|Australian Journal of Educational Technology
2000, 16(3), 283-301.
In recent years Australian universities have increased their focus on flexible delivery and online learning. Successful development of online teaching materials requires both knowledge of pedagogy as it applies to multimedia technologies as well as knowledge of the capabilities of current software and hardware. While academics are familiar with the skills and approaches required to operate in traditional environments they are often not equipped to meet the new demands of web authoring and online course design. Consequently, the potential of the online learning environment to improve the quality of the learning experience often remains unrealised.
To address this issue Griffith University, as part of its focus on flexible learning, has established campus based production centres. The centre offers academics the services of multimedia development teams. An educational designer is allocated to work collaboratively with the academic to assist with the design of the online materials and the integration of the online resources into courses.
This paper explores the expectations, experiences and perceptions taken from the perspective of ten lecturers within Griffith University, as they engage with the educational designer to develop online learning materials. Motivated by the authors' belief that the development of online learning materials is an endeavour aimed at improving the quality of teaching and learning, this paper seeks to raise some of the issues and concerns which educational designers, as staff developers, need to consider in order to guide interactions with academic staff toward a more fruitful end.
It must be stressed that flexible learning at Griffith University does not equate solely to online materials. However, the development of online materials by academics is considered a significant component of flexible learning and delivery. Throughout this paper, the context for discussion is the development of online learning resources, with the understanding that the development and use of the online learning resources is situated within the flexible learning context of Griffith University.
The advent of new technologies such as online learning is seen as an opportunity to challenge traditional approaches to university teaching. Academics are thus presented with a new context in which to undertake the business of teaching. While many of the skills which teaching staff have acquired in the past may be transferable to the new context, there is also the urgent need to provide support for staff to develop the skills and knowledge required to exploit potential teaching and learning advantages of the new mediums (Holt and Thompson, 1998). At Griffith University, educational designers provide one aspect of support for academics who are developing online materials. Allocated to work collaboratively with an academic, the educational designer provides support and guidance for the development and integration of online materials into the curriculum. Given the close working relationship educational designers establish with academics, it is important to recognise the significant role that the interaction with the educational designer occupies within the professional development activities of the academic.
Insight into academics' expectations, experiences and perceptions of the online materials development is critical in planning and structuring support that addresses academics needs and results in interactions with educational designers that culminate in positive changes to teaching practice. Towards gaining these insights we interviewed ten academics from various disciplines at Griffith University who working with an educational designer are undertaking the production of online materials.
Approaches to teaching and learning which are learner centred, free up the time, place and methods of learning and teaching and use appropriate technologies in a networked environment (Moran and Myringer, 1999, p. 60)Taylor, Lopez and Quadrelli (1996) recognise flexible learning as a combination of "philosophy and technology" which embodies open learning concepts of student centred education, distance education delivery systems which allows off campus participation and the utilisation of information technologies.
The academic culture generally has the teacher as the central figure whereas flexibility places the student in control. The teachers set the curriculum and design the courses whereas flexibility approaches enable the student to choose the learning materials and set goals. (Koppi, Chalouplka, Llewellyn, Cheney, Clar and Fenton-Kerr, 1998, p. 425)The view of learning as being student centred has been widely applied to the development of educational multimedia materials. Frequently referred to as the 'constructivism', the basic tenet is that learners actively construct knowledge rather than passively acquire it and that aim of teaching is to support the active construction of knowledge rather than simply communicating knowledge (Duffy and Cunningham, 1996). From this perspective, the design of online learning materials revolves about the learner. Consideration of learner characteristics including cultural aspects, prior knowledge and learning styles becomes of paramount importance. As opposed to traditional approaches where the content and transmission of content is the focus, the learner centred framework, such as that espoused by flexible learning, directs attention away from content in isolation to the students and how they will interact with the content in the learning environment being constructed.
If online learning materials are integrated with other instructional strategies in the curriculum then they have the potential to support the student centred approach by being an integral part of "knowledge spaces" which "allow users to explore as they wish" (Brown, 1997). Chickering and Ehrmann (1996) suggest that maximum positive impact of integrating new technologies into the tertiary curriculum can be achieved if technology is integrated on the basis of the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education developed by Chickering and Gamson in 1987:
Laurillard (1999, p. 21) observes that such "wide ranging" innovation as flexible learning reverberates through every level of the organisation and as such "mechanisms, procedures and structures must create and sustain continual learning and adaptation with respect to the core activity of teaching". For staff, this shift to innovation is a call to reflect, to critically examine and to evaluate their current methods, to reshape and restructure teaching practice, integrating the new possibilities offered by technology in order to continually improve the quality of the learning environment. In order to achieve this "staff at all levels will need both proactive encouragement, and responsive support" (Laurillard, 1999, p. 21).
Flexible learning is an extension of the University's commitment to, and history of, student focused teaching. The result is the development of employment related skills and the capacity for independent learning. While information technology is a core technology of flexible learning, there are many aspects and methodologies embraced within the concept of flexible learning that are not related to information technology. These may include flexibility as to assessment, time of access to resources, forms of credit or pacing.While the general consensus is that there is no simple definition of flexible learning, teaching and learning objectives stated within the university's Strategic Plan 1999-2003 indicate that flexible learning encompasses "excellence in student centred learning" and is seen as a force for innovation in teaching and learning (Griffith University, 1999).
To support flexible learning initiatives Griffith University has established Griffith Flexible Learning Services (GFLS) and Griffith Institute of Higher Education (GIHE). GIHE's primary purpose is support for academic staff development. GFLS is comprised of the Administrative Support Unit and the Multimedia Unit.
The staff of the Multimedia Unit provides specialist advice in multimedia technical development and in educational design. Flexible learning subject development work is undertaken jointly with academics using a team based collaborative approach...
The key function of the Multimedia Unit within GFLS is the design and development of the full range of flexible learning resources including multimedia resources (CD-ROM and WWW delivered), print resources and stand alone audio and video resources. (Extract from the GFLS web pages, http://www.gu.edu.au/gfls/)
Typically, once an academic has begun to engage in the development of online materials, an educational designer will be allocated to work collaboratively in the design and development of the resource. The advice provided by the educational designer may include:
Background - extent of use of technology for teaching and learning prior to engaging in flexible learning, reasons for engaging in flexible learning.Data obtained has been analysed below in terms of the main themes that arose.
Preconceptions - Anticipated advantages and disadvantages of use of online materials; expectations of how online materials would be used and the impact the introduction of the materials would have on the teaching and learning environment, expectations about educational designer role.
Experiences during development - positive and challenging aspects of involvement in the production process; experience of the educational designer's role
Reflection - post production - satisfaction with final product; desirable changes to the production process; compare use of materials with the anticipated use; advantages and disadvantages of using the materials, impact on the teaching and learning environment; staff development needs.
If the responses in Table 1 are examined within the context of the stages of instructional evolution identified in the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow program (Sandholtz et al, 1997) then it may be suggested that some academics are operating at the entry stage (website being used solely for access to materials with no impact on teaching and learning practice) while others are at the adoption or early transformation stages. Responses to questions about advantages and disadvantages of using online learning materials for teaching and learning (Table 2 below) reflected and reinforced this suggestion.
Not surprisingly, those academics whose responses suggested the use of technology beyond the entry stage, were those with the most experience in developing online materials. These staff members had developed two or more online subjects and their time of involvement in flexible learning was twelve months or greater. From the perspective of the educational designer this is significant in that it emphasises that the development of online material must be considered as a developmental process that 'takes time'. The interaction between the educational designer and the academic should be guided by the notion that total development of the online materials is in most instances an overlay of two processes: the process of development and design of the actual materials, and the process of reflection and evolution of teaching practice in the face of new possibilities offered by the technology; with reflection and evolution of teaching practice informing development and design of the materials.
Responses to questions regarding the production experiences (Table 3 below) suggest that two major challenges and concerns faced by the academics interviewed were time frames and a perceived lack of knowledge about 'how it works' and 'what is possible'. From the educational designer's perspective it is important to recognise, be sympathetic and address in the best way possible these concerns. Failure to recognise and address these concerns can be detrimental to the successful outcome of the development exercise. Innovations can have a "punitive effect" as workload may increase dramatically and confronting the new contexts can undermine confidence and feelings of competence (Hannan, English and Silver, 1999, p. 279).
|Concerns at the beginning of development:
|Positive aspects of involvement in production:
|Challenges of involvement in production
Queried about the importance of the educational designer providing support for the development of the whole curriculum, not just online materials, the response was that this was not considered an important aspect of their interaction with the educational designer. As was noted previously, among those interviewed, the degree of integration of the technology into teaching and learning practice has generally not evolved to the point of being a catalyst for major changes in practice. It would be anticipated that as technology and the concept of flexible learning is integrated to a greater degree, focus in the interactions between educational designer and teaching staff may well shift attention more towards the total curriculum. Using the seven principles of good practice (Chickering and Gamson, 1987) as part of the framework for material development may serve to expand focus beyond the immediate task of online material development to a more integrated approach of curriculum development. This wider focus will be more conducive to reflection and transformation of practice.
The second most requested area of support was web page construction. This request was more directed towards being able to easily update the website themselves rather than towards developing the website itself. Although we are dealing here with the limited case of a few academics, these responses reflect findings such as those presented by Ellis, O'Reilly and Debreceny (1998, p.197) which indicate that "staff are primarily interested in both pedagogical issues of online delivery and the skills necessary to design Web pages".
In terms of organisational support, the common request was time release from teaching load. The stress of the time frames was given as one of the major challenges in the production experience (Table 3) not only in terms of having material ready to meet deadlines but as some of the academics stated, time required to think more about material design.
Perhaps the most valuable comment about professional development requirements was made by several of the teaching staff interviewed, at the end of the interview sessions, as 'thank yous' ' were being said: 'This has been a good debriefing session... I haven't had time to do that' and 'This has given me a chance to think about it'. It was discussed earlier that participation in flexible learning is a call to innovation and that the need for university teachers to reflect on their practice cannot be understated (Ballantyne et al, 1999). Reflection fuels innovation and as such, educational designers and professional development programs aiming to transform teaching practice need to focus not purely on the capabilities of the technology but also on fostering reflective practice. Professional development initiatives that consider only creative ways of including technology will not support transformation of teaching practice unless accompanied by critical reflection on current practice.
The crux of the matter for the educational designer is make explicit that the development of online materials is not simply a translation from one medium to another rather a transformation. The view that development of online materials is simply translation of content from one medium to another seemed to be held by some of the teaching staff interviewed. Notably these were those staff who were relatively new to the experience of developing online materials. In contrast, comments by the staff member with the longest involvement in developing online materials (two years, currently developing her fifth subject) suggested that was now viewing the process as challenging and transformational. She stated
I'm now going through a deconstruction process... and as I do it gets more challenging in a positive way...I suspect that the way I was previously thinking about my subject area was tied up with lecturing and writing... flexible learning has required that I rethink strategies...The staff member went on to say that, while initially she has seen the website as a way of simply providing content thus freeing up face-face time for process thinking, she is beginning to realise that the website can be used to promote process thinking as well. She intends to implement this into the design of the subject she is currently developing. This staff member described the task of arriving at these conclusions to be 'enormously difficult'. The obvious implication of these comments for the educational designer is to consider how this journey of thought might be facilitated. As already discussed, encouraging reflection on practice is critical. We suggest that a platform for encouraging reflective practice can be established if the educational designer works with the aim of helping teaching staff to view the move to online delivery as a complex process. "Very few academics appreciate the fact that migration to a web based delivery mode of their course materials which they have in the past delivered in face to face mode is an involved process" (Porter and Corderoy, 1998, p. 572).
Against this background, the comments made by the academic staff interviewed in this limited case, serve to provide some insight into professional development needs and considerations which the educational designer might address in working with academics to develop online learning materials in order to maximise the success of the interaction. These considerations are summarised below.
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|Authors: Geraldine Torrisi-Steele, School of Information Technology, Griffith University|
Glenda Davis, Multimedia Unit, Griffith University
Please cite as: Torrisi-Steele, G. and Davis, G. (2000). "A website for my subject": The experiences of some academics' engagement with educational designers in a team based approach to developing online learning materials. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 16(3), 283-301. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet16/torrisi-steele.html