Thursday, August 05, 2010

Framework for Development of Online Courses

Jeremy SmithGreetings from the Australian National University where Jeremy Smith is presenting on how to design flexible courses, which can be adapted to different types of students. He used the approach in "A Conceptual Framework for the Development of Engineering Courses"
(Robert Faulconbridge and David Dowling 2009). As this is for the engineering and computer science courses at ANU, this seems a good match.

What struck me was that this applies an engineering approach to designing a course. This approach should work well for much of the subject matter and fit with the outlook of the staff. In the case of technical course content, the courses could be developed as interchangeable modules plugged into a back plane. This would not work with some courses, such as those teaching project management where the students have to integrate a large range of skills in a major project.

In a later step Jeremy looked at how to categorise the student cohort. This looked at the student's background, age, learning style and to provide an appropriate course delivery mode. Some options for delivery are a traditional 13 week course, 2 week intensive or 7 week blended mode. One aspect that worries me is that such analysis can end up with a number of inflexible options the student has to select from. Ideally the student should not have to choose when they start a course if they are doing it online, or on campus: they should be able to select which mode they need, as the course progresses. Obviously this would be logistically difficult for remote students, intensive short courses and offshore ones.

Some implications of this analysis are to consider what delivery modes suit different students. As an example, students for whom English is a second language find short pre-recorded multimedia lessons useful. However, rather than therefore conclude that just these students should get such lessons, I suggest instead providing this as an option for all students. The idea behind this is that if the investment has been made to prepare such material it should be used as widely as possible. Some universities ban their on campus students from accessing the materials for online version of the same course, which makes little sense.

One issue which I think needs much more attention is the design of assessment. Both students and employers consider assessment to be very important. But educators tend to treat it as an afterthought. Assessment should be looked at when first designing a course and be given as much attention as the design of the course content (and perhaps the same amount of courses as the actual course content design and delivery). My experience has been that courses which integrate the assessment within the learning work better and are more appreciated by the students than ones were the assessment is tacked on the end. There are well established technique for e-assessment, which can reduce the administrative costs and make assessment a part of learning.

Assessment can be integral to education. One interesting issue is if the assessment can be designed in a way that it is flexible and can suit different student needs and different course styles. Typically the assessment is fixed, even when it is in integrated into the course. An extreme example of fixed assessment are standardised examinations which are run by a separate organisation to the course.

One further issue is the use of resources for course. These resources include student time, staff time, money and energy/materials. While considering the educational worth of a teaching or assessment method, the cost of that in terms of hours of time it will take the student, staff time, payment, kilowatts of electricity used (and Kg of CO2e), and kilos of paper also need to be considered (I run a whole course on that topic).

Environmental sustainability is not something which is usually considered in course design. But ANU is an award winning world leading sustainable university.

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