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.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Acquisition or Participation?

This is the third and final posting of my thoughts after reading the first chapter of
Collis B, Moonen J (2001). Flexible Learning in a digital world: Experiences and Expectations. Routledge, UK.
(For an online copy go to and search using the title.)

Sfard's models of education are very interesting. She talks about the acquisition model where the process of learning is defined as the acquisition of pre-defined knowledge and skills and the participation model where the focus of learning "is on becoming a member of a community of practice, learning from the community but also contributing to it" (Collis, Moonen, 2001 - from the book mentioned above). She makes it clear that tertiary education is currently heavily tilted towards the acquisition model, but that both models are equally important and necessary in the education process.

What I find interesting about this is that on reflection, the first year of our (18 month) programme is predominantly taught from within the acquisition model. This is important as the 1st years are learning new skills which must fit the requirements of Massage New Zealand - the professional body for massage in New Zealand. However the 2nd year is much more participative in nature. Our focus in this year is in supporting our students in their practice, business, and profession.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Flexibility within pedagogical categories

Carrying on from the previous post, I'm now going to discuss the next section of the chapter that has had some relevance to me. Collis has described 6 different pedagogical categories that flexibility may be extended within, and WWW-based applications that may be used to do this.

1. Course Organisation

It's suggested that a course calender is available on the web so that it can be accessed at all times.
  • We're doing that already, but there needs to be some limitation placed on updates to the calender - "Items on the course calender will not be changed unless they are more than 1 week in the future" or something similar

2. Lectures, Contact Sessions

It's suggested that highlights of lectures are captured as digital video and made available as video-on-demand, synchronised with lecture notes for students who are not physically present. While this is a fantastic idea for distance students, there are some issues that present immediately to me.
  • New Zealand's data communication infrastructure is not really up to the task of supporting streaming video
  • The process suggested above entails considerable development time for the lecturer on top of the time which they are taking to support the physical class.

It's suggested that follow-up reflections or questions can be posted and responded to at times that suit the individual student (e.g. the use of discussion boards)

  • I think this is potentially a very useful method of communication, however I have the impression that there's a fair amount of skill involved in managing a disucssion board, and am somewhat nervous about placing anything of signficicance into this context. I'll do it though, as in my experience jumping in the deep end is often the best way of learning.

3. Self-study, assignments

It's suggested that study materials are expanded to incorporate web-based media, and that students may be involved with this process.

  • We already bring our students attention to many web-based resources that we know of, but we probably could use these quite a bit more actively
  • I'm intending to get our students building a library of resources using from the 2nd term this year. We've put some time aside in the first term for students who are not particularly computer savvy to upskill themselves, and I imagine most of them should be up to using from term 2
  • Collis suggests collaborative assignments where students contribute resources to a web-space. If student's work was tagged to identify it I could see this being a beneficial learning experience for some areas of our course. The main problem that I see is that the students would need to learn how to use another software package. I come back to it again - how much time should I expect my students to put into development of skills that they are not directly related to the primary reason they are studying? (i.e. massage therapy practice)
  • Collis doesn't mention the creation of teaching resources. I see real potential in this area. It seems to me that the interactivity that can be provided by electronic media can potentially facilitate a much richer and more effective learning experience for some subject areas. I've started developing some on-line exercises for material that was previously taught in the classroom but should be more effective when students engage with it in an interactive fashion. I'm also interested in developing some e-resources which are fairly visual in nature, but am aware that this type of development will take considerable time. Perhaps this is a project which can be tackled once the online programme is up and running.

4. Major Assignments

The suggestion is that groups could operate within a shared workspace.

  • I'm not quite sure of how this would work, or what resources are available to facilitate this.

5. Testing

It's suggested that formative tests are made available with feedback provided relative to the answers the student chooses.

  • This kind of testing is a useful function of Blackboard. Some of the teaching resources I mentioned earlier that I am in the process of developing are this type of resource.

6. Mentoring, Communication

It' s suggested that the web-centre for the course can potentially provide an easy way to send emails out to course participants.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Dimensions of learning flexibility

I've been working my way through the first chapter of

Collis B, Moonen J (2001). Flexible Learning in a digital world: Experiences and Expectations. Routledge, UK.
(For an online copy go to and search using the title.)

I must admit the book covers a wider take on flexible delivery than I had previously considered.

Flexibility is firstly considered from the perspective of the learner in terms of 19 dimensions which exist within 5 main categories. Flexibility in this context means giving the learner options. The main concern I have with creating this type of flexibility is that giving the learner options often leads to an increased load on the teacher.

Category: Time
1. Start & Finish times
2. Times of assignment submission & course-related interactions
3. Tempo/pace of studying
4. Moments of assessment

In essence we will be providing another option for our students in this part-time/distance programme. This will lead to some flexibility in terms of start & finish times and tempo/pace of studying. Within these courses I am reticent to provide too much flexibility with respect to timing of assessment, as I could see this leading to fragmentation of teacher workload.

Category: Content
5. Topics of the course
6. Sequencing of different parts of the course
7. Orientation of the course (e.g. theoretical/practical)
8. Key learning materials of the course
9. Assessment standards and completion requirements

It's not really possible for us to be particularly flexible in this area, as most of our course material is predefined by the entry requirements of Massage New Zealand, the professional association for massage in New Zealand.

Category: Entry Requirements
10. Conditions for participation

Category: Instructional approach & Resources
11. Social organisation of learning (face-to-face; group; individual)
12. Language used during the course
13. Learning resources
14. Instructional organisation of learning

Again, I'm not particularly interested in building this type of flexibility into our programme. As I see it, providing the learner with more learning options is likely to require more time input from the lecturers (e.g. developing different learning resources for different learning styles - visual, audial, kinesthetic, reader-writer).

Category: Delivery & Logistics
15. Time & place where contact with instructor & other students occur
16. Methods, technology for obtaining support and making contact
17. Types of help: communication available, technology required
18. Location, technology for participating in various aspects of the course
19. Delivery channels for course information, content, communication

We are looking at providing some flexibility in this area, as students will be able to choose between the full-time class-room type course, or the part-time/distance online & block course. We are however not likely to provide much more flexibility than this for learners at least initially. I imagine we will have our hands full just converting the course to something that works in the on-line environment.

In reflecting over the many ways in which it is possible to provide learner-centred flexibility, it seems clear to me that there is a definate limit to how flexible an educational provider can be. Our planned course of action certainly has a very limited degree of learner-centred flexibility. I believe this is the way it needs to be for the reasons outlined - some regulatory, some based on the level of resourcing that is available.

Some Background

I guess at this point some background is in order.

My name is David McQuillan
I'm the course coordinator of a Diploma of Therapeutic Massage at Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand.

On-line delivery is not something which is commonly done within the massage industry. Our courses are fairly practical and hands-on. However we've had many enquiries from students who are interested in studying part-time or from locations at some distance from our campus. I'm currently working towards the development of a part-time/distance programme with practical work covered in intensive blocks, and most of the theoretical material delivered on-line. I believe that we should be able to deliver a programme that is at least as effective as our classroom courses with this mix.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Balance between innovation & effective learning

While the idea of using e-tools, and e-learning strategies have a definate attraction, one of the things I am always trying to consider is what best suits the students.

I've been exploring the Australian Flexible Learning Framework, which has some wonderful food for thought on the topic. A few examples of the options I've been investigating for our course are Cloze-type activities (potentially using Hot Potatoes or some other similar piece of software, although Blackboard does have this facility already), Web-based roleplays, and the use of Games in learning.

All compelling ideas, and potentially useful, however a large proportion of our students tend to have fairly under-developed computer skills. Is it reasonable to expect them to spend the time familiarising themselves with the on-line/computer environment, and upskilling themselves so that they can interact in this way? It all comes down to how much benefit will they get from this type of experience compared to the effort/time/money required for (our students to access it) + (our department to develop it).

I have no doubt that some types of electronic/on-line media provide much more potential for full emersion and engagement with material than a class-room lecture, but is it worth the cost?

Sunday, February 18, 2007



This blog is an attempt to record my journey into the world of on-line teaching/facilitation. I'll be posting my findings/thoughts on how what I learn may be combined with traditional massage therapy teaching to best suit students interested in this field.