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Centre for Online and Distance Education

A view from MacMillan Hall


The MacMillan Hall was the venue for one of the three streams of parallel sessions during RIDE 2019. Julie Voce reports on what she learned there.

Marco Gillies

Innovation and research in computer science teaching

Marco Gillies and Matthew Yee-King (Goldsmiths) presented some of the innovative approaches they have been taking in their new BSc Computer Science programme, outlining the major research questions used for evaluating their effectiveness. They are keen to ensure that their research is designed to benefit students and enhance their experience, as well as to understand the reasons behind this. The new BSc has been designed to be flexible, with a focus on short chunks of learning and video and quizzes to enable students to learn in their own time. They will consider whether this flexibility attracts a more diverse student cohort and how interactive resources can be re-purposed for on-campus students. Gamification is also another element they are exploring, for example one of their PhD students is looking at how games like SimCity can foster deep motivation in learning. Key research questions include whether interactive simulations lead to improved learning and which aspects of game design might influence student progression.

Running up that hill: Quantitative skills in distance learning

Kathleen O'Reilly (LSHTM) presented a project to evaluate student experiences of an online module on mathematical modelling. This used an online structured questionnaire to identify students' motivations, background, prior knowledge and understanding of key concepts, and their reflections on the module. The survey was followed up by interviews. Key findings included: students with prior programming experience performed better in the module; students who did not engage with the forums did not score as well; and quantitative subjects are emotive, with some students loving and others hating them. The project gave a much greater depth of understanding and insight into student learning behaviours than could be obtained from module evaluations alone.

Enhancing student engagement through alumni-peer mentoring

Anna Foss (LSHTM) described a CODE-funded  alumni-peer mentorship scheme for the MSc Public Health. She was joined in the presentation by three peer mentors who talked about their experiences of the programme. The aim of their role was to add value by sharing authentic first-hand experiences of the course with current students. A group mentoring approach was used, facilitated via Moodle discussion forums and Collaborate web conferencing. One of the key points concerned managing both student and mentor expectations. It was important to highlight that mentors are volunteers providing support when they are available; their role is to provide their experiences, not advice, and interactions must be within the agreed communication tools, rather than by direct email or Skype. Mentor benefits included being able to keep in touch with the academic community and to strengthen their experience as mentors, something valued by one peer mentor who worked at a Belgian university mentoring his own students.

Doing what works – Design for effective distance learning

Sam Brenton (University of London Worldwide) gave a historical overview of learning design both pre and post internet. He emphasised the increasing importance of learning design now that online learning has gone mainstream, calling for consensus around good learning design in online and distance learning. He cited examples of good design that included ‘chunked’ learning and the blending of human/automated feedback and feed-forward. He also raised concerns about the dangers of "turning academics in to mini-publishing factories" and noted that the rise of MOOCs has forced a trend towards shorter videos: it is the quality of engagement through video that should be important, not those videos’ length.