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Open University of Sri Lanka – Integrating OER in a Teacher Education Course

Teaser

This is a case study of how the Faculty of Education at the Open University of Sri Lanka engaged in building capacity of its academic staff in the integration of OER in its teacher education programmes.

Introduction

The Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL) was established in 1980 with the main objective of enabling students to pursue further education through open and distance learning (ODL). The four Faculties of OUSL-Education, Engineering Technology, Humanities and Social Sciences and Natural Sciences, offer a variety of programmes of study, ranging from Certificates, Diplomas, Degrees, Postgraduate Diplomas, Masters and PhD (OUSL Homepage, 2013).

OUSL adopts a learner-centered study system which is specifically designed to facilitate the distance learners through multiple modes of delivery, including selfstudy print modules supplemented with audio-visual and interactive multimedia materials, as well as online learning. It provides a wide array of student support services, through a network of 31 centers situated throughout the country. OUSL has a current enrolment of over 35,000 students, and about 80% of the students are employed.

The Faculty of Education, the youngest Faculty was established in 2003, from the Department of Education which had been in existence since the inception of OUSL. The Faculty of Education offers professional development programmes for diverse groups of people engaged in the field of Education such as teachers, principals and teacher educators. A wide range of study programmes for these target groups are offered through its three Departments of Study, Secondary and Tertiary Education (STE), Early Childhood and Primary Education (ECPE) and Special Needs Education (SNE) (OUSL, Homepage, 2013).

This is a case study of how the Faculty of Education engaged in building capacity of its academic staff in the integration of OER in its teacher education programmes. The focus of this case study is the Master of Arts in Teacher Education programme, and specifically one of its courses, “Teacher Educator as an Educational Technologist”.

The Master of Arts in Teacher Education

The Master of Arts in Teacher Education (MATE) addresses an identified national need in the professional development of teacher educators in Sri Lanka. The MATE programme was developed by the then Department of Education with World Bank support, and has been on offer since 2001. In an attempt to improve the quality and transportability of the programme, the Faculty of Education in partnership with the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) developed the Master of Arts in Teacher Education – International (MATE-I) programme.

The need for a practitioner-oriented professional development programme for teacher educators already in the workforce was a key focus. The design and development of this unique programme took place during 2003-2004, with extensive collaboration and networking among local and international experts as well as institutions (Karunanayaka, Lekamge, Gunawardena, Naidu, & Menon, 2005; Karunanayaka, Lekamge, Gunawardena, Naidu & Menon, 2007). This new programme has been on offer to Sri Lankan teacher educators since 2005.

The MATE-I programme adopts a practitioner-oriented approach called ‘Scenario-Based Learning’ (SBL) in its course design, which is based on situated cognitive principles. SBL promotes a learning-centered approach which is more context-focused rather than content-focused. With the overall aim of ‘producing a reflective teacher educator’, the MATE-I programme focuses on developing critical competencies required by practicing teacher educators, by engaging them in playing various roles – namely a teaching-learning specialist, curriculum developer, educational technologist, educational manager and leader, educational researcher, and a professional, through six compulsory courses and a learning portfolio project (Karunanayaka et. al., 2005; Karunanayaka, 2007; Karunanayaka, Gunawardena, Naidu, Lekamge & Menon, 2008; Naidu, Menon, Gunawardena, Lekamge & Karunanayaka, 2005; Naidu, Menon, Gunawardena, Lekamge & Karunanayaka, 2007).

All six courses of the MATE-I programme are designed to meet the need for continuing professional development of teacher educators in the use of modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). They were all developed as online courses, under the ADB-funded Distance Education Modernisation Project (DEMP) at OUSL.

One of the courses in the programme, “Teacher Educator as an Educational Technologist” was the first stand-alone online course to be offered via the Learning Management System (LMS) Moodle, at the OUSL (Karunanayaka, 2008a). Through these initiatives, more open and flexible study opportunities and increased access is offered to the target group of the programme, teacher educators who are adult learners, learning at a distance.

A major curriculum revision of the courses is currently under way. The content of the six courses are being revised and updated, while retaining the pedagogical approach. The course “Teacher Educator as an Educational Technologist” is being enhanced with the integration of Open Educational Resources (OER), under a project initiated at the Faculty of Education in partnership with COL, “Integration of ICT and OER into Teacher Education Programmes and Capacity Building of Teacher Educators at the Open University of Sri Lanka”.

About the Course “Teacher Educator as an Educational Technologist”

The course “Teacher Educator as an Educational Technologist” (ESP2242) in the MATE-I programme aims to develop the competencies of teacher educators to design, develop, implement and evaluate appropriate educational technologies. The minimum duration of this course is 24 weeks. A series of learning activities that leads to the completion of four major assignments enable students to achieve the desired learning outcomes. There is no final examination in this course and student achievement in the course is assessed through continuous assessment based on the cumulative marks obtained for the four compulsory, inter-related assignments (MATE-I Programme Handbook, 2004; MATE-I Study Guide – ESP2242, 2004).

The learning resources of ESP2242 consists of self-study materials including a study guide, print-based essential readings, additional readings, as well as interactive multimedia materials and online resources, supplemented with faceto-face contact sessions and electronic communication with tutors. In 2005, an online learning environment created using the Learning Management System (LMS) called Manhattan was used to deliver the course. Later, a more interactive online learning environment was created using the web-based LMS Moodle, making it a blended online course. This online course is offered as the first stand-alone online course at OUSL since 2007 to practicing teacher educators and teachers who desire to develop their competencies in the use of educational technologies in their profession.

From January 2013, the course ESP2242 is being revised and improved with the integration of ICT and OER under a COL supported project. As part of this process the capacity of the academic staff is being developed to identify, evaluate, develop, adapt and integrate OERs into teacher education courses. Accordingly, the existing course is undergoing a significant review and re-designing process, with the main focus on providing more effective learning experiences to learners, within the SBL approach, with the support of ICT and OER. It is expected to pilot the revised course in the latter part of 2013.

Instructional Strategy

The aim of the course ESP2242, ‘Teacher Educator as an Educational Technologist’ is to develop competencies among teacher educators in the design, development, implementation and evaluation of appropriate educational technologies. The course focuses on the critical role of a teacher educator, when functioning as an educational technologist in their professional setting. During the course of study, the learners are required to develop a rationale for using educational technology, design relevant learning experiences, select and use appropriate media to develop a technology-enhanced learning material and evaluate its effectiveness with their students (MATE-I Study Guide - ESP2242, 2004).

The above objectives are achieved through a Scenario-based learning (SBL) approach, where the learners are presented with authentic situations or scenarios in the form of a storyline, in which they are required to assume a key role that they will very likely perform in real life. Learners are required to engage in challenging tasks faced in the scenario, which become their learning and assessment activities, leading to achievement of the desired learning outcomes (see Karunanayaka & Naidu, 2009).

The interactive online learning environment of the course was grounded in the above pedagogy. Strengths of an online learning environment such as access to resources and ability to communicate and share with peers were utilised by adopting a structure of collaborative interactions through various strategies. This approach promoted building of a learning community among the distance learners through the use of technology (Karunanayaka, 2006; Karunanayaka, 2008a; Karunanayaka, 2008b; Karunanayaka, 2008c).

The learning experience in this course is based on the principle that learning is optimised when it is contextualised. As such, the learning activities and assessment tasks are designed to take place within realistic settings making them meaningful to the learners. Furthermore, these activities are designed to enhance development of required knowledge, attitudes and skills of teacher educators and application of these in their professional practice, requiring them to utilise higher-order cognitive skills such as problem solving and critical reflection. This represents a major shift from the traditional content-driven approaches towards a more context-driven approach to instructional design (Karunanayaka & Naidu, 2009).

Course Development Process

A course team approach, which is the usual practice of course development process at OUSL, was adopted in the development of the course ‘Teacher Educator as an Educational Technologist’. Subject matter experts, instructional designers and web/multimedia developers worked in collaboration in course design and development, together with local and international experts’ input through reviewing the course. Course development took place in different stages – Initial course-design using SBL approach, online course development, and OER Integration in the course.

The course team initially engaged in formulating the learning outcomes and developing scenarios to situate the teacher educators in authentic learning contexts, and designing learning and assessment activities for them. Relevant learning resources were identified and developed as required, in the form of print-based essential readings and additional readings, and also as interactive multimedia. A detailed study schedule which specified week-to-week activities that learners need to perform was developed.

‘The Teacher Educator as an Educational Technologist’ is an online course, given the need for not only concentrating on training teacher educators on integrating technology into their teaching, but also on their use of modern technology as a means for furthering their own professional development. At the outset, a supplemental online course using the LMS Manhattan was introduced where students could receive notices, submit assignments and communicate with staff and their peers through discussion forums. Later, the course was developed as a blended learning course using the Moodle LMS, creating a better learning environment for these distance learners. (Karunanayaka, 2006; Karunanayaka, 2008a; Karunanayaka, 2008b; Karunanayaka, 2008c; Karunanayaka & Naidu, 2009).

As online learning was a new experience for students, the course was designed with several forms of learner support. This included an orientation workshop to familiarise learners with the online learning environment and a ‘Student Starter Kit’ in print form with introductory guidelines. All learning resources such as the Study Guide, Essential and Additional Reading materials, which were originally in print form, are included as electronic resources in the LMS, including a variety of other resources such as audio clips, animations, PowerPoint presentations, PDF files, and Web links.

The Discussion Forum was extensively used to encourage cooperative and collaborative learning among the distance learners. A workshop session on multimedia production is conducted during the course in order to provide the learners with hands-on experience in multimedia development. All the online and offline activities are linked with the assignments, and a percentage of the assignment mark was awarded for learners’ active participation in the related online activities. They were also requested to maintain an online learning journal, to critically reflect on their learning experiences throughout the course (Karunanayaka, 2006; Karunanayaka, 2008a; Karunanayaka, 2008b; Karunanayaka, 2008c; Karunanayaka & Naidu, 2009).

During the current OER integration phase of the course development, the course team is engaged in improving the course through reviewing and revising the learning outcomes, developing new scenarios, learning activities and assessment tasks, with integration of ICT and OER, however, without changing its main aim and the pedagogical approach. Both offline and online learning activities and assessment tasks are being developed, integrating appropriate OER as supportive materials, in addition to the other existing resources. The key focus during this phase is not only on identifying, selecting and adopting relevant OER, but also on designing the learning experiences in order to effectively integrate OER to support learning. Further, orienting students towards OER, and encouraging them also to find and share OER is another consideration being addressed.

Challenges Faced

Throughout the course development process, the course team faced numerous challenges. During all key phases of the process – Course-design using SBL approach, online course development, and OER Integration in the course, the academic staff had to overcome several issues.

Designing the course using the SBL approach was the most challenging task initially undertaken by the course team. Developing scenarios with a storyline to situate the learners in a meaningful context was a creative process, which required a great deal of effort. Designing challenging offline and online activities to promote active participation of learners, was difficult. Constructive alignment of learning outcomes, learning activities and assessment tasks was essential, as was appropriately integrating them with the learning experiences.

ICT and OER integration in the course was very demanding for the course team. Designing and developing the online course with a suitable blend of various online and offline activities, providing variety, yet not overloading the students was a key challenge faced by the course team. Implementing the online course with the students was another challenge, since they were new to both, SBL approach and the online mode of learning. Constant monitoring and guidance by the instructors was required to support these distance learners who had to cope with new pedagogy as well as new technology. Staff workload was increased as a result.

The concept of OER is new to the course team and so identifying and finding relevant and appropriate OER to be integrated in the course was another significant challenge. Which OER was to be integrated, where to find them, how to integrate them, and to what extent, were some of the hard questions that the course team had to find answers for.

These challenges were addressed in various strategies. Foremost, capacity building workshops for academic staff were held during different phases of the process, on different aspects. A workshop on advanced instructional design was carried out initially to orient the staff on the use of the SBL approach. This was followed up with Moodle training workshops. In the OER-integration phase, staff participated in two capacity building workshops, during which their knowledge and skills were developed on how to identify and select relevant OER, as well as on how to design the course to effectively integrate OER.

In addition to the capacity building workshops, during each phase, a series of workshops were held in-between to monitor, review, evaluate and improve the courses, based on experiences being gained. For instance, currently, course teams are engaged in a series of course design and development workshops, to review and revise the course content and improve the online courses with appropriate integration of OER. The course team engages in these activities in a very cooperative and a collaborative manner, with the support and input from local and international experts at certain points.

Research activities in relation to the course design, development and implementation, were closely integrated and conducted throughout the process. Findings of these research studies help the course team to make decisions on course improvements. The current effort incorporates a major study into the capacity building of academic staff on OER integration – including what capacity has been built, to what extent, what are the challenges and what impact it has on them, using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as a methodology for exploring in detail how participants are making sense of their personal and social world during this process.

Feedback from Instructors and Learners

Feedback received from instructors and learners during course evaluations at each phase indicate that these experiences have been very challenging, yet motivating to both groups. The following excerpts of course designers at the initial stage specify the challenges they had to overcome.

• …The initial challenge was articulating the story. Situating the story-making it authentic…I thought that was very interesting, but it was difficult also…It took us a long time to really come out with what we wanted. I thought it was a very good experience for me…

• …This needs continuous engagement of the learners. We found out that some students had not understood exactly what was expected from the assignments…They were unable to relate theory into practice. That was the main difficulty they faced...

• …In this course, students need more help, as it is a practitioner-oriented course…When there are some students who are unable to cope with the work themselves, how are we going to tackle them…?

• Engagement in online learning has also been a highly challenging and a motivating experience for the learners, as revealed by their feedback given below. • …At times the excitement of online learning too was dampened by technical factors beyond my control…

• …Actually in the first week I did not have a clear idea about how to follow the course as both “ET” and “Online learning” were new things for me…Now I feel very comfortable…

• …Learning is a challenge and it is fun. I enjoy it. I am becoming confident in using technology…I am sure going to use it and become an expert…

Even though the learners faced certain challenges such as coping with the technology and an increased workload, and changing from a conventional teacher centered approach to a more self-regulated and reflective learning approach, a satisfactory feeling of a sense of achievement was claimed by them, once they became confident in online learning.

Feedback on OER integration process is being gathered from academic staff using various qualitative techniques such as concept mapping, individual narratives and focus group interviews. Staff members are developing three sets of concept maps depicting how their views on OER-related concepts and the relationships among the concepts have developed and changed during the process. The individual narratives and focus group interview data will supplement this information by further clarifying and qualifying their experiences during this capacity building exercise on OER integration.

Useful insights gained through the analysis of data and the experiences gained during the course design for ICT and OER integration in the course “Teacher Educator as an Educational Technologist” will enable identifying best practices in integrating OER and transferring this approach to the other courses in the MATE-I programme as well.

Reflections

“Teacher Educator as an Educational Technologist” is a course in a unique master’s professional development programme for teacher educators, MATE-I, which adopts a learning-centered pedagogical approach. It is offered in the ODL mode to a group of mature learners in full-time employment. The use of the SBL approach allows achievement of the desired learning outcomes by learners, through building upon their existing competencies, with continuous guidance and facilitation by the teachers, within a learning environment that is enriched with ICT and OER integration.

The effectiveness of ICT and OER in enhancing learning will however depend on appropriate instructional design of the course content, learning experiences and learning resources. The learning environment of this course is enriched by resources, activities and tutor facilitation supporting the learners to engage in the learning experiences in a self-initiated manner, encouraging them to become self-regulated learners who will take responsibility for their learning. This encourages the expected change in the role of learners in a constructivist learning environment. In addition, the interactive online learning environment promotes collaborative learning among learners, by way of sharing ideas, experiences and resources that enhance building of a learning community.

Integration of OER in the course was driven by the need to further support and enriches its teaching-learning process. The SBL pedagogical approach adopted in the course design supported integration of OER in a more meaningful manner. It helped the course team to make decisions on how to select relevant OER and how to appropriately integrate those linking with the learning scenarios and activities, making the learning experiences more effective. In that sense, OER were not included just as some additional resources to the learners, but were built in the course design as integral components within the learning environment.

The design, development and implementation of the course, has been very challenging and demanding for the course team. However, in spite of various challenges, the course team succeeded in completing its tasks in each phase of course development process. The assistance and inputs from international and local experts received at different stages of course development, under various projects contributed to maintaining the high quality of the course.

It was evident from feedback that significant capacity building has occurred among academic staff in relation to adopting the SBL pedagogical approach in course design, online course development and OER integration. Their knowledge and skills in “learning-centered” course design and implementation, as well as on ICT and OER integration have been developed to a great extent. Further, confidence building in applying their new knowledge and skills transferring it to their learners who are teacher educators and teachers was also apparent. Most importantly, attitude building on developing a “sharing culture” and promoting “Open Educational Practices” (OEP) among the academics is taking place.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the critical issues in integration of OER in teaching-learning situations?
  2. What are the key challenges faced by course designers when integrating OER in the course? Compare and contrast with your own context.
  3. Make suggestions on how to overcome such challenges and integrate OER in an effective manner?

Open University of Sri Lanka – Integrating OER in a Teacher Education Course is licensed under a Creative Commons License 4.0 International license. This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon the work, even commercially, as long as they credit the author for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered and is recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.

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