Three years ago I set out to make the transition, from a computer professional, to a designer and teacher of computing courses. My original learning goal was to acquire the skills needed to undertake quantitative research in education. Instead, I have learned enough theory, balanced with practical skills, to help with the transition to e-learning in Australian universities.

Helping Canberra's Universities Transition to e-Learning

My original learning goals were the skills needed to undertake quantitative research, to show that on-line courses produce results comparable to campus based ones. The intention was to convince my university colleagues in Canberra that e-learning was a viable alternative to bringing international students to Australia, and that I was competent to design and run such programs.

Practitioner, Not  Researcher

One question which I ask my students, and perhaps I should have asked myself at the beginning of the MEd program, is: "Why are you doing this study?". It was only at the midpoint of the program, after having completed the core courses that I realized I was interested in the practice of teaching, informed by research. In part, this decision was forced on me by not being able to complete Quantitative Research Methods (MDDE 701), thus being unable to take the thesis route. However, I realized I did not want to be an education researcher: I want to be a practitioner. In that role, I can make a useful contribution to the design and delivery of on-line courses.

As part of the MEd I have had to read many research papers, I have also attended seminars on education, just about weekly, at Canberra's universities and been to several international tech-ed conferences. From this, I realized that my plan to convince my colleagues of the value of on-line education through quantitative research was naive and doomed to failure. There are many volumes of research over decades on the effectiveness of e-learning. My adding a small amount to this research is unlikely to persuade anyone of anything. However,  what has already proved effective is to show my colleagues useful techniques to help with their intimidate teaching problems, backed up by research results, so they are then more likely to listen to advice on larger, long term issues.

Eat Your Own Dogfood

The most useful aspect of the MEd was "dogfooding," a term coined by Harrison in 2006 for the practice of those who develop a product to use it. In the case of the MEd, the course designers and instructors demonstrated that they had enough faith and expertise in the techniques they were advocating to use them to teach. I can now make a more credible case for the use of e-learning for international students, having been an international on-line student. Also, I can apply this approach, of leading by example, showing I use the tools and techniques I am advocating others should use.

Most recently I have been tutoring software project management students. The students are required to prepare a portfolio of their work (using Mahara), to be assessed by the tutors. I was able to apply my recent MEd experience to not only to help my students but also provide advice to the other tutors and the course supervisor, none of whom had my experience. Having been seen to know about ID, there may be scope for my helping restructure this course, and design, others next year.

Education is a People Business

From being a student, I realized how important administration is for education and DE in particular. Before the student can worry about the details of learning, they have to find the materials and work out what it is they are supposed to be learning. This is an aspect which is glossed over in academic research on education and something which it is easy to overlook as an instructor. It is only the experience of being a student where problems occur which teaches this lessons.

The presence of competent, enthusiastic human instructors is something I valued in my studies. With Educational Technology (EdTech) the Education can be forgotten due to the enthusiasm for new Technology. In DE courses instructor time with students is a precious resource and one which needs to be very carefully used. As a result of the MEd courses, in my teaching, I tend to say less in forums, leaving room for the students to support each other and offer individual encouragement in the background

Being a student reminds me that any student, however, mature and experienced, still needs help. In particular, DE students need support to fit their studies into their lives. This can be through careful course design, giving the student small frequent nudges, scaffolding assignments and allowing them to be based on real-world problems. Also, frequently assessed work is an aid for the DE student, who needs a reason to tell themselves, their employer, family, and friends why they have to study now and can't leave it to later.

Helping Build Canberra's e-Learning Capability

According to Australia's Minister for Education, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, education is "Australia’s third-largest export" (2016). The government's "National Strategy for International Education 2025" (2016) points out that Moodle is an Australia product serving a global market and identifies on-line learning as an area for growth. However, Canberra's universities are predominantly set up for students traveling to Australia to study on campus, and the government strategy provides little practical guidance for changing this. International tensions could disrupt the flow of students to Australia very quickly. Competition from campuses in other countries and DE is likely to increase. I believe that I can assist Canberra's universities to produce quality on-line and blended programs to remain competitive, based on demonstrated success and research results.

Hot Air Balloon Over Canberra, Photo by Tom Worthington CC-by 3.0 1996
Hot Air Balloon Over Canberra, Photo by Tom Worthington CC-by 3.0 1996