Monday, March 14, 2011

Learning practical skills via elearning

The earthquake of 22/2 has challenged us to think more deeply about how to deliver learning opportunities to students without access to practical workshops / teaching areas. A large amount of contact time is put into providing student with opportunities to practice new skills and to assist students with applying newly learnt knowledge to practical tasks and real-world scenarios.  Many of the CPIT programmes located in the now non-accessible city campus will have to re-develop how to helps students complete practical skills training without access to specialised training facilities and equipment.

I have been thinking the above over the weekend and  making connections to my learning of tai chi. I attend a weekly tai chi practice session and have been doing this for many years. Over the last few summers, our group have been attempting to learn a more advanced form of tai chi using a sword - called a jian. Our difficulty has stemmed from having teachers who are expert practitioners from China, who are usually on holiday in Christchurch, visiting family. Each of our teachers over the last few summers have been from different parts of China. So apart from contending with understanding regional dialects of Mandarin, each teacher practiced a different form of sword tai chi. So progress, has been slow and confusion reigns for about 3 or 4 sessions before we adapt, after which, the teacher returns to China, leaving us to unravel the form through notes and videos (if available).

My proposal was to video ourselves doing the form and sending the video to our teacher in China. However, this plan never took off due to mixed digital literacy of our Chinese teachers and camera shyness on the part of some of the tai chi learners.

I now plan to take the above concept further here at work. Students will still need to be provided with a hands-on learning opportunity whereever possible. Demonstrations and initial practice can then be supported by students doing practice at off-campus facilities (in workplace, possibly at home etc.) Practice can be videoed and emailed to tutors for formative assessment. After several iteractions, formative assessments can also be obtained by students sharing their videos with each other. Student will need to be provided with support sessions on providing peer-feed back. Hopefully, the above will replicate some of the contact time that will need to be replaced with self-directed activities. Using the above will still ensure students are provided with opportunities for feedback, even when they are working independently and physically distant from tutors and class mates. Will have a chat with our elearning support team about ramping up Mahara for the sharing process as it will be an ideal tool to use.

The above may be supplemented in some specialised areas by the use of video analysis software, for instance silicon coach, which is easier to use than other specialised research analysis software. Discreet skills in programmes like circoarts (juggling, riding unibike etc.) may be improved using comparative software and especially where key kineasthetic motor skills need to be honed before students are able to move on to more complex and integrated skill sets. If ideas for using video eventuate, it will be good to evaluate the process using a formalised research / evaluative study. Will progress this further this week to see how well the idea aligns with current approaches to teaching practical skills.

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