To all those reading this I am David Gibbs; I am a Lecturer in Law at the University of East Anglia.

I created this blog as a general out-let of ideas for my research, as well as keeping those interested up-to-date on my research and general interests.

I completed my PhD thesis at the University of East Anglia in 2014. The thesis was recommended for the award of PhD with no corrections. My external examiner was Prof. Simon Deakin (Cambridge) and internal examiner was Prof. Morten Hviid.
My PhD research centred on directors' duties and company law. The thesis was titled 'Non-Executive Self-Interest: Fiduciary Duties and Corporate Governance'. It was a doctrinal and empirical study on whether self-interest was suitably controlled amongst non-executive directors.

My supervisors were Prof. Mathias Siems, Prof. Duncan Sheehan, Dr. Sara Connolly and Dr. Rob Heywood

All opinions of any existing or future blogpost are my own. They do not necessarily represent the views of any of my associated institutions.
ORCID 0000-0002-6596-8536

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Effective e-learning reflection

I have recently been on a Teaching Skills course and had to write a reflective 1000 word piece about my teaching experiences. I chose to focus on my use of e-learning tools. Here is what I wrote.

‘Essentially, flexible learning has two features: It provides students with the opportunity to take greater responsibility for their own learning; it enables students to be engaged in learning activities and opportunities that meet their own needs’[1]
Student learning does not have to start and finish in the classroom. Developing effective e-learning tools for students over the past year has allowed for discovery as to what works well and what does not. After implementing some of these tools in practice and reading around the subject it is possible to reflect on how these tools can be successfully adapted in to student learning.

Literature on e-learning often comes across with two fundamental points that it should not merely mimic that which was taught in the classroom where it is combined with face-to-face learning; and where it is pure e-learning that a sense of community is created. Lecturers see a problem with mimicking the face-to-face sessions, as highlighted in a qualitative study, that ‘the students think they don’t have to attend so much that they will pick up the slides and by some sort of osmosis they’ll learn everything that’s on it’.[2] Online learning that merely repeats the face-to-face contact also has its problems from a student perspective as without human contact and social interaction it means students are unable to ‘construct their own knowledge and take responsibility for their learning’.[3]

As such it is important that e-learning facilitates the face-to-face contact time through what is referred to colloquially as “blended learning”[4] as well as creating a sense of community to allow for creative thinking. A final benefit to consider of e-learning is widening participation. Effective e-learning can help meet the goal of widening participation by making learning flexible to meet the needs of different students. With these benefits in mind the reflection below shall focus on how the use of e-learning tools for a third and second year undergraduate course in Company Law and Contract Law respectively, succeeded in meeting these benefits.

Methods Deployed
Online pre-recorded videos
The online pre-recorded videos that were provided discussed and provided a model answer for problem questions which were well received by students. The usage by students on the Company Law course was 100%.

These videos had many added benefits than simply going over the question in class. For one it gave a sense of community and virtual presence with students. From a teaching perspective it also made it easier to clarify difficult points of law through re-recording, which you do not have the opportunity to do in the classroom. Whilst this may have been more time consuming it narrowed the room for confusion on topics. Students also cited the videos as very beneficial to their learning. They were able to watch the videos on a number of occasions at their own leisure. It also helped them interact with the online learning environment and take responsibility for their own learning, rather than what one commentator referred to as a “snatch and grab” or surface approach to downloading slides.[5]

Moving forward, to improve on this tool it would be an added benefit to release the videos before the seminar rather than after. This may facilitate greater discussion and independent learning in the classroom as well as helping with their preparation. This would certainly help in facilitating the face-to-face learning rather than repeating it. It would also further their ability to take responsibility for their own learning. If such an approach is taken, the way in which the face-to-face learning is conducted will also need to be reflected upon to ensure the answer to the problem question is not merely repeated.   

PowerPoint Slides
Providing slides can have numerous problems. To name a few there is the surface approach, the problem of non-attendance and the issue regarding lack of concentration if the slides are too detailed.

In Law, sometimes the class required the use of detailed slides to convey information, but not all was necessary for the class discussion. For example, in discussing directors’ remuneration, facts and figures were used to show practical examples. To overcome the problem of having to use detailed slides two approaches were used. One is discussed under the next heading of online tasks, and the other was one of simple disclosure. By drawing students’ attention to the fact the slides were for their use after the class it often focused their attention to discussions and questions rather than trying to read off the slides.    

Online tasks
The use of online tasks before the seminar also helped develop the face-to-face sessions and allowed students to take responsibility for their own learning. Since the class was based around directors’ remuneration students were asked to find and disseminate information from a directors’ remuneration report. This facilitated the discussions in class as students were forthcoming with opinions as they were aware of how it operates in practice.

Quick Reader (QR) Codes
The use of QR codes is something of a more recent phenomenon. With the increased availability of information on the go it is important that teaching stays abreast of these developments so students are able to disseminate information wherever they go rather than having to sit in front of a desktop or attend classes.

QR codes allow quick access to information on smart phones and tablets by scanning the codes, which brings up the relevant information. For Law this has been put to use in accessing certain websites as well as lists of information such as case lists. The use of these codes can be beneficial for meeting the goal of widening access. Allowing for easier access to information on the go can save valuable time and frees up the time as to when students are able to interact with the materials.

However, upon reflection their use has been limited. Finding innovative ways to use them more effectively in higher education to supplement face-to-face learning and help develop an online community for a richer experience may take more time.

Social Networks
Operating a blog and Twitter has been able to serve as a useful resource for students in providing up-to-date information on recent developments. Using social networks can assist in the development of an online-community with both student-student and tutor-student engagement. Similar to the online tasks it has also helped students in preparing for classes. By providing labels to blog posts relating to the different classes on the modules, students can quickly search for posts about that topic. Blogs can also support hyperlinks to other recent developments on topics that can help develop students’ commercial awareness. This can be a valuable benefit over the use of textbooks and will increasingly supplement the face-to-face learning. Anecdotal evidence from assessments this year has suggested students have benefited from using the e-learning tools this way.

Use of e-learning tools needs to be effective to help students develop. One of the main benefits found whilst using them is that they help students take responsibility for their own learning. They can be used to help students prepare for a class, which can make them more engaged in discussions to reflect on different concepts. Whilst not all students engaged with the online tasks this year, to increase participation it may be beneficial to include a discussion board, or other collective engagement mechanisms, with the task to develop peer assisted learning to enhance the online community. This may help prevent students continually taking a surface approach to e-learning tools.

[1] K Pond, R Ul-Hag and W Hade, ‘Peer Review: A pre-cursor to assessment’ (1995) 32(4) Innovations in Education and Teaching International 314
[2] N Fry and N Love, ‘Business lecturers’ perceptions and interactions with the virtual learning environment’ (2001) 9(4) The International Journal of Management Education 51, 54
[3] N Fry and N Love, ‘Business lecturers’ perceptions and interactions with the virtual learning environment’ (2001) 9(4) The International Journal of Management Education 51, 53
[4] See N Jones and A Man Sze Lou, ‘Blended Learning: Widening participation in higher education’ (2010) 47(4) Innovations in Education and Teaching International 405
[5] N Fry and N Love, ‘Business lecturers’ perceptions and interactions with the virtual learning environment’ (2001) 9(4) The International Journal of Management Education 51, 53

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