This project was an assignment in MDDE 621: Online Teaching in Distance Education and Training. It was an independent 60 mark assignment where students could select their topic from a prescribed list. My topic choice required selecting two websites and comparing them as examples of good use of the medium for informing or educating their target audiences. Examples needed to be found which contained interesting (good or bad) features. The use of screen printing or capturing to illustrate comments was required, and if possible, alternatives needed to be provided for serious errors, or invented examples of better uses of the medium.
The most important principle for designing lively eLearning is to see eLearning design not as information design but as designing an experience.
Melanie Opmeer, Ronda Olds
"When It Works Well: Comparison of Two Online Education Websites"
Click the above image to
experience the introduction video for
SW290 Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse – Disasters, Catastrophes, and Human Behaviour
I chose this artefact because it represents a strong and positive collaborative memory. This assignment was not originally a collaborative one, but because of my recent experience in MDDE 665, I had asked the instructor if she would consider making it an option (4.7). In hindsight, this demonstrates my growth in the program as I did not gravitate toward group work in the beginning, making sure that I only chose independent assignment options, when given the choice. Additionally, I knew that I wanted to compare two on-line learning programs and that one would focus on the SW290 Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse – Disasters, Catastrophes, and Human Behaviour course, as offered by Michigan State University. I felt that this course epitomized the goals of curriculum design and the interactive, constructive learning experience. I was so excited about the topic that I wanted to share it with a colleague who I had met within the MDDE program. There is an abundance of learning choices on the web and our goal became to juxtapose a highly engaging and interactive learning experience with the independent study popularity of lynda.com, and to demonstrate why both offer great use of the website medium. This process took us through the controversy that designers face of whether to offer individual or social learning experiences. The interview process with the designers of the Michigan State University course was a highlight, and this artefact creation demonstrates how much learning can take place outside of the course content, but within assignment development, and the collaborative experience.
The collaborative (4.5) process was rewarding and the distribution of the workload made the process seamless allowing us to outline and write our paper in less than four days. We relied on Google docs, Skype, email and the phone for (3.1) synchronous and asynchronous communication. This was a victory when other papers had often times taken me two weeks. My excitement for our topic and my new found strategies for organizing and writing papers made the process enjoyable. One personal strategy that had changed for me was to look ahead at assignments and to then synthesize (5.6) course readings with purpose, making note of citations along the way that could support various (1.7, 1.9) sections of upcoming papers.
Our comparison (1.6) of SW290 and lynda.com had us developing two different strategies for research. For lynda.com we needed to rely on the website and information found on-line that we were able to connect to our course readings. This was important for both of us because even though we were familiar with lynda.com, neither of us had engaged in any of the courses that it offers. The process permitted us to look closer at lynda.com and the training options offered therein. We both came to the conclusion that there is a lot within the lynda.com training system that we could take advantage of to support lifelong learning (1.4, 1.5) outside of formal course or program offerings.
The research for the zombie course was exciting and took me out of my comfort zone. I had become used to interviewing colleagues in my own work environment at Thompson Rivers University, however, this assignment required making a connection outside of my own institution with designers from Michigan State University. There was limited information available on their website regarding their course and I was concerned about making the most of the interview (5.9) time by asking the right questions (1.3, 5.1), ones that demonstrated at least a rudimentary understanding of the on-line course design process and pedagogical theory implementation. One thing that surprised me was the 6 weeks that were required to make connections with the team and to finally set up the interview. The hour and a half that Melanie Opmeer and I spent in a conference with the SW290 design team was a highlight of my graduate studies and left us both inspirated to convey what the designers had succeeded in developing for their course. I believed that we had found the holy grail of courses based on everything that we had learned in the MDDE program. This was such an inspirational experience that I have convinced my family to take this course with me and to collaborate with students from around the world.
While communicating with the SW290 course developers (3.1, 4.7) I asked for the above images from within their course to provide as examples in our paper. This was valuable because course access was not available to us and their images and links to video were critical (4.6,4.8, 5.7) for demonstrating the production quality and gaming-like environment that they had created to induce student engagement.
From a pedagogical perspective (2.1), it was very informative to compare two websites that present design and content from contrary viewpoints. SW290’s focus on an immersive student experience, in a technology rich environment, allowed me to see the collaborative interaction, co-constructed learning, and engagement touted in social constructivism and connectivism. The instructor is both an element of the course and a co-learner contributing to an organic and experiential environment. The critical review (5.3, 5.4) of the SW290 Zombie course introduced me to a new learning pedagogy-, M.O.L.I.E., which stands for Multimedia Online Learning Immersive Experience. This demonstrated to me, that like the design process, pedagogical approaches are iterative and constantly evolving. On the other hand, Lynda.com demonstrates the importance of offering independent study options for students that permit the flexibility and autonomy they need. Even though this use of medium relies on the self-directed and self-motivated learner (2.7), learning can take place. The contrary delivery of these two websites contributes to my understanding (5.5, 5.6) of why institutions cannot reduce their offerings to a single modality, and why they must continue to make learning accessible, even if it does not directly adhere to a constructivist approach.
Questions Asked in Our Interview
- Who takes your course?
- Describe the type of interaction that your course encourages (student-student, student-instructor, student-content, student-user-interface)
- What pedagogical theory/approach did you base your course design on? What are your learning outcomes?
- Describe the types of assignments students complete. Assessment?
- What is the instructor’s/facilitator’s role in the process?
- What technology does your course utilize? How much time do your students require to learn it? (p. 27 ch2 Design)
- What improvements would you like to make to the course?
- How do your students initially form connections in their small groups? (trust among the learning community)
- What is the motivation for student collaboration? Why do you have repeat course takers?
- How do learners influence the course conclusions? How is it never the same course twice?
- What is the nature of the course forums?
- Does student choice affect the direction of the course?
There is value in taking the time to get primary source information that is available through the interview process. In this case, it served to motivate and inspire me and made the development of the assignment a simpler process. I discovered through this process that student need is more important than adhering to any one singular pedagogical theory. It was rewarding to find an example of on-line course development that finds the perfect balance between knowledge building and technology to create an unforgettable student experience. However, though collaboration and interactivity are the goal of distance education, with the presumption that, together they promote meaningful learning, there is still a solid case for offering autonomous learning opportunities.
Images source: Christopher Irvin, 2015, SW290