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Work in Progress Paper – Supporting The Army Online Westminster Kingsway College Vincent Square, Victoria, London, SW1P 2PD The increased use of computers and the internet and the increased competition in the education sector (Jung et al, 2008) has opened a huge variety of opportunities to higher education, including e-learning (Salmon, 2007). According to Nichols (2003) e-learning is ‘the use of various technological tools that are either web-based, web-distributed, or web-capable for the purpose of education.’ The idea of e-learning stems from a proposal by the (then new) Labour Government in 1997 that innovative learning and teaching approaches were needed in the UK (Mee, 2007). This strategy by the UK Government and the then Department for Education and Skills was to produce an education system fit for the 21st century (Dfes, 2003). Westminster Kingsway College use Blackboard, as their Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) initially it was used as a tool to upload materials and resources for students to refer to. As programmes have been developed over the last six years so has the use of Blackboard, particularly within Higher Education who have revolutionised the way Blackboard is currently being utilised in relation to interactive online activity, which has impacted on the way students are supported whilst studying at a distance. Foundation Degree Forward (2007) explain that Foundation degrees are a core part of the Government strategy for supporting Higher Education opportunities that are responsive to the needs of employees and employers. Westminster Kingsway College had been approached by The Army (Royal Logistics Corp) to develop a Foundation Degree (FdA) specifically for this purpose, therefore their original programme the FdA in Hospitality Management currently run had to be adapted to suit these students’ needs; and so the FdA in Hospitality and Food Services Management was validated and is made up of 16 modules, each worth 15 credits as shown in the table below:

Level

Credits

Name of Module

4

15

The Hospitality Environment

4

15

Personal Development and Study Skills

4

15

Food and Beverage

4

15

Marketing

4

15

Learning From Work – Leadership Skills

4

15

Information Systems in Hospitality

4

15

Conference and Events Management

4

15

Human Resource Management

5

15

Project Management (integrated with Design and Facilities)

5

15

Management in Organisations

5

15

Design and Facilities

5

15

Introduction to Finance

5

15

Research Methods

5

15

Hospitality Retail Management

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5

15

Operational Food Service Management

5

15

Quality Assurance Systems

As The Army cohort are from widely dispersed geographical areas, the FdA in Hospitality and Food Service Management is currently being run completely online, with the idea being that if students are called away on a tour of duty they will still be able to study abroad, access their resources and interact with their fellow students and tutors online. This is a new concept for both The Army and the college. In preparation for this some of the online tools were piloted with another cohort, our Travelodge managers who study the FdA Hospitality Management programme using a more blended approach. 1. E-Learning tools Lecturers who are involved in e-learning are still seen as innovators and early adopters (McNaught, 2003 cited in Salmon, 2007). For the lecturers on this programme, teaching online opened up a whole new set of teaching strategies – it was imperative that interactivity between students and lecturers continued, although without the face to face aspect. Due to the fact that students cannot ask questions in class as is possible with more traditional teaching approaches, substantial changes in teaching methods had to be applied (Johannesen and Eide, 2000). A wide range of technical, online and other communication skills are required in order to satisfy the needs of the online learner (Jung et al, 2008). Wikis were set up as a way for students to produce work, which could be peer reviewed by other students. Blogs are part of the Personal Development and tutorial process in order for students to be able to reflect on their learning, monitor their progress and examine ways in which they can improve their study skills. Discussion forums have been set up to discuss case studies for example. Videos of past lessons or student presentations and role plays have been uploaded, as has footage from television programmes. Jolliffe et al (2003) explain that video is used to show movement as part of the instructional message and advises only short segments should be used because of file size limitations. Online quizzes have also been set up as part of formative assessment with online exams forming summative assessment. Once the lessons went live it was no longer just a case of teaching the content of the course, as at the same time the lecturers had to also teach the students how to use these new interactive tools. This meant that once the lessons were written and uploaded, there was constant monitoring of the VLE to see who had been contributing, and who was just “lurking”. The role of an e-tutor became more apparent as the support given to the students increased as continuous feedback was being given on formative work they were putting on blackboard. Through these interactive tasks both tutors and students became more familiar with how to edit a wiki, add a new thread to a discussion, and update their blogs…. and also for the tutor to know what to do when things went wrong such as weblinks breaking, or students deleting content from a wiki page by mistake. 1.2 A new way of learning Although the use of computers and the internet are part of everyday life (Salmon, 2007), elearning was a whole new concept for The Army students. Logging on to Blackboard was one thing, but working out where content was, how to contribute to the various asynchronous activities led them to realise they needed to be very organised in order to keep on track of the weekly lessons. Some eager students would jump ahead, whilst others would take their time, which is fine as an e learning course gives that flexibility. One of our Army student’s (Blackboard Survey 2008) comments on using Blackboard: “I really thought it would be a nightmare....especially after my first few attempts to navigate around bb [blackboard]!! However, it has got a lot easier and I find it really useful - the way bb is set out- and sending assignments in electronically is great. I'm more

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and more 'onside' as the journey goes on! Many thanks for all your patience and assistance - top drawer!!!” Jolliffe et al (2003) explain that when developing materials for online usage in order to determine instructional strategies there are five things to be considered: 1 – Pre instructional activity: The instructions given to the students have to be crystal clear 2 – Information Presentation: Information presented to the students were in a logical order 3 – Practice: Students were given opportunities to take part in online activities that not only helped them grasp the subject knowledge but also how to use blackboard’s interactive tools 4 – Assessment of learning outcomes: Both formative and summative assessment tasks were given to the students to complete 5 – Follow up and remediation: Feedback was given online and additional tutoring on a one to one basis when needed. At first the students were a little apprehensive of how to use Blackboard, although after having a go at using the different tools, their confidence grew and now they regularly contribute to discussion forums, update their blogs and have produced some outstanding wikis, and their own videos. They are particularly keen on external weblinks for further resources and have found the Institute of Hospitality’s e-books and journals extremely useful. 1.3 Communication is key When running an online course there are various methods of communicating with students and monitoring their activity as a tutor (Bucko et al, 2005). Other than the usual email and phone, the use of text messaging via Blackboard has been great to give a quick reminder of what needs to be done. The use of wikis helps the tutor to track who has been contributing as one can get a breakdown of the different versions of the wiki and who updated it when. The discussion forums clearly show who has been active and the blogs are a great way for student and tutor to communicate one on one. If there is a student that has been very quiet or inactive then a gentle email to remind them or find out how they are usually nudges them back in to action. Other ways tutors have gained feedback are through online surveys that the students complete. These have been set up to indicate specifically how they have been getting on with Blackboard and other surveys have been set up in relation the modules they are studying. The tools mentioned so far have very much been focused on asynchronous activity, where students add their views, opinion or work and this is only seen when a fellow student or lecturer goes in to that forum, wiki or blog and then adds their comments. Synchronous activity where everyone is online at the same time and can interact together has been set up through messaging services. So the group have had group messaging meetings, which need to be facilitated well, otherwise conversations can get confused if you have several members of the group trying to “speak” at once or you have a fast typist who is jumping ahead of the conversation when a slower typist is still responding to the first question. For those that like to see people the use of webcams have proved to be invaluable, and viva vocas have been carried out online via webcam which has been fantastic. So as a tutor in London I can speak to my tutee in Ireland and see them face to face. This is also good for doing one to one tutorials. 1.4 Constant improvement The first cohort for The Army is up and running and as the students are working through the lessons and submitting assignments online, there is constant feedback on what works well and what needs to be improved upon. It is from this feedback that a protocol has been set up on how lessons are set out on line, so all lecturers can see what changes need to be made and can amend their materials and resources when appropriate to make them more user friendly and interactive

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for online use and needless to say the development continues. Lecturers developing online materials are able to get support from the IT department with 1:1 sessions, are mentored through the process and have regular team updates during our Team Development Days. One of the main comments from tutors developing materials is, “you need to allow twice as much time as you think you’ll need”. The main challenge that has come up from running this programme, is the access issues due to the military system – however this has now been overcome by the use of Backpack which allows Blackboard to be downloaded and used offline. Also materials have been given the students on DVD as well. 1.5 Top pointers on how to support online learning:  Have all lesson materials set up in advance of a module starting for each semester – keep them interactive.  Include text, pictures, graphics, colour, video in lesson materials  Have a dummy student enrolled to check the student view and double check links have been set up correctly  Ensure instructions for activities are crystal clear with expected time frames of how long to spend on formative exercises and word count guidelines  Give examples of good practice, so students can see what standard they are expected to work to – so if they have to produce a wiki page, show them one already completed to give ideas of what needs to be included  Contribute to discussion forums as well, don’t just leave it to the students  Regularly comment on wiki pages and blogs, so your students know you are around and can see what they are doing  Be accessible to your students via your VLE, email, text, phone, instant messaging. To sum up the experiences of supporting the Army online: It is one thing setting up the lessons on Blackboard, although it is totally different when the courses are live and being used. Out of sight is not out of mind.

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Bibliography Blackboard Survey (2008) Available at: http://bb.westking.ac.uk (Accessed 5 th January 2009) Bucko M, Sivy I, Gati J, Kartyas G and Madarasz L (2006) ‘Communication tools in ELearning systems’ [online], Available at: URL: www.bmf.hu/conferences/mtn2005/Bucko.pdf (Accessed: 07 February 2009) DfES (2003) Towards a unified e-learning strategy (consultation paper) Foundation Degree Forward (2007) Popularity of Foundation Degrees continue to Rise Available at: http://www.findfoundationdegree.co.uk/news.aspx?newsid=11 (Accessed 6 th Feb 2009) Johannesen T and Eide EM (2000) ‘The role of the teacher in the age of technology: Will the role change with use of Information- and communication technology in education?’ European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning Joliffee A, Ritter J and Stevens D (2003) The Online Learning Handbook, London, Kogan Page Jung M-L L, Loria K, Mostaghel R and Saha P (2008) ‘E-Learning: Investigating University Student’s Acceptance of Technology’ European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, Vol. 2 McNaught (2003) cited in Salmon G (2007) E-moderating – The key to teaching and learning online, (2nd ed), London: RoutledgeFalmer Mee A (2007) ‘E-Learning policy and the ‘transformation’ of schooling: a UK case study’ European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, Vol. 2 Nichols M. (2003) A theory for e-Learning Educational Technology and Society, Vol 6(2), pp110. Salmon G (2007) E-moderating – The key to teaching and learning online, (2nd ed), London: RoutledgeFalmer

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WIP - Supporting The Army Online  

CHME Conference Paper 2009

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