Monday, 19 May 2014

Week 5, Chapter 5: Quality Assurance in Blended Learning

Well, we're coming to an end of #BlendKit2014.  This is the last chapter to read, the last reading blog to write.  It's leaving me a little sad to be quite honest.  That said, I will still be writing about MOOCs once this course is done.  I still have topics to explore. I'm still taking courses and I am still interested in designing and developing blended and online courses.  As I have previously mentioned, I will be moving on to developing a program for adults with varying abilities which I am quite excited about.

Moving on...

Chapter 5 asks us to think about how we will know if our course is sound before teaching it. How will we know if it was effective once taught? How do we define quality? Success?

It's a little scary.  Because we can't. Not by our typical methods.

To start we have to define blended learning and what the best combination of online and F2F learning experiences happen to this point in time, it seems impossible to do.  What works in one course with one teacher and one group may not work the same if one of those factors changed.  We know those factors change regularly - even within one course (as a side note, I am taking one 9 week class that has been divided into 3 - 3 week sections, each taught by a different prof) - and that can change the dynamics and what "works".

If only creating a blended learning course was as simple as creating a blended beverage!

Various researchers have identified some things that can help construct an effective blended learning course:

  • Rigorous Learning Assessment (Riley et al, 2014)
  • Responsiveness to Learner Characteristics (Skibba, 2014 and Dziuban, Hartman, and Mehaffy, 2014)
  • Student Engagement (Vaughn et al, 2014 and Dringus and Seagull, 2014)
  • High Quality Faculty Development (Dziuban, Hartman, and Mehaffy, 2014)

So you design a course that includes rigorous learning assessment, etc.  How do you know if your course is good or bad?

Is it good or bad??

First, you have to stop looking at the terms "good" or "bad".  It's a cheap cop out to giving quality, constructive feedback.  It can't just be based on whether it met "sufficient enrollment, adequate retention, academic rigor, student success, student satisfaction) at rates comparable to face-to-face courses (as if meeting face-to-face is, itself, a mark of excellence) or to the level of satisfaction of an accrediting agency."  There are no universal standards for blended learning course quality.  If such a standard existed it would be hard to create a tool to measure it by - and even if you made a tool, it would be too time consuming to effectively use.

Using for-profit companies to host an online courses has led to their developing specific standards for online courses. Most groups have a checklist or rubric  and give a "summative, ordinal rating". Once  a course has been reviewed with the form, there is a punch list of things to improve before going live next time. 

It's very important to survey your learners at multiple stages of your course to give you a chance to adapt to their needs.

There has to be evaluations completed at multiple stages by the various stakeholders - students and peers who may be auditing the course.  We must remember that it isn't the design of the site or even the specific content (we know it will change and develop as the course develops) but truly the lived experience that allows one to review the quality of course.  It becomes imperative to ask a cohort to audit your online or blended course - someone who can provide insight and feedback that will help you better develop your course in future iterations.  Someone who saw what went right or wrong in real time (like having someone sit in on a lecture to give you a review to improve student engagement). Always close the course with a survey to determine effectiveness, perceived quality of content and teaching methods, usefulness of assignments or quizzes, how frequently they used the forums, etc.

Make sure your surveys can be completed anonymously for useful and honest feedback...

Teaching Effectively

How can you teach effectively in a blended course?  
  • By being organized in your class and in your LMS.  
  • Knowing the material (no different than in a F2F class).  
  • Clear communication (you cannot over communicate - especially online, explain and over can't go wrong!).  
  • Provide timely feedback in the forums.  
  • Return graded assignments in a fair timeframe.  
  • Admit your technological know how up front (people are more forgiving if they know you are not a tech expert) but make friends with people who can help you out if you run into difficulties.
  • Use the feedback that you are given by past classes.  Use it to change the material, format or your teaching style to suit the class.

To help in a diary...keep a word document on your laptop...whatever to store your reflections.  What did you do?  Did it work?  What would make it work better? Did you achieve a goal?  Did you fall short?  Why? Why not? Did you get assignments graded within your self imposed time frame?

We tell students to reflect on what they have learned.  We should follow our own advice and reflect.

Back to the beginning...

How do we know how "good" our course is?  Well...we don't know exactly.  That measurement will only truly be known by the participants.  And that will change from person to person, class to class, course to course.  All we can do is survey and ask for their feedback.  Then we must react to that feedback and adjust for the next time. And survey, react and adjust. Wet, lather, rinse and repeat.