Thinking AMOW

This article will attempt to analyse a course on the NSW-Board of Studies website “HSC: All My Own Work” (amow)1.  This is a course for all candidates of the Higher School Certificate (HSC) and must be satisfactorily completed, as attested by the school principal, or the student cannot sit for the HSC. This group are at risk of the consequences plagiarism if they are not given the appropriate skills to correctly recognise when citations are appropriate and how to cite in an acceptable manner. Additionally what is acceptable and what is not acceptable when producing academic work. It is produced in five modules (Board of Studies, 2006). The content of the site is presented in a modularised but linear manner. There are short quiz components to allow the user to gauge their progress and understanding. Analysis of this material, will be conducted on an as-is basis and end with an actual rationale as described by the content owner.

Analysing for any indication of an applied Instructional Design method reveals no multimedia or interactive content; no supporting graphics beyond a few decorative embellishments and none to clarify or explain the concepts. The material is almost completely text based. The course has a few hyperlinks within itself but no connection to external sites or any other material on the web. The content does not use examples drawn from the current HSC syllabus documents so limits it’s relevance to the major exam in consideration. The short quiz sections are limited in scope in that there is no option to go back and review or retake missed or re-thought out questions.  Many of the short answer and ‘fill in the blank’ questions can be answered by using grammatical rules rather than actual content knowledge.

Instructional-Design theory is one that offers explicit guidance on how better to help people learn and develop (Reigeluth, 1999). A simple and basic option might have been “Theory One”, as described by Perkins, in that the course in order to foster cognitive learning would have: Clear information; Thoughtful practice; Informative feedback; Strong intrinsic motivation.

amow has relatively clear information and scores high in this category.  It has little in the way of practice, certainly not thoughtful.  The feedback is merely to let the student know they did or did not get the question correct, and the feedback is nothing more than a restatement of the question. Responses are generally “that is correct” or “no that is not correct” followed by the re-stated question. There is no motivation, apart from it being a pre-requisite for the HSC and without passing the course there is no candidacy. A reasonable extrinsic motivator but not one to foster any support for the course content itself.

An important characteristic of instructional-design theories is that they are design oriented (or goal oriented), (Reigeluth, 1999).  Since amow has very clearly stated goals, see footnote 1, there is some likelihood that it has an underlying basis of one or more design oriented theories.

Keller (1979) developed the ARCS (attention, relevance, confidence and satisfaction) model. amow appears to have very little to grab the student’s attention and certainly less to maintain it. Relevance would be determined by the teacher and their presentation of the material.  On face value there is certainly some value here, but the full import will not be obvious until a teacher points out the impact and consequence of not learning the presented material. Confidence in their success is reasonably well covered; the quiz items for each section are short, not onerous and give instant (if not effusive) feedback. Students would be reasonably confident of success.  Satisfaction gained through feeling positive about being successful in the course, has a high probability.  Thus there is some evidence that the ARCS instructional design model was considered during the construction of amow. A little more effort on the Attention element and this would have been an acceptable assumption.

Applying a systems approach, Instructional System Design (ISD) to amow might yield greater correlation. In this process five interconnected stages are utilised, Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation (ADDIE) (Clark, 1995).

Analysis:  The intended audience of amow are the candidates for the NSW Higher School Certificate; teenagers approaching the end of their secondary schooling. This is a relatively homogenous group in that they all have an educational background in common, yet there are within the group a broad range of learning styles that could be better accommodated. Analysis also covers the tasks they would need to perform in order to recognise and avoid plagiarising; then, selecting the training they need to perform these tasks, build performance measures, and develop appropriate instructional settings. It appears that the target group must also have been assessed and stipulated in order to develop the five components which encompass the required skills and knowledge to avoid potential plagiarism.

Design: The design-of-content phase also shows signs of having been conducted.  The requisite abilities are grouped and presented in five components. These reflect the major concerns in anti plagiarism studies. These are: Scholarship Principles and Practices; Acknowledging Sources; Plagiarism; Copyright; Working with others. So there is evidence of task analysis having been conducted.

Development:  The course has been written and built. The Development has taken place although little indication as to the appropriateness exists.

Implementation is in the form of static web pages, or downloadable PDF files that students read through and test their knowledge of, by attempting short question or multiple choice question quizzes.  Responses to the student answers are immediate but transitory.  Nothing is kept nor recorded and no comparative activities are possible for repeat students.

Evaluation: testing or evaluation of the course and its efficacy can only be speculated upon. There is little indication that it was assessed or changed as a result. In the ISD process however; the evaluation phase is not intended to be a stand alone, end of process activity, but interspersed among the other phases on an iterative bases as needed to ensure, successful completion of each stage.

In the context of a secondary educational organisation the Analysis phase is better described as Learning Needs Analysis (LNA).  LNA are conducted to identify the training needed to ensure an appropriate “acquisition of capability, or maintenance of capacity”, (Palmer, 2005). Here we have a course that appears to be aimed neither at fostering new knowledge nor of supporting the self-learning cognitive processes but simply rote learning. The quiz questions do not court any higher order thinking, and there is only basic coverage of the low end questioning types such as knowledge recall and comprehension.

Other methods of instructional design or learning theories that might have been considered by the writers include Cognitive Task Analysis. Cognitive task analysis grew out of efforts by cognitive psychologists to understand problem-solving in a lab setting. It has proved a useful tool for describing expert performance in complex problem solving domains. From the standpoint of technique, cognitive task analysis can and should be integrated into systematic instructional design (Dehoney, 1995)  There is little to no evidence that consideration was given to the issue of problem solving or the acquisition of domain knowledge.

Design theories are intended to provide direct guidance to practitioners about what methods to use to attain different goals (Reigeluth, 1999).  Based on the simple, linear, didactic, rote learning style of the presented material it is reasonable to assume that little consideration of instructional design methods were considered.  This might have been more important if greater engagement and deeper understanding were required of the candidates. The expectation appears not to have been at the level. This course as it stands, as a web site, is really little more than an index to what the course should contain and what should be covered in other manners.

In defence of the amow course as it is presented on the web, the writers and producers of the material had no intention of it being valued as a stand alone course. The assumption, written about in this article, that it is more representative of a menu or index to some other supportive course material, is upheld by this correspondence from the authors themselves.

The materials were produced by a reference group of experienced teachers. They developed the content of the five modules. These modules were viewed and commented upon during the development process by all the key stakeholder groups in NSW education. The website is intended to provide only one flexible component of a teacher’s delivery of the content. Many teachers have excellent in-school programs that these online modules are only designed to complement (Sharp, 2006).

A few technical issues concerning the course development-
1    The site is small and fast-loading
2    All of the HTML and CSS is as compliant as possible, so that any browser will not break it.
3    All of the most recent accessibility controls are built-in, to make it easier for students with disabilities.
4    All of the content is also available as downloadable PDFs to deliver in the classroom in a traditional lesson format (enlivened by the teacher’s expertise.)

5    The site uses only a few add-on components such as javascript and flash to reduce complexity and allow for it’s easy transfer to an offline environment such as a school Local Area Network or fileserver
6    We did consider a Content management system [e.g. Moodle]

Considerations to improve the course content and make it suitable for an in-school intranet or course management system.

Learning is a complex process that defies the linear precepts of measurement and accountability. What students “know” consists of internally constructed understandings of how their worlds function. New information either transforms their old beliefs or . . . doesn’t (Brooks & Brooks, 2005). To put this belief into practice and in light of the lack of obvious instructional design beyond the first few stages of ADDIE, here is a, potentially, better approach. amow should be developed as an on-line, self paced course; managed and tracked by an appropriate course management system, for example in Moodle.

Many methods of didactic education assume a separation between knowing and doing, treating knowledge as an integral, self sufficient substance, theoretically independent of the situations in which it is learned and used. This is how the current version of amow appears to be. This renders the value of the web based course less instructive than it might otherwise be. “The activity in which knowledge is developed and deployed, it is now argued, is not separable from or ancillary to learning and cognition. Nor is it neutral. Rather, it is an integral part of what is learned”(Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989).  A web based course about plagiarism is an ideal opportunity to construct instances of essay construction utilising parts of the course, and indicating how without the proper citing, that plagiarism would be occurring.  It is at once its own learning experience and example. This situation would be a better aid to learning than a didactic approach. HSC candidates, the Digital Natives (Prensky, 2001) whose time is spent on the internet would adapt more quickly to what is legitimate or otherwise, with this “chance to observe and practice in situ the behavior of members of a culture… and start to act in accordance…”  (Brown et al., 1989) The majority of in house CMS or LMS systems would support this style of teaching and learning. Additionally a benefit of in house instruction is the forming of a ‘Community of Practice’ where teachers model good essay and project construction and demonstrate the processes of citation and point out anti plagiarism techniques. “Roughly, a community of practice involves a collection of individuals sharing mutually defined practices, beliefs, and understandings over an extended time frame in the pursuit of a shared enterprise” (Barab & Duffy, 2000). Many staff produce teaching material on systems such as Moodle and their everyday practice can be shared and explained and then would stand as a good model for appropriate managing of material.

Involvement in an on-line course that models appropriate examples, is akin to “becoming an apprentice [but] doesn’t involve a qualitative change from what [students] normally do” (Brown et al., 1989). Such authentic activity is important for the learners because it is the only way the gain access to the standpoint that enables practitioners to act meaningfully and purposefully.

The on line nature of a course about plagiarism is perfectly aligned to using such a situated learning approach. Following Reigeluth’s consideration of all Instructional-design theories, the amow on-line course would have both method, ranging from reading, through to hands on practice and both synchronous and asynchronous peer interaction, and context or “situation’. Instructional conditions include “the nature of the learner” and “the nature of the learning environment” (Reigeluth, 1999). All instructional conditions influence which design method is likely to meet with the most success. The nature of Digital Natives, their motivation to use the internet, their prior knowledge about using on line systems and the peer interaction familiar to the IM generation all play in favor of producing the amow course as an on-line option. The millennial generation makes assumption that on-line courses are completely regular and would integrate them into the multimedia/multi layers nature of their digital world.

In addition to this evidence of the amow course’s likely success as an on-line option Piagetian assumptions also apply.  Jean Piaget, articulated mechanisms by which knowledge is internalized by learners. He suggested that through processes of accommodation and assimilation, individuals construct new knowledge from their experiences (Wikipedia, 2007). HSC students whose schooling has been supported by computers and technology all their academic life can have presented to them experiences that are aligned with their internal representaion of the world. They already have the framework to cope with information presented about data exchange through digital media. They share, collaborate, interact, on a daily basis and the course content can be used to ratify this process.

Constructivism, of which Piaget is a protagonist, maintains that people learn by constructing their own knowledge on the basis of experience.  It is not passively absorbed, sponge like, but actively constructed.  Consequently for effective learning, HSC students must have the framework and base knowledge from which to build their mental representation of the subject. Hence the course would need to use examples directly from the various HSC syllabi, and incorporate examples from teenagers’ every day life.

While constructivism as a school of thought does not explicate rules for an instructional design, the concepts behind it guide a designer to produce a course of better educational quality than one without constructivism guidelines. In constructivist thought, the learner is the focus of the education process rather than the teacher, the learner is primarily responsible for their own learning, as opposed to having an instructor who must teach. Also that the learners confidence in their capacity to learn is critical. Having interactive and peer collaborative material available for HSC candidates would assist the understanding of plagiarism more readily than via static and didactic information.

Making the assumption that the nature of plagiarism education is static unchanging and fixed is misrepresentative, activities will continue to be dynamic and changing as the use of collaborative technologies develop and expand. The use of ICT “allows us to represent the fluid character of knowledge by its ability to revise and represent experiences in a sound and image” (Loveless, DeVoogd, & Bohlin, 2001).

Some considerations for building the on line course,
While it is clear that an on-line course would suit the intended audience and the nature of the material, it is still important to structure the course to maximize the learning required. There are design structures and design theories that fit this situation, they have been examined in this article. Evidence of the initial staged of ISD makes it acceptable to keep the five sections but revision of the presentation of the content to include some multimedia is important. According to Mayer and Moreno, the modality principle is that it is better to present words as auditory narration than as visual on-screen text, following this and other cognitive load considerations, the content should be restructured to reduce the text load (Mayer & Moreno, 2002). The course must also be written to support and encourage peer and instructor interaction.

(Dillenbourg, 2003) stipulates that free collaboration does not systematically produce learning.  This is characteristic of all on-line courses that utilise peer and instructor led interaction. A solution would be to structure or stipulate how the interaction will take place.  Dillenbourg goes on to consider the danger of over scripting to the point of stifling the natural flow and knowledge building that would otherwise occur, but to give some guidance, in particular for on-line newcomers, the ‘hand on the back’ steering is helpful and productive. Since the purpose of instructional design is to bring about specific goals, then CSCL scripting explicates the method. For example, if the course were to be run in conjunction with a classroom component, then “the grid script’ would be valuable. The groups of the jigsaw process could be setup so as to ‘borrow’ material from other groups and the nature of plagiarism is thus reified in this activity. In a similar manner, a modified UniverSante script would deliver some benefit from associated face to face interaction, and involvement of the instructor.

The amow course is vitally important to all HSC candidates and to produce it as an on-line course made available to all stakeholders, with suitable examinations and quizzes that can be tracked and reviewed and content that engages the learners and becomes genuinely interesting and useful is something that NSW students deserve. They will certainly receive this in my school.


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