Temperature Check – how are the courses going?

I have finally gathered all the data together from the students surveys completed at the beginning of term two and shared them below.  I have included last years’ results at the top so you can cycle through and compare.  There is one new question which asks students whether they feel their self-management skills have improved since taking their course(s).  I will summarise the key findings below and then look at solutions to any identified issues.

Some of the  positives

  • The majority of students are finding their course interesting and engaging
  • The video conferences are largely interactive and involve the students (not all teacher talk).  Although this could be disputed based on one or two VCs I have watched recently
  • Students are getting some opportunities to work together, despite the challenge of distance and current internet speeds
  • The approach to learning is not totally based on one size fits all (so some variety in practice)
  • Most students believe they are developing self-management skills by taking online courses (note I’m not calling them VC courses).  I agree with them.  Even the student who struggles to manage their time and is constantly being chased for work will learn something about self-management.
  • More students are feeling this is an equal (or better option) to face to face.  In my opinion this is significant

Things to improve

  • There seems to have been an increase in the number of students who find the courses difficult to follow.  The issue of understanding what to do is one that students identify as a major challenge in working online.  This is no surprise.  Developing courses with clear instructions on what to do is a challenge for teachers.  How do you know the student at the other end understands what to do?  Teachers need to make sure instructions aren’t just text-based.  It is not that difficult to support text with visuals, screencasts and quick videos.  Also supporting a course with a forum where students can ask questions of others (including the teacher)  is integral to an online course.  It should form the backbone of any course and is also an important place to develop community (also identifies as an issue)
  • Many students don’t get any opportunity to interact, connect or collaborate with their online peers.  Reducing the distance for students is vital, and one way of doing this is putting a lot of energy in developing a sense of community.  One aspect of this is the VC which is why it is important that students get an opportunity to interact.  Another aspect is using a forum (or something similar) as I have mentioned before.  Learning online should potentially provide more opportunity to connect with others not less.
  • There are still major issues in not only internet speeds and technical infrastructure, but also access to computers (or mobile devices).  The latter should be a fundamental part of school support for their students.  In terms of internet speeds, the reality is we are doing something that is well ahead of its time.  The roll out of fibre will make a significant difference to this, but we will have to wait a while yet before all our schools have the connection they really need.

I have little doubt that our programme is an improvement on what we had five years ago, but continued improvement is slow.  What we need for the future is an ongoing programme of professional learning and leadership building for our eTeachers and eDeans.  What we have at the moment is ad hoc and sporadic.   More on this at a later dater, but I would be interested in any thoughts out there.

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