Every year the psychology course team at Leicester organizes a conference for their distance learning students studying MSc in Occupational Psychology or Psychology of Work. Usually the conference attracts 25-30 students; this year due to the credit crunch 15 students were able to attend.
This 3-day conference, held from 29 April to 1 May this year, offers a really good opportunity for distance learners to meet their tutors and other students on the same course. I met a student from Ireland who told me that last year she met another student from Ireland who’s studying on the same course. After they went back Ireland, they started having regular meetings to discuss the course and study.
This year gave us a chance to give out a survey about student access to and their insights on how to use three particular technologies: Podcasting, Second Life and e-book readers to enhance the delivery of the course. Ten students completed the survey; while the sample is small, however, the responses are quite indicative to Duckling research.
Basically, students commented on how the three technologies have or might have contributed to their learning as a distance learner in three key areas:
• Improving communication with tutors
Some students have already listened to the podcasts, although these podcasts were only made available on Blackboard in April. Their comments are really encouraging, particularly with respect to improving communication with their tutors. Some indicative comments are:
“It makes the course less impersonal – e.g. listening to lecturer’s voice on podcasts is a big improvement than reading notes.”
“Podcasting – since in many ways it resembles direct communication.”
“Podcasts allow you to hear the tones of the conversation, and it is more (feels more interactive). I think it helps bridge the gap in aspects of distance learning.”
• Increasing mobility and flexibility in learning
Both podcasts and e-book readers are identified by students as ways to increase mobility and flexibility in learning. For example:
“Podcasts are excellent to listen to on the bus, for example. And e-book readers make it easier to travel, (and) still have the resources I would need.”
“I would think the e-book reader to have so that you can take a lot of reading material with you when travelling or waiting for the dentist. I do not (from my knowledge) think that e-book reader should replace printed books, but think it would an excellent addition.”
• Increasing the relevance of the course to learners’ contexts
One of the students thinks that the three technologies all have potential to provide on-demand learning to suit a learner’s particular context.
There are suggestions or expectations on future use of these technologies. For example, one student recommended providing podcasts for all modules and also podcasts for e-library.
Although the results are collected from an initial small sample group, they are reassuring. The results confirm what has been identified by the course team as their main challenges in curriculum delivery: increasing flexibility and mobility; engaging time-poor students; enhancing student-student and teacher-student interaction; and improving the relevance of the content and activities to learners’ contexts. There are some points here, perhaps, of wider relevance and interest to all online teachers.
Ming Nie 09 May 2009