What I’ve learned about designing e-learning.

As is the case with most adult learners, the opportunity to work in an authentic environment has the most appeal to me. For that reason, I chose to work on a project that could actually be deployed.

My first topic was to be an asynchronous course that teaches basic information regarding the function and structure of Chesterfield County ordinances. Unfortunately, that topic and the limited environment available for its development and distribution did not allow the use of many opportunities available for online learning. Not only would that project not allow me to incorporate the components needed for successful completion of the final project, it would limit me from experimenting with alternate ways of utilizing technology for law enforcement education.

The result was a return to the drawing board and a new project. I chose to develop an online supplement to a face-to-face 40-hour instructor development course. This topic interested me because I believe that a blended approach to instruction can utilize the best of the two worlds that 21st Century educators and students live in, face-to-face and online.

Although intimately familiar with the content of the face-to-face course, packaging it in a way that effectively would use online components was more difficult than I’d imagined. Echoing the sentiments of many of my colleagues, I didn’t want to use technology for technology’s sake, but rather only when it could achieve the course objectives at least as well as, and preferably better, than not using technology.

A quick reflection here, in my first stint in graduate school I taught a class to teachers on using technology – of course in 1978 that involved showing movies, slide/tape programs, filmstrips and making overhead transparencies. We’ve come a long way, baby! Or have we really? Is PowerPoint really any more than a slide/overhead show? Is showing a video on a computer really that much better than showing one on a 16mm projector? Well, for one thing, computers can make editing faster but I believe that technology it’s only an improvement only if the quality and appropriateness of the content is better and supports learning. Is posting class handouts on Blackboard really that much better than handing them out in class? (Well, it might be for the people who don’t attend or who lose things easily . . . )

But I digress (as usual).

Now I had a topic, I needed a plan and a platform. The basic design would mirror the face-to-face class. The content would probably be either identical or pretty darn close.

Because we didn’t have any way to deploy a course that uses interactive components, I opted to design on CourseSites. I chose this for several reasons:
1. It supported the activities I planned to employ such as discussions and collaborative writing
2. It is made by BlackBoard and there is a chance that any of the students who may have taken college courses online would already be familiar with it
3. It’s free
4. It was a good excuse for learning about authoring in BlackBoard, something I have little experience in but a skill that I believe to be valuable.

Now it was time to jump in with both feet.

Another side bar – CourseSites, while fairly intuitive, still has a considerable learning curve. While I have been able to set up a basic structure, I know that I’m not even scratching the surface of what it can do. However, I’m determined to let the content drive the technology and not the other way around. As I find an activity that I think would be effective in the online component of the class, I’ll work to research and learn how to use that part of the CourseSites system.

After setting up my CourseSites account, I began to construct the organization of the online portion of the class. Would it be linear? Would it be discoverable? Would I allow students to look at it before the class began? Do I care if they jump ahead?

If I truly mirrored the face-to-face class, I would reveal the content as they class went on, allowing the students to build on the knowledge of the previous day. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone actually wanted to get a head start? It’s well known in law enforcement that general instructor school students must construct a two-hour lesson. What if they got some of the basic information out of the way before then came to class? Well, after thinking about it, if this was truly to be learner centered (as is totally appropriate when working with adults), then I owed it to them to put it all out there and let them choose whether or not to look at materials that had not yet been covered in class. For that reason, I chose to organize the class by topics rather than sequentially.

Once that decision was made, it began to get easier. I was able to look at the traditional course materials and consider which ones would be better suited to an online environment. For example, in the face-to-face class, we would build behavioral objectives in class with one person either writing on the board, on flip paper or on a computer. A more efficient system would be for the students to collaborate on objectives on a wiki and once finished, present the product to the class. This way more students could be engaged simultaneously.

Another consideration is the use of other instructors. In the face-to-face class, I bring in a member of the Command Staff (rank of captain or higher) to teach classes like instructor ethics or liability. Their presence is used to highlight the importance of the topics, however, I often would think of what a waste it was to have them present the material and leave. Getting those instructors to participate in an online discussion on the topic with the students after the class, will keep the dialogue going long after the class is over.

Student participation in the online portion of the course will be optional but I feel confident that these students will give it a shot, pun intended. After all, they are police officers and risk taking is part of who they are. My role as facilitator is to create the safe environment that will encourage them to step out of their comfort zones.

So, what have I learned about designing elearning?
1. It’s not easy
2. It’s very time consuming
3. It’s challenging
4. Nothing goes they way you planned the first time (did I mention that I’m still have trouble getting my wikis set up?)
5. Done right, it can provide a wonderful learning experience
6. It has to be done right. Bad online learning not only doesn’t meet the objectives but can negatively influence the students’ opinions of online learning.
7. Let the content drive the technology, not the other way around.
8. I like it!

A Steep Learning Curve

For my final project I am creating an online component for the instructor development course that I teach annually to police officers.

At the moment, the only system I have for deploying online courses in an asynchronous intranet which does not have any collaborative or interactive components. As result, and since I’m working in an artificial (for now) environment, I’m using CourseSites for my platform. Having been a Blackboard user for the last few years, I think it has an appropriate mix of features and functions that will make my approach effective.

The biggest challenge will be to acquaint my students who have not used Blackboard with the technology. The second biggest challenge is learning the instructor side of the system well enough to create a prototype for the class. Presentation next week!

Living the e-Life

Yesterday I was given the opportunity to serve on the comittee that will write the RFP (Request for Proposal) for the county’s supplier of asynchronous online courses. A few years ago, I was on the committee that wrote the RFP for the purchase of an LMS. In the few years since, the dynamics have quickly shifted from the purchase of two seperate and distinct products, to the desire to do it all in one package.

Once again, the learning curve is significant. I started by typing RFP into Google. Amazing! About 12,300,000 results (0.24 seconds). Perhaps a bit too broad. How about rfp for asynchronous elearning courses ? Better. About 685,000 results (0.14 seconds).

I’m overwhelmed (again).

Learning about Course Sites

Course Sites is a free version of Blackboard and the system I have chosen to organize my ADLT642 project. I am creating an online component for the Instructor Development Course I teach for the police department. Right now the course it totally face-to-face and I’m trying to move it to a more blended approach.

One of my main reasons for wanting to do this is to get students accustomed to sharing ideas online. I have long wished to create an online community of practice for law enforcement instructors in our department. Unfortunately, we don’t have any kind of professional networking software or an LMS so that’s why I’m working with Course Sites. Even if untimately I am not allowed to implement the course as written, the organizational components and content would be easily transferred.

Overwhelmed

I know this is supposed to be for academic reflection but I’m feeling rather overwhelmed today. The trouble is, I want to do it all! I’m wrestling with Jing and Adobe Premiere, ran out of space on my laptop (I never dreamed when I bought it five years ago that I’d fill up 140 GB) and have a list at least as long as my arm of online classes of various formats that need to be developed at work. Then there is schoolwork-and keeping up with RSS feeds and news and . . . I just need more hours in the day. Sadly, I cannot get by on just a few hours of sleep. Of all the things I miss about being young, I think that’s #1.

Yesterday, a training vendor asked if I thought law enforcement officers would tolerate a two-way online presentation by a well-recognized subject matter expert rather than have the man in the classroom. I commented that I thought it could work; his portion of the class is about 2 hours out of 16 and it seemed a cost-efficient solution. My major concern – technical difficulties. I’m not sure our network could handle it but it’s worth a try.

This is to me, a different kind of blended learning. A blending of face-to-face with technology but in a different format. In fact, it’s actually a very old format. A friend set up distance education classrooms 20+ years ago and for the time, they were the innovation and although very expensive by today’s standards, quite cost effective. Now, all you really need is a couple of webcams. I’m envisioning the facilitator as a conduit for questions since each student wouldn’t have their own connection (I know the network couldn’t handle that) but that could actually be a good thing.

Ah, the life of an innovator!

So many challenges . . . quite a day!

Today was quite a day. In many ways it was a combination of all the work I’ve done with online learning in the last few years.

To start with, I was working on the asynchronous course I’m developing at work and hit software snags. I was still using a beta version of my authoring tool (Outstart Trainer) and needed to upgrade. Then I had been using a demo version of some video editing software (Adobe Premiere Elements 9) and even though the full product had been ordered, it still hadn’t arrived so that created another delay. (It actually arrived this afternoon and was installed even as I was at VCU meeting with a key stakeholder for my ADLT 642 project but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

Then we met with a rep from a university – we’re looking at collaborating on a Master’s program that would be 51% face-to-face and 49% online with a cohort from our department taking classes together at our academy; saving them a chunk of cash. Now we have to review the curriculum and make recommendations for the course sequence and determine the delivery method for the different classes. VERY exciting. This will be a fun project!

THEN along with a classmate, we had the meeting I talked about earlier. It was GREAT! We learned so much and would have been headed in the wrong direction had we not had this meeting. It was worth burning some annual leave.

Whew! I’m tired!

So many thoughts . . . and an “Ah-ha” moment.

While reading the assignments for this week’s ADLT 642 course – I’m having a series of “ah ha” moments. The problem I’ve been having at work while creating asynchronous online classes is that I don’t have the opportunity to use a traditional instructional design model. I’m trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, rather than cut a new shape! The rapid design model talked about in the article by Tripp and Bichelmeyer (1990) has tremendous implications for online instructional design in a setting that does not employ nor contract with teams of instructional designers (in my case law enforcement) but demands rapid development of product.
Action steps:
1. I need to design an “application” for online course development that will help the individual(s) who perceive the need to synthesize their thoughts regarding the purpose of the class. It would also request the identification of the SME(s) that would be assigned to provide content.
2. For me, I need to recognize that the develop, test, revise, test, revise model must may be the right one — identifying that test group (our beta testers) and using the software industry as a model, realizing that it starts out as imperfect would remove a lot of stress!

Synchronous eLearning

Short and to the point. I have been in several classes now that have attempted synchronous communication and it has never worked, period. Someone can’t log it – someone’s network is too slow. I can follow the rules and “raise my hand” and the instructor doesn’t call on me. I’m not sold.

I have participated in for-profit-company-sponsored webinars and they have been a little more successful. In that instance, there is more of a “show and tell” then “answer questions” format.

Learning happens in spite of us sometimes.

YouTube and Law Enforcement

YouTube is a veritable smorgasbord of instructional videos for law enforcement. I use it on a regular basis to illustrate a point during classes. Sometimes the videos point out good or bad behavior on the part of the police officers and we can learn from someone else’s mistakes. But it is also a tool used by law enforcement and that in particular and the brave new world of interactive internet is something that I have tried to bring in to the discussion.

In a 2007 article in Law Enforcement Technology, Jonathan Kozlowski describes ways in which user created web content can be used both to deliver law enforcement’s message and as an investigative tool.

It’s worth a look.