With recent student fee increases within UK Higher Education, institutions are increasingly turning to online education as a means to provide courses more flexibly. In the School of Health and Related Research at the University of Sheffield we are developing several new online Masters programmes within a fairly competitive timescale. These new programmes are largely distance learning enabled versions of existing modules previously delivered using a face-to-face approach. As the Learning Technologist appointed to support these courses I embarked upon the creation of a tool to help staff develop pages of content to use within the online learning environment created for these new programmes.
The historical model of a learning technologist uploading and formatting all materials themselves was not a feasible option in this scenario due to an obvious bottleneck. There was also a strategic push within the department to enable staff in becoming more self-sufficient and ‘digitally literate’ and hence make the development process a sustainable one. The tool was developed by myself but grew organically, working in partnership with academic staff to build the new modules during which process we became more aware of the functionality required from the tool.
The tool, named My Online Page Editor (MOPE), has many features but essentially allows staff with no experience of creating HTML pages to produce accessible, interactive and aesthetically pleasing pages of content easily. Unlike other HTML editors, MOPE is customisable and enforces a consistent style and structure on staff pages. MOPE includes many useful features such as activity boxes setting tasks with clear outcomes and timings. It also interfaces with the institutional lecture capture tool to provide web lectures in a variety of formats available 24/7 for students to revisit. MOPE creates HTML pages which are then simply dropped into the Virtual Learning Environment (Blackboard Learn), preventing a cut-and-paste-from-word mentality and the problems this can cause. The editor also offers more educationally relevant page elements than are currently available in Blackboard Learn's default editor (VTBE) and is able to present all pages within and across modules in a standardised format, which helps with signposting for students but also allows for school branding of the entire programme. Informal evaluation of the tool to date has shown it to be an incredibly useful innovation particular with staff. More recent evaluation data from students will be shared during the session.
Any institution engaged in the development and delivery of online learning may be interested in such a tool in order to improve the process by which academics and related staff can produce and upload online content. This session will be primarily a ‘show and tell’ event with the audience being engaged via a lively powerpoint presentation incorporating screenshots of the tool in action and evaluation data. An adoption protocol for interested partners will be discussed and potential future support mechanisms shared. Handouts will be provided to participants.