What about the students?

Haven’t been able to contribute much as of late due to too much to do and not enough time to do it in.  Did manage to follow some of the discussion on Twitter and listened to last nights presentation.  My reflection here will deal with a thread that passes through all the topics of the past 5 weeks.  What about the students?

Quick recap, I’m with Unisa, a dedicated ODL institution where we have no face-to-face sessions with our students.  Between the two first year IT courses I present I have approximately 1000 students per semester, which I deal with on my own.

I’m in a situation where I provide as many “open” resources to my students as I can lay my hands on, all provided in context at the time they may require it.  I communicate with them on a weekly basis via sms, e-mail, forum and blog posts and I’ll be throwing in a webinar to discuss their upcoming exam (thanks to the Change 11 Mooc).  But, and this is where my question comes in, what to do if the students are not responding? 

“You can take a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink”.  It feels like I’m forcing the horses head into the water and still it refuses to drink.  Some of the online activities, such as the blog, have been linked to their assessment in an attempt to force them to participate, with very little effect.  Very few students actually read the blogs of other students and even less comment on each other’s blogs. 

Last night David Wiley spoke about analytics and a suggestion was made that it could be used to determine if a student belongs in a course.  Great idea, but how do you go about analyzing students if they just do not participate?  Can you, in an ODL context, say the student do not belong in the course just because he/she is totally inactive and not take into consideration that there may be time, money, ICT, access constraints?

My question to the Mooc community:  How do I get my students to actively “Consume, connect, create, contribute and commit!” as brainysmurf put so nicely in his blog (http://brainysmurf1234.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/the-5-cs-consume-connect-create-contribute-and-commit/).

#change11 Using SMS’s

Background:  I present two undergrad modules for first year students in the National Diploma Information Technology.  The first module is Introduction to Web Design/ICT1513 and the second is Introduction to Interactive Programming (JavaScript)/ICT1512.  We work on a semester system which is approximately 15 weeks, first semester starting January and second semester starting July.  Each semester both of these modules have student numbers exceeding 500.  Unisa is an open distance learning institution whith no contact sessions with the students.  Currently paper based is still our main means of communication with our students, with online as support but we are slowly moving towards online presentation with paper as “support”. 

My use of SMS’s:  Currently our system only allows us to send SMS’s to students, as yet lecturers cannot receive replies from students, as a result most of the SMS’s I send to my students are purely for support purposes.  Looking at the categories in Dr. Zoraini Wati Abas paper Engaging ODL learners through Mobile Learning at Open University Malaysia mys SMS’s fall under Motivation and Course Management.  Each semester I send the students approximately 20 SMS’s, some reminders of important due dates, others to motivate but most of them are requests to read E-mails that contain detailed information on what they need to do next.  Below are some examples of the SMS’s I’ve sent, these are screendumps made of our SMS system, for my own record keeping, and at the bottom you can see too how many students it was sent as well as the cost in ZAR.

#Change11 On Mobile Learning

Mobile learning “seems” to be the way forward, especially in Africa where access to mobile phones is not a problem.  The question now is:  Does sending motivational messages, reminders to read certain works, urging students to participate in online activities etc. constitute learning or is it student support?

Another consideration is that although the majority of our students have access to mobile phones we will have to survey their Internet access via these devices as Internet access throughout Africa is still a relatively contentious issue.

Keeping that in mind, one will also have to ensure that the material you are requiring a student to access on the Internet via their mobile phone can be “studied” on the mobile phone.  Having a student read a 40 page article on a mobile phone just won’t work.  Any academic content sent to a mobile phone will have to be chunked appropriately.