Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Trying to work out a research question for my OER project

I am still trying to get my head around the research project I am currently involved with. What we want to do at Otago Polytechnic is make our Graduate Certificate of Tertiary Learning and Teaching freely accessible on the Internet in an open environment such as Wikieducator.

Funding model
We've been delivering a couple of the program courses already in Wikieducator, such as Facilitating Online. Now we want to develop a funding model that continues to support free open access to the course materials but also allows people to enrol as formal students, and ensures sustainability of the program.

We have already developed a funding model for Facilitating Online that starts next week, as a pilot. But alongside that, I want to find out more about experiences of students in open access courses to inform our future work.

How to turn informal students into paying enrolments
Over the last three or four years, this has been our experience with the course Facilitating Online:
  • large numbers of people enrol as informal students, but few complete
  • very few informal students pay to become formally enrolled students
  • the facilitator spends too much time working with informal students as facilitator/mentor - the amount of time spent is not cost effective or sustainable.
What I want to know is:
  1. how to increase retention and completion;
  2. how to support informal students to become formally enrolled students;
  3. how to effectively support formal/informal student learning in a cost-effective and sustainable way.
What we know already
  • The popular open access courses that have been around for the last couple of years start off with large number of participants but these rates soon drop (Fini, 2009; Mackness et al, 2010). Question: Why is that? Is it a motivation issue or pedagogical (Siemens, 2010)?
  • Students learn by making connections with each other (Siemens, 2004) but they still want support from facilitators/teachers in the online, learning environment, especially those who are used to using technology or working in an "open" environment (Siemens, 2010; Mota, 2010). Question: How do we support students to develop the appropriate/relevant digital literacy skills; to facilitate learning without increasing teacher workload (McAuley et al, 2010)?
  • Facilitator/teachers use volunteers/fellow students to help support, mentor and/or teach other students (Downes, 2007; Couros, 2010 a. and b.). Question: Does this reduce the teacher's workload? How reliable and ethical is it to rely on other students or volunteers to teach students, especially considering the majority of students drop out from the "sharing" experience ( Mackness et al, 2010)?
  • There are a number of models of open access courses whereby students can participate as informal students with the facility to enrol as formal students, under-going assessment and gaining accreditation (Blackall, 2010; Taylor, 2011). Question: How is this working in actuality? How many students in these open courses actually enrol as formal students? What are the barriers, especially in terms of process (Cormier & Siemens, 2010)?
  • There are a number of funding models that are mooted to ensure sustainability of open access courses, including the "conversion" model (Downes, 2007; Wiley, 2007). Question: How many informal students do we need to participate and then enrol as formal students to make open courses sustainable, especially in light of the high drop-out rate?
I still haven't quite formalised my research question but the plan is to engage with past students of 'Facilitating Online' in order to answer some of the questions above.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has any ideas about this topic or is doing similar research. In particular, I'd really like to hear from educators who are offering open courses - what is your retention rate and how many informal students enrol for assessment and accreditation?


Jo said...

Hi Sarah

Ime the more students pay the better the retention and completion! Its not universal but imho they value it more if they have to pay.

Also imho studemts also put more effort in if self-funded than if their course is paid for by someone else eg employer!



jenny said...

Hi Sarah
Just my initial late night thoughts.
Have you looked into previous students motivation for doing the course? Did any of them have any barriers for learning?

I want to do this years course but still haven't signed up. I fully recognise the benefit of doing it but am currently doing an HND, have an exam at the end of March and have deadlines to hit by end May - so timing isn't great.

In the nicest possible way, it also helps if the course administrator responds to requests for info. (I could be wrong, i may have missed it in my SPAM).

My HND course has tutor groups of varying ability/experience, therefore, the more experienced students share with the newbies and support them. Longer serving students present to the new ones. It's a win/win. If I was always presenting to equally experienced students I would miss the issues the new students raise. Their questions remind me that I shouldn't assume they have a level of knowledge - a valuable lesson when I'm teaching adults for real.

With regard to converting students to the paid model. As I sit on my comfy sofa in London I have to make a decision on if I pass my hard earned money to someone on the other side of the world who's profile I judge by their online presence. (Which is of course the same dilemma my future clients will face when I offer online courses). Maybe a rate could be offered to previous students who have made a commitment to the course but who chose to come back at a later stage to gain accreditation.

jenny said...

Hello Sarah
Thank you for the tweets. I've been giving this some more thought and due to feeling pulled in different directions, I put it into a Bortons model of reflection and came up with the following.

If I sign up now I'm pretty sure I'll be setting myself up to fail due to timings. I really want to do this course and see it as 'breaking the mold' in my particular area of teaching.

Assuming you offer the OF course again, it would be more logical to do it later - and do it well.

The questions I had were related to rough ideas on how many hours a week the average student dedicate to the course and more info on the accreditation and if academic points are allocated.

Going back to my original comments:
Understanding motivation - Who is your target market? This is a powerful skill set in the commercial world as well as education. Have you spoken to (for example) and Sales Directors of large IT companies? I say IT as they need to demo products, deliver training, give operational support and their own staff often need technical accreditation in the chosen specialism so may sit online courses.

For me (again a personal view) the checklist of tasks for each assignment felt quite prescriptive. If I'd seen that there were particular activities happening at a set time/date and that in order to get the most out of that I should read/watch/research xyz in advance, that would have given me the control as an adult learner to manage my own time and take responsibility for my learning. This is by no means a criticism, but it just makes me think of different learning styles and to what degree adult learners need hand holding. (I often reflect on this type of thing!!)

I previously mentioned how in my HND the tutorials are mixed ability. I just wanted to point out that this is accepted as the norm and is seen as a successful model. It also leads to more collaboration, support, team building and gives the student a place to go if they want to ask what they perceive to be a daft question.

My only hesitancy with regard to wanting to explore online resources involved my perception of security as I think certain areas are open to misinterpretation/misuse (Twitter 140 characters, FB - judging popularity, access to personal info) I think many individuals underestimate the power of the online world. So for me, as a future online facilitator I need to consider if I fully embrace all aspects of online media or take the parts I want.

Anyway, I'm probably rambling and should be paying some attention to my 2 yr old who has been shoving toys in my face for the last 15 minutes!

Sarah Stewart said...

@Jo This issue is one I shall ask about in this research.

@Jenny Firstly, so sorry we have lost you somewhere in the system. If you wish to enrol, please email our administrator again - she says she hasn't heard from you. But I quite understand if you do not enrol - it sounds like you have more than enough on your plate :)

What you have highlighted is one barrier without realising it...and that is the difficulty we currently have in enrolling students from overseas. So before this open model becomes successful, we have to work out our internal and external enrolment processes.

Also, thank you for the feedback about credits etc. That information is in the course outline on the wiki, but I have now made it a lot clearer.

Not too sure what you mean by "Assuming you offer the OF course again, it would be more logical to do it later - and do it well." All the feedback about the course is that it is done well, but of course, I am always open to feedback as to how I can improve it. And as for when it happens in the year, what you have to remember is your academic year is different than ours down under, so not sure if there is a perfect time that suits everyone in the world.

As for the mentoring approach to teaching and learning, that is exactly how this course pans out, although it varies from year to year depending on the participants. But what you have to remember is that we're talking about enrolments of non-paying informal students which have notoriously high drop out rates. It is hard to measure this drop out...is it because the course is badly designed, or because students do not have the time...do not value the course because it is free...lurk without us being aware of it...pick out what they need without completing? All these things I want to look at in my research.

The course schedule is set up so that activities and readings build up to the assignments. The course is very experiential so learners get the chance to practice what they learn before they do it as summative assessment. We are quite prescriptive because the students tend to be very new to online learning and communication and need lots of scaffolding, but they have the ability to dip in and out depending on their own needs.

Thanks for your comments...really appreciated your feedback even if I didn't quite agree with everything you said :) :)

Clarissa said...

Hi Sarah,

Just enrolled, will miss the first call due to schedule but am working on being in the 1% of those finishing!

Thoughts re your Q from learner experience:

Orientation to learning pathway is important to feel assured you're on the right path and have covered the basics and can distinguish between optional extras etc.

Partly instructional design & partly facilitation. As a busy practitioner chipping away at online course during work, the static messages of facilitator before/after/between each step was SO good!

At all times I knew where we were, what options, what was next etc. And that there were times/places for comments moderated/

Net result? Easy to re-open, and know exactly what thread to pick up and follow on. So I could finish.

Could have done assignment to have it formally recognised at uni, but as a health worker, I just wanted to learn for practice. Hope that's of interest/ relevance somehow :) Clarissa

Kim Mc said...

Sarah I can say that the reason I completed FO2010 was simply because I was engaged on personal level early in the course. Your efforts to make comment and converse via blog postings made me feel valued for the thoughts and experiences that I could contribute. I believe that a mentoring program where past students provide encouragement and feedback to new students is a good way to spread the workload for the facilitator, but I am not sure how closely you would need to monitor the methods of the mentors (past students)which may in turn require more effort on behalf of the facilitator. I would be happy to offer support as a mentor, it would be an opportunity for me to further develop my online facilitation skills.
I look forward to watching FO2011 unfold.
All the best Kim Mc

Sarah Stewart said...

@Clarissa Thanks for the comment - interesting to hear your comments about dipping in and out of the course. If you're able to pick it up as and when you feel like it, that means the course design is effective as an open educational resource (OER).

@Kim thanks for your thoughts and offers to be a mentor. Please feel free to connect up with the FO2011 class.

I agree with everyone when they talk about designing the course to be social...to have mentors or make use of alumni. I agree with Jenny that people have got a lot more of of the course when they have connected with others...after all, that's what FO2011 is all about.

On the other hand, FO2011 is designed to be a stand alone OER. This means a participant should be able to come along any time of the year, work his/her way through the course, do the assessment and then enrol and apply for accreditation. The participant has to be able to do that on their own and not have to rely on being part of a scheduled class. I think that is very difficult with FO2011 because so much of the learning is around working with others.

jenny said...

Sorry Sarah - Only just read your reply to my comments.

My comment regarding "assuming you offer the course at a later date, would be better to do it later and do it well." - this was a comment aimed at me and not at yourself. In other words, with everything i have on my plate right now, i should be patient and wait for your next course, by which time i can dedicate more time to it and do it well instead of rushing it. Just wanted to clarify that I wasn't saying you should do it later in the year and do it better! You must think I was being terribly rude!

Sarah Stewart said...

Ahhh...the joys of online communication...LOL yes, I did think you were being a tad rude, I must admit... LOL But I must also say your feedback regarding the course information was extremely valuable :) :)