Summarising the Seminars – my experience as leader and participant

Throughout SBOE module we’ve considered:

  • What it takes to be an effective online learner and great online teacher
  • How we can support our online learners through developing their digital literacies and various methods of online feedback
  • How we reach our students using on Social, Cognitive and Teaching Presences then debating how online communities can impact on access and retention
  • How we might engage with our online learners in the future

What we have all aimed to do, but not necessarily reflected on to any great extent until our evaluation results are released, is how we kept, and how to keep, our online learners engaged. From a participant (student) point of view it does appear that seminar engagement did take a dip towards the end of the student-led seminars and during seminar 1 led by the tutor. Also, throughout the entire module our VOH (Virtual Office Hours) were not well supported. Our module leader has already asked us to be involved in research around the engagement aspect of our online learning and I’ve indicated I’m very interested to participate, and also see the results of the research. When reflecting on one of the assessment criteria attached to this Blog: ‘identifying and articulating lessons learned for own professional practice’ I undertook online research on what ‘online experts’ recommend about the challenge of online engagement. I have uncovered some tips from GoToTraining, part of the Citrix Group, who have been actively engaging people online for 25 years. I decided it would be useful to measure their tips for keeping online learners engaged, against what we’ve been doing in our 4 online seminars.  Also against what I’ve been motivated to continue, and start, using in my own online practice. There were many examples of good practice but to keep this post from being too lengthy I’ve selected the best examples:

Tip Evidenced within SBOE activities and Evidenced through my personal practice in Tri2 14/15
1.Primacy – what learners learn first is essential to engagement – share the LO / goals In all student-led seminars we were encouraged and measured on the successful inclusion of LOs – published in introduction. I have become more aware of the need to make clear exactly what my learners will be able to do that they couldn’t do before undertaking a learning intervention.  I wasn’t always replicating my best practice on my new technology supported learning but now am.
2. Visuals – 60% of learners prefer visual to text-filled content The visuals were a big part of each online seminar but most memorable from Unit 4 (the future focused unit). As a result of my Unit 2 design work I’ve become more aware of the need to ensure I’m not infringing copyright and now have techniques to ensure I’m adhering to this.
3. Sounds – music has a powerful impact I found the videos in Unit 4 a useful way to learn quickly about a new subject. Not exactly music but similar and impactful. I’ve adopted a non-copyright ‘jingle’ for my newly designed Video Shorts (as described in my Blog on April 20th) to draw them together as a series and reassure my audience, through sound, what to expect e.g. short, sharp, information feed. 
4. Movement – keep engagement through activity and fun There were activities in all 4 units: from ADBs to competitive games (unit 4 being the most interactive and feeling the most like it adhered to the ‘movement’ rule/tip. My face-to-face training practice is very firmly based in interactivity and movement and, as a direct result of the SBOE, I’m now focusing on identifying online / technological methods to replicate this ethos to engage and support effective learning.
5. Emotion – stories and emotional context can help retention of learning Unit 3 gave the best example of how emotion and stories engages learners. The exercise in week 1 ‘Introduce Yourself’ engaged all the cohort, and I’m pleased to say that my emotion- inducing post ‘Bucket-list’ attracted 32 replies, with the next closest ‘2 truths and a lie’ attracting 18. This is not only an example of Social Presence but of Emotional Presence (CoI). I’m a big fan of storytelling to demonstrate or emphasise a learning point, and this exercise in Unit 3 has given me a new idea of online engagement.
6. Context – Engagement is greater if learners know WHY they are learning There were many examples of good practice for this tip throughout all the seminars. I consider that our brief introductions and links in Unit 2 were good context setters. Referring to my Video Shorts again, I developed the idea of informing my audience of why they were learning about the technique and how they should use it now or would use it in the face to face workshop. This method not only ties the ‘shorts’ together as a series but gives a purpose to watching them.
7. Humour – laughter and fun can be the best path to long-term memories In each unit ADB there was encouragement of humour and personal touch in posts, especially Unit 3 exercise on the use of emoticons. As a cohort I consider many of us engage our  readers using a little humour and often use the support of emoticons. I frequently use humour at the start of a workshop to: build rapport, take away any student uncertainty, and encourage engagement – this is something I need to consider the appropriateness of more carefully for my online practice, perhaps using video links with some humour might be appropriate?
8. Community – create a sense of this for learners to be more comfortable with what they’re learning and who they are learning with As you’ll be aware from previous posts on my Blog, community is a big learning support for me and as well as all units encouraging community through exercises, in Unit 3 we explored the theory and methodology using CoI. In my own practice I find it challenging to create a sense of community prior to learning intervention since the Module Leader themselves has often found it as much of a challenge. I currently have the opportunity with Napier Student Association – through the Internship Development Programme I’m developing for them – to lead a Moodle Module and practise creating a true sense of community. If I create a great online experience for these influential students, they can testify to the effectiveness of community online to other students.
9. Interaction – exploration of the topic and interaction with it All the units depended on the interaction between participants and some exercises worked better than others. For me the gamification in Unit 4 week 1 worked well, however I have also been reminded by the summary results of Unit 3 that not everyone learns the same way. Again interactivity is a cornerstone of the Confident Futures learning ethos and I’m constantly exploring how to translate collaborative interactions to online.
10. Recency – what learners learn last is important so a summary of learning is essential Unit 4 had the most effective summary section due to inclusion of the poll, and awarding badges. On reflection, our Unit 2 summary was quite simplistic and although it offered participants a method of self-summarising I would create a more impactful summary using some techniques I’ve seen since.
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