I have been involved with Transforming Online Learning (TOL) since the pilot. I volunteered a newly designed subject which was already utilising modern technologies, including an online residential school. I have since ‘Tolified’ three older, messier core subjects which offered greater and different challenges.

One reason I volunteered was to see for myself whether this design concept actually offered a better student experience, ready to argue against its relevance if it did not. After teaching two of the subjects and overseeing teaching of a third by a casual staff member, I freely admit the student response to TOL has well exceeded my expectations.

A definite bonus in ‘tolifying’ subjects was incorporating requirements for students to utilise technology in assessment tasks, such as self-recording their mediator statements in CSU Replay. This provided students with industry-relevant technical knowledge (how to use online technology to facilitate dispute resolution practice) whilst also assessing their practical skills.

We exist in a competitive market and I realised from my recent study at both a rival university and our own how ease of use, consistency and interactivity can improve one’s study experience. As Course Director of a postgraduate course, my students are mostly working professionals with children, who do not have much time to study. If they find the experience difficult or boring they will withdraw.

What is important about this learning and teaching story?

TOL is aimed at enhancing the student experience, and is doing this by:

  • Ensuring students are receiving a consistent and high quality study environment;
  • Providing a variety of learning activities;
  • Scaffolding learning; and
  • Linking learning material to assessments.

TOL provides an avenue to consider and include all elements during one process.

What have I included in my subject design and how do I know it is working?

Student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. At a foundational level, TOL provides a professional and consistent look and layout for Interact2 sites which greatly benefits our learners. On the first day of session for a TOL subject, a student posted in the Forum:

‘I also want to take this opportunity to say how impressed I am with the construction of this site and the level of interaction.’

The home page highlights links to contact information, getting started information and the topics.

Many students, particularly older business people, have commented that being forced to engage with online technologies, such as CSU Replay self-recording tasks to provide a video of their mediator’s statement (LAW517), have made them feel more confident using other technologies and the skills learned will assist them to remain relevant in their industry/workplace. As professional dispute resolution practice is increasingly being undertaken online, arming students with industry-relevant technical skills is a valuable bonus I embraced during the TOL process.

The online residential school provides a successful and cost effective way (for students and the University) to assess student’s skills without them needed to travel to a campus. Students often advise they enjoy meeting their peers during the residential school and this is where the bulk of practical learning and feedback occurs. SES comments regarding the online residential school are always positive.

Participants in an online meeting during the residential school.

The res school was excellent as was the nature of the assessments & topic posts that consistently asked me to comment on the learnings through reflection on a past real life experience. Great learning model.

Podcasts were another element I utilised in attempt to meet the needs of modern learners. Podcast can be downloaded and listened to at the student’s convenience – most students listened to these during their travel to/from work. These provided the preamble to Forum discussions and received warm feedback from students.

Podcasts provide an overview for each topic.

The use of SmartSparrow tasks provide students with an interesting method to review the content. We designed our SmartSparrow lessons as ‘choose your own adventure’ tasks which are engaging and interesting for the student, whilst also providing structured review and feedback.

Smart Sparrow lessons were included to review key concepts.

The lessons learnt could be applied immediately to the workplace. It was practical and provided me with skills that will advance me in my career and personal life.

Finally, we included engaging and clear examples of the skills being taught to show what they look like in practice, such as active listening.

Direct relationship of learning to real life outcomes. The realistic information from the teacher was relevant to real life situations.

Few business subjects contain large amounts of naturally interesting content, but we can attempt to teach that content in an engaging way by adopting relevant TOL strategies, whilst also providing our students with bonus technical skills.

The LAW519 content was so incredibly interesting…..I’ve taken away key learnings that I’ve already begun to apply in my work, and believe me, being in government there’s massive scope for further application.

How can you make this happen in your subject?

Ask your Head of School about TOL and when you might be able to ‘Tolify’ a relevant subject. It is helpful to have the subject in ‘good condition’ – the assessments align with the learning outcomes, the subject has been updated in the last five years and so on. Review your topics to see where an interactive exercise might help students better grasp a concept or practice a skill prior to assessment.

  • TOL does not want to change the content of your subject: TOL is there to assist you in transforming your subject design to improve the way your students engage with your subject (essentially meeting current market expectations for online learning). TOL is not seeking to create boring subject clones; each subject’s design requirements will differ, depending on the content, theory or skills required to be taught and assessed.
  • TOL will do the heavy lifting: The TOL team does the organising, liaising and checking. No one knows your subject content better than you, so TOL asks you to look at the content and see where learning activities may be included to explain or review information. They can also arrange resources (journal articles, youtube videos) recommended for each topic by the Library.
  • TOL elements are able to assist you in meeting some GLO requirements: Many TOL elements you may include in your subjects align with Graduate Learning Outcomes, especially where technologies are concerned.