On Track Action Research Project Stage 1: Planning and preparation

OUR PROJECT RESEARCH QUESTION Will delivery via the web reduce teacher hours and be a more attractive mode of delivery than the current distance model?

Planning and preparation: developing the course and providing the teacher with support:

I am just typing my thoughts here without sticking to the format of the page. At the end of my project I will cut it all up and move it around under the appropriate headings. Until then you will have to tolerate the stream of consciousness style.

The initial plan was to work with both the Police Plus course and some units of the Certificate III in Education. This has now been reduced to just working with the Police Plus course. I thought that I had all the documents that would be required in a digital format but closer investigation revealed that only recently produced documents were digital and that the majority of the documents were only available in paper format. Documents have all been scanned and OCR software has been used. This is only the beginning as many of the documents have diagrams or columns of figures that require human editing and modification. We have now put in many hours of work adapting these documents.

I had been planning to use TafeVC as the delivery platform for this course but I have really been struggling as the interface is not intuitive to use. It is difficult to describe exactly why I find this program to be so difficult but I find it hard to know what to do and whether what I am doing is producing the required effect. I had given up and decided to use a wiki which would have many disadvantages but I felt confident that I could at least make something happen. But Josie has now offered to come and provide some direct assistance and between us I am sure we can make it happen.

Well Josie came and visited and I did achieve some of the goals I had set. Josie showed me how to use TafeVC. And I can now do some of the basic things required to set up my course. All did not go smoothly but it did go. It was a great help to have someone in the same room as me providing hands on assistance. (e.g. Click that button there. No not that one the red one. Up a bit. That's the one.) Josie also inroduced me to some new applications that I will be able to use. SnagIt which grabs a screen view and turns it into a picture (jpeg or the like) which can then be inserted into a word document. I intend to use these to make my instructions for students. More to come soon.......

Here's some more. I have now loaded up all of week one and the introductory material to TafeVC. I have made the instructions for the course using the snagIt application. I think SnagIt is great I can capture the screen as it will appear to students and draw arrows on and provide written instructions. I am yet to be convinced that the instructions will work. We had a trial in the office with Tammy (my co-worker) following the instructions. It worked up to a point but TafeVC is not compatible with the most recent version of Java and this caused problems. It is not simple to write instructions that are suitable for basic computer users that describe how to uninstall Java then go on-line identify a compatible version and install that version. I have given them simpler instructions that direct them to turn off Java inside their browser but this will require them to switch it on and off whenever they wish to interact with active content. I hope TafeVC can fix this SOON.

I have been encountering some difficulties using the bulk enrolment feature on TafeVC and the key to the problem is that in one of my courses I created my own 'Learning context ID' which made intuitive sense that is it was the course name (Police_Plus_2007) but my other course had an automatically created 'Learning context ID' which was URN:X-WEBCT-VISTA-V1:2a57e864-c0a8-022c-0075-319d1e809923 which I don't think I was ever going to guess.

This morning I went on ABC radio to promote our online version of Police Plus. I hope that I will get some students.

I have started showing my teacher around our TafeVC site. She is moderately computer literate but she still finds the site a little difficult to relate to. She has expressed some concern that students might share this problem. I have tried to make the site as simple as possible. One of the main outcomes I am looking for is to save teachers from having to spend so much time doing mail outs and communicating with students on the telephone. I am not going to get that outcome unless I can make the teachers comfortable in using the site. I am hoping that the internal mail on TafeVC can replace at least some of the telephone communication that takes place in our current distance learning method.


Some reflections on using optical character recognition software. Do not think that this is a quick way of turning paper learning materials into digital formats. My experience has been that it is scarcely quicker than starting from scratch and typing like a fury. I guess like most things that having a bit of experience makes it a bit quicker. The main problem is that the software makes text boxes in such a way that each paragraph (and sometimes sentence) is in a seperate box. This means that the formatting of the document is very difficult to change. The simplest way I've discovered is to copy and paste special as 'unformatted unicode text' this removes all formats and though the document is now a mess you can easily apply any format to the whole text. Another key is to make the documents relatively short that is one or two A4 pages. When I scanned the documents I used the document handler on the scanner and scanned a whole bunch of pages at once. I would still do this as it saves handling each seperate page but the first thing I would then do is cut up the resulting word document into one or two page bits then I would cut and paste as unformatted unicode and then lastly apply the formats and page layouts I wanted. If you can it would be good to get teachers to prepare digital versions of their materials as they go so that you don't have a pile of documents to do all at once. I have now started asking my teachers to do this even in those courses that I currently have no plan to put online. The advantage is that materials can be modified easily by new teachers without having to start from scratch and if down the track I want to prepare an online course I will have a head start.

Classroom Recordings

I have also been playing around trying to upload some of my classroom recordings for the Certificate III in Education. Currently we mail CDs of class to distance students. Most students claim that this is very useful. I have been running into a real bottle neck as my upload speed is much slower than I had anticipated and combined with some hiccups on TafeVC I have spent a lot of time for little result. I would really like to cut out the CD making aspect of the mailout but at this stage I am not sure how effective it will be to have the recordings online. The problem is that it will require students to be adequately computer literate and have broadband. I just wonder whether I will find enough students in this category to make the work worthwhile. I will be trying a small trial we two of my current students to see if they can log on, make the site work, and then download some example recordings. The main problem here is associated with my broadband connection, it's not broad enough. The upload speed is too low to deal with the size of these files. Compression does not seem to significantly shrink the size and it is taking to long for them to upload.I would have to consider whether it was economic to change my connection speed just to deal with this as we do not need the extra bandwidth for anything else. If most of the distance students were going to access the recordings via the internet then it would be worthwhile but this would not be likely. In class and via mail I called for volunteers with broadband to be guinea pigs for this project from 28 students I had two who had broadband and were willing to give it a go. I will most likely try a few short recordings as a trial for these two and then perhaps down the track when broadband becomes more common I could revisit this method of communication.

Actions: Preparation (List actions as you identify them)

Scan and edit documents
Load documents to delivery platform
Create and load other aspects of delivery site
Assist teacher to navigate in delivery platform