Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Role of Training and Support in eLearning Success Part I

I received a request this week "to put together a short workshop on supporting e-learning in the institution (University of the Western Cape, UWC) for the AVOIR meeting". The workshop need to cover things like "strategy, organization, activities, what works, what doesn't". I have 90 minutes to convince, showcase, and discuss with the over 30 participants the issues pertaining to the use of eLearning and related technologies. In these series of blog articles, I will go through the Mind2Finger issues that am going through in preparing for the workshop. In this first issues, I will identify the key issues in eLearning. These issues will form the foundation for the next sections and they are:

  1. Online tutoring
  2. Online Resources
  3. Assessment of Online Learning
  4. student issues
  5. Content issues
  6. Staff issues
Online tutoring is a challenging and daunting task requiring a number of interventions from a number of stakeholders in the higher education institutions. It involves among other things preparing lecturers and students for the online experiences, managing students in the online environments, and using a number of communication tools that are available in the learning management system(LMS).

The online resources that are available for the campus community at UWC are the learning management system, the multimedia studio, and a host of other computing facilities including computers, scanners, cameras etc. The participants in the online learning environment are trained on using the LMS, using multimedia, effective writing for eLearning, and creating interactivity. There is also a support division (The eLearning Division) to assist all the participants in their pursuit. In addition, we have the Information Technology operational and hardware maintenance section of the university, computer laboratories, and FSIU and AVOIR developers assisting in building tools for the LMS.

Lack of familiarity to the alternative forms of online assessments has to be addressed in the training and support. The lecturers are trained on the various tools provided on the LMS, how and when to use them, and how to prepare their students for the online assessments. The tools for assessment of online learning that are being used constantly are the discussion forum, work groups, multiple choice questions, and other innovative online assessments like the worksheets, assignments, and essays. The Problem-Based Learning (PBL) has also been used, though not as much as the other forms of online assessment above.

The main concerns for students in addition to training and support is access. Most student access their online course materials on campus, and we have limited computing facilities for students. A booking system for computer laboratories is in place to assist the students. Also, due to this fact, we encourage lecturers to extend and stretch deadlines for online activities over a longer period of time so that all students can get a chance in using the computers. As I will discuss in the next sections, we have structures for academic support for students offered by the lecturer and the computer literacy and induction offered by our eLearning Division.

On content, the main issues rotate around "dumping", size and type of content and copyright. In our training, we emphasize that the LMS is is NOT a dumping site for class readers and class notes. We advocate for well-thought, structured and manageable content. We encourage the lecturers to "pass on" responsibility of learning to the students through the use of the tools available. On the size, due to limits in bandwidth, we recommend the use of media that is bandwidth friendly. We also train and assist lecturers and students in optimising the size of the content put online, for example on image editing. In our LMS a host of media types are supported including text, images, video and audio, presentations, SCORM among others.

The staff issues relate to the lecturers and in some cases faculty administrators. The main concern for now is time and skills to facilitate online learning. For skills, we pass them through the various models of training and consultations we hold with the lecturers. This training also assist them in exploiting techniques that would speed up their online facilitation. We also encourage them to make use of their student assistants and workstudy programmes within their departments. Over the last few weeks, we have seen an increase in a number of student assistants being used to assist the lecturer in online courses facilitation. Staff training is done in collaboration with the Office of Staff Development at UWC.

In the next part, I will explain to some details the training and support strategies that we employ.

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