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|Module 0: How to learn with openED - an introduction|
Target audience: Participants of the openED course and any other learner interested in open distance learning
The aim of this module is to help you understand how to study better using open online material such as that presented in the openED course. It also aims to help you think about how use of online social spaces such as forums could enrich your learning experience. Many people find open online learning to be very different from their school or university experience. As one openED participant has said ‘it’s a whole new way of thinking about learning … it takes time to sink in and to understand the implications'
Duration: 1-2 hours
Module Author: Dr Simon Cross, The Open University, United Kingdom
Reading this module and doing the activities will take around an hour and will help you appreciate the advantages of, and potential issues with, open distance learning. Once you have read and completed the module you will be better prepared to study any free open course you find, not just this one!!!
This module aims to cover many common questions that you may have such as:
• where do I start?
• how does it work?
• what benefits might I get?
• can I start anytime?
To understand what ‘open distance learning’ is we must first look at what each word means individually:
• ‘Open’ refers to a grand aim or vision that some people have for the internet where the content on websites is not closed or restricted to a particular group. Instead, content and knowledge is made available to the general public – to everyone in the world to learn from (although note this will often still be made available under some form of licence to prevent unauthorised reuse, such as by commercial companies). The openED project shares this vision and hopes that everyone can benefit from the information, the resources or other services offered on the website. On the openED site we offer electronic versions of educational materials and content that has been written by a small group of educators from several European universities. These are online and freely available to study from.
• ‘Distance’ means that you will most likely not meet most of the other people who study the course. This is partly because the course takes place online (rather than say on a campus) so they will be living elsewhere. Being at a distance means you must use new ‘web2.0’ technology to communicate and socialise with others. Common tools used are forums, email, and online text and video chat. There are benefits to learning to use these tools, and there are benefits to talking to others living in other places or working for other very different organisations. Also, there will be people who have already studied and finished this course. Whilst you may not meet them, you can find records of their conversations and work on the website to learn from.
• ‘Learning’ refers to the process that you go through when trying to better understand something such as a concept, an idea, or a practical skill. At school you had teachers to help you to learn by guiding, organising and advising you. Open learning is different because you must take more responsibility for your own learning. It is up to you to make the most of the materials that are on offer.
So in summary, open distance learning resources are available online to anyone wanting to use them to learn from. In addition, some courses like the openED one will provide opportunities to meet, talk and work with other people who are also learning from the same resources (the term ‘peer’ is often used to refer to these other participants). You may decide just to study the materials by yourself and there is nothing wrong with that. However, there are benefits to being ‘open’ and sharing your study experience with your peer community. Where you can, be prepared to be open and help others; exchange ideas or resources;.
There are plenty of examples of people being open on the openED site. A good example is the Assignment Directory where participants have uploaded and shared their assignments or the forums where participants share the activities they have completed.
As is common for open online learning, openED is available to be used whenever you want. There are benefits to this completely ‘open’ route, but it is also means you’ll have to take a lot of responsibility for your learning.
OpenED also offers a ‘supported’ route where, during a specific advertised period, the openED course team will hold chat sessions (also called IRC) for that module and facilitators will be active in the forums to offer advice and support. The ‘start’ and ‘end’ dates that are given for each module (announced at the Timetable) tell you when you should expect facilitation and chat sessions to take place. New people can join after the start date but be prepared for the fact that some participants will have already started.
In the future, when you study another open distance course it too may provide some limited support or teaching so remember to explore its website thoroughly to check.
The advantages and disadvantages of each type of study are shown below:
Either way, once you have decided when you want to study the openED course, you have still to decide which of the 10 modules of the openED course to study. To do this make sure you take a look at the summaries of each of the 10 modules. You also might want to look at each in more detail.
You might think that studying online will feel very different from a classroom. In some ways it will, but you will still have tasks to do, assignments to write, and opportunities to talk to others.
--- Activity 1 ---
This is an optional activity that will help you think about studying openED materials. It should take around 5 to 10 minutes to complete.
Instructions: Take a look at openED Module 3. Look at how the Module Page is divided in to three main sections. Imagine yourself working through this module from start to finish.
Now answer the question: How different or similar do you think it would be from your past experiences of learning?
Finally look at your answer: did you find that the ten modules in the openED course try to preserve some of the structure used for classroom teaching? For example: (a) each module begins by telling you about the module: its learning aims, audience and assignment details (b) then there are a number of activities for you to do – you can do most of these by yourself but you may also want to collaborate or exchange ideas with others in the forum or join chat sessions (c) then you are invited to write your assignment and upload it to the website and (d) finally you can provide feedback to others, reflect on your learning and keep involved using the forums?
--- Activity end ---
Whilst the instructions on each Module Page should be fairly clear, we have also prepared a diagram to show the basic steps you could take to work through a module (see below). Running down the middle of the diagram is the sequence of steps you could take (starting with reading the introduction to the module). On the left hand side in black boxes are the sections of the Module Page that you should look at or refer to. On the right hand side are black ovals which show which other parts of the openED website can be used to help achieve the step. This diagram shows you how the parts of the website fit together. A PDF of the Task Sequence Diagram is also available.
You will not be the only person who finds it difficult to manage your openED study alongside work, and potentially other university study. Advice on managing your time can be found elsewhere and you may also find others on the forum could help.
A core part of how people can meet and exchange views is the online course forum. Here you can reply to messages posted by others and post messages for others to reply to. Since the openED course was launched, over 1000 posts have been made to the online course forum. The forum is divided in to sections. There is a section for each module and also sections for some general topics such as technical support. Within each section discussion between people is organised in to discussion ‘threads’. It is in each thread that you can (a) add your post to a discussion that has already started or (b) start a new thread on a topic not already present in the section.
Forums are great places to find out who else is, or has been, working on the course. In some cases you may be able to arrange to work in a group with others. This can be a really productive and positive experience (see this example). See section 5 below for more about group working.
In forums you can usually find out information about the person who posted each message by clicking on their name or image. In the openED forum when you do this, a photograph, key information and a box with six tabs appears (see the screenshot below). These tabs link to lists of the person’s forum posts and assignments, details of the modules they hope to study, contact details and additional information. The amount of information available will depend on how much the person has decided to share.
The links below show examples of two online forum discussions:
--- Activity 2 ---
People living in many different countries have contributed to one or both of the two forum threads shown above. This is a suggested activity and aims to help you reflect on the variety of people posting on the forums. It should take around 10 minutes to complete.
Instructions: First look at these two threads and make a list of the countries that the people posting to the forums live in (Hint: for each posting click on each person name/image, then select the grey ‘Additional Info’ tab under their photograph). Once you have done this, look at the list below and compare it to the one you have made. Which one country is on this list but not yours?
Comment: in this activity you have looked at two good examples of forum threads where people have been openly contributing their thoughts and work. Elsewhere in the forum you will find posts from people living in other countries too. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that as well as Europeans, people living as far away as Russia, Asia, India, Australia, South and North America and Africa have visited the openED site.
--- Activity end ---
Open forums rely on voluntary contributions so are not without their potential problems and pitfalls: some people might decide not to post anything; some will just read other posts; and some people might be studying at a different speed.
It can of course be very frustrating when you post a question or comment and no one replies – especially if it is your first post. One good way to begin in a forum is to read threads and post four or five answers or comments following on from another person’s post. Be interested, courteous, and supportive. This way you will show that you are eager to get involved and build relationships. Also remember that even if you get no response to your post, our research shows that at least twenty or thirty other people will read it – that in itself is not too bad an audience!
Live text-chat sessions offer you a second way to meet and communicate with fellow participants and facilitators. Live text-chat sessions are live events and last around an hour. The dates when they happen will align with the advertised course timetable.
Everyone is invited to sign up on the forums and to join the sessions (show your interest by posting a response to the notice in the module forum because sessions may be cancelled if no one expresses interest!). The format of each session is not a ‘lecture’ or ‘class’ but instead, the sessions give you a chance to meet and chat about the module, the topics covered, and issues it raises.
The sessions will be lead by a facilitator from the project team or other volunteer and there will usually be two or three session per module. If you need to do any work before the session, the facilitator will tell you in a forum post. In the past, live text-chat sessions have helped people to form groups and learn from others. For example, one previous participant told us ‘I think they’re really useful and a great way to share different information and knowledge.’ For an example of how engagement in the forum and chat sessions can result in productive group working as one can see at this discussion by Group 1: Activity 4: Module 3: Round 1.
When organising IRC chat sessions it is usually difficult to find a time suitable for everyone. This is not just because some people have work or social commitments or have decided to study independently, but because people live in different time zones; 7pm in one country may be mid-afternoon or midnight elsewhere! The time of day when the chat happens will vary so check the timetable.
If you miss a session then the facilitator will aim to post the log of the text discussion in the forum (within that module thread) so you can read what happened and they will invite one participant to write the minutes. But remember, if no one attends these sessions, there will be no log so you can not always rely on others to be there.
We use IRC for our text-chat and we have provided instructions on how to set this up. Please make sure you have tried to link to and use the IRC chat room before the chat-session start; doing this will help you resolve any problems before the session and will minimise disruption during the chat. For example, make sure the box where you type your text reply is visible and try to post a test message in the forum.
Chatting by text is a little different to chatting via video link or face-to-face. One big difference is you cannot see the other people: you cannot notice their body language or expressions or hear the tone or inflection in their voice. Remember to take this in to account when you write text during the live chat sessions and think about how other people will interpret what you have written!
--- Activity 3 ---
This is a suggested activity that you might want to carry out to learn how to study the openED course and should take about 10 minutes to complete.
Instructions: to get an idea of what is missed when you have a conversation using only text and no sound or vision, why not try watching your favourite TV show with the subtitles turned on but the sound on mute and the screen (apart from the subtitles) covered with a newspaper. Now answer this question: Is it as easy to tell what is going on in the story with just the text?!
--- Activity end ---
Having a meeting using only text is different but you can still have great discussions and communicate a lot to your peers. And of course, text-chat does have some important advantages over video. For example:
The opportunity to meet other people is a real benefit to open distance learning courses such as openED. For example, when asked what they liked most about the course, previous participants have said ‘the fact it allowed me to connect and discuss with so many people without needing to meet face-to-face’ and another said they liked to ‘work in groups because it is a great way to share and improve ideas, and we still have time to share some cultural differences.
In some of modules, you may be asked to form groups. In other modules, you may be encouraged to work as a community in the forum. It can sometimes be difficult for people who have never met to organise themselves in to groups. Chatting in the forum or live-chat session can help you make contacts.
As a group you must decide what roles individuals should take and how large your group should be. Previous openED groups have usually ranged from 2 to 4 people. If you are unable to find others willing to join you in a group, or you do not get the answers you expect in the forum, then you should still try to do as much of the activity as you can. You should be able to complete all, or most, of the learning activity tasks and reading without working in a group (it may just require a slightly different interpretation of the tasks!). Even if you work alone it is still important to consider posting your outputs and final assignments to the site for others to potentially comment on.
In a traditional university course you would expect your tutor to mark and grade your work, even provide some feedback and ideas for improvements. Because this is a ‘free’ open course there is no money to pay people to mark your work. Instead, open courses rely on other people’s goodwill – it hopes that you will volunteer to mark work submitted by others and, in turn, they will mark and comment on yours. This is termed ‘peer assessment’. So far, there has not been much
Also in a traditional university you would expect some sort of formal recognition for your studying. Because the openED team does not grade your work, we also cannot offer any form of accreditation. Instead, we have developed a ‘self-print certificate’. This certificate provides a printable ‘report’ that lists all the modules that you have submitted assignments for. For more information, read the box below which explains the difference between the self-print certificate and accreditation:
In addition to tutor-assessment and peer-assessment there is also self-assessment. This type of assessment involves you looking back at the work you have done and what you have achieved. This is sometimes termed ‘reflection’. It is a good idea to reflect on your work regularly – this will help you consolidate what you have learnt and plan ahead. To help you, we have created a Learning Reflection Form. You can also use this form to feedback your comments about the course to the openED project team.
By now you are probably thinking: ‘it is wonderful to have free and open learning courses like the openED course, but how can such courses be made available for free? Where is the catch?’
The easiest way to answer this is to look at how learning materials are created, how they are used and how it is paid for. In simple terms, the standard process is for a teacher, lecturer, university or company to spend money to make learning materials and design learning tasks and then spend more money to provide an educational service that uses these materials. This service will likely include teaching, assessment, learning support, a learning and course environment (both physical buildings and online portals) etc and will be paid for by individuals, a government or a company - or a combination of these!
In contrast, open distance learning courses often try to seek different and alternative ways to provide the educational learning experience.
Of course, studying any open course will still cost you your time and also remember the cost to other participants that answering and reviewing your work.
This module has tried to help you understand what open distance learning is and how you can do it. You have looked at some examples from the openED site and been introduced to important parts of the site such as the forums, live-chat sessions/calendar, assignment directory, user profiles area and learning reflection form. You should now be able to approach your studies with more confidence. Good luck with the course!
What to do next? Take a look at the 10 openED modules available
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