Reflection on Practice
The MSc Applied eLearning has been a wonderful learning experience over two years, from September 2016 up until July 2018. It provided me with a learning framework to acquire new skills, knowledge, and perspectives. The course allowed me to revisit areas of education, such as learning theories, that I first encountered during pre-service teacher education and later built on during a MEd degree in Trinity College Dublin. The Instructional Design (ID) module gave me an understanding and appreciation of ID models, as well as a conceptual framework to design, develop and evaluate eLearning resources. The timetabled tutorials and workshops guided me on my research pathway that ultimately led to my research proposal at the end of Year 1, and my Applied Project in Year 2.
During the lectures for this first module of Year 1, and in researching my paper, I greatly enhanced my knowledge and understanding of learning theories. I researched how the various learning theories, such as behaviourism, can be applied to eLearning. Applications that utilise elements of gamification are often behaviourist in orientation (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011). My Assistant Principal post of responsibility is ICT Co-ordinator, and for future discussions relating to the eLearning Plan, it was good to learn that two of the apps that are widely in my school, Socrative and Kahoot, utilise a behaviourist paradigm. However, if quizzes developed using these apps are designed to encourage group or whole class discussion, then it is possible that some of the learning that occurs can be explained in the context of social constructivism (Vygotsky, 2008).
Currently, my favoured learning theories are constructivism and social constructivism. In constructivism, learning is perceived as an active process where knowledge is constructed, not acquired. I teach post-primary mathematics to 12 to 18-year-old students, and the interconnectedness of the various fields of mathematics taught at this level requires a constructivist approach to teaching and learning. This is something that was crystallised for me during the interviews with the mathematics key informants.
The paper I submitted for the Learning Theories module in Year 1 was called The van Hiele Model and Learning Theories: Implications for Teaching and Learning Geometry. The research I conducted during the process of creating this paper greatly enhanced my understanding of how geometry is learned and how the van Hiele Model was adopted in the post-primary Mathematics syllabi in the US, Russia and Ireland. The model is set in the context of two of the major learning theories, cognitivism and constructivism. The van Hiele levels are similar to Piaget’s stages (Piaget, 1953). I already have a constructivist approach to the use of an application called GeoGebra to support the teaching and learning of geometry in my school. I intend to incorporate the van Hiele theory into future digital content that I create with GeoGebra. Here is the link to this paper from my ePortfolio:
Instructional Design and eAuthoring
As part of the assessment of the second module of Year 1, I designed, developed and evaluated an eLearning resource called ‘Composting’ as part of a four-person group. I volunteered to carry out the development work using Adobe Captivate 9. Before I began the MSc course, my personal research had identified Adobe Captivate as one of the most popular tools used in commercial eLearning development. Subsequently, I discovered it to be a bloated amalgam of disparate software components, and that it is unwieldy and difficult to use. Nonetheless, I did become quite proficient in using this software application. However, I am unlikely to use Adobe Captivate to create future eLearning material relating to my practice.
During the literature review for my Applied Project, I began the process of researching and evaluating alternatives to Adobe Captivate for future use. A comprehensive list of these tools, with accompanying descriptions, may be found in a PDF document available online and updated regularly (McIntosh, 2018). The list contains links to sophisticated adaptive learning authoring tools developed by two Irish companies, RealizeIt and FishTree (Fishtree, 2018; Realizeit, 2018). Prior to Year 2 of the MSc, I was not aware of the existence of authoring tools specific to adaptive learning. I had meetings to discuss these authoring tools with the co-founders of both companies towards the end of my Applied Project. In the meantime, here is the link to the eLearning resource I developed for this module:
Technology Enhanced Learning, Teaching, and Assessment (TELTA)
The TELTA module was fully online and this made it very interesting and challenging. This was my first time to extensively collaborate online using audio and video. Each week for eight weeks there was a project to be completed, sometimes individual and other times group-based.
For Topic 1 of the TELTA Module, I wrote a response to the key reading What’s the use of a VLE. On reflection, I considered this to be an important piece of learning, as it enlightened me in relation to current thinking about, and use of, the VLE (aka LMS). Given that much of the TELTA module involved using the collaborative technology integrated into Blackboard, it was interesting to discover that in a survey of DIT lecturers, only 5% used it to collaborate via webinars (O’Rourke, Rooney, and Boylan, 2015). The main thing that I learned from the TELTA module is how difficult it is to collaborate online with Blackboard.
Over the past few years, I have been trying to move my school towards adopting a single institutional LMS. During that time, a variety of LMSs including Edmodo and Schoology have been explored and trialled. For one of the individual projects in this module, I developed a screencast demonstrating how to set up new users on Moodle. I did this because I was interested in encouraging my work colleagues to migrate to Moodle as the school’s LMS of choice. I used Adobe Captivate 9 to create the screencast, and I then published it on Vimeo, as well as uploading it to my ePortfolio. This was a very useful learning experience as I had not created a screencast before and I wasn’t quite aware of how useful it is as an eLearning tool to train people how to use a specific software application. I can see how beneficial it will be for my work colleagues and I to create and use screencasts in the future.
It was interesting and informative to use the application Slack to collaborate with the other students and lecturers during this module. I had used Slack during the previous module (Instructional Design), after it was recommended to me by one of my group members. Many of my class colleagues preferred to use Slack to the collaborative tools in Blackboard. During Year 2 of the MSc, I began using Microsoft Teams for online collaboration as part of a new Digital Leaders group I created in my school. Microsoft Teams is similar to Slack, and the reason we chose Teams is that it is part of the corporate Office 365 productivity suite that my school already uses.
At the end of the TELTA module, I had to submit an annotated mind map as a capstone task. I designed an eight-week module called Synthetic Geometry for Transition Year Students, and technology was heavily embedded in this module. I created an annotated mind map using Mindomo to demonstrate how the devices, apps, learning theories, research, syllabus and scheme of work could be integrated for the teaching, learning and assessment of Transition Year Geometry. The first ever mind map I created was also during the TELTA module. As part of the class, I was encouraged to use Coggle to create this mind map. However, I wasn’t terribly impressed by Coggle, and this led me to research other mind mapping applications including Mindomo. I think that mind mapping apps are great learning tools because they allow the learner to categorise and organise ideas, and to identify relationships between concepts. I am fairly sure I wouldn’t have used Mindomo to create a domain model as part of my Applied Project in Year 2 if I hadn’t prior experience of mind maps during Year 1. Here is the link to the assessments for this module:
I had spent a lot of time working on my research proposal during Year 1 of the MSc and this work paid off. The time and effort was worth it because the resulting document was a very good roadmap for the actual research project itself. The feedback I received in the ‘Research Proposal Marksheet’ was very positive, and I took the decision to submit an unchanged document as my final proposal.
The most substantial piece of learning for me was the insight and knowledge I developed in the area of adaptive learning and personalisation during my literature review. I knew hardly anything about this area up until March 2017.
I didn’t wait until the start of the Educational Research Design module in April 2017 to begin work on my research proposal. It began a month earlier with some Google searches on the key phrase “adaptive learning.” I discovered the existence of a new EU Horizon Project called Newton (EU Horizon, 2018) and emailed a number of the Irish participants from Dublin City University, National College of Ireland, and a company called Adaptemy. Dr Ioana Ghergulescu, Head of Adaptive Learning, Adaptemy agreed to meet me at their company offices in Lower Mount Street, Dublin 2 on 13th April 2017, and she suggested that I start reading the work of Peter Brusilovsky (University of Pittsburgh, and particularly a seminal 2007 work co-authored with Eva Millán (Brusilovsky & Millán, 2007).
This really was the key to unlocking the entire field of adaptive learning for me. This piece by Brusilovsky and Millán ultimately lead to me reading the work of his close colleague Professor Paul de Bra (Technical University Eindhoven) and Professor Vincent Wade (Trinity College Dublin). A series of emails between de Bra and I led to me using the GAM AT authoring tool developed by a Masters student of de Bra (Marc Craenen). The following year, I interviewed Professor Vincent Wade as one of my Adaptive Learning Key Informants for my Year 2 Applied Project case study.
Applied Research Project (Year 2)
It is important to create a realistic schedule and to stick to it. During the actual Applied Project itself in Year 2, I discovered that I was able to adhere to most of the schedule I had created during the Research Proposal in Year 1. The specific research question for my project, evaluating a domain model, arose from a brainstorming session I had with Dr Glenn Strong and Dr Richard Millwood (both Trinity College Dublin) in the Science Gallery in 19th April 2017.
I designed, developed and evaluated five domain model artefacts for a possible future adaptive learning system during Year 2. This provided me with some great insights into the relationships between concepts, topics, and learning outcomes. The evaluation process, especially the interviews with key informants, was invaluable in informing me about the strengths and weaknesses of my artefacts. The evaluation provided evidence that the screencast I developed to explicate these artefacts was very effective. I was very impressed with how much I learned by using an exploratory case study research design.
I learned many new things from the Applied Project. The most important piece of learning for me was augmenting and refining my new knowledge in the area of adaptive learning and personalisation. I was able to do this through further research, and through the interviews with the Adaptive Learning Expert key informants. I discovered how exciting and difficult it is to develop domain model artefacts. The tools that I used were effective in producing domain model artefacts. However, the user interfaces and paradigms they use, as well as their lack of sophistication, mean that I won’t use any of the three applications (GAM AT, Mindmo and Rhumbl) to create more sophisticated and useful domain models in the future. The problem is that, as I learned from the Adaptive Expert key informants, there isn’t any decent application software available academically or commercially to develop the type of domain models I wish to create as the base layer of adaptive learning courseware for mathematics.
I developed great insight into how other Maths professionals believe mathematics should be taught and learned through my interviews with the seven Maths Education Professional key informants. The most interesting thing to discover was that they all believed that making connections between the various parts of the mathematics courses was the most important thing to be achieved for the successful teaching and learning of mathematics. Creating these connections is one of the key components of a domain model.
I was happy to be able to write a journal paper that had a coherent thread that connected the research questions to the research design, and right through to the results and conclusions. The writing of the research paper required considerable effort and focus. My editing skills were greatly tested, and my understanding of how to write an academic paper for a research journal was greatly improved during this process.
Overall, the two years I spent on the MSc course has greatly improved my knowledge of eLearning and adaptive learning in particular. I have a better perspective of the different roles for eLearning in education. I now hope to do further research by pursuing a PhD in the area of adaptive learning, and I have already had a number of meetings with Professor Vincent Wade (Trinity College Dublin) in relation to this. I would also like to design and develop commercial grade adaptive learning courseware for post-primary mathematics, something I had vague notions about before completing the two-year MSc in Applied eLearning!
Attwell, G. (2006). Evaluating E-learning: A Guide to the Evaluation of E-learning. Evaluate Europe Handbook Series, 2, 1610-0875.
Brusilovsky, P., & Millán, E. (2007). User Models for Adaptive Hypermedia and Adaptive Educational Systems. In P. Brusilovsky, A. Kobsa, & W. Nejdl (Eds.), The Adaptive Web (pp. 3-53, Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/55cfe/fc79fb172d179c186c117dd172dc171fb176c18786666.pdf). Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.
EU Horizon (2018). EU Horizon 2020 Project: Newton. Retrieved from http://www.newtonproject.eu/
Fishtree. (2018). Fishtree. Retrieved from https://www.fishtree.com/
McIntosh, D. (2018). Adaptive Learning Platforms. In Vendors of Learning Management and eLearning Products (pp. 221-225). Retrieved from https://teachonline.ca/sites/default/files/pdfs/vendors_of_elearning_products_march2018.pdf
O’Rourke, K.C., Rooney, P. and Boylan, F. (2015). What’s the Use of a VLE? Irish Journal of Academic Practice, 4(1),11.
Piaget, J. (1953). The Origin of Intelligence in the Child. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Realizeit. (2018). Realizeit. Retrieved from http://realizeitlearning.com/
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Zichermann, G., & Cunningham, C. (2011). Gamification by design: Implementing game mechanics in web and mobile apps. ” O’Reilly Media, Inc.”.