الاثنين، 11 فبراير 2013
CREATING LEARNING MATERIALS FOR OPEN AND DISTANCE LEARNING:
• sender’s address correctly laid out
• date correctly given
• reference given in the advertisement is quoted correctly
• appropriate form of salutation
• appropriate heading for the letter
• appropriate paragraphs of text for a covering letter
• appropriate closing to the letter
• spelling correct
• grammar correct
• appropriate choice of font
• appropriate layout
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Generalised marking criteria can be created for different types of assessment tasks. For example, Freeman and Lewis (1998) provide marking criteria for:
• diaries, logs and journals
6.4.5 MODEL ANSWERS
Distance learning schemes have a long tradition of providing model answers as part of the tutoring process, but some teachers argue that there are no ‘right’ or ‘best’ answers in their subject and so they cannot provide model answers. This, though, ignores the fact that isolated ODL learners have few or no opportunities to compare their work with others and have a strong need to see examples of good practice (Race, 1992).
Where it is not possible (or is too time-consuming) to produce model answers, then outline answers or answer guidance can be given. This might include:
• the appropriate structure for an answer,
• points that should be included in a good answer,
• points to make to gain a good mark, and
• mistakes and omissions that will lose marks.
SECTION 7: STUDY GUIDES
OVERVIEW OF SECTION 7
The term ‘study guide’ is used in two different senses in ODL. Sometimes it refers to a course guide, written to explain to learners how to use a particular ODL course. At other times, it means a guide to some previously published learning resources, which converts those resources into a new, specific ODL course. (This type of study guide is also called a wrap-round course.) This section is based on the second meaning and looks at how to develop study guides to previously published learning resources.
A course based on a study guide typically consists of:
• one or more resources in any media (e.g., an existing textbook); and
• the ODL study guide to guide learners through those resources.
The key point to bear in mind here is that a study guide aims to create an ODL course by adapting existing resources that were not necessarily written for ODL. When the study guide adaptation method works well, it is cheaper and quicker than writing a self-contained ODL course from scratch.
There is very little difference (in terms of skills and techniques) between producing a self-contained course and producing a study guide. The substantive difference is the time taken, not the skills employed. In other words, if you wish to write a study guide, you still need to be proficient in all the skills presented in the other nine sections of this handbook. What will be new is that you will be applying those skills to already existing materials.
Issues for instructional designers
1. Is a study guide the right approach for this organisation?
2. What should I put into the study guide?
3. How do I choose resources for our course?
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7.2 PURPOSES OF A STUDY GUIDE
Duchastel (1988) has identified four purposes for a study guide:
• orientation – providing an overview of the course and setting goals;
• task direction – setting reading tasks and activities;
• learning assistance – ‘assisting the student to focus on the essential’ and clarifying and helping learners to structure, understand and remember new material; and
7.3 IS A STUDY GUIDE THE RIGHT APPROACH FOR THE ORGANISATION?
There are two principal ways to produce an ODL course: (a) to write a self-contained course or (b) to base your course around existing resources.
Generally, the self-contained course is the better option because, in theory, you can optimise every aspect of the course to meet the needs of your learners. In practice, however, this approach can be costly and may take 1–2 years. When you need to produce a course more quickly or at a lower cost, the study guide approach is a good solution. As you will see, though, this approach is only feasible if you can find a suitable resource around which to base your guide.
7.4 WHAT SHOULD A STUDY GUIDE CONTAIN?
It is difficult to say what a study guide should contain since, by definition, its role is to make up for the deficiencies of the resources you have chosen to use. Perhaps the best way to think about a study guide is to say that it will contain any of the items in Table 28 that are not already present in the resources – that is, the better that your resources match the items in Table 28, the less you have to put into your study guide.
7.5 WHAT MAKES A GOOD RESOURCE?
Study guides are only practicable if you can find a suitable resource around which to base your course. The more features from Table 28 that a resource contains, the less new material you will need to write in your study guide, and hence the more suitable that resource is. There is, though, quite a wide range of issues you need to consider in choosing a resource. The most important of these issues are set out in Table 29.
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TABLE 28. Potential contents of a study guide
For the course as a whole
For each course unit
• an overview of the course
• the aims of the course
• a statement of any pre-requisite knowledge and skills that the course assumes
• a list of contents
• an explanation of the structure of the course (e.g., how it is divided into units)
• a list of the various components (e.g., workbooks, cassettes, web pages) and some explanation of what they are for
• a course schedule with dates of key events such as exams
• details of the support system and who to contact about different types of problem
• an explanation of the assignments to be submitted and the system for submitting them
• how and when the course will be assessed
• how to use the course (e.g., how to use activities, self-assessment and objectives)
• study skills advice (e.g., how to plan your time, make notes, learn from the web).
• unit number and title
• an introduction
• contents list
• statement of pre-requisite knowledge (or a pre-test)
• learning objectives for the unit
• list of any equipment needed for studying the unit
• other resources needed for the unit (e.g., a textbook)
• time required for the unit
• explanatory text
• activities with feedback
• diagrams and illustrations
• topic summaries
• unit summary
• self-test based on the unit learning objectives
• link forward to the next unit
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TABLE 29. Issues to consider when choosing a resource
1. Is resource content appropriate?
The essential function of a core resource is to provide the content the learner needs in order to attain the outcomes you have chosen to teach.
There is no point in using a resource that requires you to write much of the content yourself.
2. Is the level of difficulty right?
If the level of the resource is too difficult for your learners, your study guide cannot constantly have to explain the resource in simpler terms. That is not a very helpful approach for the learners.
3. Is the content up-to-date?
The content needs to be sufficiently up-to-date for you not to have to add masses of updating material.
4. Is the content accurate and authoritative?
The resource needs to be accurate and authoritative, otherwise too much of your study guide will involve ‘correcting’ the resource.
5. Is the coverage comprehensive?
Study guides are easiest to prepare when you can find one resource that covers all the course content. The more resources that you have to use, the higher the cost to the learners and the more complex the course becomes.
If there is no single resource available, another approach is to create a booklet (usually called a ‘reader’) made up of a number of chapters or articles.
6. Is it clearly structured?
Ideally, the resource will have frequent headings, introductions and summaries, a contents list, index and glossary. This point, though, is less applicable to articles.
7. Is it well written?
‘Well written’ covers such matters as tone, vocabulary, sentence and paragraph structure and use of examples and illustrations. These qualities will help both you in writing the study guide and the students in using the core resource itself.
8. Is it attractively presented?
‘Attractively presented’ refers to the physical characteristics of the resource: the way it is packaged, including not only its appearance but also its convenience and durability in use.
9. Quantity and quality of activities
Ideally, there should be at least one activity per learning outcome. In practice, many resources have no activities, and adding activities is a major part of writing the study guide.
The activities need to be of sufficient quality for you to wish to use them.
10. Quantity and quality of self-assessment tests
Ideally, there should be at least one self-assessment test per unit. In practice, however, many resources have no self-assessment tests.
The tests need to provide a good coverage of the learning outcomes.
11. Is it acceptable in terms of cost?
Acceptability in cost terms covers both the initial purchase and any ongoing costs, for example, purchase of additional equipment necessary to use the resource. If you are ordering a substantial number of copies to pass on to students, you may be able to negotiate a discount. It is also a good idea to find out from the publisher if any price rises are imminent.
12. Will it remain available?
Availability is very important. You could be in serious difficulty if the resource goes out of print or is reissued with significantly different content, leaving all your chapter and page references out of date. Before committing yourself to a particular resource, ask the publisher about its continued availability and whether any new editions are planned. With today’s shorter production runs and the technical ease of customising, you may find the publisher willing to print for you on demand or, alternatively, license you to produce copies for your own use.
13. Will it be acceptable to the tutor team?
The tutors who subsequently deliver your course need to have confidence in the core resource. Ideally, tutors should be identified early on and their views sought.
1A more extensive checklist for choosing a resource can be found in Lewis and Paine (1986).
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7.6 STRUCTURE OF STUDY GUIDES
A typical unit in a study guide has the following structure:
Resources needed for this unit
Read This cycle
Read might be repeated
Do several times.
7.7 ACTIVITIES IN STUDY GUIDES
What is the best way to set reading activities? Compare the activity in Examples 80 and 81.
EXAMPLE 80. A passive form of reading activity
Read pages 61–70 of Rowntree (1990).
Example 80 regards reading in itself as an activity. Example 81, however, provokes a much more active approach to reading by setting much more specific activities. This second version sets very specific tasks that:
• focus the reading, and
• require the learners to respond to what they have read.
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EXAMPLE 81. An active form of reading activity
1. Read pages 61–70 of Rowntree (1990).
2. Choose two methods of ordering topics, both of which you think would work for your unit.
3. List the strengths and weaknesses of these two methods in relation to your unit.
4. Which method do you conclude is the best?
SECTION 8: LANGUAGE, WRITING STYLE AND LAYOUT
OVERVIEW OF SECTION 8
However well planned and constructed your course is, it may fail to work well if the language used is not appropriate to your student population. This section looks at some of the issues that arise in language and provides some suggestions for writing in an accessible way.
This part looks at readability indices. These are mathematical measures of how easy or hard a piece of text is to read. Although the indices are not perfect, they are better than performing no check at all on a piece of text.
Some of the indices available are described, as are ways you can use the indices built into Microsoft Word.
The use of indices is balanced by also looking at the key ideas of coherence and cohesion. These factors, which are not measured by readability indices, also contribute to the readability of text.
This part offers a range of suggestions for writing in a way that clearly communicates what you intend to say, including: using familiar words, using short words, using short sentences, removing unnecessary material, being specific, writing in a logical order, being positive, maximising cohesion, using the first and second person, and preferring active to passive tenses.
Writing for learners whose first language is not English
This part notes a few points that cause particular difficulty for learners whose first language is not English using ODL materials produced in English.
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8.1 READABILITY INDICES
There are many ways of saying the same thing. Some are easier than others for students to understand. This part looks at various formulae that have been developed for measuring the reading difficulty of a piece of text and discusses the usefulness of these formulae to ODL instructional designers.
Issues for instructional designers
1. How difficult is the text that I have written?
2. What changes would make the text easier for the learners?
3. How useful are readability scores in helping me decide what changes are needed?
8.1.2 READABILITY SCORES
For many years, researches have argued that texts (on paper or on screen) with lots of long sentences and lots of long words are difficult to read. They have therefore developed methods for measuring the readability of a text. The most commonly used methods are the Gunning Fog Index, Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level.
The Gunning Fog Index
To calculate this index (see Example 82):
• Take a sample of text, at least 100 words.
• Calculate the average number of words per sentence.
• Count the number of words of three or more syllables and express this as a percentage of the total number of words.
• Add the Average number of words per sentence to the Percentage of long words.
• Multiply by 0.4.
The result tells you the reading level in terms of US school grade levels.
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EXAMPLE 82. Calculation of the Gunning Fog Index
The text below was measured using the Gunning Fog Index. This gave the following results:
Average number of words per sentence = 23.5
Percentage of long words = 13.8
Fog index = (23.5 + 13.8) × 0.4 = 14.9
Text used for the test
Our knowledge of how adults learn is, to say the least, patchy. It is not even clear that all adults learn in the same way. At present, the best we can do is to set out what seem to be the most-widely accepted characteristics of adult learners and then to deduce from these what seem to be the guiding principles for the design of post-school learning materials. Whatever the weaknesses of this approach, at least at the pragmatic level, designers who follow these guidelines consistently produce ODL courses that lead to high quality courses.
Flesch Reading Ease
This index is based on sentence length and word length. The formula can be found in Hartley (1994), but you don’t need it if you use Microsoft Word, which will calculate the index for you. To do this with Word, first select Tools/Options on the menu bar. Then select the Spelling and Grammar tab. Then tick Check grammar as you type and tick Show readability statistics.
When this index is applied to the piece of text in Example 82, a score of 56.0 is obtained (see Figure 24). This corresponds to ‘fairly difficult’ or to US Grade 10 to 12. (With Flesch Reading Ease, the lower the score, the harder is the piece of text.)
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FIGURE 24. Readability scores for an excerpt from section 1.2, ‘ How Adults Learn’ from this handbook
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level
Another index offered by Word is the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. This is slightly more convenient than the Flesch Reading Ease Index, since the number that you get is a US grade level.
For the piece of text in Example 82, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is 11.2 (see Figure 24). The ‘counts’ section of the figure tells you how much text has been graded – in this case, 450 words. Under ‘averages’, you can see how long the sentences were on average – 23.5 words. The final section, ‘readability’, gives you the two reading scores, Flesch Reading Ease (FRE) and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (FKGL).
The example shows there is reasonable agreement between the two scores.
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EXAMPLE 83. Variations in wording and their effect on readability scores
How changing wording can affect readability scores
Example 83 explores the effect of sentence length and word length on readability scores. Case 1 shows the original piece of text, which has a grade level of 11.2 – quite difficult. In Case 2, the length of some of the sentences has been reduced, but the words have not been significantly changed. This has reduced the grade level to 9.4, which is a little easier. In Case 3, the wording has been drastically changed, thus reducing the grade level to 6.5, which rates as ‘easy’ on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Index.
Our knowledge of how adults learn is, to say the least, patchy. It is not even
clear that all adults learn in the same way. At present, the best we can do is
to set out what seem to be the most widely accepted characteristics of adult learners and then to deduce from these what seem to be the guiding principles for the design of post-school learning materials. Whatever the weaknesses of this approach, at least at the pragmatic level, designers who follow these guidelines consistently produce ODL courses that lead to high quality courses.
Our knowledge of how adults learn is, to say the least, patchy. It is not even clear that all adults learn in the same way. At present, the best we can do is to set out what seem to be the most widely accepted characteristics of adult learners. Then we can deduce from these what seem to be the guiding principles for the design of post-school learning materials. Whatever the weaknesses of this approach, at least at the pragmatic level, designers who follow these guidelines consistently produce ODL courses that lead to high quality courses.
We know little about how adults learn. It is not even clear that all adults learn in the same way. We have to work from known characteristics of adult learners. From these we can deduce some principles for designing post-school learning materials. This approach may have weaknesses, but it seems to produce high quality courses.
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8.1.3 USEFULNESS OF READABILITY SCORES
Readability scores need to be used with care since they only take account of a very limited range of factors about a piece of text. From the learner’s viewpoint, the difficulty of a piece of text is dependent on factors such as:
• the subject matter,
• how the text is expressed (its cohesion and coherence),
• sentence length, and
• the vocabulary.
If a text is difficult to read, then learners will have difficultly learning from it. One view is that cohesion and coherence affect difficulty much more than do sentence length and word length (Co-Metrix, 2004). (There is more discussion of cohesion and coherence in section 8.2, ‘Writing Clearly’.) The two cases in Example 84 illustrate the problem.
In the first version, the cohesion is low, making it difficult to understand, whereas the second version has higher cohesion and is easier to understand. However, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level reverses the difficulty, saying that the first version is the easier.
EXAMPLE 84. How cohesion affects readability
One part of the cloud develops a downdraft. Rain begins to fall.
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 3.4
One part of the cloud develops a downdraft, which causes rain to fall.
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 4.9
The cases in Example 84 illustrate the need for caution in interpreting readability scores: they are worth calculating, but do not tell the whole story about a piece of text.
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8.2 WRITING CLEARLY
This part provides a selection of techniques for writing clear English. Unfortunately, clear English cannot be achieved simply by following rules and guidelines, but the following aids can be helpful with practice.
Unless otherwise mentioned, these guidelines apply equally to text on paper and text on the web.
Issues for instructional designers
1. What are the main guidelines for making text accessible to learners?
8.2.2 USE FAMILIAR WORDS IN PREFERENCE TO LESS FAMILIAR
Text is always easier for readers to understand if they are familiar with the words being used. Example 85 lists some examples of less familiar words together with more familiar alternatives.
EXAMPLE 85. Some familiar words and their more familiar alternatives
Less familiar word
More familiar word
Various resources available on the web can help here. For example, the commonest 1,000 words are listed at http://esl.about.com/library/vocabulary/bl1000_list1.htm; the 2,500– 5,000th most common words are listed at http://elc.polyu.edu.hk/cill/common2-5000words.htm.
Occasionally, of course, you will need to use the less familiar word because it is the only one that can convey your meaning with precision. This is particularly true when using technical terms.
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8.2.3 USE SHORT WORDS IN PREFERENCE TO LONG ONES
Generally, short words are easier to understand than longer ones, as shown in Example 86.
EXAMPLE 86. Short words to use in place of longer ones
Sometimes, though, the longer word is the more familiar, so it should be used in preference to the shorter one.
8.2.4 USE SHORT SENTENCES IN PREFERENCE TO LONG, BUT NOT AT THE EXPENSE OF COHESION
Generally, long sentences are more difficult to understand than short ones, but overuse of short sentences can destroy cohesion (see Example 84).
A more elaborate example of the problem is shown in Example 87. Version A shows a paragraph of first-draft text from this handbook and Version B shows the sentences shortened as much as is possible. The first version has a grade level of 12 and an average sentence length of 26 words. The second version has around half the sentence length and a grade level of 7.2. However, the second version is stilted and disjointed – it has lost some cohesion.
This example does not mean that you should not keep a careful watch on sentence length – you should. However, it does mean that, when you shorten sentences, you should take care not to destroy cohesion in the process.
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EXAMPLE 87. How cohesion can decline as sentences are shortened
Version A – original
Producing a new ODL course from scratch is usually a lengthy business. In well-established ODL institutions, the time from identifying a need to having
materials ready for use is rarely under a year, more typically two years and can be as much as three years. In an institution that is new to ODL, it is unrealistic to think that good courses can initially be produced in under 18 months to two years since, in the early stages, new skills will need to be learnt and new systems established. For many developing countries, this delay in having the first courses ready may be totally unacceptable.
26 words per sentence
Grade level = 12
Version B – Short sentence version
Producing a new ODL course from scratch is usually a lengthy business. In well-established ODL institutions, the time from identifying a need to having materials ready for use is rarely under a year. Often it will take two years. It can be as much as three years. In an institution that is new to ODL, it is unrealistic to think that good courses can initially be produced in under 18 months. You might need two years since, in the early stages. In these stages, new skills will need to be learnt. Also, new systems will need to be established. For many developing countries, this delay in having the first courses ready may be totally unacceptable.
12.7 words per sentence
Grade level = 7.2
8.2.5 REMOVE UNNECESSARY WORDS AND PHRASES
Many books suggest that you should remove unnecessary words and phrases from a text, but their advice is often rather limited. For example, Race (1992) suggested changing phrases such as ‘in the immediate vicinity of’ to ‘near’. This is good advice, but very limited. Most first draft texts contain far more words than necessary. In fact, you can probably expect to cut down almost any ODL first draft by at least 25% – and sometimes even more than 50%. To achieve this word-cutting rate, you should be prepared to take some radical steps, as follows:
• Read through the text and identify each point being made, but ignore repeated points. A good way to do this is to highlight the key points as you find them.
• Copy these points into a new Word document.
• Turn the copied points back into a cohesive text by adding in any necessary linking and other phrases.
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EXAMPLE 88. The use of the ‘key ideas’ technique to remove unnecessary words
You can see an example of this method in Example 88. Version 1 is a piece of text from workshop notes. In Version 2, the key points have been extracted from Version 1. And in Version 3, the key points have been recombined into a cohesive prose. As a result of this heavy edit, the original 138 words have been cut down to 69 – a reduction of 50%. (In this case, the grade level has gone up slightly, but not enough to worry about.)
Version 1 – original
In a historic sense, we rarely know where a school’s culture comes from. A
school’s culture is accumulated from thousands of experiences and moulded
by hundreds of staff over time. However, the head teacher can change the culture, provided he or she sets about it in the right way. So, in this sense, one can say that the culture comes (or should come) from the head.
Culture change should start with the beliefs and values of the head. Heads have to be clear in their own minds what they believe is important. Culture change starts with what Tony Blair recently referred to as irreducible core values. Whatever change the head wishes to introduce must be backed by a reason as to why it is right and important to do it – a reason that the head fervently believes in.
Grade level = 7.2
Version 2 – key points
• Many historical factors contribute to a school’s culture.
• The head teacher is the main determiner of that culture.
• The head teacher is also the main source for changing that culture.
• Culture change should start with the beliefs and values of the head teacher.
• The head teacher must have good, strong reasons for each change he or she introduces.
Grade level = 5.8
Version 3 – the key points with added cohesion
Many historical factors contribute to a school’s culture, but we know for certain that the head teacher is the main determiner of that culture. The head teacher is also the main source for changing that culture. When the head teacher wishes to change a school’s culture, he or she should start with his or her beliefs and values. At the same time, the head teacher must have good, strong reasons for each change introduced.
Grade level = 7.7
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8.2.6 PREFER THE SPECIFIC TO THE GENERAL
We tend to understand specific, concrete instances better than vague or generalised ones. For this reason, it is best to use specific examples or precise data whenever the context permits it. See Example 89.
EXAMPLE 89. Converting general cases to specific ones
write a short answer
write about 300 words
around 65% of adults
over 150 km/hr
poor quality hinge
a hinge that breaks after 500 flexings
8.2.7 WRITE IN A LOGICAL ORDER
Probably the best way to ensure a logical order is to plan your course or unit in a systematic way – a process which, in itself, helps to force a logical order on your writing. Figure 25 shows one way of doing this.
FIGURE 25. Outlining a unit of learning in a logical way
What constitutes a logical order will depend on the subject matter. Some samples of logical orders are shown in Example 90.
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EXAMPLE 90. Some methods of applying a logical sequence to a unit or a course
Presenting events in the order in which they occurred
The day-by-day events from 28 June, 1914, to 1 August, 1914, leading to the outbreak of the First World War
Presenting a topic in the order in which it developed
The development of manned flight
Order of creating something
Presenting a method in the order of its steps
The creation of a cash flow on a spreadsheet
Presenting a subject by the build-up of its concepts, starting from some initial level
The explanation of the atomic structure of matter
8.2.8 PREFER THE POSITIVE TO THE NEGATIVE
On the whole, it is easier to understand a statement in a positive form than in a negative one. In Example 91, you can see some typical negative sentences which, when transformed into positive ones, become easier to understand.
EXAMPLE 91. Negatives and how to avoid them
It is not a good idea to ignore the warning signs.
Pay attention to the warning signs.
The expert witness did not contradict what the accused said.
The expert witness supported what the witness said.
The author did not omit to send in her manuscript on time.
The author remembered to send in her manuscript on time.
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There are some occasions, though, when the negative is clearer or essential. For example: ‘Danger. Do not touch.’
Double negatives are particularly difficult to understand and are interpreted differently in different cultures. For these reasons, they are best avoided. See Example 92.
EXAMPLE 92. Double negatives and how to avoid them
The (better) positive equivalent
It is not the case that the students do not have enough time to do the assignments.
The students have enough time to do the assignments.
8.2.9 MAXIMISE COHESION
Cohesion is clear relationships being established between the words in a piece of text. For example, pronouns that refer back to a noun help create cohesion, as does the use of linking words such as ‘thus’, ‘however’ and ‘in the next example’.
Cohesion is promoted by:
• repetition of key words, and
• the use of transition words and phrases.
Repetition of key words
The cohesion of a piece of text is increased by the repetition of key words or phrases, which help the reader see how points in a series are logically related. In Example 93 (which is a passage taken from the first draft of this handbook), you can see how the repeated use of the words ‘tutorial’, ‘navigation’ and ‘web’ help to bring cohesion to this paragraph.
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EXAMPLE 93. How key words give cohesion to an argument
It is worth noting that the tutorial style was developed for use in print ODL
materials. It can be extended to the web, but care needs to be taken in the
navigation of web tutorial sites. The tutorial method assumes a carefully controlled order in the presentation of input, activity and feedback. If learners are allowed to freely navigate a web site, this order will be lost and the tutorial’s structure undermined. This problem can be avoided by constructing course web sites with …. and by careful control of hypertext links within the site.
Use of transitional words and phrases
Transitional words and phrases are ones that show:
• sequence and order
• the flow of an argument
• cause and effect
• exceptions and parentheses.
Examples of transitional words and phrases include:
• in addition
• for example
• first of all
• at the same time
• to return to the point I made earlier
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• on the other hand
• to summarise
• in conclusion.
It is those clues within a text that tell us that we are reading a tightly integrated piece and not a random collection of sentences.
8.2.10 USE FIRST AND SECOND PERSON
There is widespread agreement among experts that ODL writing should address the learner as ‘you’ and the author should be ‘I’ or ‘we’. Example 94 shows the difference between the two styles. In the first column, the style is remote and impersonal, which has the effect of distancing the learners from the course writer. In the second column, you can see the more personal, friendly version, which helps the learners feel closer to the writer.
EXAMPLE 94. Uses of first and second person to create friendly text
Traditional academic style
More friendly ODL style
The student should note that …
You should note that …
Students should prepare an essay on …
You should now write an essay on …
It can be seen that …
You can see that …
It is understood by most instructional designers that they should expect to cut …
As instructional designers, we can expect to have to cut …
8.2.11 USE LOTS OF SIGNPOSTING
‘Signposting’ refers to all of those devices that we use to help learners find their way around a text or the web site. These are considered to be important for two reasons. First, many ODL learners have little experience of learning from text or web sites, and so need as much help as possible. Second, ODL materials tend to have a fairly complicated structure, with lots of separate components (e.g., activities, examples, tests), so learners need help in working their way through the materials.
Examples of signposting include the use of:
• headings and subheadings
• contents lists
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• icons (see Example 95)
• different fonts and type sizes to indicate different aspects of the text, for example:
- 11-point Times Roman for explanatory text
- 11-point Arial for activities
• phrases such as:
- ‘on the next page …’
- ‘in the last section …’
- ‘the next example will show you…’
EXAMPLE 95. Sample of icons in ODL courses
Use to indicate
A writing task
A question to answer
Work to be sent to your tutor
Listen to the audio tape
Read from your textbook
Return to Home page
Time to spend on a task
Open a file from your diskette
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8.2.12 USE ACTIVE RATHER THAN PASSIVE VOICE
Although much formal and academic writing uses the passive voice (writing sentences with an object-verb-subject order), the active voice (sentences with a subject-verb-order order) is generally more direct and easier to understand. For this reason, most ODL writing should avoid the passive voice. Example 96 gives three cases where a passive sentence is better replaced by its active version.
EXAMPLE 96. Passive sentences contrasted with easier, active versions
Experiments on gravity were carried out by Galileo.
Galileo carried out experiments on gravity.
The test was marked by the tutor.
The tutor marked the test.
This task was found to be difficult by over half the students.
Over half the students found this task difficult.
Exceptions to the avoid-the-passive rule
Avoiding the passive voice does not mean eliminating it altogether. At times, the passive is clearer, as discussed by Pinker (1994). If you read the two versions of the short paragraph shown in Example 97, you will probably find the second version more immediately understandable, even though the second sentence is in the passive voice. The reason is that the key idea that links the first and second sentence (feedback) occurs early in the second sentence. By writing the second sentence in passive form, the cohesion of the paragraph is increases.
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EXAMPLE 97. When the passive voice can be easier to understand
Many authors have stressed the importance of feedback in learning, and this
applies to ODL as much as to other forms of learning. The inclusion of plenty of activities, questions and self-assessment tests is a very good way of providing feedback.
Many authors have stressed the importance of feedback in learning, and this applies to ODL as much as to other forms of learning. Feedback can be provided by the inclusion of plenty of activities, questions and self-assessment tests.
8.3 WRITING FOR LEARNERS WHOSE FIRST LANGUAGE IS NOT ENGLISH
Learners who study in a language other than their first language can face considerable difficulties. This is especially so for learners using English language texts when their first language is not English. There are many hidden complexities in both everyday and academic English that can impede understanding. This section describes the key sources of those difficulties and what you can do to avoid them in your writing.
Some of the advice is the same as that which applies to writing generally (e.g., keeping sentences as short as is compatible with maintaining cohesion), but other points are more specific to learners for whom English is a second language.
Issues for instructional designers
1. What language uses cause most problems for second-language speakers?
2. How can I avoid these problems?
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EXAMPLE 98. Avoiding complex sentence structures to improve clarity
8.3.2 TECHNIQUES FOR KEEPING LANGUAGE CLEAR
Today, vast numbers of learners study in English even though it is not their first language. This can create difficulties for them both in understanding what they read (and hear) and in expressing themselves in writing and speech. As an instructional designer, one of your jobs is to help ensure that the language used in the learning materials is as straightforward as possible, so as to minimise the problems that second-language learners have. Some of the ways that you can do this are:
• Use the active voice rather than passive voice.
• Keep sentences as short as is compatible with maintaining cohesion.
• Avoid using complex sentence structures. The key difficulties here are subordinate clauses and modifiers. Example 98 shows how a subordinate clause and a modifier create a complex sentence. In the second version, the point being made is much more accessible.
Version 1 – Complex
Generally, when designing ODL materials, particularly for learners whose first
language is not English, activity tasks should be worded with particular care.
Version 2 – Simpler
Activity tasks must be written clearly and simply. This is particularly important to do when you are writing for learners whose first language is not English.
• Avoid double negatives.
• Avoid idioms (e.g., avoid phrases such as ‘know like the back of your hand’ or ‘as easy as pie’).
• Use non-phrasal verbs more than phrasal ones. For example, say:
- ‘explain’ rather than ‘set out’
- ‘empty’ rather than ‘clear out’
• Use common, familiar words rather than unusual or more formal words.
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• Avoid words that have a double meaning. (This can be difficult, since about half the words in the English language are said to have at least two meanings.) For example, in ‘Since exercising is good for you, include regular exercise in your schedule’, a learner new to English might read ‘since’ to mean ‘from the time when’ – not its other sense, ‘because’.
The following web sites offer useful advice and examples on writing for learners whose first language is not English:
SECTION 9: DRAFTING AND TESTING
OVERVIEW OF SECTION 9
ODL texts always go through several drafts, and most ODL institutions have a set of defined draft stages. In this part, you will look at why drafting is so important in ODL and how it is organised. Most drafting involves various readers critiquing at various stages. Here you will learn about how to choose the readers and how to brief them so that they produce the types of comments you need. A five-stage drafting process is suggested for use.
As well, use of Microsoft Word’s outliner to help organise and re-organise drafts is discussed.
The second part describes how to test what you have drafted so that you can improve it to better meet learners’ needs. The two principal methods of testing – face-to-face and field trials – are presented and a wide range of data collection methods is summarised.
9.1 DRAFTING TEXT
Producing a course of, say, 120 hours in length can involve writing five or six drafts. These drafts may be printed out, read and commented on by several people, resulting in hundreds of comments. In other words, preparing course materials involves a lot of paper and many computer files and has considerable potential for chaos. For this reason, each ODL organisation needs a system for managing the drafting of text.
Issues for instructional designers
1. Why can’t an ODL course be written in a single stage?
2. What are the keys to successful ODL drafting?
3. What should be the various stages of drafting?
4. What are the key issues at each stage?
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9.1.2 WHY DRAFTING IS IMPORTANT IN ODL
It is not possible to write a whole ODL course in one single writing stage. There are two main reasons:
• ODL courses are usually produced by teams of people, including subject experts, instructional designers and tutors. They must all be given the opportunity to contribute fully through several drafting, commenting and revision stages.
• ODL courses are complex.
9.1.3 THE KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL DRAFTING
The keys to successful drafting are to:
• use methods that address the key problems at an early stage;
• ensure readers know what their role is; and
• provide readers with response frameworks.
Use methods that trap the key problems at an early stage
Certain decisions need to be made at an early stage, such as what the aims and outcomes of the course should be or what its pre-requisites are. Other decisions can be left to a late stage, such as the precise phrasing of expressions. A good drafting system is one that encourages writers and readers to concentrate on the appropriate issues at each stage.
Make sure that your readers understand their roles
When circulating drafts for comment, you will want different comments from different people and different comments at different stages. For example, your readers might include a subject expert, a tutor and an employer, so you might want each to look at different aspects of the material – you might ask the subject expert to concentrate on whether the material is accurate and up-to-date, while you might ask the employer whether the content covered the important knowledge and skills needed by new recruits.
Set response frameworks
The fact that you will want different comments from different people at different stages highlights the importance of giving a response framework to each of your readers. Example 99 shows such a framework for the first stage of drafting (see section 9.1.4). Readers are asked to comment on just five items (column 1 of the table) and they are given precise points to comment on (column
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2). By implication, they are not expected to comment on anything that is not mentioned in the framework. This helps focus reader comment on what is important at each of the various stages of drafting.
EXAMPLE 99. A response framework for use in commenting at the first stage of drafting
Please comment on
1. The course description
• any points you disagree with
• anything we have omitted
2. The list of pre-requisite knowledge and skills
• any items you think we should not assume learners will already possess
• any additional items you think should be in the list
3. The course aims
• any aims you disagree with
• any aims that we have omitted
4. The learning outcomes
• any outcomes you disagree with, and please explain why
• any outcomes we have omitted
5. The draft final assessment
• the level – is it right?
• other items you think should also be tested
• items you think we can omit from the assessment
9.1.4 Stages of drafting
It is useful to think of drafting as a five-stage process. There is no need to follow exactly these stages – each organisation has its own approach to drafting. What matters is that your organisation decides on its standard stages for drafting courses and defines what should happen at each of those stages.
Stage 1: Content of the course
The issues to explore at Stage 1 are all to do with the appropriateness of the content and level of the proposed course to the target audience. These issues may be explored by preparing course descriptors such as:
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• a course description,
• a list of pre-requisite knowledge and skills,
• a set of aims,
• a set of learning outcomes, and
• a draft final assessment.
The more of these devices that you use, the more precise will be your description of the course.
Once you have drafted your course descriptors, these should be circulated to those people who need to approve the contents of the course (e.g., subject experts, tutors, employers). By obtaining their agreement to the course description at an early stage, you avoid costly rewriting later on.
Stage 2: Content of each unit
The second stage (unit contents) is also about content, but at a more detailed level. The proposed content of each unit is explored in depth. This can be done by preparing and circulating items such as:
• a description for each unit,
• a set of learning outcomes for each unit, and
• a self-assessment test for each unit.
These unit descriptions should also be approved by those responsible for the course.
Note: Some organisations combine Stages 1 and 2 (i.e., the course and unit contents are drafted in one stage).
Stage 3: Sample unit
The third stage explores the proposed approach to teaching the content defined in Stages 1 and 2. This is usually done by preparing a sample unit. The purpose of this stage is to:
• develop and agree on the approach to teaching,
• develop examples of the sorts of activities that the course will use, and
• develop the other components to be used in a typical unit of the course (e.g., examples, summaries, self-assessment).
The sample unit is then circulated for comment.
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Stage 4: First draft version
Once the content and the approach to be taken in each unit have been decided, the writer (or writers) can then produce the first draft version. For the first draft version, the most important aspects to concentrate on are:
• the activities,
• the examples, and
• the self-assessment.
This version is then circulated for comment and any necessary changes are made before the materials are tested.
Stage 5: Revised version
After the pilot, any further changes are made and the final version is produced.
9.1.5 MECHANICS OF DRAFTING
Most organisations draft their courses as Word documents and store the various drafts and comments on computer discs. Having such backups is essential, but must be done well to ensure there are no version mix-ups. The following tips for using Word and computer files will help you produce an efficient drafting system.
Use Word’s outlining system
Word has a built-in system that allows you to label the headings in a file at various ‘outline levels’. The easiest way to use this system is to use Word’s default heading styles (Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.). Doing this enables you to then use the outliner to show you the structure of your writing. For example, Figure 26 shows Section 1, outlined at Level 1. Figure 27 shows the same section outlined at Level 2, and Figure 28 shows it outlined at Level 3.
The importance of this when drafting is twofold:
• You can see whether you have each topic at the right level – perhaps a topic needs to be moved up or down a level. If so, you can do this with one click in outline mode.
• You can see whether you have each topic in the right place. If it isn’t, you can drag (at whichever level you wish) the topic to another place in the sequence. (When you drag a title in outline mode, you drag all the text associated with that title at the same time.)
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FIGURE 26. Section outlined at Level 1
FIGURE 27. Section outlined at Level 2
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FIGURE 28. Section outlined at level 3
Using the outliner
To use the Word outliner:
• Use the Word default headings when you create your document (i.e., Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.). You can change the font, font size, and other characteristics of these headings and they will still remain at their built-in levels.
To see your work in outline:
• Set your document in Print Layout (click View/Print Layout).
• Click View/Outline.
• When the numbers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 appear below the menu bar, click the level you wish to view (e.g., to view at Level 3, click 3).
• Return to Print Layout and click View/Print Layout.
Use systematic file names
Once you have more than one version of a file, it is easy for the versions to become mixed up. The best way to avoid this is by:
• creating a systematic method of naming files, and
• inserting the file name into the footer of each document.
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Creating a systematic method of naming files – Imagine a course called Course 1 is being developed:
• All files for Stage 1 should have file names starting with course1_stage1. All files for Stage 2 should have file names starting with course1_stage2, and so on.
• All files at the unit level should be named course1_stageX_unit1, and so on.
• All files of different versions at any given stage should have the version number added to their name (e.g., course1_stage4_v2).
Inserting the file name into the footer of each document – To avoid uncertainties about the status of a printed draft, you can get Word to automatically insert its file name into the document’s footer as follows:
• Click View/Header and Footer.
• On the toolbar that appears, click the footer image in the Switch Between Header and Footer icon (see Figure 29)
Use Insert AutoText to insert Filename into the document’s footer.
FIGURE 29. How to select the footer
9.1.6 SELECTING READERS
The people you ask to read your materials are likely to fall into two categories:
• those whose approval you might need administratively; and
• those you choose because they are expert in certain areas and will offer you constructive comment.
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Burt (1977) concluded that the people who make good readers:
• have experience of teaching,
• empathise with students,
• are subject experts,
• are conscientious, and
• are creative.
9.1.7 ESTIMATING STUDY TIME
Burt (1977) asked his readers to estimate how long they thought it would take students to study a unit. He found that their estimates varied ‘by about a factor of two’, but that the mean times they gave for the various units were ‘of the right order … when compared with the students’ mean study time a year later’. This capacity of a non-consulting group to produce accurate estimates and predictions has recently been confirmed by Surowieck (2004).
9.2 DEVELOPMENTAL TESTING
You can see from the range of topics covered in this handbook that ODL course design is a complex process. However carefully you apply the ideas presented here, in the end you will still need to test the materials to be sure they work well. This process of testing is called developmental testing or piloting.
Issues for instructional designers
1. What issues should I explore through developmental testing?
2. What methods can I use?
The purposes of developmental testing are:
• to confirm which parts of a course are working well,
• to identify which parts of a course are causing problems for learners, and
• to identify those changes that will remedy the problems that learners have.
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Nathenson and Henderson (1976) have pointed out that most developmental testing fails to achieve the third purpose – that is, most testing methods do not produce any suggestions for improving the materials. The authors offer a testing method that can deliver such suggestions (see ‘In-text Devices’ in section 9.2.4, ‘Methods’, below).
9.2.3 WHAT YOU CAN FIND OUT
Developmental testing can explore a wide range of issues, but there is rarely time or resources to explore all of them. Rather, you need to select what you think are the most important issues for your course. Some you might want to explore are shown in Table 30.
Rowntree (1990) suggests that there are two basic methods of testing materials:
• face-to-face, where you sit down with the learners while they work through the materials; and
• field trials, where you send the materials to learners who are elsewhere.
Some authors (e.g., Zand, 1994) also list ‘expert review’ as a means of developmental testing.
Face-to-face developmental testing
This method is very simple and can be carried out quickly. The method works as follows:
• Arrange a time to work together with one learner, leaving enough time for the learner to work through, say, one unit of your material.
• Meet in a quiet, relaxing place.
• Explain that the purpose of the session is to test the unit, not the learner.
• Explain that you want the learner to work through the unit, including doing the activities and the self-assessment.
• If possible, start with a pre-assessment so you can find out how much the learner learns from the unit.
• Ask the learner to tell you what he or she is thinking and feeling at each stage (e.g., ‘This looks difficult’, ‘I didn’t understand that sentence’ and ‘This seems too simple’).
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TABLE 30. Some issues to explore in developmental testing
Are they clear?
Are they sufficiently detailed?
Are they too detailed?
Do learners make use of them?
Are these correct for the target population?
Did we assume some things that learners do not know?
Course structure and components
Is the course structure clear to learners?
Do learners understand the function of each component?
Are learners able to use all the components in an effective way?
To what extent do learners achieve the course outcomes?
To what extent do learners achieve the outcomes of each unit?
To what extent do learners complete the activities?
How helpful do learners find the activities?
To what extent do learners complete the self-assessment?
How helpful do learners find the self-assessment?
How clear is the language in the course?
What difficulties do learners have in understanding the language?
Is the course at the right level?
Or too easy?
Or too hard?
Is the course at the right pace?
Or too fast?
Or too slow?
How much time does each unit take?
Interest and motivation
How interesting is the course to students?
To what extent does the course motivate students to want to study it?
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• As the learner works, make notes about what he or she says and what you observe. Your observations might include things like ‘Learner skipped pp. 3–5’, ‘Learner kept going back to p. 7’ and ‘Learner spent 20 minutes on Activity 4’.
You will then need to repeat this process with a few other learners to identify what sort of problems the typical learner has.
This method has two great advantages over field trials: it is quick and you can ask the learners to explain their comments. The method does, however, require considerable interpersonal skills on the part of the tester. Without such skills, learners will be too nervous to reveal their true response to the materials.
Field trials involve sending the draft learning materials to learners who will work through them and send back their comments to you. To be effective, this approach usually requires 10–30 learners.
Before sending out the materials, you need to decide which method (or methods) you are going to use to collect data from your learners. Options include:
• before and after questions
• log sheets
• in-text devices
• post-trial interviews
These methods are discussed in more detail below.
Before and after testing – Some developmental testing includes ‘before and after testing’ of learners – that is, learners are given a test before they study the trial materials and then they do the same test after they have studied the trial materials. The difference in the scores between the tests shows how much the learners have learnt from the trial materials. However, this method cannot tell you what is wrong (if anything) with your text.
Log sheets – Log sheets are sheets of paper on which learners record their comments as they work through the draft material. They might record things like:
• how long they spent on each activity,
• parts of the text they could not understand, and
• difficulties they had with particular activities.
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Using the log sheets will tell you exactly where the problems are in your text or web site.
Questionnaires – Questionnaires are the most common way of collecting data from ODL learners. There are seven main question types you can use in questionnaires, summarised in Table 31.
The first question type, open questions, is the most informative, but it produces a mass of data that are hard to analyse. For this reason, it is best to use question types 2–7 wherever possible. Those are all examples of closed questions – ones where the responses are restricted to given choices. The responses to closed questions are fairly easy to analyse using computer programs such as Excel or specialised programs for survey analysis.
Important to remember is that questionnaires need to be designed carefully and, when possible, tested. Poorly designed questionnaires can result in low response rates, biased responses or data that is of little value. You might want to seek specialist advice on how to design a questionnaire, or consult a standard work such as Oppenheimer (1992).
In-text devices – Although questionnaires are used extensively in field trials of ODL materials, they rarely locate precisely where the text is difficult, and even more rarely suggest a solution to the difficulty. Three methods have been designed to overcome this problem, two of which involve inserting special field trial questions into the draft course material.
• Completing the activities: The first method is to ask learners to write down all their answers on the pages of the trial materials. These materials are then sent back to the ODL organisation. By examining learners’ answers to the activities and self-assessment, you can see where they had problems and what sorts of misunderstandings they had. These errors and problems provide the course designers with good information on what they need to do to improve the course.
• In-text data collection questions: The second method is to use in-text data collection questions. These are questions that are inserted at key points in the course material (e.g., after each activity) to ask learners for their detailed reactions to particular items (see Example 100). One caution is not to overload your test students with these questions.
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TABLE 31. The main types of question for use in ODL questionnaires
1 Open question
Respondents can write down anything they want to say
What were the best aspects of this course for you?
2 Dichotomous question
Offers respondents two choices
Did you complete Assignment 1?
3 Multiple choice question
Offers respondents more than two choices.
It is important to cover every possible response. Sometimes this can only be achieved by including a category ‘Other’.
In which region do you live?
4 Likert scale
Provides a statement. Respondents express their strength of agreement with the statement
Distance learning is the ideal method for me.
Neither agree nor disagree
5 Semantic differential scale
Provides a scale with two extremes. Respondents indicate where they would place themselves on the scale. The scales usually have 5 or 7 points.
The activities in this course are:
6 Ranking question
Respondents are asked to rank a list of items
Please rank from 1 to 5 the following course items. 1 = ’most useful to you’; 5 = ‘least useful to you’
7 Numeric question
Respondents are asked for a numeric value
How many assignments did you complete on this course?
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Your reactions to Activity 7
Please tell us how you used this activity.
1. Did you complete Activity 7? (If not, please tell us why.)
2. How easy/hard did you find it?
3. Was this activity useful to you? If it was, in what way was it useful?
4. How did your response compare with the one suggested in the feedback?
5. Was the feedback helpful to you? If it was, in what way was it helpful?
6. Was there anything that you still could not understand after having done the activity?
EXAMPLE 100. A set of in-text data collection questions
• In-text data feedback questions: This third approach involves inserting special tests into the material to find out what the learner has and has not learnt at various points in the unit. According to Nathenson and Henderson (1976), in comparison with other methods, these feedback questions pinpoint ‘specific problems in the instruction’ and suggest ‘possible solutions to those problems’.
This approach is probably the most elaborate development testing system ever devised for ODL. The effort, though, seems to be worthwhile: as the authors note in a later study, the revised course materials resulted in higher student grades and lower study times (Henderson et al., 1977).
Post-trial interviews – A final method is to interview learners after they have completed the trial course. Because interviews allow you to explore issues in depth, you can obtain high quality data on learners’ motivations and reactions to a particular course. However, interviews are not an effective way of collecting page-by-page comments.
9.2.5 SCALE AND TIME
Most ODL organisations seem to test courses with 10–25 learners, although they may only receive detailed responses from 5–10 learners. Nevertheless, there is some evidence to suggest that small numbers of testers can provide a valid picture of the strengths and weaknesses of a course (Nielsen, 2000).
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SECTION 10: QUALITY ASSURANCE SYSTEMS
OVERVIEW OF SECTION 10
If you decide to follow the advice and ideas set out in this handbook, and to use some of the sources referred to, you will already be taking steps to assure the quality of what you do. In other words, high quality materials arise from the day-to-day, consistent application of good practice, and from reflection, discussion and testing. This section, however, discusses several more formal methods of quality assurance systems.
Quality assurance systems are simply formal procedures for specifying:
• what is to be done,
• who should do it, and
• to what standard it should be done.
It is important to note that quality assurance is not the same as evaluation. Evaluation is something that is done once a course has been created; quality assurance is a day-to-day process used during the creation of the course.
Issues for instructional designers
1. What system can I use to ensure the quality of the learning materials?
The first part of a quality assurance system is that of establishing procedures. Procedures are a description of ‘the way we do things’. Their purpose is twofold:
• to define what the organisation considers to be good practice, and
• to ensure that staff apply that good practice consistently to current projects.
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10.2.1 RANGE OF PROCEDURES
An ODL organisation might have procedures for:
• recruiting writers
• recruiting subject experts
• specifying a course
• writing a course unit
• testing a course.
10.2.2 WHAT A PROCEDURE LOOKS LIKE
A procedure simply says how a standard task will be done and who is responsible for coordinating that task. A simplified version of a possible procedure for producing a course specification is shown in Example 101.
In addition to procedures (which set out tasks to be done), many quality assurance systems also have standards – specifications identifying the level or degree to which something is to be done. Standards might be produced for such items as:
• writing a unit of learning (see Example 102),
• manufacturing an audio cassette tape, and
• marking and commenting on an assignment.
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EXAMPLE 101. A typical procedure
Procedure for specifying a course
Every course shall have a course specification, prepared by the instructional designer for that course.
The specification shall include:
• a working title
• the course aims
• learning outcomes
• the target audience for the course
• expected number of enrolments per year
• expected life of the course
• the need for the course
• course length (study hours)
• course components and media (e.g., workbook, audio cassette) and extent of each (e.g., 120 p.)
• prior learning to be assumed
• entry restrictions (if any)
• tutorial support (e.g., number of tutor-marked assignments, number of local centre meetings)
• assessment methods
• award on successful completion of the course.
Course specifications must be approved by the Course Approvals Committee before course writing commences.
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EXAMPLE 102. A typical standard for writing a unit of learning
Unit writing standard
Every course unit shall contain the following items:
• course number and title
• introduction, setting out:
- what will be learnt in the unit
- why that material is important to the learners
• unit contents list
• unit learning outcomes
• for each outcome:
- appropriate examples
- a range of learning activities
- a key points list
- at least one self-assessment question.
10.4 CHECKING PROCESSES
Once procedures and standards have been set, the organisation needs to check that both are being applied. This should be the responsibility of the relevant managers in each area of the organisation. Thus, the manager for materials development would oversee the use of the procedures and standards for materials development.
Quality assurance is a fairly technical area of materials production. To learn more, see Freeman (1991).
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