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Learning Environments Blog

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This blog will keep you updated with news and information from the Learning Environments Team (LET) regarding VU Collaborate or blended learning in general. Please feel free to log in and comment on any of the posts or ideas. 

VU Collaborate – a hit offshore

As we prepare to launch our Essential VU Collaborate training sessions for all WebCT users here in Melbourne (stay tuned for an email from your College in the next couple of weeks), we are already preparing our offshore partners for the introduction of the new eLearning Environment.   Over the past three weeks, we have been running hands-on training sessions for some of our offshore partner staff including Liaoning (China), CUFE (China), Henan (China) and Lithenhall (Singapore) to ensure that the changeover to VU Collaborate goes as smoothly as possible.    Our other offshore partner sites will be trained in June.

Henan33

Despite speed issues in some sites – which we are currently investigating with VU ITS and Desire2Learn – VU Collaborate has been extremely well received, and the staff who have attended training (including giving up their weekend do so!) are very excited by how intuitive it is to use and the opportunities afforded by the new system.    

 In addition to running the training sessions, we are also carrying out extensive testing of IT systems and networks at each partner site.  This will allow us to provide an extensive report to the University, the offshore partner sites, VU International and our Colleges about any limitations our offshore partner sites may experience.

 

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Designing assessment with VU Collaborate

Re: VU Collaborate, useful information

 This weekly email aims to provide you with tips for using VU’s new Learning Management System (LMS), VU Collaborate.  We will outline some of the new features of the LMS and provide links to the many helpful resources produced by the Blended Learning Team.  We have provided ‘play areas’ within VU Collaborate (sandpits) for you to investigate the new features of the system that will progressively be rolled out during 2014 to replace Blackboard (WebCT). Please note that most staff will continue to utilise Blackboard (WebCT) over Semester 1, and VU Collaborate will be available in Semester 2.   For further information regarding the timelines for VU Collaborate, please refer to the FAQ guide.

This week’s tip: Designing assessment with VU Collaborate

 The Blended Learning Team have developed an extensive help site with a range of resources on issues such as course design and management and using the assessment tools.   The assessment section covers such topics as submitting student assignments through the assessment drop box, quizzes, rubrics and self-assessments.  For more information, see the help guides for designing assessment.

First time logging in? Using your regular login details please access your VU Collaborate sandpit via MYVU Portal.

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Moderating successful online forums

As with face-to-face teaching within a campus-based classroom, teaching online through Learning Management Systems is an active process that involves planning and skill to create a productive environment for learning. The tools available to teach online have now been available for quite a few years, but in recent times have become far more intuitive, integrated, and understood within the learning and teaching process. Plus the expertise developed by students to work online; to complete tasks, to act convivially and productively in groups, and to communicate over distance, is increasing desirable as many more work environments become virtualised.

 There are numerous tasks that instructors can perform to promote the productiveness in Learning Management Systems. However, the integrated suite of tools in which they are made-up aren’t necessarily productive in themselves and there is a lot that instructors can do to promote their effectiveness to address teaching and learning goals. This partly involves the ability to recognise in the first instance what may work better in a face-to-face setting, and what may work better online. Then instructors must devise coherent, engaging, and convivial activities to sustain the group of students over time, both on and off-line, to work towards these goals.

What works online?

A suggested way to integrate the Learner Management System into a course; it is to first do an ‘audit’ of the curriculum. Tasks such as group writing tasks, discussions and debates, assessment tasks, and the active and critical engagement with content—such as academic articles—can be done either on or offline. It is up to the instructor to decide what mode works best for their particular content coupled with the assessment tasks and learning outcomes. There are of course, tasks that Learner Management Systems do particularly well, such as delivering of core teaching materials such as unit outlines and pre-recorded lectures. However other tasks, such as formative assessment (the informal assessment during tasks), Learner Management Systems also do well and there are an array of communication tools available in them to communicate directly to students, either individually or in a group, to aid this.

Pro-active interaction

Once a decision is made to integrate certain tools, such as forums or virtual classrooms, into the curriculum, it is important to consider how they will be moderated to ensure that the desired learning outcomes are met.  The instructor must take a proactive role to make sure that the interaction with content, the interaction between groups of students, and the interaction with the instructor are constructive and meaningful (see: Salmon; 2012). The tone and calibre of the conversations ensure students may contribute constrictive critique confidently, without the fear of derision or personal reproach.

Instructors should intervene in forums, to moderate and guide, to reward good ideas and drive conversations. This is fairly similar to what takes place in face-to-face tutorials, however there are new opportunities in online forums, such as, to summarise the debate, to reinforce common goals, to place links to content to reinforce or refute an argument, and to reiterate at intervals the benefits of contributing to the forum. Plus forum are in written form meaning they provide a reference point for pursuing ideas for subsequent written assessments.

But as with face-to-face teaching, it is also important to push, to a certain degree, the responsibility for course related material and discovering new information—and thus the responsibility for learning— back onto the student.  There is a danger that the instructor becomes little more than a ‘search engine’ offering quick answers to question in an uncritical, encyclopaedic way. Scaffolding, linking, and delivering information in an interesting and challenging way will promote information sharing between students thus assist in the building of knowledge through dialogue.

Building strong foundations

Online sessions may be framed as an ‘online seminar’ or ‘online tutorial’ and may be synchronous or asynchronous, again depending on the content and activities. As with face-to-face teaching, it is important to make the topic of study interesting, to ground the objects of the study in anecdotes, stories, and in real-life experience.  Also, couching the object of study in discursive dialogue between students will assist them in learning from each other. This may take the form of a group of students coming together in a forum to provide feedback on an article; to summarise and critique it, and then develop a set of questions to bring to class to further explore in a face-to-face meeting.  

In general, ideas should be presented to students in such a way that they make sense in the overall course and the substantive conversations directed towards the goal of the course. Activities may be collaborative or practice based, but always with a set of clear and coherent goals.  In summary, building a strong foundation from the start, the planning of activities and the introduction and explanation of online tools in their context will sustain students in the longer term. Both instructor and student are working towards common goals, with shared responsibilities.

For more discussion on moderating successful online forums see: Gilly Salmon, “eModeration: the Key to Online Teaching and Learning, Taylor and Francis, 2012

 

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VU Collaborate and Workplace Learning

 

The BLT has been investigating an assessment activity that workplace based learners undertake within a VU Trade course.  Within the current assessment process, students are given a workplace portfolio template that they fill-in with photographic and other evidence collected in the workplace. We have been examining how this portfolio template may work in VU Collaborate. We have discovered three key options:

The first option would be to use the tools available in VU Collaborate to complete the workplace tasks. The photographs taken, written descriptions, and completed forms could all be submitted via individual assessment dropboxes. Students can upload photographs directly from their mobile phone into VU Collaborate, tests can be completed online and automatically assessed and VU Collaborate tracks student progress making it easy for trainers and their students to track completed tasks.

The second option is to change the way that students submit their Workplace Portfolio Template. Student could continue to fill out the portfolio template, as they have in the past, but then scan the completed document and submit it through an assessment dropbox. While this may be the quickest solution, it doesn’t take advantage of VU Collaborate's new assessment, testing and tracking capabilities. 

The third option is to create the template in the ePortfolio tool in VU Collaborate. Templates can be ‘pushed’ to students to complete so they can place their written descriptions and photographs inside it. While the ePortfolio is a powerful tool, and does also allow students to create a presentation for their employers, this process is technically challenging compared to the other processes.

As VU Collaborate is made available it is worth considering the pros and cons of the different approaches as there are many ways that VU Collaborate can facilitate learning. VU Collaborate presents opportunities for both trainers and students and if well considered, may make work-place assessment easier by reducing the management of documents so to free up time for other tasks.

 

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VU collaborate, ePortfolio

This weekly email aims to provide you with tips for using VU’s new Learning Management System (LMS), VU Collaborate.  We will outline some of the new features of the LMS and provide links to the many helpful resources produced by the Blended Learning Team.  We have provided ‘play areas’ within VU Collaborate (sandpits) for you to investigate the new features of the system that will progressively be rolled out during 2014 to replace Blackboard (WebCT). Please note that most staff will continue to utilise Blackboard (WebCT) over Semester 1, and VU Collaborate will be available in Semester 2.   For further information regarding the timelines for VU Collaborate, please refer to the FAQ guide.

 This week’s tip: Using ePortfolio to record academic progress

 The Blended Learning Team have developed an extensive help site with a range of resources on issues such as course design and management and using the assessment tools.   ePortfolio, for instance, is a personal portfolio tool for storing, organising, reflecting on and sharing items that represent your learning. You can include documents, graphics, audio files, videos, presentations, unit work, etc. to demonstrate your improvement or mastery in a certain area.  For more information, see the help guides we have developed on the subject.

  First time logging in? Using your regular login details please access your VU Collaborate sandpit via MYVU Portal.

 We welcome you to view the Learning & Teaching website or contact the Blended Learning Team for more information about VU Collaborate, blendedlearning@vu.edu.au

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