Mobile learning, open educational resources, and online and hybrid learning at Algonquin College
The initial steps Algonquin College in Ottawa took to become a Digital College are outlined in Digital College – Organizational change for enhanced student learning and engagement in Contact North | Contact Nord’s Pockets of Innovation Series. The Series also highlights Algonquin’s 2013 launch of its e-textbook initiative, ensuring that 100% of college students have 100% of their resources available to them 100% of the time on their choice of mobile devices.
There are multiple components to Algonquin’s Digital College initiative; a central element is the Mobile Learning Project, requiring all incoming students to have a mobile device that matches the requirements of their program. The initiative includes four central activities:
- Mobile learning, soon to be rebranded as Bring Your Own Device Programs
- e-Textbooks and Open Educational Resources (OERs)
- Online and hybrid learning
- Digital activities and simulations
Each of these components makes an essential contribution to the overall vision of providing choice and flexibility to more effectively meet the needs of learners.
Mobile Learning: Aiming at having mobile learning and delivery integrated into 100% of programs by 2015, Algonquin has moved from 27 integrated programs in 2011-12 to 148 integrated programs in 2013-14, well over 80% of its programs. The proportion of, and approach to, mobile learning differ in each program to reflect the content and practice in the related work places.
The mobile learning web site lists the technical requirements of devices specific to each program, as well as recommended models. All students are expected to own and use at least one device appropriate to their program; recent research has shown that students have an average of 2.5 mobile devices.
Each student pays a $150 mobile fee each semester, which provides access to a broad array of software and online tools, such as Adobe Creative Cloud, MS Office, Windows, Ink2Go for annotation and recording of screens, ePage Reader that converts text to audio, and FluidSurveys, which collects and analyzes data. In addition, students enrolled in Mobile Learning programs are provided with access to over 900 software training titles on Lynda.com.
Online support, labelled the Student Survival Guide, includes information and demonstrations on connecting to essential services such as timetables, e-mail accounts, the learning management system, Wi-Fi, and on-campus printers. Videos also explain how to use the various software that students have at their disposal.
Faculty also has access to their own Faculty Survival Guide, offering them support for using software and applications, information on the mobile learning and eText initiatives, as well as professional development, instructional design, and learning management system (LMS) support services.
Open Educational Resources (OERs): Algonquin College has built a fully online anatomy/physiology course, which is currently being tested. The final version will be released in Spring 2014 for use by students and colleges in Ontario and around the world as an open educational resource.
The videos, lectures, animations, and other tools associated with this course are currently available on YouTube; the version being tested for release in spring 2014 is more sophisticated, with more in-depth content. The online print materials are to be made available in English, French, Spanish, and Chinese, using Google Translate and careful editing. The videos will also be subtitled.
Each self-assessment exercise in the online course will have a minimum standard result that students must achieve before advancing to the next section. Students will be able to earn a certificate of completion or they may choose to write a challenge exam for credit. The course has been matched to two courses currently being taught at Algonquin.
To encourage professors at Algonquin to develop and share open educational resources, a new tool, DigitalActivity Creator, has been made available through the faculty web site. Using this tool, online learning activities can be created by faculty with no knowledge of programming. Using a template and responding to questions, professors can build quizzes, crossword puzzles, drag and drop activities, word jumbles, and other practice and assessment tools. The site features videos and tip sheets on how to create OERs and how to collect and export student tracking data. In 2014, Algonquin will release the OERs created by Algonquin staff for use by other faculty in Ontario.
Online and Hybrid Learning: The Algonquin College Strategic Plan for 2012-2017 sets out clear goals for growth in online and hybrid course offerings: from 71 online and 824 unique hybrid courses in 2011-12 to 150 online and 1,424 hybrid courses in 2016-17. The College has already reached the goal of having 20% of all full-time, daytime course time online, calculated on a program, rather than course-by-course, basis. For example, a program with 28 hours a week of classes would now be offering 20% of those hours through online learning, as fully online or hybrid courses.
A detailed policy has been developed, and recently revised, on the use of the learning management system to provide a consistent and easily accessible platform for students. This outlines the course information to be provided and the application of program-based LMS templates. As described by Mark Keedwell, Curriculum Consultant in Academic Development/Curriculum Service, access is much easier for students, as course websites within programs look alike, and with fewer buttons to navigate, information is one click away.
As the professors become more sophisticated in their course design and use of online tools, online learning is becoming more active and engaging for students with case studies, examples, quizzes, models to manipulate, and other forms of interaction as part of their experience outside the classroom.
Digital Activities and Simulations: Algonquin has made a commitment to use digital simulations and immersive environments for real-time collaboration, learning, and simulated experiences with avatars, animated characters, and artificial intelligence. Simulations are being used in programs such as Respiratory Therapy, Medical Radiation, as well as Mechanical Engineering Technology in the School of Advanced Technology.
Outcomes and Benefits
Students can use the mobile devices for learning both inside and outside the classroom, accessing resources recommended by professors and other supports that may help with their particular learning needs. Mobility is the core of anywhere/anytime learning that matches the demanding lives of students.
Challenges and Enhancements
The transition to new ways of teaching and learning are not easy. Professional development is offered in both face-to-face and online formats to support professors adapting their courses for online, hybrid, and mobile learning. Sometimes, the Curriculum Consultants from Algonquin’s Academic Development/Curriculum Services visit the classrooms in order to help the professor determine the appropriate content and learning activities to transition to digital and the best way to do it.
As mobile devices are used for classroom-based, as well as independent learning, classroom management is an ongoing concern, as professors are uncertain about the impact of mobile learning on classroom behaviour and productivity.
Resources with easily demonstrable benefits for students and professors are the best tools for convincing faculty of the effectiveness of online learning. Heather Farmer, Curriculum Consultant in Academic Development/Curriculum Services, has worked with co-ordinators to implement tools such as Turnitin, the plagiarism checking software. Other tools such as those that generate and grade sets of problems, that vary from user to user and each time a student uses the system, are used to demonstrate to both faculty and students the value of online learning. The challenge is taking the time to build it into the program so that it can prove itself as an effective, time-saving tool. Pilot testing of software is useful in integration of new resources, as this allows comfort for both professors and students.
As Algonquin progresses along the path to becoming a truly Digital College, Glenn MacDougall, Director of Teaching and Learning Services, emphasizes that the College is also committed to sharing its experiences and outcomes with other institutions in Ontario. This may be as open educational resources and other online materials, or through discussion and collaboration.
For Further Information
Learning and Teaching Services
Academic Development/Curriculum Services