I was recently asked by one of my lecturers, “what tech would you like to see in an e-learning environment?” Being somewhat of a geek I was quite interested to think this through. Generally speaking though the issues I have aren’t necessarily anything to do with the tech. In this post I outline what I think would help me to learn and hopefully get better grades as a result. There are some ideas towards the bottom but I’m not sure whether any of those could be achieved through an e-learning platform. Ideally I’m not that bothered about seeing tech used in an e-learning platform, I’m bothered that the e-learning platform is used well!
It’s probably worth pointing out that the lecturer who posed this question was excellent in his use of the e-learning platform and produced some awesome materials! Thank you.
Weapon(s) of Choice
I use a mixture of tech to access course material, learn, manage my learning and write my assignments.
- iMac @ Home. I’ve had some issues viewing videos in the e-learning portal via my Mac. Trying to figure out the problem wasn’t worth the hassle. Things like embedded YouTube videos have been fine but I can understand why the university might want things kept in-house.
- PC @ Work.
- iPhone 4S. I’ve been able to access most things through my phone. I don’t have any issues regarding eyesight so am quite comfortable with small fonts although this could be a problem for others. I tend to view documents via DropBox once I’ve downloaded them. It was easy to connect to my email account but I knew where to look for the settings. Others might not.
- Mac Book Pro.
- Google Chrome. Used to browse websites, blogs, search for resources and access the e-learning portal.
- Apple Mail, Gmail, Outlook. Used to access my email and calendaring systems.
- Google Calendars. My main calendar to which I sync everything. My one stop shop for event, meeting, and key deadline details.
- DropBox. Where I store all of my draft and issued assignments. I use JISC infoNet’s naming convention to manage verisons of my documents. I also store all course materials here too.
- Wunderlist. This magical app helps me to manage my life!
- TweetDeck and Twitter. I use twitter to access my personal learning network and find leads to interesting articles/theories.
- Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel). Used to draft assignments and supporting material.
Eduroam & Shibboleth
I can’t explain the value of Eduroam & Shibboleth to me as a student. The ability to connect to wi-fi at different institutions is fantastic. Then to be able to access various publishers’ resources using my student credentials makes life so much easier. You can even link your details through Google Scholar which can provide a simple method for quickly finding key academic papers.
What I Expect from the University
I’m not an expert in pedagogy or learning techniques but I’ve never really understood why all of the relevant materials for a module can’t just be made available up front. As a student I want to read through as much material as I can to try and understand the topic more deeply. As a Distance Learning student ‘time’ is my enemy. The more I can do up front, or when I have time, the better!
Recommendation 1: Make all presentations, learning papers and handouts available from the start of the module. Ideally as a downloadable Zip file. By presentation I just mean the file, doesn’t have to be a video of the lecture. I actually found papers much quicker and easier to follow and refer to than videos.
I want to spend as much of my time as possible learning. It would be extremely helpful if lecturers could organise their files appropriately so students don’t have to do this for them.
Recommendation 2: Use meaningful and helpful naming conventions. For example, US date format (2012 06 24) at the beginning of a file would allow us to sort (in explorer or finder) files in the order we’re meant to read them. Follow that with the resource type and title e.g. 2012 06 24 Lecture Defining Sustainability or 2012 06 24 DL Paper Defining Sustainability.
Recommendation 3: It would be useful if all of the lecturers on the same programme followed the same standard.
I use the lectures to get a basic understanding of a particular topic. The references highlighted within those lectures are particularly important to me. It would be very helpful if lecturers provided full references in presentations and any other materials.
Recommendation 4: Fully reference citations made within learning materials. It’s really helpful and it also sets a good example.
At the start of a module it’s very important to get to grips with key deadlines. Even if the assignment brief can’t be given, lecturers should be able to give key dates i.e. when the brief will be available, if a draft is expected, final deadline.
Recommendation 5: Provide a list of key dates in one place, at the start of a module. It would be handy if deadlines were automatically added to a student’s calendar. It’s all about joined up data e.g. Total Recal!
I use a Mac, not everything has worked smoothly using a Mac. I understand that the course provides details of what hardware and systems requirements distance learning students will need but seriously?!
Recommendation 6: Get an e-learning platform where all of the functionality works seemlessly for both Macs and PCs, or any device for that matter!
Make the process interesting. One of my lecturers set out to develop a journal, so to speak. Each student choose a topic area. They developed a draft paper which was reviewed by two peers. Amendments were made before a final submission. All papers were collated to form a journal. The lecturer had planned to have a copy printed for each student but the school reversed its decision to allow the lecturer to do this.
Idea 1: I really enjoyed this module and think it could be ran on a yearly basis. The journal doesn’t have to be printed necessarily. Create the journal and make it available through a self publishing site like Lulu. Set it so that the school reaps any profit, the students get the credit :-)
I mentioned above that it would be really useful if lecturers would fully reference materials they use. Would it be possible for everyone to contribute to a pool of interesting/relevant materials? I’m not sure if this verges on the edges of collusion?
Idea 2: Use a social bookmarking tool to collate relevant materials for each module. For example, all lecturers and students could use Delicious to tag relevant resources. Use a predefined tag, for example a mixture of the university’s UCAS code and the module code. The material would grow year upon year and could become extremely valuable to students, organisations (from a busienss and community engagement angle), and alumni.
As a Distance Learning student I’d find it very useful to have some time, preferrably online, with lecturers and fellow students. My course arranged a couple of days where we could all go to the university. There’s a reason I chose distance learning! All I’m asking for is perhaps an hour once or twice throughout the course of a module.
Idea 3: Hold an online seminar where students, particularly Distance Learning students, can interact with lecturers and fellow students. If there isn’t an option available through the e-learning platform, Google Hangouts is a simple solution.
Anyway, I probably haven’t answered the question but I hope this might help in some way, shape or form. I’d be really interested in comments from lecturers but also other students. One final point is that I have no sympathy for people who can’t remember passwords or take the time to learn something new. If you, as a lecturer use a particular technology and think it will be beneficial/interesting then have the confidence to use it!