How to Achieve Industry Relevance and Student Engagement in Online Learning

Student-engagement

Digilearn as Solution

Higher Education is under worldwide scrutiny. The three problems that are most often hurled at educators are that:

  • University is industry-irrelevant in that there is a chasm between (a) the knowledge, skills and attributes graduates need to succeed in the workforce, and (b) the curriculum and assessment taught by academics within universities.
  • Students are bored and disengaged. While marketing media attracts students to universities by showing beautifully crafted images of laughter, conversation and thriving campuses, students often express that their experience is one of stress, isolation and disillusionment.
  • Online learning is a cost-cutting measure that provides a poor substitute for the on-campus student experience. The metaphor of a filing cabinet is the apt image of many online course sites, administered through Learning Management Systems (LMS). In other words, the course-sites contain folders of lecture transcripts, poor quality videos of recorded on-campus lectures and little else. This harkens back to the days of correspondence education, except that, instead of yesterday’s universities printing and mailing-out materials to students, today’s university students need to download the materials themselves (and pay for their own printing on top of tuition).

In acknowledgement of these potential problems, and as part of a suite of proactive pedagogical solutions, Digilearn was created. Digilearn is a trend-setting higher education innovation started in 2018 by the University of Southern Queensland (USQ). Digilearn was showcased at the 2018 Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia’s Annual Conference and staff from numerous other universities attended to learn how to implement this initiative at their institutions. The idea was conceived by the author of this paper, in her role as USQ Director, Advancement of Learning and Teaching. A Project Manager has been contracted until the end of 2018 to catalyse buy-in and collaboration between industry and academics. The Associate Director and production team of Media Design and Development (MDD), within the Office for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (OALT), work alongside academics and industry professionals to storyboard, film and edit the videos. The OALT Educational Designers work alongside academics across the disciplines to support the embedding of Digilearn into curriculum and assessment.

The definition of Digilearn is – an inspirational online video designed to teach industry-relevant curriculum to students. Not just any video counts as Digilearn. The Digilearn standards are that: the video content must be discipline-based curriculum; the explicit audience is students; the length must be between 5 and 20 minutes; 1/3 of the final cut must have been filmed in-industry; and the video must feature on-screen student/s, graduate/s, academic/s and employer/s.

The first video off the production line was designed to teach engineering students about the role of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) in surveying. Professor Kevin McDougall, Head of School, served as the discipline-based project leader. Most of the video (including images of students and staff undertaking surveying) was filmed on the Nexus Second Range Crossing site with MinStaff Survey. The industry delegate (featured on-screen) is a Professional Surveyor and a USQ graduate. A current student is featured on-screen, interviewing the professional. Chris McAlister, Professional Fellow (Surveying), and USQ academic, narrates the video and makes the learning content explicit for students. The video is a beautiful, artistic production, featuring drone-footage of a key urban engineering project, near the vicinity of one of the USQ campuses.

Videos provide compelling learning opportunities. In his article in the 24 October 2018 issue of The Australian, Professor Duncan Bentley wrote, “Comparing written texts to paintings, Socrates complains that they seem to talk to you as though they were intelligent, but if you ask them anything about what they say from a desire to be instructed they go on telling just the same thing forever” (p. 31). In other words, whereas text conveys only what is written, a picture paints a thousand words, and can inspire learners to go beyond the educators’ explicit intentions to reflect, apply, debate and create. Bentley (who is Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic at Swinburne University), shared this quote in the context of the opportunities afforded by online learning. He wrote that just like on-campus education, online learning can be good or bad, depending on the effort that is put into it by the academics and their universities. He wrote, “high-quality learning and teaching depend on us embracing technology and shaping it to the needs of learners and their future careers.” This quote segues to a return to the three criticisms of higher education shared in the introduction to this paper.

Applying the example of the “GPS in Surveying” video, this section of the paper addresses the capacity of Digilearn to resolve the potential big problems of higher education.

  • Digilearn increases, and evidences, industry-engagement. In addition, Digilearn enhances the employability and career preparation of students. Taking the example of the Engineering Digilearn production, the lead university academic and an industry professional (and university graduate) co-created curriculum and the manner in which it was taught to students. This formal collaboration has inspired further interaction, to the benefit of university students. The video has been used by the Engineering School as evidence of industry collaboration to satisfy accreditation requirements. Bringing a student along to the industry-based shoot, gave him an ideal opportunity to network with a local employer. The reach went far beyond this sole student. In addition to including content about how to use GPS in surveying, the video posed questions and answers about engineering careers, thus informing current students about how to prepare for success beyond university.
  • Digilearn productions achieve the benefits of edutainment. The videos are interesting, motivating and beautiful. The GPS engineering video displays breath-taking drone-filmed images of the terrain being surveyed. Putting time and effort into quality curriculum productions demonstrates care, commitment and respect for students and their learning. Rather than producing videos that bring students to university, Digilearn is designed to keep them there. Most universities put a great deal of human and digital resources into producing marketing videos to attract students to enrol. Currently enrolled students, however, are usually subjected to poor-quality lecture recordings, with little to no editing or quality controls. This scenario is not good enough for our future leaders, and it is unsurprising that university attrition rates are high. Digilearn has the capacity to heighten retention through putting education resourcing where it counts – in learning and teaching.
  • Digilearn is an exemplar of what online learning can be. Digilearn takes advantage of digital platforms, enabling the visualisation of curriculum. Students can pause, rewind and replay the engineering video for study revision. Key concepts and terms are presented online. Digilearn is intentionally and carefully embedded in curriculum and assessment to have a positive ripple effect on many components of education. The GPS video is now used on the LMS sites of multiple engineering courses. The video is used to inspire discussion and application of engineering concepts, and to inform career coaching.

This latter point segues to practical tips for embedding Digilearn in curriculum and assessment. The tips provided here are a subset of a full set written by Elizabeth Cook, in her previous role as Education Designer at USQ (she is now Manager, Student Transitions and Employability at Edith Cowan University).

Here are ideas for embedding Digilearn in curriculum and assessment –

  • Use Digilearn content to prompt online discussion through a Forum.
  • Use Digilearn to ‘flip the classroom’ assigning viewing prior to class and then following-up with in-class tasks.
  • Use Digilearn as a written formative assessment task – students watch and then respond to content-related questions.
  • Use Digilearn as a model/exemplar of a summative assessment task. Assign students the creation of their own Digilearn-type video to demonstrate their achievements through Work Integrated Learning.

In addition to providing ideas and support for academics, once the Digilearn production is complete and ready to use, the Digilearn core team provided practical strategies and advice to participants throughout the process. For example, here are the tips – While Filming.

  • Treat your interview like a conversation.
  • Avoid looking at the camera and focus on the person asking the questions.
  • You might be asked to rephrase your answer so that it incorporates the question.
  • Keep your answers to one to three sentences.
  • Be expressive and speak louder than usual.
  • Speak slowly, clearly and confidently.
  • Stand up straight, maintain eye contact and don’t forget to breathe.
  • Don’t worry about hesitating or pauses – they can be easily removed in editing.
  • Overall, try not to be nervous, relax – you have been chosen to participate for a reason.
  • Mistakes are allowed.
  • Ask any questions you have.
  • Enjoy the day.

This paper has used the example of the “GPS in Surveying” Digilearn production to describe the many educational opportunities and advantages. This is only one example. Thirty Digilearn videos will be fully produced and embedded in USQ online course curriculum and assessment, ready for student learning as of the first semester of 2019. Currently, 8 of these videos are complete or in the final stages, 17 are in-process and 5 are at the collaborative design stage with academics and industry delegates. Five schools have participated to date – Arts and Communication; Engineering and Surveying; Law and Justice; Nursing and Midwifery; and Teacher Education and Early Childhood. Examples of curriculum content include – Flood Prevention Strategies; International Humanitarian Law; Mediation Strategies; Surgery Recovery and Women in War.

An unexpected, and highly positive, outcome of the Digilearn initiative is a flow-on effect. Participating in the design, production and application of Digilearn has inspired additional content, audiences, applications and other positively disruptive approaches to education. For example, the School of Law and Justice decided to expand a short scene filmed for Digilearn to create another curricular object. They enacted a full dramatic scene about domestic violence and child protection law that will form the basis of case study assessment. Footage shot at St. Vincent’s Private Hospital Toowoomba will be used to make five videos for student education for student nurses and teachers, and four videos for the hospital to use for patient education. In other words, applying creativity to education expands horizons, possibilities, opportunities and impact. Whether you choose to emulate Digilearn or create your own type of education disruption, we owe it to our students to apply our imagination and thereby make the most of educational technology for learning and teaching.

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Shelley Kinash

Shelley Kinash

Director, Office of Learning & Teaching at Bond University
Dr Shelley Kinash is Director, Office of Learning and Teaching at Bond University. Prior to Bond, Shelley taught as a Visiting Academic to the Faculty of Education (Graduate Certificate in Higher Education and Early Childhood) at University of Southern Queensland. Shelley was an Academic in the Faculty of Education (Educational Technology and Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies) at the University of Calgary for 12 years. Shelley earned her PhD in Educational Technology in 2004. Her dissertation topic was Blind Online Learners, which she authored as one of her three books published by Information Age - Seeing Beyond Blindness. Shelley remains research active. You can contact her on skinash@bond.edu.au


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