Friday, 30 June 2017

Workshop on Learning Design with Prof. Gráinne Conole


I recently had the pleasure of visiting Mary Immaculate College for the first time.  David Maloney from the Blended Learning Unit had organised a workshop on Learning Design with Professor Gráinne Conole, who is currently Visiting Professor at the National Institute of Digital Learning (NIDL) at Dublin City University.

The half day workshop aimed to empower participants to prepare courses for online and mobile environments.  The premise for the workshop, and the design process, stems from Conole's 7 Cs of Learning Design framework:
  • Conceptualise
  • Create
  • Communicate
  • Collaborate
  • Combine
  • Consolidate
Before the crowded room got to any actual design, we were asked to discuss topics such as the challenges posed by technology and how to ruin a course.  It was useful to hear the different angles with which users approached these somewhat loaded topics. I was seated with an educational developer and an academic, which proved to be quite the useful triad.  The educational developer and I, as a learning technologist, were able to work with the academic's course content to complete the exercise like we might do in one of our own training sessions or workshops. Many of the academic staff spoke extensively about how students affect teaching and learning, while so much of the work we do from the support side focuses on how the teacher affects teaching and learning,  

Next on the agenda was a pedagogical features sorting exercise that utilised materials from the Open University Learning Design Initiative (JISC-OULDI) project. Groups were tasked with analysing a course and determining which features were very important, somewhat important or not important. The cards were categorised as:
  • Orange = Guidance and Support
  • Blue = Content and Experience
  • Green = Communication and Collaboration
  • Purple = Reflection and Demonstration.
Participants were soon to realise that everything couldn't be labelled as 'very important'!

It soon became clear to participants that there was a necessity to balancing the categories and choosing pedagogical features carefully in terms of the learning outcomes, course content, platform, and assessment.

In the next exercise, participants were asked to design a typical student that might be taking the course:

Resources for this exercise can be found here.  Overall, the personas were quite specific to the variety of courses on which we were working.  In our case, we created a mature student working in early childhood education undertaking a blended learning course to advance their professional goals.  We assessed our students' technical skills and motivations before moving on to the final portion of the afternoon, creating our course map.
In this exercise, we used the four colours/categories to decide which tools we would use, and what roles/responsibilities correspond to the use of each tool.  I found this part of the day to be useful, as we had to triangulate the roles of teacher, learner and tool.  A recurring theme in our group was modelling of tools by the instructor, both technically and in terms of best use.  We found that communication tools such as discussion boards can often fall flat in terms of student engagement. This can occur as a result of a lack of exemplar content, rubrics, or modelling by the instructor.  We decided that students needed to see for themselves how the tool could help them learn, and not just earn easy points for participation.

While this might have been a whirlwind session, there was much to take away in terms of the relationship between the course, pedagogy, learner, and tools.  Events like this remind us to be cognizant of the many facets of learning design.  We must think about processes, relationships, skills, and attitudes.  Thank you again to David and his colleagues at Mary Immaculate College for hosting, and thank you to Prof. Conole for providing us with resources to use in the future.

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