This update is a personal reflection from my standpoint as head of e-learning and does not reflect the views of the academic tutors on the module nor the students. Having jotted down these notes I ran them past my academic colleague on the project and the learning technologist who supported the project and have added their comments after mine.
The students seemed to take to XOT very well and incorporated various media into their projects. Some students learnt a huge amount along the way in terms of digital literacies and they seem very proud of what they achieved.
One encouraging outcome.
The most rewarding outcome I know of is that two students, who work for a charity that visits nightclubs in Birmingham distributing leaflets about alcohol and drug abuse and sexual health matters, saw the possibilities of using the XOT bootstrap template to create a digital leaflet that can be accessed via a QR code on club-goers’ phones and we have been in discussion with the charity about how to host the learning object when it is finished.
LOs are being marked now
The project at Newman has now all but finished with the students on the Health Psychology module having submitted their learning objects. At the moment the tutor is marking them and I have yet to see the final outcomes.
Academics did not engage
I was disappointed that the academics involved in the Health Psychology module did not get their hands dirty with Xerte. One reason may have been that the academic who initially set up the project and who jointly applied for Changing the Learning Landscape funding with me, went on maternity leave almost as soon as the module started, leaving a new member of staff to take over. The new Psychology lecturer worked well with the students and with the learning technologist who supported them, but did not really engage with the software in that they have not created any learning objects themselves with it.
(However, I mentioned this to the tutor, who assures me that although she has not made a LO yet, she has assisted many students, watched many of the supporting videos and is confident that she can use XOT and will be using it in the future. )
I was also surprised that the students did not create individual learning objects. Instead they were told to work in groups. I am not 100% sure how this worked out and we (the academic lecturers, the learning technologist, myself and students) will have to review this. Group work had been employed in the module before when instead of using Xerte to create the LO the students had had to design a face-to-face workshop (so probably employed PowerPoint). The groups worked in the sense that students supported each other and I know that in many groups each student made sections of the LO and they were assembled later. Other groups shared a LO and took turns to edit it. However, I want to know whether it was possible for students who did not want to engage with XOT to opt out, do some non-XOT work to contribute to the LO (e.g. write text, design the learning activity) and still pass the module. As I say, I do not have the facts and figures just at the moment.
(Feedback from the tutor is that the reason for making the activity a group project was because it had already been decided that the module was over assessed and group work allowed the assessed work to be spread about more. It also encouraged students to help ach other with new technical challenges.)
Tech problem sharing LOs
We had some technical difficulties with XOT and groups. Nazryn (our learning technologist) understands this better, but we will have to review it for the next time we run the module. Basically, it seemed impossible for students to create pages in XOT and assemble them into one LO later. So one member of a group created a LO and then students took turns in editing it. However, on more than one occasion work was lost or a LO was corrupted when one student tried to edit it while another student had it open for editing. This caused frustration.
Although students were told at the beginning about plagiarism and copyright, and although these students are Level 6 students, I did see a number of students inserting questionable material into their LOs. It seems to me that while they understand plagiarism and referencing in written academic papers, when it comes to creating material on the web for the web and with materials available on the web, they think there are different rules. I have not seen any of the LOs that were finally submitted so do not know whether the images, videos or flash objects that students were inserting a few weeks ago were replaced or correctly referenced later on. It will be interesting to see. It will also be interesting to see if they will be penalised if they do use copyright-infringing materials.
From my point of view I don’t want anything included in the LOs that stops me making them openly available and guess that it might fall to my department to sanitize them before release. As I say, I may be fearing an issue that may not exist.
(Having discussed this with colleagues we realise that we need to address the issue of images and copyright, not only in XOT LOs but in presentations and written work. There are definitely misconceptions about what is acceptable and what not.)
The students had previously studied ‘Educational Psychology’ but I am not sure whether this dealt with learning design and want to discuss with the academic tutors. I suspect not. The standard of the LOs I saw seemed very high in terms effort put into them, quality of presentation and I guess (because I am not a Health Psychologist) the quality of the content. I do suspect though that some of the students felt obliged to use as many templates and as many bells and whistles as they could, without realising that sometimes less is better and usability might be improved if fewer templates were employed.
Ideally I would like to offer the students some feedback on their LOs from an educational technologist’s / learning designer’s standpoint, though I am not sure what feedback the academic tutor is providing – she is marking the LOs now. Maybe she will cover some of the areas I want to comment on.
I also think that students need some guidance about what makes a good LO. Perhaps this was provided (I am not sure) but if not, we need to make it available next time we run this module.
(On discussing this with the tutor, she said that the students did comment on and justify their designs in their Critical Commentaries, so I shall read these with interest when they come my way.)
Once is not enough
At present the students are not required to use XOT again but I would like to see it used more than once. One idea might be to introduce it earlier (these students were in their final year), possibly starting in year one and only using one or two templates, e.g. to create a quiz. This way students would develop their understanding of the software over time and by year three would be producing more sophisticated and subtler LOs. I plan to speak with the Head of Department about how we can achieve this.
(After discussion with the module leader, who is also module leader on a first year module called The Independent Learner, we agreed to look into the possibility of incorporating a Xerte activity into that year one module and to discuss with others where in year two we can add another one. This is the approach used with Mahara e-portfolio work and by using XOT we can address digital literacy in all three years.)
Beyond the Health Psychology module
It is fairly easy to ‘sell’ XOT to academics who want to create their own LOs and we have run three training sessions for academics – two run internally by Nazryn (learning technologist) and one run by Ron Mitchell. These attract the usual suspects – those who like to be at the forefront of ed tech use, those who are designing online courses and geeks who just like anything new and who may never use it. However, what I haven’t yet been able to sell is the use of XOT by students as a part of another module.
I am still hopeful though and am constantly pushing it. All our modules are being redesigned this year and all new modules must explicitly address digital literacy so incorporating XOT is a fairly easy way for academics to do this.
I’m hoping that when we present at Newman’s Learning & Teaching Conference next semester we will be able to encourage other module designers to follow Health Psychology’s lead.
One positive outcome of the project is that we now have an institutional XOT and the word Xerte is widely known at Newman and is as familiar as Moodle, Mahara and SharePoint .
Newman’s own XOT
We opted to have XOT hosted externally and started paying for the service in August. The way in which we decided to enrol our staff and students onto it was to link it to a Moodle installation on the same server and to network that Moodle to ours which in turn is linked to our Student Records system (SITS). It took until November to get the two Moodle’s connected properly and until then we manually managed enrolment onto the remote Moodle. This wasn’t a big problem because the numbers of students and staff involved was small. Now everything is fully linked we are set up well for the future.
Submitting the XOT LOs for assessment
We anticipated at the outset that the LOs the students produced might be too large to submit via our electronic submission tool (Moodle Assignment Activity) so we asked the students to save them onto memory sticks and submit these. This is common practice at Newman when the assessment is a large media file (We could not simply leave the LO on the XOT server because we needed to lock it on the due date and archive it for five years (university policy)). However, none of the LOs was huge in size with all the media being remotely accessed (e.g. via links to youtube) so they could have been submitted electronically via Moodle and we will probably change the Assignment Instructions next time the module is run to allow this.
We did have quite a few groups having problems exporting their LOs. The process seemed to work fine – the LO was exported and the files put onto a memory stick and that was duplicated so each member of the group had a copy to submit (One issue we had not anticipated was that only the Project creator can only export the project). However, in many cases the LO did not run properly from the memory stick. I think all the problems were fixed before the deadline but we need to investigate what was causing the problems.
(Since then we have upgraded to Internet Explorer 11 refuses to play the exported LOs. I posted onto the Xerte Community forum and Tom Reijnders explained that this is because xml data is dynamically loaded when viewing an LO, and this is flagged as a security risk by modern browsers when viewing the content from disk (so not using a webserver))
This is a great feature of XOT and although we discussed it with students at the beginning, there was not time to go into any great detail. I have the impression that most students did not really understand the issues. Certainly I saw some students trying to embed flash objects into their LOs without any consideration of accessibility.
However, to be realistic, this module was about Health Psychology not about learning design or web design and there was not time to cover all bases.
(On talking to the tutor about this, it seems I might be wrong since many of the students mentioned accessibility in their critical commentaries (which I have not read yet)).
I do not fully understand how the LOs are being assessed and have a meeting with the module leader next week to discuss this. Certainly I think for next time we ought to be assessing not just the content of the LOs but their usability and accessibility (if we aren’t already).
(After our discussion we agreed to look at this for next time)
Each week for six weeks there were workshops in which the students worked on their LOs and Nazryn and the academic tutor facilitated these. I visited them on a number of occasions and my impression was that the students found the project challenging and fun. Many students proudly showed me what they were working on and enjoyed discussing technical solutions. I did notice though that not all the students registered on the module attended these workshops so am not sure what they thought of it and how they fared in the assessment. Only time will tell.
Anatoli Karypidou who is teaching this module is conducting research into the students’ perceptions of their digital literacy before they started work with Xerte (point 1), after the submission date (point 2) and at the end of the semester (point3). She is just about to collect data at point 2. This research will be formally presented at a future date.