A couple of videos we created recently to explain more about our approach to the elearning infrastructure and development:
eLearning Services Presentation
An overview of our experiences and approach to providing elearning services, training and certification:
ICT Services Presentation
eLearning Africa: Overcoming Challenges in Multimedia Delivery
The presentation I gave about an hour ago at eLearning Africa 2011 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania:
Elearning training at new ICE Addis
This afternoon Jaime and I finished delivering our updated Certificate in Online Education to over 25 elearning team staff from 7 universities across Ethiopia, who had all gathered at the new ICT and Technology innovation hub (ICE Addis) at the Ethiopian Institute for Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC).
We’d been invited by the on.e elearning team (part of ECBP), who have been setting up eCompetence Centres at many Ethiopian Universities. So was a really good chance for us to work with staff from other elearning teams.
We were really pleased how well the training went, all the participants seemed to enjoy the course. We arrived in Addis last weekend, but have been quite flat out with the training and meetings, so haven’t had much chance to blog. Heading up to Mekelle tomorrow afternoon, so for now will just post up a photo of all the participants – will post some more details in the coming days.
Creative Commons COE: download now available
As I mentioned in my previous posting, we’ve been spending some time recently developing a Creative Commons Certificate in Online Education specifically tailored to those teachers new to using online and blended learning. We’ve just released the first version of the course and made it available for download.
You can view the course on our Moodle installation at: http://moodle.alexlittle.net/course/view.php?id=13 (use the ‘login as guest’ option).
You can also download the course in Moodle (1.9) backup format from: http://alexlittle.net/blog/download.php?file=coe.zip so you can install it on your own server to edit/remix/reuse or deliver as-is within your organisation.
The course is still under development, there are many aspects that we’d like to improve, a priority will be to try and reduce the download size, currently it’s around 36Mb, which is likely to be too big for anyone to download on a dial-up speed connection. Any feedback on the course is very welcome and if you use the course materials in your organisation I’d be really interested in hearing about it.
Although this is the first release, we have delivered the content to several groups of teachers over the past 18 months in Mekelle, so it is a product of our experiences running these training courses.
So far, we’ve been delivering the course in blended mode: face to face workshops at the start and end with an online period inbetween. We’re also like to run the course purely online, so we hope to start a facilitated/tutored presentation of the course in the coming months. If you’re interested in participating in this then please contact me.
Development of Creative Commons Certificate in Online Education
Our original plan for delivering the elearning training in Mekelle was to develop our own Moodle training content, maybe not all from scratch, but at least the general structure and depth, reusing existing videos and open content wherever possible. Given the time constraints we had before starting the first training sessions, we were unable to complete writing our own content. Instead we licensed the MoodleBites for Teachers and Course Designers courses so we were able to upload this onto the servers in Mekelle. We did reorganise the content slightly to fit in with what we were trying to achieve, but this was far less effort that writing our own.
Using the MoodleBites content gave us good quality and well structured content and activities and has worked very well for us over the training we’ve been giving for the last 18 months. They’ve also been very helpful in providing a facilitator (Anna) for us to help give some alternative approaches and other perspectives on delivering course online for our course participants. They’ve also generously allowed us to use the content for limited groups outside our original license, without any extra payment.
However in the longer term, as we’re looking to provide elearning training and support to other universities in Ethiopia and further afield, it’s unsustainable for us (or the organisations we’d like to work with) to license the content at each new organisation. So we’ve returned to the idea of developing our own content, specifically, writing a Certificate in Online Education (COE) distributed under a creative commons license.
As with most other open content, the real value comes from the facilitation, tutoring and mentoring along with the actual certificate, rather than the content itself. We’re hoping to use our new content for the training we’ll give in the coming few weeks and takes into account the environmental factors (such as limited bandwidth, initial tutor skills/training) which are different when delivering elearning training in European or US organisations.
Our aim with the Certification in Online Education is not to produce a technical training course in Moodle alone, nor to provide solely elearning/pedagogy theory, but a balance between the two. The MoodleBites training, as it’s name suggests, is focused mainly on Moodle, leading to develop the Moodle skills necessary to complete the Moodle Certification. Our COE isn’t designed as preparation for Moodle Certification, but to provide teachers who have probably never written or used online courses a way in which they can begin to see what’s possible to provide effective (blended) elearning courses by using free software tools and Open Educational Resources.
I’ll post again once we have the course published and available for download.
Building University eLearning Capacity
In early 2009 Digital Campus started working with Mekelle University to help develop their elearning capacity. At the time, a few teachers from the Business College and Computer Science department had received training in how to create online course content and activities, but few students were really using online activities as a day to day part of their course. Given the rapid expansion of the university, the ability to deliver some course content and activities through blended learning, reducing the dependence on face to face lectures and improving the teaching quality, is a priority for the university.
Developing elearning skills
- 45 tutors completed certification
- more than 50 courses online
- visit the courses on the University elearning site
The Digital Campus team began a project to deliver the Certificate in Online Education to groups of teachers from the Engineering and Health Sciences Colleges, with a key aim being to create a team of elearning experts able to deliver the certification to their colleagues. The project focused on integrating blended learning activities into courses, rather than creating content for distance education, given that students generally have little internet access outside the university. The elearning training was given in parallel with a project to improve student computer access, after all, what use is putting courses online if students have no means to access them.
The first group of tutors were trained between November 2009 and June 2010 with 20 tutors completing the first level of the certification. The training consisted of 3 face to face workshops in November, February and May, with tutors studying online between the face to face sessions to develop their courses. Tutors delivered their courses online during the second semester of 2009/10, an important aspect of the certification is that tutors are actively involved in giving online activities and content. In our experience, training is too often given in a theoretical atmosphere, subsequently, skills learned aren’t put into practice.
The tutors on the programme were all willing volunteers, receiving no extra payment or other incentives, apart from the recognition of being awarded the certification. Our experience from the first presentation of the course reinforced our belief that although the training could, in theory, be given wholly online, a blended approach works far better. During the online periods there was a noticeable lower level of activity in the training. Entirely understandable, given the other workloads and priorities of the tutors.
The second presentation of the first level began in October 2010 running until March 2011, with face to face workshops in October 2010 and March 2011. Concurrently we began the first presentation of an advanced certification, for those who had completed the first level, with participants expected to be more self supporting (although the course still has face to face workshops and is facilitated for the online parts).
The next step is to continue to work with the elearning support staff, increasing their range of elearning skills and supporting their development of the University’s elearning programme, working towards the goal of the elearning team directly delivering the certification.
Testing alternative thin-client server solutions
The thin client solution we currently have running in Mekelle is based on using OpenSolaris and we have a variety of terminals – a mixture of SunRay 1′s, SunRay 2′s and Nortech clients. Using sun ray session server, the sunray terminals are performing well, but when we have the labs full of students, the Nortech terminals are significantly less responsive. There are a number of possible reasons for this, the protocols used, the network amongst others. There is a huge range of other configurations and technologies we could use to provide a robust and scalable thin client architecture.
I’ve spent a few days this week in Barcelona with Cast-Info investigating their Desktop4All solution, which we’re looking to trial as an alternative to the OpenSolaris setup we currently have. Goitom, one of the phds students from Mekelle will spend the next few weeks based in the Cast-Info offices, learning how to install and set up the server system used for Desktop4All, with a view to installing this when back in Mekelle in a couple of months.
Desktop4All, based on Linux, is a set of integrated open source applications. It’s likely to produce a similar end result to the solution that we already have running with OpenSolaris, but the main advantage for us will be in the support and documentation available as a reference. Testing out Desktop4All will give us the opportunity to collaborate in the development and to investigate whether we get similar types of issues arising as we have had with OpenSolaris.
When we started the Digital Campus project, I think there was some concern over whether the students would need much training in how to use a non-Windows operating system, given that much (all?) of their previous experience of using computers/pcs was with Windows (usually XP). This has turned out not to be the case, given that many students have had limited time to become locked in Windows, we’ve found few issues with students being unable to navigate the interface or use applications. I suspect we don’t always give the students credit for their ability to adapt to new interfaces and systems (especially judging by how quickly they find their way to webmail, youtube and facebook).