Continuing our stories from the front line blogging project around the five main chapters from E-Tivities 2nd edition- Now AVAILABLE, Professor Armellini from the University of Northampton, shares his years of wisdom and his valuable resources for institutional change. We thank Ale for his time and knowledge in this very valuable piece.
Professor Alejandro (Ale) Armellini
Director of the Institute of Learning and Teaching
University of Northampton, UK
Alejandro Armellini is a Professor of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and Director of the Institute of Learning and Teaching at the University of Northampton, UK, where he leads institutional change in the areas of learning and teaching and learning innovation. His research focuses on learning innovation, online pedagogy, course design in online environments, institutional capacity building, open practices and pedagogical design. He has extensive international experience across many educational sectors. Over the years, he has provided extensive and specialist support to academic course teams through the structured Carpe Diem process, which he has researched and reshaped over the years, and other evidence-based learning design interventions. He has taught on and researched virtual learning environments and a variety of synchronous and asynchronous technologies as part of on and off-site programmes. Teams under his leadership have researched learning technologies and their application in diverse settings and programmes. He is active in consultancy work globally.
Connect with Ale (links embedded):
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your relationship to e-tivities:
Content is not king. What matters is not the content, but what students do with it to achieve learning outcomes. E-tivities provide a simple and flexible structure to enable learner-centred, task-focused design. Through a series of e-tivities, one can generate a scaffold that (1) aligns learning outcomes with formative and summative assessment, (2) engages and motivates learners by providing them with a sense of direction and purpose, (3) can be easily adapted, transferred and shared, and (4) brings the key elements of summative assessment forward: it enables the tutor or designer to start with the end in mind, which learners always appreciate.
From my early days as a language teacher, task-based design focusing on what learners actually do, has always been an approach I have favoured. Designing for collaborative online learning in the 21st Century is no different. E-tivities provide the tools to do just that.
Interview Questions: Carpe Diem- A Team Based Approach To designing e-tivities and online courses- Experiences, Reflections, Examples etc for Carpe Diems
1. Tell us about your first experience with Carpe Diems and how you came to be involved with using them?
In 2006 I joined the University of Leicester. Although I had worked with Gilly Salmon in other contexts before, that was my first opportunity to have a go at building institutional capability in designing for online learning. One day Gilly gave me an electronic file that she called a "Carpe Diem planner" and asked me to roll out Carpe Diems, with the help of a research associate. Not much was discussed or rehearsed at the time.
Much has changed since then. A number of publications have come out based on Carpe Diem interventions and change. A few significant things haven't changed much, though: namely, the six stages that constitute the backbone of the intervention. The ways in which they’re implemented in practice, however, are rather different now.
2. What are the benefits to utilising a Carpe Diem approach to learning design?
“We’ve been messing about with this course for two years, with no end product. Only after going through this [Carpe Diem] process as a team have we managed to move forward and get it done”. This quotation (2013) is from a tutor who teaches a Skills in HE programme. It sums up a key benefit of Carpe Diem: it delivers the goods efficiently.
A few other benefits are captured in the table below:
3. What challenges have you experienced using Carpe Diems and what advice would you give to others in order to overcome this?
I've come across all of these (thankfully not always, and not all of them together!):
No magic recipe will overcome all of them: building a relationship with the course teams, showing the evidence and asking for an initial act of faith, all help. Very good facilitation skills are essential, as is a good resource bank to show as exemplars. Course teams normally build their own digital literacy as they take part: they see that as added value.
The key reason behind these issues is the widespread absence of rigorous teacher training and development in HE. For some inexplicable reason, many in the sector, at all levels, believe that because someone is an expert in a certain field, they can work as lecturers or even designers of HE programmes with minimum training or none at all. Not so. Teaching, including facilitation (in the seminar room, lecture theater or online), is a highly complex activity that involves multiple skills as well as expert knowledge. ‘Being reflective’ (which is the focus of much of the training available) is part of it, but by no means enough.
4. What (if any) unexpected outcomes (positive/negative) have you had with the Carpe Diem process in your learning design, courses, faculty relationships, or university culture have you experienced?
As a facilitator, Carpe Diem is a kind of thermometer, as it tells me what's going on in the schools and departments, which helps me identify challenges and act quickly to address them.
A good example of an unexpected outcome (positive) is that Carpe Diem offered me a platform to ‘push’ other strategic agendas at the cold face, such as openness and a range of innovative techniques for use within the traditional classroom setting. I trial these with the course team as my learners during Carpe Diem. Participants then lift those ideas and use them in their practice.
A good example of an unexpected outcome (negative) is the reaction by some staff that the university is ‘over-pushing’ certain agendas (e.g. design for online learning). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, some would claim, so leave me alone, and take all this innovation with you. [I am characterising a bit, but that’s the essence]
5. Do you have any specific tips or hints for developing good Carpe Diem practices or advice for Carpe Diem facilitators you would like to share?
A. Resist the temptation to shrink the process to less than two full days, with the whole team. Shortening it normally translates into one thing: a waste of time.
B. Keep the focus on one course or 2-3 modules within the SAME programme. Never attempt a multi-purpose, multi-programme Carpe Diem. Instead, tailor each one to the team you are working with. Gain their trust.
C. Remember that in some cases most of the ‘blueprint’ already exists - if not all of it. Don’t waste time on that if the course team already have an agreed and even approved spec, to the standards you would expect.
D. The storyboard section of Carpe Diem is the heart of it all. GET THAT BIT RIGHT. As a facilitator, if you don't know how to do this, ask someone who does.
E. Practice what you preach. Keep the master version of the Carpe Diem ‘planner’ as an online collaborative document, with input from all participants throughout the two days. That is the footprint of the process and the action plan for the future.
6. What reflections do you have on your thoughts of the future of processes like Carpe Diems and their role in the future of learning and teaching?
Such processes play a key role today. Carpe Diem is one such intervention that has changed hugely in the last 7 years, and will continue to change. Good facilitators, good tutors, will adapt it and make it work, now and in future. Bad ones will make it fail...
The apprenticeship model, which includes active shadowing, is one I have employed in the past and am using now, with some success. The key aim is to build capacity in excellent Carpe Diem facilitation for institutional impact (at Northampton, our version of Carpe Diem is called CAIeRO).
For other institutions to change, they need two things at least: evidence (previous success stories, research, case studies, etc.) and support. We have generated evidence over the years (we always need more), which can be used to persuade authorities and practitioners alike. Support can be offered via externally funded projects or consultancy. We have ample experience in both.
7. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Keep e-tivities simple. Simplicity is the unique selling point of e-tivities. Do not complicate matters by adding layers or "rows" to the basic e-tivities template! (Spark > Purpose > Task > Reflections & Feedback).
Remember that practitioners worldwide may use different names for similar concepts. I have actually met several who have expressed a linguistic dislike for the term ‘e-tivity’, so they choose other terms.
Forcing course teams to ‘come clean’ on an e-tivity’s purpose right at the start (for example, at the storyboarding phase) is illuminating to them. They seem to have a tendency to say ‘e-tivity about X’ while they’re planning. Actually, getting them to articulate a clear purpose invites them to sharpen their saw and saves them time later, when they translate those ‘purposes’ into actual devices.
When storyboarding, present a blank template, using an agreed slide with appropriate transitions, in this order:
Learning outcomes >
Scaffold through e-tivities >
Evidence of alignment >
Content (for use within the e-tivities) >
A bit like my slide below, with the right animations: