when do you give up on a course?

For discussions of the Open University's T214 Systems course.

when do you give up on a course?

Postby Andrea on Tue Oct 12, 2010 11:43 am

I'm raising this question not from the perspective of a student, but from the perspective of an academic.

Prescriptions from high-level administrators direct lower and lower levels of investment in a course as it nears its final presentation. This is supposed to make economic sense, as fewer students will be affected by problems within a course, while the resources required to update a course remain the same (it's a pretty simple economic cost-benefit analysis). There is also the problem of tutors getting fed up with constant changes and having to "relearn" the material every year.

However, there is the ethical dilemma of giving students the best possible learning experience. This is even more problematic when your whole teaching approach is based on practising action learning, where you take into account feedback to optimise future learning experiences.

What to do? Is it time to give it all up?
esse sequitur operari
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Teiana on Tue Oct 12, 2010 12:49 pm

What to do? Is it time to give it all up?
in respect of...??

This part of your posting takes a twist on the tone of the rest, you start out generalising.. but this part, feels specific...(you didn't ask 'when is it time?' but 'is it time?' )

i have now done two 60 point courses and one 15 pointer which were all in their 'last presentation'. (and one notorious first presentation! :D :D )

As a student, being 'there at the end' does have its drawbacks. Dated course materials being the main one. Plus a sense of 'why bother' when issues are raised.. feedback forms seem like a waste of time.. if you complain something isn't right in a last presentation people just whistle and carry on walking..There's also a constant niggling wondering that maybe you're missing out by not waiting for the replacement.

I think courses ('modules') have to begin and end, i think they have to 'expire'. The idea of a completely constant course ('module') where the name never changed but the content was continually evolving ( Trigger's broom?) could be interesting, but i don't think it would be useful in a long term picture (if the names do change, and courses do get replaced, people Can, later, sit the replacements, giving a sense of 'up to dateness'...imagine if for example the course was called 'Undergraduate Geography' but was never given a separate name or number, once someone had taken it, ten years later if they signed for the same course, the content would be different, and the only way to show that would be to attach dates to every sitting (undergrad geo. 1995-96, for example) which would be just confusing and awkward on people's CV's) So regardless of whether courses are designed to last one year or ten, i think the current system of numbering them/naming them/changing the names and numbers for the replacement is correct.

So having established that courses need to 'end' - there will always for every course be a session/intake which is the last one. Why not have an overall 'You are sitting a final presentation' Support group? Rather than trying to pour money into the last sittings or wonder about how long to keep updating the stuff, how about those on a last presentation are just automatically put into a forum/support group for all ending courses. This would allow data to be collected about the overall effect these 'last presentations' have.. and perhaps make it easier for students to deal with issues that arise from last presentations..(but see below!)

I imagine maybe there's a curve, where people could (possibly) get an experience that would be say 60% good on a first presentation, rising to 90% on the second, then falling in subsequent years... to a point where the 10th year presentation are only getting a 40% good experience. However i have no way of knowing if it would be possible to plot this kind of thing with actual figures. Maybe they do, and maybe there's someone somewhere who has a 'this is how long courses need to last before you get serious diminishing returns things'.. And maybe it's completely arguable as to who gets the best deal, first, 2nd, 3rd, presentations.. or maybe they are all equally good but different experiences..

The Best tutors i have had have made me feel like i was part of some great experience, regardless of which 'presentation' it was... that they were glad to be there to support and observe our intake going through the process...
( i was in a pub once, with someone who was constantly flitting about the room thinking the grass was greener on another table, i have also been in situations where it's felt that the green bit was Right Here, Right Now..)
From my perspective the key is about not making students feel like they've missed something but making them feel as if they're right in the zone - and the tutors are probably the best way to make that connection felt. Now i can see there's possibly some issue with the idea of a 'last-presentation' support group because it might increase the feeling of getting a lesser product, but, i still think this could work in conjunction with enthusiasm from tutors. Quite how you enthuse the Tutors to Teach/Facilitate these last presentations might be more key even than dealing with the students or the cash.

perhaps.

(it's amazing what i can get around to typing when i'm supposed to be revising. Though i have back problems which are frustrating revision)
H.R.H. 8-)
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Neill on Tue Oct 12, 2010 1:32 pm

when do you give up on a course?

I am not an academic. I am a businessman so I wuld rephrase the question as
when do you give up on a product?
which is a question we are continually faced with.

My answer would be based on the product life cycle.
http://www.learnmarketing.net/plc3.gif
Once a product reaches maturity there should be the next product already in the introduction stage and getting ready to replace it.
The new product should be the result of all the feedback that was received from designers, engineers and the market about the old product. The new product is therefore a better "old" product.

I think you can map this on to courses in academia.
There will be a time when the course reaches maturity and is starting to get out of date.
You can "revamp" it by changing Deutschmark cheques to Euro cheques but what you really need to do is start the next course and talk about debit cards.

I think that as soon as you have a course up and running and through the first year, you should all be sat down preparing the layout for the replacement.

Just my thoughts.
Neill
Neill Hogarth
Life is not a practice [www.hogarth.de]
T307-10
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Teiana on Tue Oct 12, 2010 2:45 pm

neill - trouble is many 'new improved' products are far worse than the original. I could cry over all the things that have been superseded by things that don't do what they should.
H.R.H. 8-)
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Ercesuzan on Tue Oct 12, 2010 8:59 pm

Andrea wrote:What to do? Is it time to give it all up?


If you have doubts, I'd say Yes.
All for now, take care
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Andrea on Thu Oct 14, 2010 11:32 am

Lots of food for thought here :D

Teiana's point about tutor support is very relevant to T214. Although a few blocks have hardly changed since first presentation, submission rates and average scores for the TMAs related to those blocks have steadily increased over the last three years. So one advantage of joining the course towards the final year of presentation is that you will have extremely experienced tutors who will be able to help you out in very effective ways.

Neill's point about designing a new product in parallel with the product currently on the market is interesting because one of the major personal motivations I would have for making changes to T214 is to try out some new ideas which could be of use to a potentially new 30 point "systems for sustainability" course. For example, one idea is to have most of the teaching text as wikis (rather than static pages). In that way students could use the comment facility in each page and updates could be made real time based on feedback. I think this approach has the potential to radically transform the learning experience, but I would like to try it out on a limited basis before committing a new course to it.

But any change will undermine the tutors' knowledge of the course, as they will also be playing catch up. So, maybe a compromise measure would be to significantly limit the changes to the bare essentials....
esse sequitur operari
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Neill on Thu Oct 14, 2010 12:27 pm

one idea is to have most of the teaching text as wikis

Unsurprisingly I love this idea.

I am still working on the acceptance of the company wide Wiki at work but yesterday I just fired up a Google Site to coordinate a small project.
Nowadays I do not do much without a Wiki in support.
I am collecting information on a variety of subjects in Wikis and think they are great. The "aha" moment is when some one asks "how ...?" and I say "it is in the Wiki :-)"

The idea of presenting an entire course as a Wiki is brilliant.
In a post at viewtopic.php?f=6&t=440&p=4972&hilit=map#p4972
I wrote "
I especially like
- the idea of there being a variety of routes through the course. I imagine a path that meanders through the forest of wisdom but where you can take diversions to explore things in more detail. If you follow the main path you will get the overview and probably a 50% pass. The more diversions you take the more "understanding" and "practice" you will get and the more likely you are to do well. Diversions need to be well signposted. I envision a course map that really looks like a map with the main route running down the page and the diversions branching off.

I can see a Wiki being able to do this. All the information you need, could need or maybe need is written in to the Wiki as a flat base database and then there is a route through it that "leads you through the course". spam2!

Allowing the course team to edit as the course progresses is also a fantastic idea. No more errata. What you see is the best available information.
And allowing students to comment each page is stunning. Take a look at http://www.php.net/manual/en/install.unix.php to see this at work.

So as you can guess, I am very excited at this idea but now the "thought through" bit.
- every potential student has to know that this course is "on line". If you do not have a good Internet connection then the course is not for you. Not very Open but a fact. Maybe there could be a function to allow you to download a selection of pages to take with you on the train or where ever. Sort of take the next 10 pages and they work off line. (Technically possible - there are programs to do this with Internet pages).
- the Wiki has to be industrial strength. There are very good, very strong solutions out there. This is not some where to try something new. As a student you are trying to learn and want "perfect" systems. Not myStuff or whatever the thing was called back in T214 and not Elluminate (which occasionally worked in T307).
I know that technicians always have a "great new idea" (I was one) but what is needed here is 99% availability and top support.
- If you are going to allow student comments (which is great) then I think that there needs to be a possibility for other students to "rate" the comments (1-5 stars). When the page is presented the "good" comments should swim to the top. This way the good points are easily available and the "I still don't know why I am doing this course" ones will remain but sink out of sight.
- the presenters need to be present. I was impressed by your availability during T214. Georgina Holden just presented T307 and she and a tutor, John Marsh, were almost always available in the forum to answer questions, encourage and point us in the right direction.
- No pdf files! All content should be in the Wiki as html so that it can be searched on line. T214 (Nr 1) was a disaster of disorganized text.


but I would like to try it out on a limited basis before committing a new course to it

Where do I sign up?
Neill Hogarth
Life is not a practice [www.hogarth.de]
T307-10
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Teiana on Thu Oct 14, 2010 12:53 pm

some people sign for courses and want to dive in and do everything, and others want a quick way to tick all the boxes and get the grades. I suspect the wiki idea suits the former but not the latter. 'Quick' comes from experienced tutors and easily presented static information..

How would it work if you read say 'units 1-4' and then got as far as unit 7 only to find the content of unit 3 had changed beyond recognition. Would you go back and re-do it? Would you have time? How would you feel if you rang the tutor only to be told they'd get back to you after they'd checked on it themselves.. only to have it change again in the time between then and them getting back to you...?

I think wiki information can be very cool but it's fraught with hazards.. and what happens if you're like me, and struggle to organise information to start with? How do you stop people being swamped by information overload?
H.R.H. 8-)
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Neill on Thu Oct 14, 2010 1:07 pm

Good points which I had not thought about.

some people sign for courses and want to dive in and do everything, and others want a quick way to tick all the boxes and get the grades. I suspect the wiki idea suits the former but not the latter. 'Quick' comes from experienced tutors and easily presented static information..

This is where I see my "map" coming in. It should show you the "fastest" way through the course (for the "tichers") and also the diversions (for the "do everythings").

How would it work if you read say 'units 1-4' and then got as far as unit 7 only to find the content of unit 3 had changed beyond recognition. Would you go back and re-do it? Would you have time? How would you feel if you rang the tutor only to be told they'd get back to you after they'd checked on it themselves.. only to have it change again in the time between then and them getting back to you...?

I think that the situations you are discussing should be avoided by making the "small changes" during a course year and saving up the big ones for the winter.

I think wiki information can be very cool but it's fraught with hazards.. and what happens if you're like me, and struggle to organise information to start with? How do you stop people being swamped by information overload?

I need a bit more explanation on this. Why should the Wiki be more disorganized than the collection of books, pdfs, internet pages, etc. that we received for T214?

Neill
Neill Hogarth
Life is not a practice [www.hogarth.de]
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Teiana on Thu Oct 14, 2010 1:15 pm

I need a bit more explanation on this. Why should the Wiki be more disorganized than the collection of books, pdfs, internet pages, etc. that we received for T214?


i was envisioning a situation where all the information i had was being constantly updated and commented on, so i was trapped in a loop of having to wade around through it constantly checking on it, added in to the wikiesque idea of things being linked to things being linked to things...rather than sitting down and 'reading chapter 4', i could see myself sitting down and having to follow link after link after link... and rechecking every page every hour to make sure nothing had changed..

i like the wiki idea if you imagine a world where everyone has some kind of really good electronic portable screen/blackberry/netbooky/ipad thing which allows them anywhere to access all the info. Yet at the same time i hate our increasing dependence on such expensive and shortlived technology. I love the whole 'pencil and notebook/back of envelope' thing. People who want to work away from their main computer but who haven't high tech gadgets might have to print off version after version of the course notes from the wiki...
H.R.H. 8-)
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