making an inquiry, not signing up for a course. But this turned out to be very useful, as when I asked another question, the person answering it had a record of what I had asked before. This way I did not need to repeat everything. What was even more remarkable, was that when I phoned the inquiry line with a quick question, the person answering had my details on screen and could give a very fast answer.

The enrollment process was still not completely clear. There was a four page form to fill in, with a lot of detail. But I found I could bypass all this as a "professional development" student. With this option I simply indicate what unit I want to do and pay the fees myself. As this is not part of a program of study, and I am not asking someone else to pay for it, much of the paperwork is not needed. I simply filled out a half page form and submitted it.

The next day I received an offer by email and accepted it on-line. I got a paper copy of the offer as well but this was not really needed. The only other piece of paper in the process was a one page letter with my student ID and initial password. I assume this is sent on paper for security reasons. What also was a surprise is that so far I have not been asked for any money. The course does not start until November (being in third semester). I assume I will get a bill shortly before then.

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