#ocTEL Week 5: If you only do one thing

Obviously planning is an essential part of the project lifecycle, but it is amazing just how easy it can be to forget this, at least partly, when people decide to jump in feet first and get carried away by their enthusiasm. As this MOOC has progressed, I have come to see this more and more clearly in relation to my own recent foray into online learning. I hope the last two weeks of the course will give me the possibility to properly analyze what we did well and what we could have improved on in order to modify the project before the start of next year.

I watched both the presentations from Imperial and found them very helpful:

 Institutional project – VLE Review project at Imperial College London, Julie Voce, E-learning Services Manager. (Length: 11:26) (http://panopto.imperial.ac.uk/Panopto/Pages/Viewer/Default.aspx?id=2d758da3-8589-40af-9e3f-90a458110649)

 Course level project – MSc Allergy programme at Imperial College London, Lisa Carrier, E-learning Manager. (Length: 21:02) (http://panopto.imperial.ac.uk/Panopto/Pages/Viewer/Default.aspx?id=1021807f-15d2-455b-97a3-762528b86e8f)

I also looked at Jisc’s Project Management guidance. (http://www.jisc.ac.uk/fundingopportunities/projectmanagement/planning/management.aspx)
In my particular project, the stakeholders were, the learning technologists in the technology and pedagogy centre, the dean of studies, myself as the pedagogical coordinator of the module and the other teachers on the course, the management and the students.
We used the technical resources of the centre – recording studio and outside recording equipment, and the technical knowledge of the full-time staff. We used Moodle as the VLE to house the online sessions. Most of the pedagogical input was provided by myself with the technical staff really asking me to explain how I wanted my lecture class to translate to the online environment. I suppose unconsciously we were using the MOSCOW system: Must Have, Should Have, Could Have, Would Like.

The way the project emerged was rather interesting and the result to a certain extent of chance – -the right people being in the right place at the right time, rather than real strategic planning. It also raised some interesting questions in relation to resources, notably my time and input, as I am not a full-time member of staff in the school. That raised questions about how I should be paid – each time the material is used or a once-and-for-all payment.

As everyone involved in higher education knows, things are never as simple as they seem and there are multiple layers of complexity but I’ll try and keep things simple. The school had made a management decision to phase out lecture courses and replace them by “interactive on-line sessions”. I wasn’t involved in that decision-making process and don’t know how it came about. A centre for technological and pedagogical development had been set up and a VLE (Moodle) was in use. The school has two campuses that are about 2 hours apart and at the bachelor’s level all courses have to be taught on both campuses. For me this meant that I sometimes had to travel for 4 hours to deliver a single 1h30 lecture or at best 2 lectures. My travel time is not paid.

I was very enthusiastic at the thought of being able to eliminate this travelling and transform my lectures into interactive, online sessions. I was also interested in the whole area of online learning. The management was also keen to reduce the amount of travelling between the campuses. As for the staff in the centre for pedagogical and technical development, they were looking for teachers who were willing to work with them to create online teaching materials, and they especially wanted a class that they could use as a shop-window to show people what they could do. My class on intercultural communication seemed to fit the bill.

So, all the pieces were in place and after a number of meetings we came up with a plan and a deadline. The first meetings took place in March and it was decided that the 3 lectures would be online for the first semester of the next academic year (September). The plan was clear and seemed achievable. The fallback position was simple – if the material was not ready, I would continue giving my face-to-face lectures.

As it turned out, we decided in June that we would not have all 3 classes ready for September and that there was a risk involved in beginning before that had been achieved – even if we could have continued working on the classes in the period September-October as the last class wasn’t scheduled to go online until November. Anyway, we decided to postpone the launch until the second semester and in the first semester I did my face-to-face lectures.

The methods we used to evaluate the project were the number of students completing the online sessions and a differentiated questionnaire – one questionnaire for students who completed all or part of the online modules and another for students who did not do the modules. This questionnaire is currently being administered. What we do know at the moment is that 67% of the students did not do any of the online sessions and this has come as something of a disappointment.

The project has certainly been a success in terms of showing what the centre is capable of producing and it has generated a lot of interest among colleagues inside and outside the school.

I think we obviously ignored one of our most important stakeholders in this project – the students. They were not involved in any of the stages of development of the project and were only consulted at the very end, once a majority of them had expressed their opinion by their non-participation.

The project is on-going and I suppose we can look at this as a kind of test run. We will take stock of the situation once we have the analysis of the questionnaires and we will use the project to encourage further and better developments. We will also take the time to celebrate our collaboration, which was immensely rewarding, even if we still have a lot of things to learn 😉

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