Monday, May 28, 2007

Moving on

I've decided to try blogging on Wordpress.

I like the categorization functionality that Wordpress has, although I'm not sure if I'll stay there. Wordpress was very slow throughout the account creation & login process. It could drive me back if that's the usual state of affairs. :-(

Monday, May 21, 2007

Learner & Graduate Profiles

I've been out of the habit of blogging, but we've got a meeting coming up for the Designing for Flexible Learning Practice module that I'm participating in. We've been asked to come to the meeting with Learner & Graduate profiles, so here goes.

Learner Profile

Our course attracts learners of a fairly wide age range. An approximate distribution is shown in the table to the right. The bulk of our learners tend to be in the 30-40 age bracket, but as you can see we attract people ranging from school leavers to those who are fairly close to the end of their working life.

With such a wide age range, there are typically people with quite an interesting mix of life experiences. Although every class is different I could say that there are two predominant cultural groups which our classes tend to be made up of. One group is sport-focussed, and tend to be much more interested in bio-mechanics, sports applications, and physiological explanations of massage practice. The other dominant group come from a natural health background, and tend to be fairly aware on and interested in alternative theories of health (e.g. energetic theory)

The next chart shows the gender distribution of our current class. Women definately dominate in massage classrooms, but the male component of this group is slightly lower than a typical group. I'd expect males to make up 20-25% of a massage class.

In terms of learning styles I like to use the VARK learning styles questionaire to assess our new students. The primary theme is always kinesthetic (as you would probably imagine in a subject such as massage), but other learning styles are also common (although I wouldn't say that any are really dominant).

Graduate Profile

We currently offer an 18-month diploma of massage therapy, however from next year we anticipate offering a 1 year certificate in relaxation massage & stress management, and a 2 year diploma in therapeutic massage. The graduate profile of the 1 year qualification will be roughly equivalent to the scope of practice of a Certified Massage Therapist as defined by Massage New Zealand (MNZ), our professional association. The graduate profile of the 2 year qualification will be roughly equivalent to the scope of practice of a Remedial Massage Therapist as defined by MNZ. Unfortunately MNZ have a new website and it does not yet list these scopes.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Interconnected learning

I've had a breakthrough recently which I realise I haven't commented on in my blog so far, so here goes...

I'm involved in a learning module at Otago Polytechnic which is called Designing for Flexible Learning Practice. As part of the process we're all supposed to be blogging our thoughts related to our process of discovery in the field of flexible learning practice. One of the exercises that we've been given is to make comment on the blogs of other participants (which I haven't done yet)

I was talking to Leigh recently about how I couldn't really see the point of this exercise. To me the process of visiting other peoples blogs on a regular basis to keep up with what they are doing seemed fairly artificial (disjointed?) as it's not something I do naturally as part of my online experience. Leigh said that he agreed, introduced the idea of RSS feeds to me and a whole new world opened up before me.

In a nutshell RSS feeds allow you to keep a track of posts to any websites that you are interested in without having to visit them. I've been using Internet Explorer 7. IE7 has an orange button on the tool bar which allows you to subscribe to any feeds which exist on the page you are on currently (the button is greyed out if there are no feeds). Once you've subscribed to the feed, it is stored within IE7 in your feed list. From time to time I scroll through my feed list, and I can see if there have been any updates (e.g. I can see that Rachel has made two posts to her blog recently). If I click on the feed I can see a summary of recent postings, and can get an idea of if they look interesting enough to visit the site & read them in depth. RSS feeds are now my primary source of news. I'm also adding sites to my list that are relevant to my subject area (massage), online education & rock climbing (my sport).

Leigh did comment that he felt IE7 was inferior as a source of RSS feeds, as the feed list was stored locally on your computer. He suggested an online server which I can't remember the name of off-hand (Leigh when you read this post can you please link to this in your reply?). After using IE7 for a while I can definately understand his point. While it is fairly convenient (short-term) to use an application that I typically always have open, when I go to work I no longer have access to my feed list. I can store the same feeds on my work computer, but if I update the list I'll have to remember to do this in both places (always a recipe for disaster). <>

With this all stated, I think it's time to get onto commenting on the blogs of a few others in the class.

Rachel - I've been really enjoying your fairly prolific postings.
In your recent post (Some Flexible Learning News from Scotland), I loved your thoughts on students downloading podcasts to their MP3 players

Matt - Thanks for your suggestion re: placing assignments in the discussion board section of Blackboard. I'm sure I'll use that.

Lynn - I was pretty excited about the potential for recording what you're doing on the computer so that students can view it at a later date after reading your posting on the topic. The only problem I have is that you have to pay to use Snagit, and I don't really want to purchase another piece of software just to do this. There must be some open-source/freeware that enables the same type of process. Does anyone know of something?

Lastly, I've just been reading an interesting article on Education 3.0. The article is an exploration of the future of learning. It predicts a greater shift towards inter-provider education amongst other things. Interesting timing - I've just been considering the potential of working collaboratively with other massage education providers within New Zealand (see my last post).

We're all taking our first steps into this new area. How much of what this article predicts will come about? I don't know, but it will be interesting to see how the field develops over time.

Monday, April 16, 2007


After my recent experience of posting an article to a Wiki, I've been toying with the idea of building an online course on WikiEducator for massage therapy. There are some amazing potential benefits that I can see from this exercise, but also potential problems.

I've spent some time recently investigating whether it's realistic to deliver our theoretical material online. As discussed previously, a large proportion of our students are kinesthetic learners. In our current Yr 1 class 83.3% of our students have kinesthetic as one of their dominant learning preferences as assessed by the VARK learning styles questionairre. I believe that this is fairly representative of massage education as a whole. As a result of my investigation ino online learning preferences, I'm convinced that well-designed online education has the potential to be at least as effective as F2F for our student's theoretical material.

The wiki environment is attractive as a course-hub, as it provides the capacity to integrate multimedia in a way which is difficult to achieve in the classroom. I particularly like the way that learning can be easily chunked. The traditional university teaching model is to provide the students with reading material that they are expected to read before class. The lecturer then presents the same material to them with an emphasis on the areas that they consider to be important. This delivery of information is followed with assignments which are designed to assess understanding of key concepts. This method of delivering knowledge is not particularly effective, as it doesn't take account of the students natural learning processes. According to Cognitive Learning Theory students can only cope with a small amount of new information at a time. This means that delivery must occur only in small chunks after which the knowledge must be integrated with the previously existing knowledge base of the student. While I believe that most massage educators (and teachers in general) have an intuitive grasp of the need for integration of knowledge as well as delivery of information, it seems to me that wiki's some real advantages over the classroom. The multimedia context of the wiki environment allows short readings to be integrated with relevant case studies/real world exercises/video/3D Simulations/Audio/assignments/tests - everything that can be done within the classroom, but much more as well. In addition to the integration possiblities, it is not possible for a student to be completely passive in their learning experience (an experience which university lectures unconsciously encourage). The online student must engage with and navigate through the wiki.

You can see that I'm excited about the opportunites here as an educator.

Another of the great advantages of Wiki-based education is that educational resources can be collaboratively built. We're considering moving at least some of our education online, and I know that other providers within New Zealand are considering the same move. If all massage educators in NZ were to work together to build an online massage/textbook/resource, the combined resource would inevitably be far superior to something which any individual provider could create.

I've been tossing this idea around in my head for a few days now. There are some problems which have arisen - some resolvable, some which I have no resolution for yet.
  • If the course content was freely available, how would you justify charging for your qualification?
  • Wouldn't this lead to conflicts between massage providers over poaching of students?
  • Providers have different educational standards & foci how would this be dealt with?
  • Some providers could use the material without contributing resources, thus putting them at a competitive advantage
  • Having your course material freely available allows non-participants to benchmark your course without you being able to have the same insight into their qualification.

If the course content was freely available, how would you justify charging for your qualification?

The wiki course is analagous to a textbook. Any online student will still need their lecturer to facilitate learning, and the development of classroom community (via discussion boards, computer support, email communication, elluminate tutorials, etc.). They will need practical skill tuition and will need to be assessed on both theoretical understanding and practical competancy. I see no problem with charging the same rate for a course that utilised an open-source wiki.

Wouldn't this lead to conflicts between massage providers over poaching of students?

Most massage education providers within New Zealand have a unique geographical zone that they operate within. In most cases it would be unlikely for a student from one institution to transfer to another institution because the travel distances would be greater. In any case why would changing from the use of a textbook to a wiki lead to an increase in "poaching"?

Providers have different educational standards & foci. How would this be dealt with?

There is a move towards a uniform standard for certificate-level and diploma-level qualifications in New Zealand currently. The registration requirements of our professional association Massage New Zealand mean that a certain level of uniformity is necessary. I believe that while there are bound to be conflicts and disagreements over wiki content, we will be able to resolve them. Peer review of posted material will likely slow the process of the creation of the resource, but will also contribute to quality. We should be able to create a resource which covers material common to all providers and that satisfies the requirements of Massage New Zealand. If providers are interested in extending this base in any area there is no reason why they cannot create individual modules which do this. Individual programmes could then pick & choose which modules they require their students to complete.

Some providers could use the material without contributing resources, thus putting them at a competitive advantage
Having your course material freely available allows non-participants to benchmark your course without you being able to have the same insight into their qualification.

The creation of open-source content advantages all providers who do not create the content. They do not have to expend their resources on the creation of the resource, but they are perfectly capable of using it. This is the major problem that I can see with this type of project.

This would cease to be a real problem if the majority of online providers were involved in the creation of the resource. In this case the benefits would far outweigh the downsides.

The other option for getting around this type of project would be to place your content within a wiki-type context that was only open to members. Members would be required to contribute a certain minimum to the project annually to retain the use of the resource.

Anyway, it's an attractive idea. The big question is can we as massage educators get beyond the us & them mentality?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Cognitive Load Theory & Instructional Design

I've just been reading a very interesting article on Cognitive Load Theory & Instructional Design by Dr Graham Cooper of the University of New South Wales, Australia.

The theory looks at how our short-term and long-term memory processes interact with the learning process, and Dr Cooper's article relates the theory to educational applications.

I came across this article when reading through a posting to the Networked Learning Google Group. The posting was from the Learning Technologies blog & was titled Ditch PowerPoint! The article quoted Dr Swiller from the University of New South Wales as saying "The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster...It should be ditched." However the impression that I've gotten from reading Cooper's article (the article that Swiller has posted on his website which describes Cognitive Learning Theory) is more that people tend to use power point inappropriately. In my opinion Power Point is still an effective method to deliver theory, diagrams and images. The problem comes when it is used without attending to the cognitive processing capacities of the learner. I've used the theory of Dr. Cooper's article in the development of some lecture material that I will be delivering next term using a combination of Power Point and in-class activities, and I'm confident that attention to these ideas have really lifted my game as a facilitator of learning.

Having said that, I can't personally see any place for the use of powerpoint in the online context. Everything that can be delivered via a PPT presentation can in my opinion be more effectively presented in a web form.

I haven't completely finished reading Dr Cooper's article, but those are my thoughts for now.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Modularisation & Flexibility

I had an interesting talk with Leigh Blackall yesterday about options for creating flexibility within our programme.

I've talked a bit before about how in the massage department at Otago Polytechnic we are planning to develop a part-time/distance programme. The model for this will be that our students will cover as much of the theoretical learning online as they can, then come to our centralised campus for block courses focussing on practical skill development & assessment.

Leigh suggested that the first part of the block could be based on assessment of theoretical learning that relates to the practical skill development. He stated that in his experience some students find it difficult to complete flexible/online assessments, and that it often works better to have an in-class assessment. I've considered this, and have decided to keep the theory to the online context for several reasons. Most of our assessments are done in the students own time anyway rather than in-class tests and this isn't going to change significantly once we move to online. Also our course is very practically focussed, and we really need all of the time that we'll have in these blocks to focus on practical skills (particularly for those students who need to travel from Central Otago).

An adaptation of the same idea that would work well for our programme is for the first part of the block to be based on practical assessment of the skills which the students learnt in the last block. We would also need to ensure that students had completed asessment for any theoretical materal which was relevant to the practical work.

Previously the idea has been that we can run this part-time distance programme, and also a full-time class-based programme separately. Recently however I've been thinking that it could potentially work quite well to make the block courses standard for all students. This would mean that we would need to run more block courses, which would provide more options for our students with respect to time. Leigh & I discussed this and went further to consider modularisation of online material. If we made the theoretical/online courses standard for all students this would allow us to potentially run the same course at several times through the year again providing more flexiblity for our students.

I haven't thought this through completely yet. There are potentially some problems. What about students that prefer to learn in the classroom? Also breaking the course up into modules that students may or may not enrol in will mean a greater administration load. On the upside these changes would mean considerably more flexibility with respect to time. Students would potentially be able to choose their workload. Distance students would be able to study full-time or any proportion of full-time that suited them.

Leigh was also talking about how some programmes offer taster courses to the public enabling the public to try out a subject before committing to a full-length course. These taster courses can either be offered via F2F short-courses or via our community learning centres. The community learning centres have historically offered computer training via the C4Free & Q4U projects. Some programmes at Otago Polytechnic are now looking at creating short courses introducing training in other areas to the community learning centres. The modularisation I've been talking about previously could potentially work well with this idea.

Interesting food for thought...

Facilitating the learning process of kinesthetic learners in the online environment

I've been neglecting my blog over the last month as I've been spending quite a bit of time researching the experience of kinesthetic learners online.

When we assess our students using the VARK learning preferences questionairre, the class is generally heavily tilted towards the kinesthetic learning preference. If you surf around the net investigating the experience of kinesthetic learners in the online environment most people seem to be of the opinion that this environment is suited to visual and reader-writer, but not audial or kinesthetic learners. Given that we are planning to create a part-time/distance course where a considerable amount of material is delivered online, I felt the need to investigate this further.

I've now created a resource which summarises much of the current literature on WikiEducator. Please feel free to give me any feedback on this resource that you might have, or further develop it. Additionally I've created a project on WikiEducator investigating learning styles on line. Currently only my resource is listed here. If you have knowledge or resources which relate to any other learning syles, please feel free to contribute to this project.