SECTIONS Analysis Report

This is one of the last parts of the course! It has been a long slog and I was forced to ask for an extension to get the work finished… Thank you Joanne!

S.E.C.T.I.O.N.S Analysis Report

The purpose of this report is to cap off 4151 and analyze our students, our course’s projected needs and other factors. The proposed course is entitled: ‘Basics of Oil Spill Response’ and is the Coast Guard’s in-house training program  for pollution response. This paper will take an in-depth approach to assessing feasibility concerns through the use an analytic tool known as SECTIONS as defined by Bates and Poole in 2003 to determine feasibility issues in online course offerings.

S.E.C.T.I.O.N.S stands for: Students,   Ease-of-use, Content, Teaching and Learning, Interactivity, Organizational Issues, Novelty, and Speed, This portion of the assignment will examine each of these subjects in the context of online learning and the students we hope to attract and educate. Let’s look at SECTIONS and how it applies to online course work and the course which I am planning: Basics of Oil Spill Response.

STUDENTS

Our students are a diverse and interesting group of people, who fulfill an important role as public servants, yet for the most part (unless needed during Search and Rescue incidents), are out of the public eye. Their ages will range across the spectrum for working adults, from 18 – 65 and are both male and female in an approximate 90% to 10% representation. This relationship has changed (albeit slowly)  during the time I have been a member of the CCG with women moving from more ‘traditional’ roles  such as stewards and cooks to more non-traditional roles such as engineers and navigating officers.

Our students have varying access to technology depending on location, be it ships or shore based. Computer access is restricted in some places and for ships especially bandwidth is a real problem. This  problem  means that as the designer I will be forced to create several ‘fall back’ alternates for personnel who are in a position to not have full time access from their work location. Another concern is as simple as being aware that some segments of our network, again specifically the ships, still run on an outdated operating system meaning care must be taken with some video file submissions etc.  Given the wide age range and educational backgrounds other considerations will be adjusting course content and expectations so learners are sufficiently challenged without being alienated.

Ease of Use

In order to not confuse either ourselves or our students it is necessary to understand that the technology we use, whether hardware or software, needs to be straightforward and seamless in it’s use. This enables course delivery which allows  best possible outcomes for students. As well, students should perceive that the teacher is completely conversant with both facets of the technology being used, giving them the confidence to approach their online learning course with  the perception there is both ease of use and usefulness to be derived from the information being offered (Shen et al, 2006). As online learning, especially that accessed by users in a work-related environment is an entirely voluntary process a key consideration is the client must perceive that the system as being user-friendly; geared towards an end practise which rewards the student with some form of usable work related knowledge (Thorpe & Gordon, 2012).

Cost

Every educational offering must be examined in the light of cost per student per unit of time to the educational system or entity which presents the material in order to properly assess success vs. dollars spent to determine effectiveness of program delivery. This can be confusing as not all educational groups are the same: colleges may be markedly different from universities and universities from one another. Finding a body of research which clearly states: “it costs ‘XXXX $ per student per course per year.”, is not easy as it appears there has been no real organized effort to quantify the phenomenon which is the quickly growing market for online courses.

Bates raises some interesting points and has completed a survey derived: “From tracking all the costs from a fully online master program at a large Tier 1 research university in Canada.” His contention is that the averaged cost per person per hour of instructional time  is $12.50 (+/- 20%).   At the end of his article he states: “You may well challenge the cost methodology and the assumptions that drive the costs in this example. You may also challenge the teaching model for online learning. Good: then come up with a better way of looking at the cost issue. We do need more open discussion about the costs of not just online learning, but all teaching in universities and colleges. It is lazy and unjust to merely keep increasing tuition fees rather than looking at new ways of developing and delivering programs that can reduce costs without jeopardizing the quality of teaching. This is particularly incumbent on those of us who believe in online learning.” (Bates 2011)

For my program there is as yet no established method of tracking costs as this is a purely in-house offering. This will be yet another item to added to an ever-growing list of issues to be dealt with to ensure due diligence and observation of best practices for my students, not to mention the taxpayer.

Teaching and Learning

Presenting material, especially to a group of learners as diverse as those in the CCG seagoing personnel pool means several tasks must be accomplished to ensure authentic learning. The material must be presented in a manner which captures learner  attention, is presented in multiple formats where possible, allows a certain freedom to navigate the course material and site, and encourages a sense of collaboration and community (Johnson & Aragon 2002) In BOSR all these criteria  are achieved by the use of a participatory wiki based format and varying activities. This enables me to present required course material in an easy to use manner which can be made engaging for the learner especially given the dry nature of learning rules and regulations. I feel the best assessment practices need to be standard testing; using multiple choice, short and long answer questioning methods as well as allowing the students some free rein by encouraging them to submit materials which are video or web based contributions.

Interactivity

The online environment can be dehumanizing if opportunities for interaction are not built into any course offering. Students derive better outcomes and perceive the course work as being more satisfying if there is more rather than less activity and a sense of shared community is built which encourages active learning. (Sadera et al, 2009)

There are four types of interaction in the online environment: student–to-student, student-to-instructor, student-to-content and student-to-technology and each one of these factors must be balanced in any course or the student’s chance of achieving best outcomes may be reduced. Instructors have to foster and encourage interaction at all levels such that:

  • students actively communicate both privately and in public forums with one another and the instructor;
  • course content should be such that the student is not confused as to course expectations, timelines and materials;
  • the course VLE or website should be easily navigable, functional and easily adaptive. (Mabrito, 2004)

These goals are achieved In BOSR through the use of a wiki-based course which clearly lays out expectations, allows student interactivity with one another and the instructor through both forums and message boards and allows adaptations through the use of contributory exercises. The lesson for instructors is the necessity to build interaction into course design to facilitate and enhance both communication and a sense of community.

Organizational Issues

As the CCG is a federal agency there are host of considerations which must be taken into account which might not apply to other entities such as schools, colleges, or universities. Values and ethics codes must be adhered to and students must be made aware of their obligations as a public servant clearly at the beginning of the course. The prohibition of postings on social media sites must be delineated, especially for younger people who view such issues in a more cavalier manner than their elders might. Other issues which might come to light include a prohibition on communicating with the media or other special interest groups. Moreover, the course will have to be offered on a publicly funded government ‘communities of practice’ site which has it’s own set of proscriptions and rules separate from those in the private sphere. Bottom line? The federal civil service has rules and regulations which have been specifically designed for the service and which must be considered when designing presenting or attending any online course offering.

Novelty

The technology associated with the BOSR course is relatively new to some personnel in the CCG and specifically older people rather than younger. As the course proposed is wiki-based it is incumbent on me as the designer to think and work through as many facets of the federal government’s ‘communities of practice’ site as possible prior to actual presentation and remove as many barriers as are humanly possible. This means trying to anticipate where the students may have problems, a serious concern as this is a federally provided service and anyone who has tried to navigate a federal government website finds them clunky and problematic. Instructions will of necessity have to be set out in a clear, step-by-step and complete manner which leaves no room for misinterpretation. This will probably mean the creation of a set of pages which contain screen captures with clear and unambiguous instructions, as well as the creation of a forum where students can post and receive answers to tech related questions.

This is an old face-to-face classroom course, being re-worked into a new technological base. There will be problems which I am going to have to deal with; the key will be preparation and patience. 

Speed

This course is not perceived as being time sensitive. My students work long and unusual hours in remote locations and as such this course was/is perceived as something they could work through at their own pace.  This is of course limited by bandwidth, which is a problem I noted earlier on and access to a VPN setup which can also be problematic given the nature of government servers. Computers at ships and shore installations are for the most part older, slower machines running old versions of operating systems which also poses problems for users.

Material for the course work can be changed relatively quickly as the course is all based in a wiki style format, the blessing of What You See Is What You Get sites. I imagine that the material could be handed over to another instructor provided he or she had demonstrated their ability to master the technological base of the course and had a basic familiarity with the BOSR material.

Conclusion

SECTIONS is another tool to be used in conjunction with quality assurance guidelines in the design process of online course work. I have found that my thinking has changed about some facets of the BOSR course since having started this exercise. Students’ technological abilities will have to be ascertained to ensure barriers to learning are removed as much as humanly possible. Organizational needs are going to need rigorous scrutiny and amplification so all students understand their rights and obligations. The issue of time also has to be addressed: is there going to be a finite limit on how long students will have to complete the module? More challenges… clearly the work is just beginning.

References:

Bates, T, (March 2011), as retrieved from: The Cost of Online Learning – $12.50 per hour?, Online Learning and Distance Resources, http://www.tonybates.ca/2011/03/22/the-cost-of-online-learning-12-50-an-hour/ ;

Demei Shen, James Laffey, Yimei Lin, and Xinxin Huang, Social Influence for Perceived Usefulness and Ease-of-Use of Course Delivery Systems, University of Missouri, Columbia, Journal of Interactive Online Learning, Volume 5, Number 3, Winter 2006 ISSN: 1541-4914, http://www.ncolr.org/jiol/issues/pdf/5.3.4.pdf ;

Johnson, SD & Aragon, SR (2002);  An Instructional Strategy Framework for Online Learning Environments, Unversity of Illinois, Proceedings of the Academy for Human Resource Development (pp. 1022-1029). Bowling Green, OH: AHRD, http://scholar.google.ca/scholar_url?hl=en&q=http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download%3Fdoi%3D10.1.1.114.7888%26rep%3Drep1%26type%3Dpdf&sa=X&scisig=AAGBfm0FZOoYI948kFZPhDM_6_cTCEggHQ&oi=scholarr&ei=XGVLUabmCsTniwKYr4CIDg&ved=0CCsQgAMoADAA ;

Mabrito, M. 2004. Guidelines for establishing interactivity in online courses. Innovate 1 (2). http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=12 ;

Sadera, WA,, Robertson, J, Song, L & Midon NM, The Role of Community in Online Learning Success, MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, Vol. 5, No. 2, June 2009, http://jolt.merlot.org/vol5no2/sadera_0609.htm ;

Thorpe, M, & Gordon, J, (2012). Online learning in the workplace: A hybrid model of participation in networked, professional learning,  Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 28(8), 1267-1282, http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet28/thorpe.html ;

SECTIONS Analysis for Teachers; https://sites.google.com/site/sectionsanalysisforteachers/sections-analysis

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