And finally…

This is my final post relating the discussion held at our June workshop on Developing Online Research Training and Course Delivery.  I hope you have found it interesting although you will probably have seen already that the discussions posed more questions and difficulties than they answered.  Today I will sum up the discussion held on course structure:

Most of the issues involved in planning an online-only course are pedagogical in nature, and in many ways are similar to those that arise when planning face-to-face courses. An example of this includes the need to control the ‘learning curve’: with more guidance and ‘hand holding’ provided in the earlier components of a course (especially the exercises) changing as the course progresses so that the student receives less direction and are forced to think critically and with discernment for themselves.

The nature of exercises were discussed, and it was agreed that where students were forced to draw on material not supplied by the courses itself (e.g. from an archive or library) that it was important that the exercises be as generic as possible. This would also allow an element of choice on the part of the student, making the course more particularly interesting to them.

  • A seamless student experience was seen as being essential, masking any transition between technologies or delivery platforms that may actually exist.
  • Editorial control over the content of courses was something that needs to be thought about, both in terms of minor tweaks but also in terms of more substantial periodic updates. The content needs to be maintained – so for example if it draws upon external resources and those change, the content needs to reflect the changes.
  • Courses will need to be clear on their content, and the assumptions being made of the students (both in terms of their technical capabilities and their research skills level.

The costs and time necessary to create technologically advanced online training resources is also very significant (and often underestimated). Specifically it was suggested that certain elements of explanation (especially about performing practical or mechanical tasks within the course) – the kind of instruction that would take very little time in a face-to-face context – could be handled more speedily in a screencasting format than through textual description.