In early 2021 a team from the School of International Studies and Education in FASS designed and taught a new suite of nested Online Program Management (OPM) courses. One of these courses is the Master of Education (Learning & Leadership), one of the fastest growing courses in the UTS OPM portfolio. 

The Master of Education (Learning and Leadership) (MEdLL) is an online course designed for busy professionals who are looking to take the next step in their careers. A hallmark of the MEdLL is the high level of customisation offered to students through its innovative and award-winning ‘Capability Wrap’ process. This process enables students to customise their assessments and learning to their professional context and is integrated into a course-wide portfolio.  

This is the first of a series of three blogs where we will share lessons learned, based on our experience of developing and teaching these new subjects, and reflecting on student feedback. There were three key challenges: 

  • How can we present all content and activities for a subject in an accelerated, asynchronous, online format? 
  • How can we offer a high level of customisation for students? 
  • How can we provide research-inspired, integrated opportunities for students to learn at the cutting edge of pedagogy, technology and industry? 

Working through these challenges provided many opportunities to reflect on our own practice as educators. In response to these challenges, we present three lessons: 

  1. One flow, but not one pace  
  2. Those subjects aren’t going to teach themselves 
  3. It takes a team 

Lesson 1: One flow, but not one pace 

The challenge 

All subjects in the MEdLL OPM are delivered across seven weeks. This accelerated model requires students to have access to all modules in a subject from their first day of enrolment. Presenting all content and activities for a subject in an accelerated, online format, and ensuring students were actively engaged as learners, was a key challenge. What we learnt was the importance of online teacher-presence to empower learners.

The design needed to provide all the content and activities for the subject as well as the navigation and signposting for students to carve out their own learning path. While we did provide an overarching linear module-to-module flow, we also built in choices and/or opportunities for personalisation and choice.

Some students will want to dwell more on some ideas, others will find some activities and content more challenging, and others will want to move on. This was achieved by such things as using a “Want more?” drop-down on pages with additional readings or media resources. In other places, students were invited to select options from ‘choose your own adventure’ style activities that allowed them to follow their own interests. 

In an on-campus class, you can respond in the moment and adjust the pace according to students’ questions and comments. A key question for us was: how we could reproduce this flexible attunement asynchronously? When students need to complete subjects in just seven weeks, how do you ensure they are ready for the next module without delaying their progress? 

The solution 

Our solution has been to signpost the means for students to set and check their own pace. We signal to students when to test their understandings so they can determine whether to move on or revisit some key ideas. Teachers reply to online activities and questions to support student learning, while ‘Want more?’ cues expand into enriched content. Dedicated ‘assets’ designed in collaboration with the Postgraduate Learning Design team help students check and consolidate their learning, and in some subjects empower students to develop their own projects.  

The content information was great and really structured to help you learn the key points (and go deeper if you wanted to).

Student feedback, SFS 

Pre-recorded content such as video lectures or podcasts work very differently in a fully online course. In our subjects, this content works powerfully with interactive activities and tools to personalise and support student learning. What matters here is that we signpost, ensuring students know what they should be able to do with content and ideas we are presenting to them. Across our suite of nested courses, the modules in each subject are structured consistently to provide students with familiar navigation, options and signposting that empowers them to take charge of their own learning journey.  

At the same time, we needed to think creatively about how to support students to achieve the unique learning objectives of every subject. Subjects which are more project-focused rely upon scaffolded learning, encompassing both formative and summative assessment and feedback, to enable a higher proportion of work to happen away from the Canvas subject site. Additionally, an AQF 8 entry-level subject in the Graduate Certificate in Education (Learning and Leadership) provides embedded academic support to facilitate students’ transition into post-graduate study. Taking a cumulative and holistic approach to transition and engagement, Learning Partners, Mutual Inquiry Groups and other collaborative peer learning strategies empower students to make connections and support each other. 

I liked the Zoom sessions and Learning Partner engagement – online learning didn’t feel so lonely or isolated – and you could bounce ideas or hear others’ ideas which helped you with your own.

Student feedback, SFS 

Overall, we learned that teacher presence makes a world of difference online. Even though there’s an ideal trajectory through the subject, with its timing arranged around a 7-week period, we are also mindful that students have different learning interests and needs that impact on their progression. As such, they will ‘move’ through online subjects with different intensities, and we also need to acknowledge this.  

If you’d like to hear more about our experiences and insights, please comment below or email Amanda Lizier.

Thanks to the following people for their contributions: Dr. Annie Agnew, Leticia Bairo, A/Professor Nick Hopwood, Dr. Lauren Knussen, Veronica Lauria, Dr. Amanda Lizier, A/Professor Jacqui McManus, Dr. Jonathon Mascorella, Dr. Soli Le-Masurier, Amanda Nairn, Mitchell Osmond, A/Professor Ann Reich, Caecilia Roth Darko, Dr. Donna Rooney, Megan Spindler-Smith 

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