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Using Video Conferencing to Support Distance Learning
A Staff Development Course
4 Review with Recommendations
The aim of this case study was to design and develop a course which specifically addresses the teaching needs of staff involved in the support and delivery of teaching using video conferencing. This chapter comments on whether the course objectives, outlined in the first chapter, were met and on the multi service approach taken to the design, development and delivery of the course.
The results of the formative evaluation and the summative evaluation would indicate that the course has been successful in meeting its objectives. In particular, in assessing the learners' performance, all the participants scored highly and appeared to have adopted the recommended guidelines. At the feedback session, participants were very pleased with their experience and appeared to be more confident in their ability to use the technology.
In line with Leigh's (1996) comments, evaluation cannot be completed at this time as the benefits and value of the course will only be evident after a period of time has elapsed. To gain a more accurate picture of the effectiveness of the training, plans have been made to follow up a number of the participants. We will explore whether they found the course useful for the planning, preparation and delivery of their teaching. This evaluation will be conducted using structured interviews and observations.
The training was adopted to include both the teaching staff and the technicians who would be responsible for supporting their teaching colleagues in using video conferencing. It was felt that they would be able to support more effectively if they had an appreciation of the pedagogical needs of the teaching staff. However, the behaviour of the technicians during training, their feedback and that of the trainers, all indicated that extending the target audience in this way had not been successful. In hindsight, it may have been more productive to have provided separate technical orientated training and then included these technical staff in a more active role during the scheduled training sessions. In running the course again, this provision will be made.
As highlighted, the project team involved in the design, development and delivery, included the ICBL (institution supporting staff using technology); Computing Services, Audio Visual Services, Staff Development and Training Unit and the Enterprise Unit. This multi service approach ensured that there was a blend of skills and experience, complemented with the knowledge on delivery of staff development courses and most importantly, an understanding of the application of technology in the educational context. These service providers also have a role to play in the promotion, management and support of video conferencing technology in the university.
C&IT training should be driven by the pedagogical requirements of the teacher and student and not led by the technology.
From our experience of developing courses and using technology when delivering teaching, we have found that it is good practice to introduce technology within the existing teaching and learning context. In this way you are not training staff to use the technology, but are showing how technology can be used to support and enhance established teaching methods and modes of delivery. This is a basic recommendation that should always be considered when developing courses of this nature.
The following recommendations should be of value to anyone involved in developing and delivering video conferencing or other C&IT related training courses associated with distance learning.
Include the key service providers in the University
A multi service approach for the design, development and delivery of this type of training ensures that there is the necessary blend of educational, technical and presentational skills necessary.
These service providers also have a role to play in promoting, supporting and managing the video conferencing facility and its use within the University.
Provide training at a departmental level
Where possible the training should be provided at a departmental level. This allows the training to be in line with the strategic teaching and learning needs of the department. Therefore staff development should not only be servicing the needs of the individual but also those of the organisation. This is supported by Gibbs and Blackmore who believe that "... staff development becomes an adjunct to organisational development rather than a personal matter" (as cited by Maier et al (1997)).
In providing training at a departmental level, there is also a greater likelihood that staff will have similar experiences and can learn from and support each other. In our experience, when starting to use video conferencing, it is beneficial to have a colleague assist in the preparation of teaching and be available to support the delivery of the first few sessions. An evaluation of performance can then be carried out together and each can learn from the others experiences.
Where possible departmental support staff should be included in all video conferencing and C&IT related training. This provides an opportunity for an appreciation of the complementary roles of the teacher with their needs and the support staff with their technical expertise. Support staff should be encouraged to take an active role in video conferencing and C&IT related training. From our observation and the results of the summative evaluation it may be more beneficial to provide prior technical training.
Involve senior staff
Ownership for the development, delivery and support of training should be at all levels to ensure optimum integration and uptake of the new technology. Having the approval and support of senior staff can give creditability to the training, establishing it firmly within the existing departmental structures. Support has to be visible, for example, written endorsement or attendance at the training. In our training, a senior member of staff was invited to come along to the first session and give an overview of the role of video conferencing and distance education in the School of Nursing and Midwifery. In further sessions, reference back to the content of this address helped establish the training provision firmly within the department's infrastructure.
In addition to the visible involvement of senior members of staff, we requested that the department carry out the administration of the course, for example, selecting appropriate staff for the training and contacting them regarding date and venue. We felt that this improved co-operation and absolved us from these administrative duties.
Be clear about the objectives of the training
Underpinning effective teaching with video conferencing is the requirement for good communication and presentational skills and good teaching practices. When designing training, it is important to be clear about the boundaries of the training, that is, the aim of video conferencing training should not be to teach the basics of good presentation or effective teaching. These underpinning skills should be addressed in other staff development courses and built upon in video conferencing training.
In the initial session, a member of the STDU at the University was invited to highlight the role of the unit within the University and the services and courses which they facilitate. Emphasis was placed on the courses which would complement training in video conferencing, for example, Small Group Teaching, Developing Student Groupwork Skills, Preparing and Giving Lectures.
Use a methodical approach in designing training
When designing training, it is important to identify and explore all relevant components as early as possible. We would recommend using an approach, like the MORAL framework, as it provides a checklist and a means of cross referencing that all components and their interrelationships have been considered. The framework was also useful in evaluating and communicating progress with all project team members.
Think carefully about who delivers the training
The trainers can greatly affect the shape and style of your training. They should have previous experience in C&IT training and ideally, have experience of using the technology to teach. This ensures that they will have first hand knowledge of the subject area and can empathise with participants, appreciating their fears and anxieties. They can also share experiences and suggest innovative applications of the use of technology.
The delivery of the training was primarily facilitated by a member of staff from ICBL who is involved in the use of video conferencing in a teaching context. Support was provided by staff from CS, AVS and STDU. In the initial session, it was made clear that the training would not focus on the technology, but rather in preparing them to make best use of the technology in their teaching. Summative evaluation indicates that the participant's attitude towards the facilitators was very positive and that the pitch of the training was appropriate.
More generally, trainers should be aware of the pressures `real' or `perceived' which staff may experience when setting out to use technology. There is need for an understanding of the adoption cycle of introducing new technologies and being sympathetic to resistance to change.
Include good and innovative use of the technology
In addition to the content of the training, the practices of the trainers can illustrate good and innovative use of the technology. We would recommend that you illustrate the potential of the technology by using it were appropriate. A very simple example, which we believed was successful, is the use of Microsoft PowerPoint with data sharing for presenting the lectures during the training. The summative evaluation showed that a number of the participants requested training in the use of Microsoft PowerPoint as they had seen the potential of both data sharing and the convenience of using a presentational package.
Where possible it is beneficial to deliver the training in context. Typically the first part of each session was set aside for lecturing, discussion and demonstrations and for the latter hands-on session, 'two sites' were linked. This gave the participants an opportunity to not only use the technology, for example, to use the remote control or document camera, but it also enabled them to communicate over the video conferencing link and get the feedback from the other group. In communicating with the other group, they realised the importance of voice clarity and projection and how to deal with the effect of the time delay.
Balance your training methods
A balance of training methods is required to ensure that the participants are given the opportunity to acquire information, assimilate and reflect on it, view it in their own context and gain experience themselves.
Evaluations to date have been very positive in terms of the content and teaching methods with the participants finding most benefit from the practical and hands-on sessions. We feel however that this was in part due to the information and preparation carried out in the first part of each session. The hands-on approach should ideally be structured to ensure maximum effectiveness. In our experience, the first time the participants used the facilities they were enthusiastic and asked questions but were hesitant to use the equipment themselves. In reviewing this, we decided to structure this part of the session and 'forcefully persuade' them to experiment. Giving the participants a set of activities to work through appeared to give them the confidence to use the equipment and then experiment for themselves.
Throughout the training, the participants were encouraged to reflect on their teaching style and the material and teaching aids they use. These experiences also helped them to re-evaluate their teaching in a traditional setting. For example when demonstrating features on a model of the infant skull, the participants concluded that it would be advisable to have additional teaching models sent to the remote site. It also prompted the observation that in traditional teaching in a large lecture theatre, the detail cannot possibly be seen by all students.
The discussions and participative approach provided insight into the needs and requirements of the participants but also helped develop our understanding of how participants feel when using video conferencing for the first time. The discussions not only informed the content and direction of the training, but also helped evaluate the training and identify areas for revision.
Make the trainees aware of the potential barriers to learning
To use the technology effectively, staff need to have an appreciation of the limitations of the technology. In addressing these 'potential barriers to learning' suggestions can be made on how to cope and manage the effective delivery of teaching.
In the training, the participants were divided into groups to discuss the methods and media they currently use. They were then asked to identify any potential difficulties that they could foresee in using their methods and media in a video conferencing context. From this discussion, difficulties, such as, managing a classroom at a distance; enabling interaction and student involvement, were identified. This discussion was then developed, giving an indication of why they may arise and constructive ways in which these may be addressed.
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