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New developments in e-learning and increasingly sophisticated learning technologies are beginning to make a major impact in U


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Jumping the Hurdles: challenges of staff development delivered in a blended learning environment 
 
 
 
 
 

Karen M Fitzgibbon     Prof. Norah Jones

Humanities and Social Sciences   Humanities and Social Sciences

University of Glamorgan    University of Glamorgan

 

New developments in e-learning and increasingly sophisticated learning technologies are beginning to make a major impact in U.K. Universities. There has been a growth in e-learning both in universities and in commercial training organisations. Universities in the UK are approaching a crossroads as a result of technological advances and their impact on teaching. It is clear that universities need to change to accommodate the impact of technology on learning. It is not just the case that students are provided with greater access to materials on-line but alongside this it is necessary for academics to re-evaluate their teaching and pedagogic models.  Whilst we recognise the need to engage with the new learning opportunities that online learning brings, we also recognise the crucial part that staff development plays in making such a change a positive experience for academic staff. There is convincing evidence (Salmon, 2000 and 2002, Laurillard, 2002) that the role of the lecturer needs to be re-examined in the context of on-line learning.   

The aim of the paper is to explore the impact of the introduction of an e-learning project on a university's staff development processes.  The paper is structured into three sections, the first of which outlines the development process of an e-learning initiative. In the second section the model of teaching and learning is examined and finally challenges to change are explored.

 

Background
 

The core activity of the case study University (University of Glamorgan) is traditional delivery of courses at the University campus and through agreements with its Associate and other Partner Colleges in the further education sector. It has now been decided to build on this successful experience and to work with partners in the public, private and voluntary sectors to widen the accessibility of the University's Business and Management courses through new methods of delivery. This is being piloted through the E-College Wales (ECW) initiative.

E-College provides the additional flexibility of training and support through on-line entrepreneurial programmes.

If the University is to be successful in taking advantage of the new opportunities offered by e-learning, then the strategy it adopts to realise this goal needs to include staff development considerations.  As Robinson (1998: 34) emphasises:

    ��Strategic staff development needs to be:

  • Aligned to organisational as well as individual goals
  • A systematic process with planning and control
  • Directed at improving knowledge, skills, attitudes and performance at the level of the individual, the work group, and the organisation.��

Robinson goes on to add ��the starting point for any staff development strategy is the support of senior management followed by the definition of a purpose, policy and plan.�� 

For this project staff development needs were assessed at the outset of the project, a somewhat different approach for Glamorgan. Rowntree (1998: 231) discusses the pressures in managing ��up front�� staff development.  ��[Open and Flexible Learning] OFL projects are often set up in a hurry�� The timescale may seem too short to prepare people in advance�� 

It was important to ensure that staff who would be working on the project should have the opportunity to learn the skills associated with e-moderating, but also have an opportunity to experience working in this very different learning environment.  This is further emphasised by Benfield (2000: 6) 

    ��using online communication requires a strong conscious effort, planning, forethought, time�� One of the best things that any teacher intending to go online can do is take an online course themselves.�� 
     

    Thus we put in place a staff development programme to help staff accommodate the new environment. At this stage in 2000 there were very few examples of staff development programmes supporting e-learning initiatives. Gilly Salmon at the Open University had just developed a model for teaching and learning on-line and we enlisted her help in developing our staff. Salmon devised a staff development programme for us based on her model in order to help inform, what at that stage, was a group of naïve and inexperienced e-moderators.  BlackBoard was the chosen managed learning environment (MLE) which provided the platform for communication. The course was designed placing great emphasis on asynchronous discussions.  

    The model of e-moderator training was centred on the learning framework put forward by Salmon (2000). This framework has five distinct sequential stages of development comprising a series of tasks, referred to by Salmon (2000) as e-tivities. The five stages are as follows:  

     

    Stage One: Access and Motivation

    It is essential that students are able to gain access quickly and easily to the managed learning environment of BlackBoard. The School provides technical help through a telephone help line in addition to tutor support via email and telephone.

     

    Stage Two: Forming Relationships On-line

    Students becoming more familiar with the new environment are able to 'socialise' on-line. However, the familiar cues from oral and non-verbal communications are missing and new patterns of socialisation emerge. Although it could be argued that the student experience is diminished because of this it could equally be argued that there are fewer distractions and more equal opportunities for participation. The tutor in this phase ensures all students contribute although he or she needs to be aware of some students biding their time; Salmon (2000) refers to this as 'browsing'. It is clear from Salmon's experience of on-line learners that as chatting on-line increases a sense of belongingness develops. Tutors are able to help facilitate this amongst other support activities amongst, which are promotion of mutual respect between participants, defusing problems and offering advice, guidance and academic counselling. 

    Stage Three: Information Exchange

    In addition to the module content tutors prepare Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) sections for ease of reference. Advice on academic issues is also provided.  

    Stage Four: Knowledge Construction

    The expectation at this stage is that students interact with each other in more participative ways, constructing knowledge for themselves and helping each other in clarifying academic issues. The tutor becomes less involved and contributes when necessary.  

    Stage Five: Development

    Students now become more responsible for their own learning and generally will need less support. At the higher levels of under graduate and post-graduate studies the skills of critical thinking and the ability to challenge the givens are in evidence at this stage. 

    Thus tutor involvement changes through the stages; in the first stage technical and academic support may be equally important whilst thereafter, academic support increases up to and including stage three and decreases thereafter.  

    The model for teaching and learning on-line remains an area where an improved level of understanding is required and further research should be undertaken  Kearsley (1999). Salmon (2000) bases her model on extensive experience with Open University students and corporate clients. It will be interesting to see whether the model is generalisable to first year undergraduates on the E-College programme. Staff have been trained using the Salmon model but are now being encouraged to reflect on their experiences during the first year.  

     

     
    The Pilot Studies
     

    The First E-Moderator Course

    The first e-moderator course was offered from September to November 2001, and was moderated by Gilly Salmon and David Shepherd. The first group consisted of 36 full time staff from the University and Associated Further Education Colleges. The authors were students on this first course. The course was successful and 27 members of staff completed the course. The course not only provided training in the skills of e-moderating but also gave tutors the insight into what it felt like to be an e-learner. At the end of the course the authors critically reflected on the experience and introduced a number of changes in preparation for the next course on which we would become the e-moderators.

    The changes introduced were as follows:

    • Contextualisation of some of the e-tivities to meet specific University of Glamorgan issues
    • Creation of a set of on-line resources such as book reviews, useful web sites and published materials provided by staff at the University who were research active in e-learning.
    • Development of a half day face to face induction programme which was not recommended by Salmon (2000) as she argued that socialising face to face will inhibit the creation of an on-line community.
    • Incorporated two further face to face evaluation meetings during the mid-point and towards the end of the module.
     

    The third and fourth developments show above altered the nature of the module delivery from wholly on-line to a blended delivery model, a development which required evaluation in order to test its suitability. 
     

    Some of the reflections from the first e-moderating group are summarised below: 

    ��I think this course has been useful in lots of ways: 
    has helped me realise that it can be almost pleasant communicating via computer and 
    that techniques such as summarising and feedback are crucial�� 
     

    ��Despite having struggled to keep up with the course at times, it has provided me with an insight into a wide range of considerations to be taken into account, from both e-moderator and student perspectives. At times, I was able to appreciate the frustrations that student will undoubtedly experience with software/navigation/repetition of e-tivity content�� 

    ��I think that the course took a while to warm up but overall I think that I have enjoyed it. I would have rather smaller groups because I have not read all messages posted and wish I had the time to do so. As a leader in the beginning I felt that I was getting to know a few people but the pressure of work and a dodgy computer resulted in me being a follower.�� 
     
    Whilst only providing a snapshot of the experiences, these reflections do reinforce the subsequent experience of many of us as e-moderators, highlighting the value of the e-moderating module as preparation for the on-line teaching experience.

     

    The Second E-Moderator Course

    The revised staff development programme was offered September until December 2002. There were 24 full time members of staff consisting of experienced tutors from HE and FE.   

    During the second training programme, the authors began to identify emergent issues for both the staff undertaking the training and the University as a whole. The next section of the paper reflects on our learning from this staff development programme and offers some insights into the challenges of on-line staff development.  As Robinson (1998: 43) points out ��While particular training activities and events may in themselves be effective, their impact can also depend for success on factors outside the control of staff developers��.   

    Reflections from the second group 

    ��I feel more confident about being an E Tutor now because I know exactly what is expected of me��. 

    ��I feel more confident in using the system and am beginning to feel less guilty about being the last one to complete activities. Such was my haste that I goofed with 2.6 - if I'd read the material thoroughly I would have understood what emoticons are. The saying more haste less speed springs to mind. I found 2.3 challenging as it's difficult to convey the right message without sounding patronising. Overall I'm much happier about my role��. 
     

    �� I would like to thank you for your help and support during the course and I must say that it has changed my view and I am now a convert to this way of teaching and learning. I did not think I would say that when I started. It was not that I possessed a closed mind but I just did not think there was any substitute to conventional methods of learning and the motivation a good teacher can give in a classroom situation. In actual fact, it is possible, as you Norah and the team have proved very successfully. 
    Thank you for being patient with me and for your help, support, advice and guidance. It is very much appreciated��. 

    The Challenges 

    Time 

    When we first began to address the challenges which ��time�� represented we quickly realised that this was a complex issue with many facets.  Comments from staff who had undertaken the course such as ��finding the time is difficult�� revealed many different aspects of the experience that the course provided.  Some staff felt that they should receive some kind of remission from other activities whilst taking part in the training course, a model adopted by some participants in the LeTTOL Learning to Teaching On-Line project (Kirby, et.al. 1997).  However, we also identified issues of the timing of the course provision itself.  The two courses had both run during September and October.  This was due to the fact that the actual on-line enrolling students would commence their engagement with the on-line learning materials in November and we therefore needed to train the staff prior to the enrolment of the students.  However, in practice, many staff were already working under intense pressure due to enrolment duties and induction of their on-campus traditional delivery students and generally preparing for the new semester. Finding the time really was an issue for them.  Staff who had been engaged to work with on-line students only, did not have this issue to contend with. It is important for future cohorts of staff that we identify more suitable dates to start the course. 

    A further time-related issue is the length of the training programme.  For the first cohort, staff were given six weeks to complete the programme.  Most staff met this deadline and only a few required a little extra time to complete the final e-tivities.  When the second cohort commenced, we allotted six weeks once more, but on reflection we feel that a longer time period would provide more opportunities to introduce ��live�� aspects mirroring more closely the actual e-moderating experience.  We intend therefore to lengthen the time allotted for the next cohort.  We are not alone in this decision to lengthen the programme.   The LeTTOL project originally allowed 60 hours for 2 OCN credits (from May – July) but had to extend this 12 to 16 weeks (Kirby et.al. 1997). 

    The authors (who were the e-moderators for the second course) also experienced time-related challenges.  We were each allocated 3 hours per week to support and monitor the students.  This became inadequate and often we would spend more than eight hours per week in the moderation of discussion forums or monitoring participant contributions.  In contrast LeTTOL tutors have 60 hours teaching time for each group of 12 students – the same amount of time as is allocated to the students to complete the course.  There is a further issue here related to the success with which the student e-moderators engage in on-line activity; Salmon (2002: 162) describes it as follows:   

      ��However, note that the more successful you are at achieving good participation in the e-tivities, the more the response and summarizing time from the e-moderator will rise.  Our own little catch-22!��  

    This mirrored our experiences of moderating the students for examples summarising the e-tivities took up to two hours to produce (almost the total time allocated for that week of e-moderating). 

    The pace of learning and waves of student activity and inactivity also contribute to the roller-coaster time and task management experiences of the e-moderator. Students worked through the tasks at differing speeds and at any point of time some students were ahead but some were well behind schedule. The student controls the pace of the learning but this adds to the work of the e-moderator for example in attempting to provide summaries and archiving responses. Our course statistics revealed that whatever the time of day or night, whatever the day of the week, someone was on-line.  This is of course one of the reasons why on-line learning is so successful, the complete freedom it gives to learning anytime, anyplace, and anywhere.  However, it also demonstrates why e-moderating is an extremely different teaching experience to that of the traditional on campus delivery experience.  On campus, academic staff expect some quiet times of the day (e.g. before 9am and after 4.30pm) and some times during the week.

    Once you are working as an e-moderator, the structure of your working day changes. One of the authors remembers the day when she arrived for work shortly before 8am, checked her voicemail and picked up 10 messages which had been left overnight (not an unusual load for a course leader), dealt with 18 or so emails from staff and students on campus, went on-line to monitor the forums from the group of on-line students she was moderating and then remembered that she was actually meant to be in front of a group of on-campus students and she was already late for the class!  Brabazon (2001: 6) makes a similar observation about the lack of time she now has for research when on campus.

       ��My story is not unusual.  But this change in the pattern of my working day – within four years – has reduced and decentred intellectual tasks to competency and generic skills.�� 

      The final time-related issue for on-line moderators is the amount of time required in checking and fine-tuning the on-line learning materials participants will engage with.  Dependent upon the institutional approach, this may require the academic to actually make the changes themselves, or go through a team of instructional designers, editors and so on before the changes can be made.  The number of discussion board messages and emails generated by the on-line students meanwhile will be growing ferociously until the problem is addressed! 

       

      Induction 

      In addition the importance of a good induction programme should not be under estimated. Salmon (2000) advises against face to face meetings during induction, but we have found that this is more effective for our blended learning approach. We have found that a face to face induction day helps improve student motivation on-line and helps in creating on-line socialisation. The induction was well received by the students and they all thought that this should be an obligatory part of the e-moderators course. We have also introduced a mid-course face to face feedback meeting and a half a day final reflections meeting.     
       

      Technology

      One of the most important features for any e-learning course is secure technology Laurillard (2002. When the second course started the University was using version 5 of the chosen MLE, which provided a stable platform for on-line teaching and learning. Two weeks after the commencement of the second course the University moved from version 5 to version 6. There were defendable reasons for the change; the timing of the decision was partly made because full time students would not have engaged in learning until early October. The e-moderator course already underway was overlooked and as a result there were two weeks of disruption. Students were unable to gain access to the MLE and when they did, it quickly became apparent that the platform at this stage was unstable. The technical staff at the University were placed under enormous pressure to provide quick fixes until the MLE license provider solved the problems. The students on the e-moderator course at this time were in Session two of the course and the primary objective of this stage is to develop on-line socialisation. Salmon (2000) places great importance on this phase claiming that the creation of on-line community in this phase is critical to effective on-line learning.

      Thus, as a result of the problems with the software the work of the e-moderators increased. Even more effort was put into communicating with the students in order to keep them motivated. This was partially successful but four students withdrew from the course at this time. Students�� comments on this experience highlight the effect of technology failure on motivation. 

      ��Well I have certainly had a taste of what it is like to have problems with the system. My e-mail is at last working, so I can now communicate with the rest. I have had experience of feeling totally alone. The system seems to always be down when I have time to work. This will help me to understand my student��s problems��.

       

      ��We all had a good lesson during this part of the course. The frustration caused when systems fail. Perhaps a good thing to experience on a course like this. At least we know how the students feel!�� 

      Another issue regarding technology is the way academic staff perceive the use of technology in their teaching role.  Furnell et al (undated: 4) make the point that ��[academics] may feel intimidated by the technology and therefore regard this as a barrier to the whole issues of ODL�� . The training of course developers and module writers represent another group of staff whose staff development needs must not be overlooked. 

      Developing New Teaching Skills

      A further challenge that e-moderating brings is the heightened awareness of the impact of messages posted in an on-line environment.  Benfield (2000: 1) stresses that ��There is a need to develop an on-line ��voice�� or persona, and to use language thoughtfully.�� The e-moderator has a very powerful presence on-line and as such misuse of humour, a sarcastic tone or ill-phrased posting has the potential to dramatically affect the participants�� levels of contribution.  We are careful to monitor both our own practice on-line and the language used by our students.  We have evolved a system of ��shadowing�� on-line groups which enables one e-moderator to act as the e-convenor (posting messages, responding to threads, monitoring contributions and managing the conferences themselves) and one e-moderator who visits every now and then acting as a voice of support to the e-convenor.  We wouldn��t expect to do the same in our face to face teaching.  Salmon (2000: 35) confirms the need to adapt face to face teaching practices for the on-line teaching experience

         ��I conclude that face-to face facilitation skills, while having many of the same attributes as online e-moderation, are insufficient in themselves to ensure successful interactive conferences.��

      Lewis (1995) offers an example of the outcome of prolonged discussions between academic staff and their strategic director concerning the future learning environment of their university.  ��Instead of identifying the positive aspects of their likely future roles, the staff feared the removal of the skilled teacher from the centre of a university education��.  Furnell et al (undated: 4) also address the role of the academic in the on-line learning world, making the point that

         ��ODL could be used as a vehicle to undermine the role of the lecturer – i.e. once all of the relevant course information is available online, it could be delivered without further intervention from the lecturer, leading to a situation where his/her services are no longer required��. 

      The Glamorgan experience has so far been a very positive one.  Staff have been encouraged to develop course materials rather than being required to do so.  Most of those volunteering to develop on-line materials have subsequently been motivated to join a course such as the e-moderating module under discussion, and whilst challenges and issues are undoubtedly present, they have been overcome by the desire to succeed in this very different teaching medium.   

      Selecting participants

      None of the cohorts of learners so far inducted onto the e-moderating module have been selected – they have all volunteered.  Consequently, the mix of experiences, roles and technical ability has been broad amongst all the groups.  We have not yet seen a need to divide groups into those with previous on-line experience, those with limited technical ability, those who teach, those who support teaching and so on.  It could be argued that the diversity of such a learning group reflects a typical on-line teaching experience – a mix of cultures, backgrounds and reasons for choosing a course – and this can be seen as a strength of this approach. The LeTTOL Project Report  (1997:14) supports this

        ��the tutors agreed, that at this stage in the project, they were not going to restrict interested colleagues from joining the course by a rigorous selection in terms of IT skills��.

      However, it is also possible that staff with previous on-line experience may wish to further develop their on-line teaching skills in a group of similarly experienced colleagues as opposed to sharing their expertise with novices, or that those with limited technical skills would feel more comfortable in a group consisting of those with a similar level of ability.  We will endeavour to meet the needs of such learning groups as they arise. 

       

      Conclusions

       

      One of the University��s targets is that all academic staff will become engaged to at least the basic level with the new technologies in the medium term (2001-2003). To underpin this it will be necessary to develop a strong expertise platform in Schools to enable peer supported targeted staff development. It is anticipated that learning and teaching groups will be key players in this respect. 

      It is intended that staff development is taken on board not only by academic staff but support staff, students, validation panels, external examiners; in fact all stakeholders across the range will have to adapt to this change.  E-delivery will become a significant part of the delivery process although it is unlikely, at least on campus, to entirely replace traditional methods.  

      The importance of staff development for on-line learning has been highlighted throughout the paper and this issue is one that has been stressed by others e.g. Robertson et.al. (2002: 6) claim that

        ��The sooner professional development in teaching and learning with ICT is incorporated into all aspects of quality assurance in higher education, the sooner good practice will emerge and the less uncertain and confusing the future may be��.       

        We are developing the opportunities for e-learning staff development in a number of areas.  The e-moderating module under discussion in this paper will be developed as a credit-rated module at post-graduate level.  This in turn will form a core of a post-graduate qualification in on-line learning also currently being developed by the authors.  Finally, our reflections and experience with the various groups on this e-moderating module have lead us to believe that a further module in advanced e-moderating skills is also required.  This will incorporate ��live�� scenarios for students to respond to, thereby giving them a more realistic experience of the role of the e-moderator.   

        With these new initiatives well underway, the future for this staff development e-learning programme seems assured.  The small team of e-convenors is growing and we look forward to continuing to contribute to the University of Glamorgan E-College initiative to develop on-line learning. This initiative provides a significant opportunity for the University to evaluate the development, delivery and assessment of E-Learning and to create a pedagogy and andragogy for this form of education.  
         

         

        References 

        Benfield, G. (2000) ��Teaching on the Web – Exploring the Meanings of Silence', http://ultibase.rmit,edu,au/Articles/online/benfield1.htm 

        Brabazon, T. (2001) ��Internet Teaching and the Adminstration of Knowledge�� http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue6_6/brabazon/index.html 
         

        Furnell, S., Evans, M., Phippen, A. and  Abu-Rgheffi, M, (undated) ��On-line Distance Learning: Expectations, Requirements and Barriers' http://www.fae.plym.ac.uk/tele/odl-2.html 

        Kearsley, G (1999) On-line education: Learning and Teaching in Cyberspace (New York, Wandsworth) 

        Kirby, J., Pickering, F. and Rhodes, S. (1997) The LeTTOL Project Final Report http://oldferl.becta.org.uk/learningonline/staff/teachingol/html 

        Laurillard, D. (2002) Rethinking University Teaching, (London, Routledge Falmer)   
         

        Lewis, R. (1998) 'Staff Development in Conventional Institutions Moving Towards Open Learning' in Latchem, C. & Lockwood, F. (1998) Staff Development in Open and Flexible Learning, Chapter 3 pp 23 – 32 (London, Routledge)  
         

        Roberts, J., Brindley, J., Mugridge, I. and Howard, J. (2002) ' Faculty and Staff Development in Higher Education. The key to using ICT appropriately?' The Observatory of Borderless Education (London) 
         

        Robinson, B. (1998) ��A Strategic Perspective on Staff Development for Open and Distance Learning�� in Latchem, C. and Lockwood, F. (1998) Staff Development in Open and Flexible Learning, chapter 4 pp33 – 44,  (London, Routledge)

        op. cit. 

        Rowntree, D. (1998) ��The Role of Workshops in Staff Development�� in Latchem, C. and Lockwood, F. (1998) Staff Development in Open and Flexible Learning, Chapter 23 pp 231 – 238, (London Routledge) 

        Salmon G (2000) E-Moderating, (London Kogan Page) 

        Salmon G (2002) E-Tivities, (London, Kogan Page)  
         

        Word count  4,378


         

         

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