Thursday, August 07, 2008

How to Create On-line University Courses in Electronic Archiving: Part 14 - Getting it accredited

Last year I developed and ran a short course at ANU on Electronic Document Management, reporting as I went along. The course went reasonably well, but it was not intended to be recognised by the Unviersity for credit towards a qualification. To get the course accredited is a complex process. Also there is the need to make sure the infrastructure is available to run it regularly and that it fits in with other courses.

The system used at ANU allocates courses credit points, with a typical one semester course being 6 points. However, the course I ran would only be the equivalent of 2 credit points and so would not fit in with other courses. It did not seem to make sense to make the course three times as large to make it up to 6 points, but 3 points seemed a reasonable level.

The course I had run was only face to face, while there was material online, it was assumed the student would do no prior preparation and complete all the work during the sessions in the classroom. This was done to make it easier for working part time students, but is not typical for the average course and probably is not the best way for students to learn. The students need time for reflection and this can't be done in a hectic workshop.

Having students do homework also saves on university resources. However, it is not free: there are substantial resources needed to make sure the online system the students use from home is working when they need it and that staff are available online. Also there is the need to carefully structure the course so that students can actually do the remote component. With competing demands for time it can be very easy to let the home work slip. It needs to be divided into reasonable size units and with assessment to reward the student as they complete the units.

But that said, it seemed to make sense to add 50% extra content to the course, to be delivered online and through student exercises. The exercises I had already prepared were far in excess of what was possible to do in the classroom and should be able to be expanded online.

The ANU is now setting up Flexible Learning Units in its Colleges, so I went along to see, Kim Blackmore, Coordinator of the Flexible Learning Unit for the
College of Engineering and Computer Science. Kim suggested looking at the way the courses are run for the ANU's Graduate Certificate in Australian Migration Law & Practice. Certificate is a good example, as it is run by the ANU College of Law, but is open to people without a legal background (usually people applying to be Migration Agents), as well as lawyers.
Students can choose either on-line teaching or face-to-face "intensive " classes in Melbourne or Sydney for the course. The ANU's Web CT system is used for delivery and on-line contact with tutor and other students. The courses are run several times a year.
An example of one of the courses is Australian Migration Law and MARA 1 (LAWS8167). The course uses written assignments, quizzes, case studies and simulated client interview and tribunal appearances (not sure how they do the client interviews online). There are two traditional printed paper text books for the course, as well as the online material. The course costs $2,100 for the 6-units (not including the textbooks). The same fee is charged for the online and intensive versions.
Curiously, there are few details of how the course is run, or even that is using online techniques. Given that universities are intensively competing for students and the ANU is seen as being a bit inflexible, I would have thought ANU would be wanting to showcase its flexible learning courses.

The ANU currently uses Web CT and I can look at how this was used for LAWS8167. But the university is planning to install a new Learning Management System (LMS), so it would make sense to prepare a new course using that. Hopefully Web CT will be replaced with an open source system, such as Moodle or Sakai.

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