Phil Kerr, the CEO of Otago Polytechnic, spoke recently with the DFLP course participants about flexible learning and the direction for Otago Polytechnic. It was really interesting to hear about Phil’s own experiences of flexible learning (or blended delivery of courses) and his ideas about the why what and how of flexible learning. This post is my impression of the discussion that occurred with Bronwyn, Heather, Terry, Michelle and Phil. From the recording of this Elluminate session.
Why flexible learning
Flexible learning and blended course delivery is a key teaching and learning strategy for Otago Polytechnic. This will allow Otago Polytechnic to better serve the needs of the Otago region as opposed to just the city of Dunedin. It will provide an opportunity to engage with more learners. it is believed that this will enhance teaching and learnign and encourage greater learner autonomy and independence.
What is the vision of flexible learning
Phil described this as a continuum thus
Our place __________________________Your place
Our time _________________________your time
Our objectives _____________________your objectives
Our way __________________________your way
Lots of steps can be taken to move courses towards the right side of this continuum. We do not need to jump everything all the way all at once.
We need to take advantage of tools such as video conferencing, Elluminate, guided workbooks and other ‘traditional’ distance learning resources. Phil highlighted areas in Otago Polytechnic that have developed blended learning, for example CAPL and Vet nursing. Terry discussed the need to consider learning styles, in particular kinesthetic learners, in practical courses and the value of video which can then be played through mobile devices such as PDAs or Mobile Phones. All agreed that blended delivery with components of distance and face to face learning are very important however Phil said it was important to also consider the needs of students who cannot come to campus and need a total distance package.
How to move towards blended learning
Phil suggested we need to learn from examples of good practice. The most important and time consuming aspect of the process is the design phase. Structured to support independent learning with students. Students need to prepare for face to face learning opportunities which should be used to discuss issues rather than for the delivery of content. With blended delivery the lecturer becomes a facilitator for student learning rather than the font of knowledge. The lecturer is an expert resource who can direct students to useful learning resources. Phil agrees with the concept of curatorial teaching in a blended learning design as described by George Siemens. The role of coach comes to the fore, good at observing and giving feedback. We need to look at the balance of the teachers role in a blended environment, developing learner autonomy is a worthy objective.
We need to consider more closely formative assessment and reduce the amount of summative assessment that we require of students. Summative assessment is a highly stressful activity for students whereas formative assessment is supportive of independent and autonomous learning. Motivation is a key factor. Phil believed this is supported through the face to face component the courses. Bronwyn pointed out that motivation can also be supported through elluminate sessions and regular feedback to student work, for example blog postings. Students need to be scaffolded through their learning experience, starting with a lot of hand holding which we gradually let go as they move through the course and gain confidence and skill.
This audio recording was a really useful insight into thinking behind the Otago Polytechnic strategic direction towards flexible delivery of courses. It did not really bring up anything new for me but definitely reinforced a lot of the things I have been learning about and thinking about lately. It ‘tied the package’ together quite nicely. Definitely some thing to think about in my plan in relation to , degrees of flexibility (what is and what is not possible in this way) , encouraging learning for students rather focusing on content delivery (providing opportunities for them to discover, consider and discuss learning resources), building in opportunites for connection between students and with lecturers which are designed to motivate and stimulate students, think carefully about assessment (formative and summative). Clearly this is a complex process.