Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Excellence in online teaching - what is it?

What actually makes an excellent teacher? The past couple of weeks have been filled with celebrations of my winning the supreme excellence in teaching award and caused me to think again about what excellence in teaching is about. In particular, the role of technology in learning. If technology is a tool, how do we use it in a manner that enhances excellent teaching?

One of the fears tutors have when they put their material online, is that they might loose that element of having their personality shine through. The lack of immediate feedback on whether the students understand the concepts being delivered makes it difficult for online tutors to gauge the progress of their students. Some beginning online tutors also find that they loose that ‘buzz’ that they get from teaching f2f students. I have been through all of these scenarios as an online tutor and see if again and again when I support tutors putting their courses online.

I must admit that teaching online is less satisfying in some ways. However, I am lucky to have only a small number of students and I have been able to build up a good rapport with them via email and phone conversations. Excellence in online teaching requires a different focus from f2f teaching. In particular, the way in which online content is structured and presented is important. This is the main interface the student has with a topic whereas with f2f, it is often the tutor that is the main interface. Therefore, the content has to be well thought through and the strategies that need to be used to help students engage with the content and relate to the material is paramount.

There are many ways to structure online content. My belief and learning from experience is that each subject tends to have ‘set’ ways of introducing novices to concepts important in the practice or application of that subject. However, it pays to have a good look at the content and see if it is actually the best way to approach the subject. Having a non-subject expert who understands good pedagogy is one way to take a fresh view of the subject to be converted from f2f to online delivery. I have had the privilege of being able to contribute in this way as elearning facilitator. However, the subject tutor needs to also be amenable to trying new approaches, otherwise, there is no commitment to carrying the process through. I have found that small changes need to be made over a period of time. It is less intimidating to the tutor who is converting from f2f to online teaching. As far as the students are concerned, they become accustomed to the course as it stands. As most have little experience with online learning, student evaluations tend to concentrate on the amount of content rather than the online learning experience.

I plan to transfer my existing online courses from the Blackboard platform to Moodle over the next 6 months. I have also completed a conversion of online content from elearning to mlearning delivery. Both of these present opportunities to improve on the way the current content is structured and presented. With the move to Moodle, I plan to restructure each course so that each ‘learning module’ is a ‘concept capture area’. Several of these ‘concept captures’ can then be linked together for a learning module on ‘application’. In my case, it will be to apply the theory of baking to what happens in the bakery. An example would be to have concepts like ‘ingredient functions’, ‘recipe balance’, ‘processing methods’ etc. all linked to an application ‘to produce a ‘new’ or healthier or firmer / softer / crispier etc. product.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Excellence in Tertiary Teaching Award 2007

I attended the annual NZ Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards dinner on Tuesday.
I had been awarded one of 10 tertiary teaching excellence awards for this year. The national award follows my award for teaching excellence at the CPIT autumn graduation. CPIT’s internal nominee then puts in a portfolio towards consideration for the National award. Criteria for the portfolio includes evidence of sustained excellence in teaching practice, assessment and evaluation. I was tempted to put together an eportfolio but was advised against it, in case some of the panel were not used to working with digital media.

It was with some excitement and trepidation that I arrived at the Beehive in Wellington as one of the 10 award winners would also find out that they would be the winner of the Prime Minister’s Supreme Teaching excellence award. Each awardee receives $20,000 towards their professional development fund (or towards whatever would enhance their future learning). The winner of the supreme award receives an extra $10,000.

I then found out that I was this year’s Prime Ministers Supreme excellence in teaching award winner. Yippee! All the other awardees were very supportive and collegial. The dinner was very well organised and attended by various vice chancellors / CEOs of polytechs plus the members of the selection panel were also present. All in a good celebration of teaching excellence in Aotearoa.

The award means that I will be able to use the money from the award towards further enhancing my personal professional development. First off would be a studied look at what is available in the form of conferences on mlearning and then a plan to work out how to fit them around my teaching commitments. The money is a great help as I will not have to go through all the usual form filling related to having conferences etc. funded by my school, a big saving in time and energy for me which I can re-focus on to more productive things (like maintaining this blog!)