Sunday, July 08, 2012

Easier Teaching With Online Tools and New Techniques

Australian educational institutions are making a considerable investment in online learning management systems (LMS) and new teaching techniques. However, my impression is that there is not much enthusiasm for either, from the teaching staff. Given the burden of just keeping up with the teaching day to day, there is little time, or enthusiasm, for learning new technology or teaching techniques. So I suggest the emphasis with such training be changed from how they benefit students (or society in general), to how they will save the individual teacher time and effort.

Some topics could be:

1. Reduce your course administration using the LMS.
2. Faster assignment marking with Rubrics and LMS.
3. Answer student questions just once with the LMS.
4. Simplify your course notes with eBooks.
5. Streamline your classroom activities with the LMS.

Universities in particular tend to have two types of educational staff development: software training which explains what to do, but not why it is educationally relevant and education courses with considerable educational theory, but not how to use the software to implement them. I suggest we need a little more theory, but linked to practice.

As an example, university lecturers frequently complain about the amount of time and effort needed to mark written assignments. Rubrics provide a way to speed up this process. The process can be further streamlined by using support for the rubric in the LMS. It is not hard to learn how to use rubrics and even easier to learn how to implement them with a LMS.

But lecturers are sceptical of the educational validity of rubrics and may see them as trivializing the assessment process. This scepticism can be overcome with some educational theory and research results, explaining how a rubric works and confirming it works in practice.

Use the same tools in the classroom and remotely

Also a more holistic approach needs to be taken more generally to educational techniques and technologies. As an example, much more use could be made of the LMS in face-to-face and online real time classes (so called synchronous learning).

Currently the LMS is though of as something used for distance and blended learning, by the student when alone, in their own time. However, the same LMS can be used in a real or virtual classroom, by the lecturer and the students.

The lecturer can use the LMS on a projection screen to display materials for a class (using the web browser's zoom function to make the text and images large enough to see). Where students each have their own networked tablet, laptop, or desktop computer, they can also use the LMS live.

During remote real-time sessions, the LMS can also be used, alongside a video conference. Rather than have to provide convoluted explanations of where to get the course materials, or attempt to send the materials in real time via the video conference system, the lecturer can simply show this with the LMS on screen.

Rather than starting a set of presentation slides from their computer's desktop, the lecturer can navigate through the LMS and show students where to find the presentation. The student will then know where to get the material later for self study. A bonus is that the lecturer can be sure that the presentation they are giivng is the same one the students have access to.

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