Friday, 31 October 2014

The NZ eLearning Guidelines

I've been reading the eLearning Guidelines that are an Ako-Aotearoa project aimed at (a) the tertiary sector, and (b) at providing support for those involved in online learning.

The trouble is, the guidelines are intended for 5 different but audiences, but doesn't address any of them as it should. As a result, I find them very confusing.  This is taken from its own home page:
The eLearning guidelines (eLg) have been developed to assist the tertiary sector in its engagement with eLearning. The guidelines offer prompts for reflection from five perspectives - the learner, teacher, manager, organisational leader and quality assurance body.  When considering one of these perspectives in the eLearning and eTeaching process, the guidelines assist the designing, implementing and enhancing of your practice to ensure thoughtful and intentional eLearning provision.
It amy offer prompts for reflection, but it DOESN'T do it from 5 perspectives. I argue that it hasn't sorted its audience at all. I will use one of the perspectives (The Teacher Perspective) as an example. It leads with this rather tautological statement:
The teacher perspective asks you to consider your practice from the educator's point of view. It includes the development of teachers for eLearning, their different roles in the process and the evaluation of practice
Now, if I'm a tertiary teacher, I already know that this is my perspective - I want to know how these guidelines can help me help my learners online.  I've been teaching online and f2f for a very long time. Should these guidelines inform me of things I haven't yet considered? This statement "The teacher perspective asks you to consider your practice from the educator's point of view" is really no help at all. If I'm not an educator coming to these specific Teacher Perspective guidelines to help me develop my practice, who would I be? If I am an educator, what sort of educator am I?

When I look at the Designing guidelines, I'm faced with a series of questions, rather than guidelines. Let me look at these wearing the hat of someone who's a newbie online educator in my first 3 months as a polytechnic tutor from a trade. I have very little idea of what pedagogy is - but I know my content. I want to know what to do to start developing some online stuff for my learners.

There are, ominously, 13 TD (Teacher Designing) questions for me to answer. Not guidelines. Number 5 is this: Are staff development personnel involved in the introduction of new approaches, tools and materials? I come out in a cold sweat. I have no idea what this means. A 'new approach' to what? What is a 'new approach'? Compared with what? What if everything is new to me? What do 'staff development personnel' have to do with my class? What does it mean by 'tools'? 'materials'? Aren't I just using the internet and the institution's LMS? It gets worse. The 13th question asks "Do teaching staff engage in an online teaching orientation programme?"  If I'm a beginning online educator, how does this question help me design my online learning? These questions appear to be aimed at programme co-ordinators, not individual tertiary educators wanting some guidance.

If I go to 'Implementing' then I hope to find some clues about how I implement my online learning. Here is one of the questions: 'Do teaching staff introduce and support the development of digital information and technical skills relevant to their course?' Now, I'm not only not addressed as an educator, I'm asked to answer for my colleagues, but I'm no further ahead in knowing what I'm supposed to do and know myself as a new polytechnic educator.

This set of questions appears to me to be talking to a programme co-ordinator, not someone who's desperate to find out what to do to put a course online and understand the process.

Should such a set of guidelines use second person to address the reader in the role being talked about? Should the guidelines about each aspect (designing, implementing, enhancing, resources) focus on addressing the intended perspective? Incidentally, the acronym for Designing, Implementing, Enhancing is DIE. Add Resources and you have DIER - Should it be dire?)

I can see that guidelines for eLearning are a positive thing. But I wonder -are a set of questions actually guidelines? Are sets of questions that do not directly address the perspective of the intended audience of them, the right approach? Could guidelines be written a bit differently? And there are already some perfectly good sets of guidelines already in existence. Take for instance Gilly Salmond's series and now the new book by Bonk and Khoo already reviewed in one of Dianne's earlier posts. Dianne's own doctoral thesis, about effective online discussions, is also another fine resource, as are her articles on this topic. And on Slideshare is the Sidneyeve Matrix presentation Quick Start Guide for Online Students.  It is clear, straightforward and keys into student experiences for learning online.

Now that I've posed some challenges, here's one possible alternative to open up the discussion. For the Teacher Perspective/Designing list (Guidelines? No), might something like this better address an audience of educators new to online teaching:

You're new to teaching online? Here are some pointers to think about as you learn to plan for your learners:
1. Seek support from your LMS support team (Moodle might be your LMS) so they can help you get the best out of the online options available.
2. Ask yourself: What do my learners need to know in this topic? What will be different online from f2f? For example, you might need some demonstration videos to illustrate key ideas or processes. What already exists that's useful?
3. What do the learners need to read/have access to? Is this easily accessible online? How will their learning materials/tools shape how you organise the learning online?
4. How will you check for learning? What will be the best fit? (eg for factual or right/wrong answers, an online quiz might work?
5. How will you assess their learning?
6. If you know that they are are new to online learning, what will you do to help them?  
Of course, there might need to be different or extended options for an experienced online educator looking to improve and update their online practices. The difference between the questions and ideas above, and the ones in the eLearning Guidelines, is that I could more readily find myself knowing what to do and how to go about it. And what about including examples of effective practice in action? A TLRI project a few years did that, directed by Marcia Johnson from the University of Waikato. Models of practices with accompanying annotations might be very useful to other tertiary educators. After all, we know that context is hugely important in education.

Does anyone else have suggestions for developing the guidelines into something that an educator could use and springboard action from?


  1. I agree that the questions in the eLG are not really guidelines. But I quite like the approach of 'reflective prompts' rather than a dry set of guidelines.

    That said, I don't think the eLG prompts are always very effective as reflective prompts. I've been working on a simple Android app based around one of the eLG workbooks:

    In developing the app I decided to rewrite the reflective prompts to make them more open reflective questions and I note that yours (1 to 6 above) are somewhat similar to mine in this respect - eg 'How will you...'

    Do you know anyone in NZ or elsewhere who is using the eLG as a guide to good practice in e-learning? I haven't been able to find much online discussion of the eLG.

    Interesting post - thank you!

  2. Fully admirable blog, can be applied in day to life for further use,can be helpful for the person seeking the education by this method,thank you for sharing such a wonderful thought.

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