At a recent Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) series, Negin Mirriahi, from Arts Instructional Support and Information Technology, and Lyana Patrick, from the Division of Aboriginal People’s Health, discussed their experience designing an online course. The course was designed in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, and is titled “Is the Past Present? International Indigenous Experiences of Colonization.” The course is designed for students to have an informative and interactive experience, while learning about the history of colonization in Canada and Australia. The ambitious project began in 2007, and since then, there have been numerous interviews conducted with residential school survivors, and Aboriginal elders. The course is expected to begin at UBC in the Fall of 2010. At this TLT lunch session, Negin and Lyana explained their decision making process throughout the development of the course: from the course’s conception to its current launch phase.
The first step was to determine the community partners. Several aboriginal organizations from British Columbia and Canada were consulted, including the local Coast Salish people. With the help of these communities, Negin and Lyana were able to recruit a large pool of residential school survivors and elders who provided accurate testimonials that will serve as primary information, as well as general guidance, for students throughout the course. From the beginning, the community collaborators had an impact in the general theme of the course. The community collaborators were originally unhappy with the 3D graphics created for the course, as they felt that the polished graphics could be perceived as trivializing the residential school experience. In order to quell such fears, the course designers committed to keeping these concerns in mind, and the course would not go through without their permission.
The technology selection process relies upon four baseline factors: student demographics, ease of use, associated costs, and learning objectives. Since the course is meant to be interactive, the ease of use and associated costs were the most important factors. The success in controlling these two factors depended upon the technology platform selection. Initially, Negin and Lyana considered three proposals to help determine which technology platform to use.
The first proposal was to create a virtual school based on the online environment “SecondLife”. A SecondLife environment has the potential to provide the student with a fully immersive environment; however, at the time of the decision, the technology to support that platform was not as common as it is now. Namely, most laptops had trouble running an online graphics intensive program, such as SecondLife. The second proposal was a Flash-based role-play game that encompassed the use of Flash with static 3D images. The technology experts that they consulted were opposed to the idea, however, saying that the Flash-based game with 3D graphics still required students to have a computer with a high graphics card and processing speed, similar to what was required for SecondLife. The third idea was to create two separate environments. One environment was a Flash-based website that used 3D still graphics with video interviews and links to articles while the second environment was a Flash-based role-play game that used 2D graphics. This idea, however, still used the 3D graphics, which the community partners felt was not authentic.
The final decision was to step away from the gaming aspect. They decided to use the 3D graphics in combination with historical photographs in a Flash-based introduction to certain units in the course. In addition, the historical photographs are also used alongside the static 3D environment in order to fill in the emotional connection that is lost with 3D. They also developed an interactive Flash-based map (which includes the travel route of Captain Cook). Ultimately, the technology met the technology selection criteria. After the decision on the platform was made, the course designers signed a memorandum of understanding with the stakeholders to provide a clear focus for the course authors and developers.
After three long years, the project will finally be piloted in September of 2010 and will be taught together with the University of Melbourne. Students from bother universities will learn about the history of colonization in Australia and Canada. The biggest hurdle, as predicted, was the technology, because of the large amount of funding it required. Both Negin and Lyana credit the various grants they have received in order to keep the project afloat for as long as it has. Recently, the project received a second round of funding from TLEF.
During the question and answer period, an audience member asked how the course designers plan to keep the line between virtual reality and reality as close as possible, given the seriously nature of the topic. The course designers cite the fact that the community partners were very welcoming, and the elders plan to be available to the students in an online chatroom. This way, any questions on the course topic can be answered by an elder who is very knowledgeable on the topic of residential schools. Also, since they do plan to use virtual reality, such as SecondLife, the course content will be presented in an authentic manner. Along the same lines, another concern was raised from the audience about student assessment, and how to approach assessing an interactive course such as this one. Lyana mentioned that participation in the discussion forum and wikis will account for 50% of the grade, and a comparative or creative project will comprise of the remaining 50% of the grade. She feels that given the medium of course delivery, participation is a crucial element in the learning process.
Reemphasizing a previous point, Negin and Lyana noted that one of the biggest challenges of creating a media-rich online course is the technology itself, and developing a technology selection criteria that is applicable to the course. Choosing the right technology can be a long process, and for Negin and Lyana, they did not want to be swept up by the power of technology. For example, their first suggestion, SecondLife, proved to be incompatible with most personal computers, so they decided to look at other technology platforms. They concluded the presentation by reminding the audience to always remain focused on the goal, and to not lose sight of the learning objectives. This is wise advice, as throughout the last three years, it is clear that Negin and Lyana never lost sight of their goals and learning objectives for this course
Negin and Lyana recently presented their work on this course at the 2010 Canadian Network for Innovation in Education Conference.