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Since it inception, Deakin University has been committed to the delivery of innovative, high quality course materials to its off campus students. Until recently these packages were predominantly print based, although augmented with audio-visual materials delivered in cassette format. Ironically, with the advent of information and communications technologies (ICT), and some select computer assisted learning and multimedia packages, there was an overall decline in the use of audio and video as important means of enhancing learning. Like many other universities, Deakin has moved to a strong, centralised approach to the provision of its digital and online corporate technology environment. With investment in these technologies has come a renewed interest in the ways in which text and audio-visual materials in digital form can enhance students' learning experiences. Moreover, the ways in which a variety of digital media supported by online developments can create new models and approaches to teaching/learning has figured prominently. This paper presents a case study of how this challenge has been taken up in a unit, Political Leadership, in the Faculty of Arts. The academic teacher's intentions in moving to a completely digital approach are examined along with students' experiences of learning in the subject. Issues are considered from the experience.
We (still) applaud the ideal of the 'satisfied customer' [read university student]. ...Instead, we must focus on creating a scintillating ... encompassing ... dramatic ... novel... 'customer experience' (Peters, 2003, p.113).So we can say the same for students in higher education - a 'customer experience' of substance, vitality and memorability. Amidst major new investments in corporate technology infrastructures, underpinned by the acquisition of learning management systems, digital object learning management systems, streaming technologies and so on, remains the enduring challenge of finding and realising educational value, or, put another way, the creation of educative experiences, for teachers and learners. Institutions have declared their strategic intentions in the area of online teaching and learning. These intentions are expressed in strategic and operational plans which attempt to draw together online developments with broader commitments to the development of graduate attributes, internationalisation of the curriculum and use of experiential learning. However, what of the responses to these directions by academic teaching staff on the ground? Clearly they need to engage constructively with myriad plans and policies, and new technologies in order to give effect to both institutional and personal styles and pedagogical convictions. Despite this they tend not to be consulted. They are often the unheard but critically important stakeholder group through which new possibilities must be grasped and realised if their institutions are to fully benefit from the potential of online learning.
This paper outlines an innovative development in the move from print to digital media and online work in order to help achieve key curriculum aspirations as shaped by a senior academic in charge of the unit. The unit's subject matter is concerned with Political Leadership and in itself the unit has come to exercise a kind of leadership in its use of digital media and online environment in ways quite different to many of its immediate predecessors in the Faculty of Arts at Deakin University. What makes this particular unit interesting is the academic's decision to make a complete break with the use of printed study guides and readers, and his emphasis on the use of alternative media. The approach has aroused interest across the University challenging staff to think afresh about their conceptions of the value of different aspects of their teaching generally, and the use of different media and the role and function of 'study guides' in particular. In this paper the Unit Chair's intentions in developing this new type of learning environment are examined along with students' experiences with it in its first year of offering.
There has been a clear shift in universities in the last five years to move 'online' and large investments in IT infrastructure to support this move have been made across the sector (the motivations of various stakeholders involved in this development were examined by Holt, Rice, Smissen and Bowly (2001)). So far there appears to have been an almost universal commitment to the establishment of such infrastructure through a strong corporate, centralised approach. All agree that this investment is necessary. What is not so clear is how best to use these technologies to enhance the quality and efficiency of teaching and learning. This in turn requires that key aspects of the educational experience are made accessible and affordable to a mass student audience. The need to provide a broad range of educational opportunities at appropriate and maintainable quality and cost to large student cohorts is the imperative in higher education globally. Central to achieving the potential educational benefits of the new corporate technology investments lies the changing but still critically important role of the academic teacher in higher education.
Mindful of the possibility of new disjunctions occurring between technological imperative and pedagogical interests, Holt and Segrave (2003) outlined six areas of potential value adding for teachers and learners in developing and using the new corporate technologies: broadened and direct contributions from learning support stakeholders; opening up of learning environments to external parties; customisation and personalisation of learning experiences; sharing of learning resources; development of virtual practica; and ecologically responsive e-learning environments. These areas can be further grounded through an understanding of six key principles of tertiary teaching effectiveness most recently articulated by Ramsden (2003, pp.93-99) and covering: interest and explanation; concern and respect for students and student learning; appropriate assessment and feedback; clear goals and intellectual challenge; independence, control and engagement; and learning from students.
The areas of e-learning benefit were raised in the context of the need for critical reflection on the role of academic teachers and other parties in the changing education enterprise of the university in contemporary higher education. More importantly, the areas are seen as ways in which teacher agency can be preserved in era of corporate approaches to e-learning. Deakin University's commitment to significantly expanding its online presence, included a decision to require all undergraduate students enrolled from 2004 to undertake at least one unit in their studies in 'wholly online' mode (i.e. with no face to face teaching irrespective of the mode of enrolment), new models and approaches shaped by academic teaching concerns are desperately needed (see Deakin University Strategic Plan 2004 Taking Deakin University Forward, 'Deakin Online' Management Plan 2003-2007). The Political Leadership unit model represents one of many emerging responses to these strategic directions and operational necessities. It particularly attempts to reclaim the benefits of learning through a range of media coupled with the establishment of a more ecologically responsive e-learning environment involving a range of learning support stakeholders and contributions from parties external to the institution.
At the major curriculum redevelopment level, the academic teaching team wished to put in place a new look major which was: consonant with the University's priorities to further internationalise the whole curriculum enabling a substantially wider and more explicit engagement with ideas, debates and developments beyond Australia; further strengthening its vocational orientation; broadening the scope of offerings in regard to the student base given a very high proportion of the students undertake combined degrees such as Arts-Commerce; offering students a better choice and greater flexibility in moving through and achieving a strong, balanced politics major which would compare very well with offerings in leading institutions; balanced across semesters from a student and staff, and faculty viewpoint and effectively resourced; taking advantage of the University's strong directions in online teaching and learning, referred to as Deakin Studies Online (DSO).
The Unit Chair wished to offer a broad ranging curriculum based on, and expressive of, the above set of factors. Based on his research interests in the field of political leadership, he wished to have a broad ranging treatment of different political leaders in different historical periods in different parts of the world with different types of political 'authority' and in different cultural contexts. The curriculum is structured topic by topic (or parallel themes) (Rowntree 1981, p.107) traversing the terrains of: the triumph of persistence - unlikely leaders at war; dissident politics in the developing world; power and perception - the patriarchs of Southeast Asia; idealism, reality and the transition to democracy; the US presidency; the Australian Prime Minister; and the politics of moral capital. While topics are addressed in on-campus lectures in a certain sequence, the subject matter itself can be learnt in various orders assuming a knowledge of the key concept of moral capital covered in the opening topic.
The analytical glue binding together the various elements of the unit is the application of a theory of moral capital to the study of political leadership. The uniquely defined curriculum is also characterised by providing students with considerable flexibility and choice in relation to essay assessment work around a broad set of political leaders and political leadership. Such choice and flexibility being seen as one of the key principles of an enabling learning environment in higher education literature (see Ramsden 2003 above). It is significant that the Unit Chair was also IT literate and was pre-disposed to taking unique advantage of support offered as part of Deakin's e-learning strategy. This IT competence translated into a commitment to providing students with opportunities to work with a range of printed, and digital text, audio and video materials along with Internet resources. The unit was therefore designed to make a special contribution in allowing students to use ICT in task related ways to enhance their digital information literacy and ultimately lifelong learning skills.
The audio interview with the author of the textbook was designed to bring external expertise more intimately into the students' learning environment. This was also done by interviewing a number of Deakin staff around their knowledge of and passion for particular political leaders. It was recognised that many of the political leaders featured in the unit may be pretty much unknown to many of the students who had never before heard audio recordings or seen visual recordings of these leaders. The idea behind using television broadcast documentary footage of some of these leaders was to allow students to experience them as people more directly and vividly than could be achieved through scholarly text discourse alone. Current licence arrangements allowing the use of broadcast material recorded live off air has reignited interest and opportunity in using high quality video documentaries, for example, in digital form as key learning resources in educational programs. The Unit Chair figured prominently in these audio and video enhancements. These media provide expressive outlets for the teaching staff member to infuse his own interests, indeed, academic identity through the unit and to claim a strong sense of professional ownership and commitment. Bates' (1995) observations in relation to educational broadcast television apply equally to recorded video documentaries and, in-house video and audio featuring Deakin staff used in the unit:
The argument is that television allows the [distance education] student both to identify the individuality of the teacher(s) responsible for the distance teaching material, and to provide a public image and awareness of the university's presence, a sense of belonging and community for the otherwise isolated student. The feedback collected from British Open University students over a number of years indicates clearly that students appreciate seeing the people responsible for the production of the teaching materials on television. (p.69)
|Face to face teaching|
(for on-campus students)
Prescribed textbook (Kane)
No Deakin printed study guide
No Deakin printed reader
|Announcements from the Unit Chair provided instructions on how to access the technology, and information about assignments.||One one hour lecture per week in cities of Melbourne and Geelong: storytelling about the life and times of political leader and application of theory of moral capital to life story|
|Online resources in DSO
Basic study guide (38 pages)
Arts Student Manual and Assignment Preparation Guide
Audio and video files
Audio streamed lectures
Links to Arts, Library, University and external websites
|Discussions about course content and administrative matters - mostly to clarify assignment requirements and for social discourse.
Thoughts on topic spaces designed to extend basic study guide commentary.
|One hour tutorial classes across the semester in Melbourne and Geelong exploring in greater depth moral capital in relation to each political leader.|
Disk 1: in-house and live off air video materials (8); Disk 2: e-readings (61); audio materials (20), basic study guide (38 pages); Disk 3: live off air video materials (3)
|Frequently Asked Questions - FAQ re formal assessment|
Emails, mobile and voice mail to individual students for private communication.
|Age||18-20 (38%); 21-25 (32%); 26-35 (23%); over 35 (7%)|
|Gender||Male (48%); Female (52%)|
|Mode of study||On-campus (80%); off-campus (20%)|
|Level of study||AIP298 (59%); AIP398 (38%); AIP498 (3%)|
The appropriateness of the unit's flexible formal assessment tasks on the achievement of the unit's visions and aims in the eyes of the students, and its stimulus in eliciting student engagement with the digital resources and textbook, can be gleaned from the survey results: over 90% of students valued the assignments in helping them achieve the unit's learning objectives; 93% appreciated assignment choice; 84% believed assignment topics were appropriate and 91% thought the reading materials were helpful in preparing for the assignments. What remained more problematic was the provision of discussion spaces online in supporting the assignment work, with only 48% of students believing that this helped them in their assignments. This stands out as being an area that requires development.
The unit attracts a significant percentage of international students, and involves examining a broad range of political leaders from different cultural settings in order to build analytical skills in a cross cultural context (see above). With this in mind we believe that the evaluation flags an important area of for future research relating to student learning with digital media: online learning in cross cultural settings. Hofstede (1986) has developed a 2 dimensional model: Power distance against individualism; and Masculinity against Uncertainty; to help explain some of the elements of this sort of cross cultural research. The findings strongly suggest that further research is needed to understand how different cultural factors affect students' online learning. Building on previous work, Hofstede (1991) identified five cultural issues that influence learning behaviour in this sort of setting: Power distance can be defined as the extent to which less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally; Collectivism versus individualism where collectivism refers to when people are integrated into a strong group that provides security and protection, while individualism refers to the nuclear family structure and the expectation of individuals looking after themselves; Masculinity and femininity where in 'masculine' societies men are tough and concerned with success, whereas women are more modest, and interested in the quality family life compared with in 'feminine' societies, both men and women are equally concerned with the quality of life; Avoidance of uncertainty which is the extent to which people feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations; and Long term orientation where just as the concept of deferred gratification has been referred to when describing the Protestant work ethic, so too a cultural commitment to hard work and education for long term benefit represents an important characteristic of East Asian cultures. While this area awaits further research, the current evaluation makes it clear that if we ignore cultural factors, we will overlook an important area of variation in student learning experiences with digital media and online technologies of growing significance in a world of globalising e-learning, international virtual exchanges, cross cultural curriculum developments and expanding international student audiences.
The interview with [author of prescribed text] is certainly an interesting, intelligent discussion, seemingly a good introduction to the course. It reinforces the ideas discussed...and provides a number of ideas that students can further pursue for their essays. I think the audio interviews are a very good idea. They are a stimulating and convenient way of accessing course content, I would definitely recommend that you continue this approach. I was highly impressed by the depth of knowledge that your colleagues demonstrate in the interviews and video footage. It seems to me like a great idea to make use of their expertise in delivering course content. The video material is a good idea too. The variety of media, is a good thing for students. It's more effective and stimulating to learn via a number of channels. I think that the more extensive readings stored on the CD, in contrast to what is usually available in unit readers, is of greater benefit for students.In relation to the use and value attributed to audio and video resources on different political leaders, results are summarised in Table 3. Usage and value were largely dependent on students' assignment choices on particular political leaders, although most segments were used and valued quite well.
|Political Leader||Used extensively/|
not at all
|Text author commentary||Audio (77%)||Audio (23%)||Audio (86%)||Audio (14%)|
|Lincoln||Audio (59%)||Audio (41%)||Audio (83%)||Audio (17%)|
|De Gaulle||Audio (53%)||Audio (47%)||Audio (70%)||Audio (30%)|
|Suu Kyi||Audio (59%)|
|Kuan Yu, Mahathir & Soeharto||Audio (43%)||Audio (57%)||Audio (62%)||Audio (38%)|
|Wahid||Video (36%)||Video (64%)||Video (48%)||Video (52%)|
|JFK to Clinton||Audio (48%)||Audio (52%)||Audio (70%)||Audio (30%)|
|Menzies to Howard||Audio (56%)|
So too does the need for serious engagement with the audio-visual material in lieu of the usually sizable printed study guide. As explained by the Unit Chair, an understanding of the phenomenon of contemporary political leadership requires students to engage actively and critically with broadcast media and the Internet. The provision of a substantial amount of audio-visual material was in part aimed at orientating students to the need to engage with the contemporary media in continuing their understanding of political leadership during and beyond the study of the unit. In the case of the latter, the choice of assignment topic around breaking political leadership developments like this year's American presidential elections can only be reasonably researched through the use of the Internet and engagement with media broadcast sources. Students becoming comfortable with the choice and self directness required in the unit is illustrated as follows: 'Most other courses are quite directed in the material presented, but this has allowed me to find my own information and digest and analyse things for myself, whilst still having a starting point from which to build'.
The audio-visual materials were selected and recorded to capture students' attention and interest in the various political leaders dealt with in the unit. The capturing and audio streaming of lectures once the exclusive preserve of on-campus students who could make the particular lecture at a particular time are now available to all students, and can be seen more centrally as another key dimension of the overall guide to the unit's study drawing on and in other key learning resources and connecting out to online communications spaces between classroom teaching accessible by all students. The streamed lectures also provided connections between topics and political leaders, and current political developments, a useful addition to the basic study guide commentary. The basic approach taken with the lectures was that they should be used as a vehicle for story telling as a means of conveying the subject matter; with the telling of the stories of the lives and times of the political leaders covered in the unit done in ways complementary to the more analytical treatments in the audio interviews produced on the CD and in DSO. McDrury and Alterio (2003) observe that:
Storytelling is a uniquely human experience that enables us to convey, through the language of words, aspects of ourselves and others, and the worlds, real or imagined, that we inhabit. Stories enable us to come to know these worlds and our place in them given that we are all, to some degree, constituted by stories: stories about ourselves, our families, friends and colleagues, our communities, our culture, our place in history. (p.31)
This grassroots move to digital empowerment where local media are developed by teaching staff for their students' benefit on the fly can circumvent centrally determined media production standards, and those in central support groups who are the professionally trained media development specialists. However, with so few professional media producers centrally located, the move to local productions fit for their intended purpose seems inevitable. The issue is not one of central media production professionals versus the efforts of amateur teachers, but the need to recognise and help facilitate such forms of digital media development in ways that are technically sound and educationally beneficial. In part, the success of moves towards educational digital media use on a large scale will be dependent on implementing a hybrid approach where appropriate media elements are developed through both central and local approaches working together. This requires a research and development program orchestrated at the centre to consider technical standards and educational guidelines in developing different types of digital media for different purposes in a range of disciplines. Moreover, it is easy to speak of the digital and online in one and the same breath. Both in terms of creation/distribution and use, CD, or, indeed, DVD is still a superior platform for multiple media, specifically longer, documentary style programs compared to online systems for on-campus, intranet and off-campus Internet learners. Pushing all such material only and wholly online can undermine its use and value for students. Moreover, it can compromise the distinctive value of online technologies for their more powerful communicative potentials.
As reported above, although the online environment, as it was established to support discussion on assignments, was not as fully utilised as it might have been, and while the digital learning experience was strong, the online experience was muted, at least in the form of collaborative endeavours within the online system. We acknowledge that this might require stronger connection between online collaboration and formal assessment requirements, including such things like submission of assignment proposals for online comment by lecturer and fellow students, or even online group work for off-campus students. Moreover, it would seem to certainly require a very active moderating role to be played by the lecturer. While acknowledging these possibilities, we would wish to reinforce the key message with digital and online developments that it is difficult for any particular teaching staff member to avail themselves of all the possibilities with other pressing job responsibilities. Therefore, priorities need to be pursued in relation to the best options for enhancing students' learning.
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|Authors: Dale Holt & Siew Mee Barton, Teaching and Learning Support Unit, Learning Services, Deakin University|
Greg Barton, School of Social and International Studies, Faculty of Arts, Deakin University
Please cite as: Holt, D., Barton, S.M. & Barton, G. (2004). From the comforts of print to the possibilities of digital media: Leading the way in teaching political leadership in a Faculty of Arts. In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 403-412). Perth, 5-8 December. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/holt.html
© 2004 Dale Holt, Siew Mee Barton and Greg Barton
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