Face-to-face to Online: A continuing journey of discovery and learning Dr Andrea M. Corbett Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki 1 email@example.comBackgroundAt this conference in Palmerston North last year I described the Institute I worked at, The WesternInstitute of Technology at Taranaki in New Plymouth as a government owned tertiary educationinstitution in a largely rural province of New Zealand. We have a School of Nursing providing thethree year Bachelor of Nursing degree with an intake of just over 50 students per year. Allteaching until 2009 was by classroom face-to-face lectures and tutorials. This presentation I gavelast year examined the experiences of staff and students when the decision was made to deliverthe 2009 Nursing Research Course, formerly a face-to-face classroom based course, to a fullyonline mode of delivery.
The decision to move the course online came from the Institute’s aim to increase the flexibledelivery mode of courses that was becoming part of course delivery through all schools,departments and faculties of the Institute. A development group comprising three persons wasformed to facilitate and support the development of the course. In a mere five months the Course 2was ready to be delivered.It was believed that using the existing Nursing Research core course text (Polit and Beck, 2006)and associated materials from the former face-to-face delivery would make the transition toonline delivery relatively simple. I related last year how this was not so. The course content wasdivided into a series of eight topics that progressively built upon one another. Each topic ran overtwo weeks and had a series of learning resources cited from the text and in addition had a numberof web-linked resources that supported the particular subject learning.
Each topic had a series of Tasks and formative assessment learning activities for the student toundertake at their own pace. The formative assessment activities, but not the results of the tasks,were submitted to the tutor for grading, marking, commenting upon and returned to the student.There were a total of thirty five of these in all. Yes I know that was far too many, however it was 3typical of the mistakes that were made in taking a face-to-face course and thinking it could berecrafted slightly and put online. The course was concluded with two summative assessments: thefirst was the critique of a journal article and the second the writing of a research proposal.It was felt important to evaluate the transition from the face-to-face mode of delivery to theOnline mode and a comparative analytical study was undertaken to effect this. There were anumber of assumptions that had been made about moving the course to fully online delivery andthese needed to be examined, tested and changes made for the 2010 and subsequent deliveries.
Last year in Palmerston North I reported on the initial evaluation of course results by deliveryformat between the 2008 face-to-face and the 2009 online delivery. There was a commonalitywith both forms of delivery that the students had no knowledge of the nursing research processbefore commencing the course. Of significance, which escaped us at the time, 84% of the students 4in the first online delivery had no previous experience with online learning either. This highlightedthe situation of student access to computers and the internet from home. This important issuewas highlighted at an NZQA and Nursing Council recent audit held at the institute. We are goingto implement a low cost buy option for those students without modern computer technology athome. It would take a benevolent sponsor I fear to deal with the lack of broadband telephoneconnection issues.There were a number of significant findings from an evaluation study undertaken with thestudents in 2009:
• Even upon completition of the course the online students felt that face-to-face delivery was best or useful and rated a high to moderate satisfaction rating based upon their optional tutorial sessions• The lecturer was considered good, passionate or knowledgeable on the subject 5• Many found the course content boring, difficult, or its relevance to practice unclear• Students stated that they felt they were unprepared for the course and had received poor guidance.In considering the comments of the students to the questionnaire survey the followingrecommendations were made for the 2010 delivery: 1. Hold a compulsory computer suite introduction to the course to familiarise students with the online platform, the course layout and introduction to their groups.
2. Have a dedicated session in group tutorial operation and leadership to include issues such as group members having an agreed time in which they would all be online together. 3. A reduction in Topic content of formative assessments and an equivalent time span for 6 completition. 4. A clear expectation of start time and close-off period for each Topic 5. Consider the appointment of an external partner to assess formative activities 6. Undertake a review of the two summative assessments.So what happened and where did we go?The first recommendation re a dedicated computer lab session with attendance made compulsorywas a huge success such that it became an automatic inclusion or the beginning of the this year’scourse. The advantage of this session was that with a dedicated elearning tutor students wereguided through the Moodle platform, what the course looked like and how to access materials,
download and readings, and then to submit their assignments. The “lack of preparedness” wasnever mentioned again.It was horrifying to professional nurse tutors who work in the modern evidence based practice 7environment to have students state that they did not see the relevance of the subject of nursingresearch to their practice. Taking these comments on board in the first tutorial session aparticular emphasis was placed on the relevance and importance of research to modern nursingpractice, the knowledge of which supported evidence based practice. Using examples frompractice, both of the tutor and from the students clinical experiences, helped all those “doubtingThomas’s to see the relevance of a knowledge of nursing research to clinical practice today, nomatter what the setting they were working in.
The feedback of boring was partially relieved by the session on the relevance to nursing practicebut a careful examination of how the course had been put together and subsequently deliveredwas made and considerable changes made after an analysis of this. 8We asked ourselves what was the purpose of the formative assessments? The answer was toassess the self directed learning the students had been undertaking. With 35 assessments in totalwe quickly came to see that many made the decision not to complete some of these due to thetime involved. We asked ourselves: “In this topic what learning do I really want the student topossess?”As a consequence the number of formative assessments was cut to 10. We assessed the Topiccontent and by a process of deduction decided on what was the key learning students should beable to articulate from their readings, activities and tasks. This has worked with an 88% returnrate (37 out of 42) on the assessments through the first nine of 10 formative assessments.
Each week the students have an option of a morning or late afternoon one hour tutorial session.In this session the first 20 minutes or thereabouts are spent reviewing the material that wasprescribed for learning the previous week, and answering any questions the students may have. 9Following this there are some tutor led exercises and discussions around the topic. The tutorensures that the material is current and in line with what should have been covered in readingsthe past week.What this means in practice is that students stay on track with the learnings required. If they lagbehind they are able to clarify deficits in understanding; if they have gone ahead they are pulledback with astute questioning that shows perhaps only lip service has been made to the knowledgeexpected to be gained from the readings in the Topic and they realise that they can only cheatthemselves by racing ahead.
An analysis of the rationale behind the two summative assessments was held with commentsought from other tutors and academics familiar with the subject. The value of the Journal ArticleCritique, the subject of the first summative assessment, was seen as being a support of theimportance of nurses working in an evidence based practice environment so having the skills to 10evaluate the evidence presented to them. There has been a total enthusiasm from the previoustwo cohorts of third year students who have had to conduct a literature review on a special topicof interest to them. They state quite unequivocally that without this preparation received duringthe nursing research course they would have great difficulty in undertaking such an essential taskin validating nursing clinical practice.There is still expressed desire from some students for an exam as the final summative assessmentin the course. Personally I disagree with this as I believe it is too easy to learn by rote and answeran exam. We have the students prepare a Research Proposal on a subject that interests them.
By writing a research proposal they need to demonstrate in actuality that they understand thedifferences between a research problem, a research statement and a research question;considerations to be made in selecting a sample from a population and the best method to goabout collecting the data from participants. They need to demonstrate an understanding of 11research methodologies and why this particular methodology has been chosen for this study.They need to discuss analysis of results and dissemination of findings. I venture to say that allthese aspects that make up a research proposal worthy of consideration cannot be answered in amere exam.I think the main lesson we have learned though is that nothing stays the same and we must alwaysbe ready to change with the environment and with the cohorts of students we have.Using some of the recent literature I would like to share with you some of our thoughts and inviteyour participation:
1) A competent academic and classroom face-to-face tutor is unlikely to have the skills to develop an online course for themselves: Lowenthal and White state that whilst this idea is rooted in the traditional history of course development very few people are in fact qualified to develop courses and be the subject matter expert. Online education 12 is a complex process and requires a different pedagogy to face-to-face teaching and requires technological expertise.2) Patti Shank (2005) reckoned there are some basic mistakes made in designing assessments for online learning and I think we did everyone of these – why do we keep trying to reinvent the wheel eh? The first mistake she talks of is expecting a bell curve. She believes that a bell curve is the result of expected outcomes from most instruction yet it is the model that might be
expected with no instruction. A mastery model instead assumes that most studentswill achieve the desired outcomes and therefore have higher grades.Shank goes on to talk of having the wrong type of assessments in our online courses – 13usually as a result of our years of teaching face-to-face. She speaks of the difference inknowing about and knowing how in types of assessment. Students can learn facts anda declarative assessment will discover whether they have learned that (such as anexam) or procedural where students have to formulate, determine and so on todemonstrate their knowledge. She cautions that many tertiary education tutors do notinfuse their courses with real world implications and skills. We learned this lessonwhen applying the concepts of research to support evidence based practice and usedthe example of moist wound healing.
The final thing I took from reading Shank’s work was to ensure that my assessmentswere valid in that they matched the objectives with the appropriate reading level. Ourcourse is level 6 and when carefully examined the knowledge expected of studentsmany of the formative assessments in 2009 had been at level 7 or higher. Is it any 14wonder we had non completions or poor completitions.Our practice is to review and grade all submissions within 24 hours of the studentsubmitting same. A number of our readings and discussions with experienced onlinecourse facilitators emphasised that direct feedback to the student stating whether theywere on track, had missed a point and so on, was of great value to the student andhelped to keep them engaged in the learning. Rob Kelly the editor of Online Classroompublished a collection of articles on student collaboration and in this the very strongpoint was made that students needed to interact with each other and with the content.In fact he states that “need to touch the content every day.” “They need to know how
they are doing and they want to know quickly.” “He made the interesting commentthat I could not help but agree with and that was “that student wants to know that thefaculty member cares about the student.”We decided on a review of the progress of learning in the course not to go with a 15formal group structure. This was occasioned by the simple fact that it was a verydifficult thing to get groups of students agreeing on a time when they all could beonline together. Asynchronous learning proved to be just impossible. Perhaps thisdifficulty was added to by the fact that many of the student cohort weresimultaneously undertaking a mental health praxis placement. This made the attemptto develop online discussion an extremely difficult task as many of the students wereon placement and not available. Working both ams and pms I gave the attempts away.
We strongly suggested that they form small study groups to help with the learning andto jointly undertake the activities and tasks in the topics.Most of the students were convinced that collaboration with their peers would be of 16benefit to them and many did form loose study groups of twos and threes or four. Inour introductory compulsory computer lab session to commence the course we hadspoken of the benefit of group collaboration and gave them tips on how to interacttogether, to problem solve, to criticise, assume responsibilities and organise andmanage their time. We saw that a community of practice had developed among thestudents and we were mere spectators, supporting spectators, on the side. There werefew who chose not to actively engage and the engagement of some students wasindeed on a must know or need to know basis – “what does this mean”, “do I need toknow it”, “I’ll ask Mary.”
Best practice was emphasised to the students of setting time aside regularly each weekto engage with each other and with the learning. How much time they should spendon the material in each Topic was also stated and within 30 minutes the materials andstudy time required for each topic was the same. This practice for us could not be over 17emphasised as it created an awareness of “must dos”, the expectations of the learningwe expected them to achieve, and reduced uncertainty.One other thing we insisted upon was that all communication with the tutor supportstaff was through the Moodle portal. No content based enquiries through general emailwere responded to in any other manner than redirecting the enquiry to the Moodleplatform.
And this led us to the, what is for me, is the curly question of social media sites andnetworking – the world of blogs, wikis, twitter and facebook.What is your experience? I have resisted the introduction and use of these to date 18however accept that like the dinosaur my attitude is fast becoming extinct and I needto see the benefits of these technological advances that are second nature to so manyof my students.I would be interested in your experiences.