Kick-starting our stories from the front line blogging project around the five main chapters from E-Tivities 2nd edition- due out in June/July, first up we have David Shepherd- Director of All Things in Moderation.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your relationship to e-tivities:
What a good question!
Attempting to describe my relationship to e-tivities and think through my own background at the same time has been a helpful activity.
As a maths graduate I went into teaching maths for 2 years, as, in those days, having a degree was considered sufficient to educating grammar school children! I was seduced into the upcoming industry then called ‘computing’ as a systems analyst, quickly to be promoted into a manager of IT professionals! Suddenly I was in the business of managing and motivating people.
Interleaved with this was a growing family (4 children) and some 12 years as a local councillor with responsibilities in Chairing Housing, Social Services and then the Personnel Committee. Meeting people from a wide range of backgrounds and needs helped me to appreciate their situations.
At the same time I managed promotion, appraisal and management training within the IT department of BT (over 4000 strong). After a period of managing the BT management skills development Unit serving all managers, BT entered their period of downsizing and I took the opportunity of working for myself and joined the Open University as an Associate lecturer in the Business School.
It wasn’t a surprise that I had learnt something in 30 odd years. What was a surprise that I found the OUBS practised many of the teaching approaches that I favoured and had come across in BT..
Distance Learning demands an understanding of and empathy for the learners situation, clarity of structure , unambiguity of communications, a recognition that group activities add value and a desire to get involved with new technology.
I jumped at the chance to work on the B800 course (fast track entry to the MBA) and got involved with the new opportunities to work online! I worked with Gilly on taking the online aspects to the education market in the US. Part of this work aimed to simplify the OU course website, and develop tutor training aspects then delivered using First Class.
It was as part of my own education working with students on First Class and its subsequent development that I first encountered E-tivities, the structured activities that comprised the basic ‘lessons’ of the OU tutor development.
In short my background enabled me to immediately recognise the value of E-tivities. A relationship that I have been involved in for over a dozen years in helping academics around the world develop their approach to working with online groups. E-tivities enable design of courses that facilitate their approach to supporting their own students learning.
Interview Questions: E-tivites Chapter One- PAst, Present, Future
1. When were you first introduced to the notion of e-tivities and what was your first experience like with them?
This was during my development as an Open University tutor over 15 years ago. They gave structure to each of the activities involved. The activities were appropriate but the presentation of the sequence of activities within First Class (one of the original learning management systems used) was rather haphazard as little connection facilities were provided in the software. I suppose I had expected to understand the activities so as a relative newcomer to being a tutor I rather took their clarity for granted. With this introduction I could see ways to tighten the pathways through course material.
2. In what form do you use e-tivities today?
They are the basic building blocks we use in building our online courses at All Things in Moderation for academics around the world. Our E-moderating and E-tivities courses develop skills for successful e-moderating and sound online course design. For over 2500 participants so far.
3. What do you think is important about the role of e-tivities in online learning design today?
We are now on out 7th version of the E-moderating Course and the 4th version of our E-tivities Course, both are run wholly online to give participants the feel of being an online student. The framework has stood the test of time, facilitating the addition and deletion of e-tivities as our experience has grown and new facilities and new ideas as well as improvements become available. The courses have been run on most LMSs available. The well-established framework for online activities means that we and other course designers can focus on the challenge of working how we meet the objectives of courses with the full knowledge that we have tried and tested framework for building each activity within the course.
4. What has been your experience with e-tivities being used in professional development, and how was the use of e-tivities specifically helpful for this kind of training?
Although I have a certificate in Distance Learning and have been imbued with the Open University approach to Distance Learning I have to confess that I do not see myself as an academic. I have been motivated to use methods that work. I am happy that students learn by whatever means suits them. I have used outdoor management courses for senior managers, simple problem solving courses using post it notes as vehicles for learning, but I am convinced that the framework set out in E-tivities forms the best basis for design of sequences of online activities and can also help many teachers in preparing for f2f sessions. The constant use of the same framework for all activities within a course enables the students to become quickly used to the format and encourages quick focus on learning rather than having to cope with the peculiarities of the software platform.
5. What do you think are important considerations for using e-tivities in learning design in the future?
E-tivity frameworks provide a quicker route to development both for the participants and the e-moderator, as they are able to focus on the important issues in the courses and avoid being distracted by the IT aspects. In fact our courses are designed without any particular LMS in mind.
Use a variety of methods to communicate with participants (Blogs, forums, Wikis, email, podcasts, even skype) but remember many participants will need to socialise with each method in a straightforward way before using any method for serious learning. Aim for your students to login frequently rather than wait for alerts that tell them that someone else has contributed. Proactive students get more out of online course (or perhaps any courses) rather than reactive ones. Just as students get more from proactive e-moderators!
6. What advice would you give future learning designers and facilitators of e-tivities?
Focus on the learner and their objectives. Make access and navigation as intuitive as you can so that the IT aspects fade into the background. Offer a range of activities where all participants can make a contribution, even if they are late in taking part. Get feedback on your draft designs from colleagues and past students, my experience suggests the latter provide more telling comments. Reward them well!