Archive for August, 2011

Another August day, more rain outside, and a new set of offices.  The recent IHR relocation has, in part, caused a short pause in my blog posting about History SPOT.  There are of course other reasons – largely based around the fact that not much happens in August when it comes to seminars and research training. 

I would like to say that I have a definite date for the launch of History SPOT for you, but we’re not quite there yet.  That said, we’ve almost passed the final big hurdle.  The single sign-on between the three systems that we are using (Drupal, Moodle, and Mahara) is now completed, although there is still some work to be done on the sign-off.  The toolbar on Mahara (which has caused us a little difficulty) is almost in place and a search engine now appears in the Drupal part of the website and should soon be implemented across the entire site.

Today I added the Asa Briggs: A Celebration podcasts to the History SPOT site.  Although these podcasts were already uploaded to the IHR History website a month ago I had yet to duplicate the effort.  They are now up with a little bit of additional content.  I’ll go into that more of course once the site is launched.  Whilst uploading I had a listen to one or two of them – it appears to me that Lord Briggs career provides an interesting lens for the development of the History profession in the 20th century.  I’ll write a post about it someday soon. 

I’m very much looking forward to the launch of History SPOT.  It’s been a long time coming!  Until then it would be great if you could have a look at some of our other recent activities.  In the last week IHR Digital has set up its own Facebook page which we hope will develop into a lively and interesting discussion of our activities.  The Rescript project (a platform for collaborative editing of historical texts online) is moving ahead at speed now.  Below is a link to that projects’ blog which contains fascinating insights into the texts already under their microscope.   The IHR Relocation Blog continues to be updated regularly and has most recently gained various photographs taken during the move (with more to come).  Finally, we have recently announced our winter conference.  This year we will be looking at the uneasy relationship between Historians/History and Historical Fiction writers/novels.  We are also hoping to have a larger online presence associated with this conference which I will be in a position to talk more about soon.

IHR Digital Facebook

Rescript Project Blog

IHR Relocation Blog

Novel Approaches Conference

In addition, for those who might be wondering, the SPOT Newsletter will start again in September.

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And finally…

This is my final post relating the discussion held at our June workshop on Developing Online Research Training and Course Delivery.  I hope you have found it interesting although you will probably have seen already that the discussions posed more questions and difficulties than they answered.  Today I will sum up the discussion held on course structure:

Most of the issues involved in planning an online-only course are pedagogical in nature, and in many ways are similar to those that arise when planning face-to-face courses. An example of this includes the need to control the ‘learning curve’: with more guidance and ‘hand holding’ provided in the earlier components of a course (especially the exercises) changing as the course progresses so that the student receives less direction and are forced to think critically and with discernment for themselves.

The nature of exercises were discussed, and it was agreed that where students were forced to draw on material not supplied by the courses itself (e.g. from an archive or library) that it was important that the exercises be as generic as possible. This would also allow an element of choice on the part of the student, making the course more particularly interesting to them.

  • A seamless student experience was seen as being essential, masking any transition between technologies or delivery platforms that may actually exist.
  • Editorial control over the content of courses was something that needs to be thought about, both in terms of minor tweaks but also in terms of more substantial periodic updates. The content needs to be maintained – so for example if it draws upon external resources and those change, the content needs to reflect the changes.
  • Courses will need to be clear on their content, and the assumptions being made of the students (both in terms of their technical capabilities and their research skills level.

The costs and time necessary to create technologically advanced online training resources is also very significant (and often underestimated). Specifically it was suggested that certain elements of explanation (especially about performing practical or mechanical tasks within the course) – the kind of instruction that would take very little time in a face-to-face context – could be handled more speedily in a screencasting format than through textual description.

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At our workshop Developing Online Research Training and Course Delivery it was generally agreed that many historians were hesitant to use blogs and wikis although different age groups vary in this.  The age cohort is worth bearing in mind when setting up a course – often a younger age group will be able to cope and understand new technologies better than older groups (although this is not always the case and must be approached cautiously).  Whilst Google has transformed searching on the internet it is a paradigm for online teaching.  People tend to think that they already know how to search when they actually don’t.  Plus library catalogues are beginning to lose functionality to appear more available to the ‘Google-generation’. 

The issue of ‘googleification’ in library catalogues has been discussed somewhat in-house.  Established librarians and historians don’t generally like it (that at least seems to be the consensus).  I find myself in agreement here.  The loss of functionality seems to be a backward step especially if it is just to pander to those who want something familiar and are unwilling to learn.  That said, there is a fine line here between unwillingness to learn and the necessity to learn.  I recall a discussion held in another workshop that I attended at the IHR recently on digital editing projects.  It is very easy for those of us who work in the realm of e-learning and digitalisation to just assume that everyone knows what we are talking about.  We sometimes forget that we only learnt these things because it was part of our job to do so.  It took time.  The question, then, is how do we create training resources that students can understand and relate to whilst at the same time feed into that process some of the more complex digital knowledge that they may one day require?  No easy task!

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At our workshop held in June on Developing Online Research Training and Course Delivery the issue of user support and the role of the tutor came up as a complex problem for the online environment.  Here is a summary of what was said on the subject:

It is important always to place any individual resource or part of a training course into the overall intellectual/educational/historical context of the theme or subject – in other words so that whilst the student is dealing with a detailed aspect of the course, they are aware of the wider significance of that aspect.  A substantial support effort will be required for any online course, tutor-led or otherwise. The support would not simply be to provide technical assistance to students having difficulty accessing the material, but would need to be offering help with the content.

But how do we provide user support?  It is not enough to provide forums as students need synchronous/asynchronous help.  Although ‘chat’ can be one way to deal with this problem it requires someone to have the chat regularly checked and not all people know how to use chat effectively. 

There is also a related problem here in the role of the tutor.  How do you avoid the problem of the tutor being viewed as having all the answers (i.e. students go to the tutor for answers rather than work it out amongst themselves)?  This is a difficult problem which is obviously not restricted to online teaching, but nonetheless presents particular problems for this format.  A tutor needs to find the right balance between having an overbearing effect on a class and avoiding the trap of neglecting the class.  Clear rules of engagement therefore need to be set out.

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