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Michael terry: Online Delivery of Functional Skills (Theory and Practice)
 

Michael terry: Online Delivery of Functional Skills (Theory and Practice)

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Presentation given at RSC London Conference on 28 March 2014

Presentation given at RSC London Conference on 28 March 2014

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    Michael terry: Online Delivery of Functional Skills (Theory and Practice) Michael terry: Online Delivery of Functional Skills (Theory and Practice) Presentation Transcript

    • ONLINE DELIVERY OF FUNCTIONAL SKILLS- (Theory and Practice) An overview of the process of creating an online Functional Skills course and both the opportunities and challenges it provided. By Michael Terry, Online Literary Tutor, Essex ACL
    • INITIAL THEORY IN COURSE CONSTRUCTION  Plan was to create an online course that would widen accessibility to learners for whom normal classroom attendance was awkward or impossible.  Good for shift workers, people who have lost their qualification evidence, those with tight deadlines who need qualifications quickly, mothers of young children etc.  Over time, it has also proven a good option for those who start a normal course but who become unable to attend. It gives them an option to keep going instead of giving up.  Target is NOT necessarily those with heavy computer and/or online experience. A priority was put on making the course as accessible as possible.
    • EARLY DESIGN  Initial programme focussed on Level 2 literacy learners as they were considered the safest group to work with.  Hosted via Moodle.  Initial resources designed by experienced literacy tutor with sufficient ICT skills to create and operate course (also the writer of this presentation).  Resources were kept simple to maximise accessibility. Consisted of text documents (both factsheets and worksheets), audio files and a series of videos (recorded at a college) explaining various concepts.  Initial pilot programme of 25 learners
    • COURSE PROCESS  Learners can be assessed at their nearest centre or via an online assessment available at the ACL website.  All applications are personally vetted by Sonia Clark (Functional Skills Curriculum Manager for Essex) who asks a series of questions to ensure learners are suitable (e.g. checking if learner has adequate ICT skills, has online access, is not doing other courses etc.)  Eligible learners are sent a learning agreement which they post back to the college and are then emailed their log-in codes and a set of guide explaining how the Moodle site works.  When a learner uploads a completed worksheet, the tutor receives email notification. Sonia Clarke and the administrator for the course at the office also receive copies so they can handle the paperwork side of things.
    • COURSE PROCESS (cont.)  The tutor then marks the work and uploads the marked work and feedback to the website.  The learner receives notification of this and can view their marked work and feedback at their convenience.  Learners can contact the tutor via email for aid at any time. Face- to-face tutorials can also be arranged.  If the learner has completed a reasonable amount of the course and the tutor feels they are ready, the learner contacts the college and organises to take an exam as normal. They can attend whatever centre is convenient for them.  Learners have the whole year to complete the course and can work at their own pace. Those under heavy time pressure can be fast-tracked through with the aid of the tutor who will test the bare minimum to check they are ready for the exams.
    • THE COURSE TODAY  The pilot was a success. The course has now been running for nearly 5 years.  We currently have over 250 enrolled learners spread over Levels 1 and 2 in Literacy and Maths, and also Maths Entry 3. Literacy courses are so far more popular than Maths.  A pilot E3 Literacy course begins this September.  Pass rate so far this year is 100%  Literacy course has been adjusted over years both based on experience/feedback and also due to changing exam board requirements (originally designed for National Tests where no writing component was required. This is now a much bigger focus).
    • IMPORTANT DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS  The course is NOT a resource bank. Close guidance by the tutor is very important.  Unlike a normal classroom, there is generally no opportunity to engage with the learners whilst they are receiving information or whilst they are doing the exercises. The main point of contact for the tutor is after learners have submitted the exercises, often with elements done incorrectly. Exercises should be designed with this in mind.  Incorrect answers must be seen as opportunities for explanation and development- this is in fact the main process of teaching on the course.  I use two systems for feedback. I have a set of fixed, detailed notes explaining the answers to each exercise that learners receive on completing the exercise. I also give personalised feedback to each learner depending on their performance.
    • EXERCISE DESIGN  As there normally no direct contact with learners to explain things, the temptation is to make exercises easy to avoid learner frustration.  However, when exercises are all easy and nearly all learners are getting every question right, it becomes very hard to establish whether the learners are actually learning anything.  Exercises should be challenging (within reason). Learners getting every question right should not be the norm. The process of learning can best be seen in how learners' work improves after feedback, either between units or in repetition of a particular unit.  Some learners get all questions right and need no help. The best exercises are the ones that enable the average learner to understand why they find something difficult and how to cope with that in future.
    • EXAMPLE OF TARGETED EXERCISE DESIGN  The following is an extract from an exercise about Subject/Verb agreement adapted from old National Test questions. The questions have been answered by a learner, and I have noted if the answer is correct or incorrect. 9. Either Robert or Duncan is/are coming tomorrow. (Correct) 10. None of the instructions you gave me is/are very useful! (Correct) 11. The Star Trek fans' convention is/are just down the road. (Incorrect) 12. It is important to understand that reading leaflets, books and newspapers is/are a very good way to practise! (Correct)  This looks like a solid 3 out of 4 correct. However...
    • TARGETED EXERCISE DESIGN (cont.)  This part exercise was in part set up to try and catch people who were trying to 'trick' the exercise.  Questions 9-12 of the exercise were demonstrating practical difficulties of subject/verb agreement. The analysis of this in the factsheets read by the learners demonstrated how the agreeing verb was often the opposite of what 'sounds' correct.  Some learners latch onto this, and instead of actually thinking through each answer they simply pick the opposite answer to what sounds right each time if the question looks difficult.  However, question 11 was actually a straight question with an easy answer. A learner who gets this one wrong but the other, far more difficult ones right has very possibly demonstrated that they are trying to trick things in this way. I can then address this via feedback.
    • TARGETED EXERCISE DESIGN (cont.)  On the other hand, if a learner gets the easy question right and the other three wrong, it is very likely that they have no read the factsheet and are just answering every question based on how they sound. This can also be addressed via feedback.  This example shows two things. First, the importance of constant and attentive tutor feedback. Just as in a normal class, a tutor gets a 'feel' for what learners can do over time. Feedback must be much more than just saying 'correct' and 'incorrect'.  Second, it demonstrates how adapting an exercise to an online course is not necessarily a matter of technical expertise but just considering the way learners may approach and answer questions delivered online.  The exercise has been designed to maximise both the information it gives me about the learner and the quality of feedback I can provide in return.
    • CHALLENGES AND LEARNED LESSONS  Learners must be self-motivated, which we have no control over. It is not uncommon for learners to give up after the first set of exercises or about halfway through. There is no way to know whether a learner is suitable for online study before they try it, so this just has to be lived with.  It has proven difficult to get learners to submit writing samples- only about 50% of those who complete the rest of the course do this. As well as being essential exam practice, writing samples are also great opportunities to see how much of the course the learner has taken in. I intend to work on ways to encourage more learners to engage with the Writing section of the course.  Similarly, it is tremendously useful for learners to complete practice exams before they take the real thing. Learners are asked to do this but often do not (unlike in a physical classroom). This also needs to be encouraged!
    • CHALLENGES AND LEARNED LESSONS  The course needs proper technical infrastructure and support. Learners quickly become frustrated if the website is running slowly. Website delays also greatly increase the time needed to mark work. Lengthy website outages can cause learners to give up entirely.  Good design will make the course run much more smoothly. Currently I have to check each distinct unit separately to find work. A single page that listed all learner submissions in chronological order would be much more efficient.  Make sure all course materials are given precise file names! For example, my early files had names like 'workb', indicating a second worksheet inside a particular unit. However, whenever it came time to change the file structure when updating the course, I had a dozen other 'workb' files that caused great confusion!
    • CHALLENGES AND LEARNED LESSONS  The course structure needs to be very clear indeed! I designed the course with distinct Punctuation. Grammar, Reading and Writing sections, each split into several units. However, they could not always be approached distinctly without reference to the others.  For example, a very challenging punctuation unit about commas at Level 2 required grammatical knowledge about clauses and conjunctions. On the introduction to the unit, I made it clear that learners should do the relevant Grammar unit first. Some 90% of learners did not do this. Even after I later repeated the reminder in bold text on the exercise itself, the majority of learners try this exercise without the grammatical background needed and fail!  This is my failure, not theirs. Many learners clearly appreciate a straight line course progression without jumping around.
    • CHALLENGES AND LEARNED LESSONS  Speaking & Listening remains the area least suitable for online work. We do not have the technical infrastructure needed to run Speaking & Listening sessions online.  Such technology does exist (as used by the Open University to reach distant or disabled learners for tutorials). However, this would require all learners to have stable, high speed net connections and webcams/microphones. This is unlikely to be practical for now.  All learners have to do Speaking & Listening exams the same way those in physical classes do it- they come into the college and make their presentations. Generally, this has not been a major problem so far. However, it would be very difficult to aid someone online who has issues with making such presentations.
    • THE FUTURE  The courses are constantly evolving. The most important things to pay attention to are the things that are giving learners difficulties on the exams- both online and offline. Specific units can then be created to address the issue. This year's big issue is 'Compare/Contrast' and 'Bias' questions on the reading exam.  The next big step is the Entry 3 pilot. The lower down the levels we go, the more challenging the design work is. My main concern is whether my factsheets are at the right level of complexity for giving information to online Entry learners that I cannot constantly support.  Whilst simple document formats have worked well, I do want to experiment with more adventurous formats to aid those who may not find text files an ideal way to learn. The trick is to make sure no learner is shut out by not being able to run a programme.
    • THE END Thanks for listening Any questions?