In an age where technological change is moving at an exponential pace, online learning has taken front and centre stage in the Higher Education sector as a key way to improve learner engagement and outcomes.
And as improvements in digital capabilities continue to evolve, universities must move beyond the traditional method of online education purely based for content provision, to a comprehensive engagement-oriented ecosystem for learning.
At Charles Sturt University, this is becoming a reality through the u!magine innovation unit’s Online Learning Model (OLM). The OLM consists of 7 elements and makes use of online technologies to engage all stakeholders holistically to ensure a connected learning experience.
Ahead of the 2nd Annual Online and eLearning Summit 2017, we caught up with Julie Lindsay, Quality Learning and Teaching Leader (Online) at Charles Sturt University, to find out the strategies being used across Charles Sturt to design and develop online learning in order to improve the student experience and maximise learner engagement.
The vision: developing an engaging online learning environment
“Our Online Learning strategy at Charles Sturt University is based around the need to provide an engaging online environment. Our focus is on engagement and interaction and this is at the centre of everything we’re doing.
We’re particularly focused on continuing to make the shift from being a distance education provider to being an online learning provider and a champion in online learning.
Online learning has a number of different learning elements and over the past year we have developed an OLM to increase student engagement, address some of the recent attrition issues we have experienced and provide more enhanced subjects and courses.
Our OLM has seven elements, which include:
- Learning communities,
- Interaction between students,
- Teacher presence,
- Interaction with professions,
- Flexible and adaptive learning,
- Interactive Resources, and;
Each of the seven elements of the OLM are designed to increase one or more types of engagement and combined together in varying degrees of intensity within the subjects making up a course. We are working on implementing these seven elements into subjects and courses.”
Creating flexible and adaptive learning through online platforms
“We are using a number of strategies to facilitate flexible learning online. We’re looking at different subjects and discussing the different elements of each subject with academics. For example, asking what are the learning outcomes? What do the academics want to see happen in their subject? Based on the feedback from these questions we can then build the types of environments and courses to facilitate these needs and outcomes.
One of the main elements we focus on all the time is establishing and fostering learning communities. This involves interactions between students and teachers and looking at how we can help teachers establish an online presence and identity, right through to being a fluent online practioner and understand emerging technologies that support online learning.
Creating flexible learning for students involves a lot of conversations with academics around the appropriateness of different online learning elements for a particular subject. It is not a one-size-fits-all. It is a flexible model which can adapt in terms of the needs of students.”
Keeping learning personalised through multi-media tools
“Our Learning Management System (LMS) Blackboard has certain limitations when it comes to creating a personalised student experience. So we’re working within the LMS, but we’re also going beyond it.
We’re scaling up the look and feel of our Blackboard interface by improving the design and presentation of our modules and working on a new discussion forum design and management within this tool.
We also have WordPress implementation happening across the University. It is called ThinkSpace and many subjects are now picking this up and using it as a blogging and journaling tool for students. This is also a tool that works in a professional context because students can export and take information away from this platform to their own WordPress website at the end of the course.
We’re also using a number of other Web 2.0 tools to provide interaction, collaboration, sharing and digital scholarships. These involve things like Twitter, Padlet, Ego, Flipgrid and VoiceThread. We are aligning these tools with the need for visibility in online learning. Tools like Flipgrid, VoiceThread and Padlet provide students with opportunities to easily post multi-media and share who they are, what they think and what resources they want to share.
It is also important to note that all these platforms can be password protected. While I tend to encourage students to make things as visible as possible, we still provide students with a choice. Some students prefer not to have work visible, so it is all part of digital censorship and digital fluency.”
Enabling students to shape their own online learning experience
“This is a big conversation in the University at the moment. Some students are telling us they just want to get the content, do the assessments, get the degree and leave when it comes to learning. Whereas other students are telling us they want to be collaborative, interact with peers and co-construct knowledge in an active, vibrant learning community.
We’re currently in a transition period where we are giving students choices to shape the type of learning experience they want. It is also important to provide opportunities for students to work with small groups. Some of our subjects have 500 students in them which can be very alienating. We’re trying to work our how we break down our learning community in smaller groups.
Some areas we are considering are: what is the best learning community size? How do we create communities within a community? How can we foster good interaction between students? This is where the understanding of the teacher presence to manage additional online tools and discussion tools is very important.”
The challenge: educating academics about the value of online learning
“Apart from the traditional student who simply wants to read a book and write an essay, the main challenge we’re facing is academics not understanding the importance of change to accommodate online learning models.
If they have not had the experience of connected and collaborative learning themselves, it is difficult for them to understand the value. The work we’re doing is to trying to affect this shift in academia as much as we can, because it is a big challenge.
To achieve this, we’re providing ongoing support and there is a program that we have to bring subjects into the OLM. We’re running professional learning and we’re scaling up certain courses across the university and taking both a course-wide and subject-wide approach to online learning.”
Interested in learning more?
Join Julie and the 2nd Annual Online and eLearning Summit 2017 where she will further explore:
- How u!magine is supporting interactive, flexible and adaptive learning for its students
- Leveraging multimedia tools such as Blogs, Twitter and VoiceThread to build an engaging content learning community
- Integrating the 7 OLM elements into subjects and across courses to improve the education experience
- Overcoming pedagogical challenges involved with content development, teacher presence and online learning modes