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Harnessing the power of ICT to increase student attainment and engagement was the goal of a recent online course at Bergen University College designed by senior executive officer Hedvig Myklebust (left) and assistant professor Katrine Aasekjær.

Hedvig Myklebust is trying to strike a fine balance.

As a senior executive officer at the Centre for Evidence-Based Practice (CEBP) at Bergen University College (BUC) Hedvig promotes using digital teaching tools to support pedagogical practice.

At the forefront of this effort is a push to encourage teachers to use the itslearning learning platform, which fronts their digital suite of tools that also includes Google Hangouts and Google Docs, screen-recording tools and YouTube videos. At the same time she tries not to tip the scales too far and inundate the student body and staff with too much technology integration.

“Teachers are sometimes hesitant to use technology in their teaching because they think it is too difficult to use. And students often have the perception that the itslearning platform is a one-way communication tool. It’s read this, do that. The students feel like they can’t respond. Of course they can - teachers just need to use the right tools in the platform. This is what I am trying to show teachers at the CEBP,” she says.

The pedagogy behind the practice

In a recent project, Hedvig partnered with Katrine Aasekjær, an assistant professor at the CEBP, to deliver a fully online course on itslearning to working healthcare professionals. They chose to organize the curriculum inside itslearning as far as possible in order to make the course user friendly. They settled on a handful of features to support their pedagogical processes, including collaborative learning, scaffolding, peer reviewing, the transparent classroom, adult learning theories and a social constructivist approach to learning. They produced and embedded recorded lectures that never exceeded five minutes to hold students’ attention. They held online discussions, created digital assignments and tests and linked to multimedia content on the Internet.

One place for everything

They soon realized that all of these digital pedagogical elements needed a home in itslearning. One place where students could go to access all the materials they created. Their students were full-time workers. They did not have time to learn a new IT system. In their mid-30s to mid-50s, most of them were digital immigrants. They used work computers that had limited access to functionality such as online conferencing. It had to be easy, Hedvig and Katrine decided. Course materials had to be accessible. Materials had to be stored in one place. Online learning can be lonely, so Katrine committed to logging in as much as possible. “A student will never experience that they post something on Monday morning and I do not respond until Friday,” Katrine said.

The solution was itslearning Pages, an area in the platform for gathering learning resources. Dividing the course into weeks they created 10 pages, one page for every two weeks in the course. They then moved all the pages into a folder in the navigation tree, where the course content is found. They ended up with one folder containing all the resources for the entire course. It does not get easier than that, and it worked.

Hedvig and Katrine used the itslearning Pages tool to gather all learning materials in one place, including information about assignments, learning objectives and recommended reading.

Unexpected advantages from online discussions

Discussion threads regularly attracted over 40 responses (divided between 11 students). Curiously, Katrine discovered that the online discussions shared many of the same characteristics of classroom discussions. As in a face-to-face discussion, students contributed opinions and she acted as a facilitator guiding the discussion. The online discussion format also provided Katrine with some unexpected advantages. “In an online discussion it is so much easier to see who is just following the discussion and not participating,” she noted.

A quiz question in the online course where students are asked to drag the five alternatives into the right order.

Engaging with the learning materials

All topics were accompanied by quizzes that took a few minutes to complete. Students reported re-taking quizzes as many as 10 times as exam preparation. The tests were perfect study material as they were self-correcting and students received instant results. “It’s fun. Giving small quizzes like this is a new way of teaching. We like making them and students like taking them,” Katrine said. Before submitting assignments to Katrine, students shared them amongst themselves in a peer review exercise. They completed all assignments, even those that were voluntary.

Hedvig and Katrine strove to make their online course as accessible as possible. In achieving their goal they boosted student engagement using digital teaching tools. But the duo is not stopping there in their effort to integrate ICT into the classroom. Next, they share feedback on assignments among all students in the course. “This will ensure that the threshold stays high when giving feedback. It will really make me aware as a teacher that I am giving quality feedback. It will make me better at giving feedback, and they students will have the opportunity to learn from each other on a much larger scale,” Katrine says.

Hedvig adds: “Technology in the classroom is a reality. How teachers take advantage of it will determine its effectiveness in terms of student engagement and attainment. You have to be aware of what you are doing with it and why.” 

The Pedagogy
The Practice
Collaborative learning
Online discussions group work
Peer review
Students share each other's assignments

Facilitate online discussions and activities
The transparent classroom
Share feedback among all
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