Flexible Learning: Exploring opportunities for students and teachers
Dr Noni Frankenberg and Dr Nano Nagle (Lecturers, La Trobe College Australia) redesigned Ecology, Evolution & Biodiversity (Dip. of BioScience unit), as part of the Flexible Learning Design program. Their collaborative approach and open mind towards updating content and educational technologies, resulted in an interactive, easy-to-navigate module for students in all learning modes.
What were your initial thoughts about Flexible Learning?
We had some previous experience with digital learning technologies introduced in the Flexible Learning Design program (FLDP), so navigating educational tools was not too challenging for us. However, something that was at the forefront of our minds was that we needed to ensure we used these educational technologies in a way that was accessible and engaging for all students in both synchronous and asynchronous modes.
What was your Flexible Learning design approach?
Our approach was to be open to new ideas and to be open to collaboration with colleagues and students. With Flexible Learning design principles (flexibility, equivalency, versatility, accessibility, and connectivity) in mind and the help of our colleagues, we transitioned our pre-existing online content into an interactive and easy-to-navigate unit that supported flexible learning.
Previously, we expected online students to attend all Zoom classes, as that was the main mode for teachers to interact with online students and for them to participate in the unit. However, now students have the choice to also participate in discussion forums and other set Moodle tasks asynchronously, after watching recorded lectures if preferred. As teachers we are still able to monitor their engagement and progress through the completion of online tasks, and we can also interact with them through online feedback comments to consolidate teacher presence.
Following student feedback, another update we made was the conversion of our pre-lab reading list into videos where possible, as students indicated they preferred watching and listening to this content over reading.
What educational technology skills covered in FLDP have you applied?
Through the use of Zoom, we found that we could continue a number of instructional activities that would normally be held in-person, such as simulating the activity of genes with paper-based activities or collecting marine specimens for students to identify using taxonomic keys.
With the design principles introduced in FLDP, we leveraged a new Moodle template that was easier to navigate due to consistent formatting and use of white space so students did not feel overwhelmed by information. As part of this template, Moodle forums were available for students to interact with us and each other creating a sense of community, links to Quizlet to test understanding, Padlet and relevant and fun videos from YouTube for post-live session review. Quizzes embedded in Zoom were also useful to test comprehension in real-time and for us to identify content that may need to be re-visited.
What were your main take-aways Flexible Learning Design program?
Not only do we have a unit that has been re-designed to accommodate blended and flexible learning that we are proud of, but we found that we could actually work through our fears around transitioning to online teaching.
Even though it took time, we enjoyed re-visiting teaching pedagogies and reflecting on those aspects of teaching that inspire us. Through peer learning we were able to challenge our preconceptions regarding the environments that students can learn in. One such preconception was that students would not be engaged online, but rather we found that the online content allowed students to take learning into their own hands and engage with material in different ways than the in-person instruction that we were used to.
What will your next steps be with Flexible Learning?
Moodle analytics would be something we would like to explore further as part of our professional development in Flexible Learning. There are many more educational technologies that we could use as learning activities, such as Kahoot and also leverage H5P to further increase the interactivity of our content for students. We would like to possibly experiment with cameras with greater resolution or field of view to enhance instructional activities that feature specimens. It will be an iterative process to identify and refine tools such as these, that continue to add value for our students.