New self-assessment tool helps students thrive

Author: 
Ali Blythe

As post-secondary institutions increasingly move into online learning, many students still haven’t had a fully online learning experience in formal education—let alone know what it takes to thrive in one. In response, Dr. Elizabeth Childs, Master of Arts in Learning and Technology program head, is co-developing an online tool that guides people through a series of questions that evaluate their social, collaborative, cognitive and technological skills.

“It helps you answer the question, ‘What is my readiness for participating in a fully online learning community right now?’” Childs says. “It also highlights aspects that you may not have previously considered, and helps you identify opportunities for growth.”

Childs and colleagues from the EILAB have presented the online tool at interactive workshops around the world, most recently at the EdMedia conference in Amsterdam, the Networked Learning Conference in Croatia and the World Conference on Online Learning in Toronto and at Royal Roads as part of SET Presents by the School of Education and Technology.

During the workshop, interested researchers, students and teachers had the opportunity to both preview and be part of the edit and revision process for the tool. They also explored models for online learning communities at Royal Roads and beyond, including the Fully Online Learning Communities model, or FOLC. 

“In the FOLC-based model, participants co-create the learning environment,” says Childs. “Everyone is considered a learner, even the facilitator. And all are negotiating the ‘transactional distance’ between physical and virtual spaces, and between the learners themselves.” 

Since 1999, Childs has focused her research on the lived experience of the people on the other end of technology and how to mitigate this distance. 

Childs and colleagues are now conducting research on the impact of seeing people’s context in the online learning environment, as one does  with “synchronous” (or real-time) tools, for example a video drop-ins.

"Imagine walking into a room to meet someone,” Childs says. “Even as you greet them, you are already processing dozens of details that help you both to interact. What is their body language? How does their voice sound? What’s behind them in the room?”

Childs says it’s through these details people feel connected.

“Something that seems as innocuous as seeing what art is on their wall can spark a conversation that begins to build a relationship.” 

Coupled with institutional supports for the student learning experience, this kind of interaction can make a very powerful environment to learn in and from.

“At Royal Roads, we offer so much support. Whether it’s the TeamWork Initiative, the Writing Centre, our institutional Learning, Teaching and Research model, or new tools like this one—we really do endeavour to put students at the centre of the learning journey.”  

The self-assessment tool is scheduled for pilot release in fall 2018.