City & Guilds 1820 London Sound Engineering Part 3

City & Guilds 1820 London Sound Engineering Part 3 – This qualification is part of a linked program that culminates in the City & Guilds Sound Engineering Part 3. These City & Guilds sound engineering audio qualifications are presented by AudioCourses Online Sound Engineering School and are open to students from countries all over the world by internet distance e-learning. They offer you the unique opportunity to study the theory and practice of Sound Engineering through e-learning courses designed by audio educational experts who practice sound engineering.

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Pilot Course Evaluation

Author: Christopher Hambly

27.09.01

Outline

This essay represents an evaluation of an online pilot course, Production Techniques. Reference is also made to a supporting web site containing the learning materials constructed for the pilot. The evaluation takes the form of evaluating the types of interaction and outcomes of the experience and then presenting suggestions to improve the course for student learning and also the administrative processes. The learning materials have been in production since the start of 2000 and during 2001. The pilot course ran during the months of August and September of the same year. Synchronous text/audio sessions were held and given the term ‘Live Workshops’ the transcriptions from these will be examined.

Course Aims

The course aims were documented in previously but for the purpose of this essay re-iteration will be helpful in understanding the unique nature of working within the field of audio. Currently, open and distance-learning (ODL) courses targeted specifically at audio are an exception. Practically no such courses seem to exist worldwide whereby the utilisation, and more specifically, the manipulation of audio assets is the norm. Some courses exist where audio examples are used and discussed but not in the context of examining production techniques. Nor do these courses display flexibility to tailor the learning experience to suit the individual needs of the learners at any given time, as this course attempted to achieve. With that in mind Production Techniques purposefully set out to target that need and to assess the outcomes and therefore its potential.

Traditional Institutions

Sound Engineering, as a subject is a relatively new discipline in academia. Even in 2001 face-to-face (f2f) sound engineering courses globally have difficulties fitting into traditional departments in universities. Sound engineering encompasses many different mind-sets and approaches to learning including engineering principles, and equally so, creative artistic ones. The majority of current professionals working within the field have grown up and learnt their skills in the school of ‘hard knocks’. Essentially, by being thrown into situations and learning through self-experience and emulating mentors in the workplace. A cynical point of view is that over the last 30 years educational establishments have assessed a need for ‘fast-tracking’ engineers and providing provision in the form of courses as means of generating income. A more positive view would be that there is indeed a need, even if only for personal development without the outcome of employment. And rightly so, social learning reasons can be seen to be just as valid for the enrichment of culture. However, being such a specialised area, most traditional universities do not find themselves in a situation to be able to provide such courses that really do reflect the culture that professionals work in. Courses exist where sound engineering is an add-on to music courses or performing based courses, though very few exist exclusively for sound engineering as a subject. Figures suggest the number is currently around five in the United Kingdom where the student does not need to be a musician and can focus entirely on sound engineering, one of which being the Higher National Diploma in Sound Engineering and Multimedia Integration at Truro College Cornwall UK. (disclosure: I authored that)

Private Institutions

Private institutions are in a far stronger position to provide courses for this subject. Equipment and specialists are expensive. The resources needed and time per student/teacher ratio, not to mention the unique environment needed, all add up to make sound engineering courses rather expensive in comparison to many other subjects. Therefore, a growth in private institutions can be witnessed such as:

  • The Audio Engineering School, with multiple centres located in the five major continents (and expanding) throughout the world. www.sae.edu (disclosure SAE is now a client of mine, 2008)
  • Full Sail, Florida, United States of America. www.fullsail.com

Because these schools charge very high fees they are in a position to provide the necessary industrial equipment along with the expertise to teach. Naturally, only a select few students are fortunate enough to find themselves, being fortunate enough to benefit from these centres.

It is interesting to note that these large private companies (and the traditional institutions) have not yet moved into an ODL medium within the field of sound engineering even though funding councils have ‘embarked on a series of actions that encourage members of higher education institutions to reconsider their roles’. (Gentle, 2001) The potential market then is clear, and research suggests that suitable courses that function adequately and present a dynamic learning environment would achieve high enrolment. The Production Techniques course is targeted at this niche.

Production Advisors

The pilot course utilised two teachers/facilitators of learning and each were assigned the name of ‘Production Advisors’. The author being one Production Advisor, the other was an ex-student of the author, Ben Morgan. Both Production Advisors had considerable experience in using both synchronous communicative technologies (SCT) and a-synchronous communicative technologies (ASCT). Additionally, both parties were adept at producing the necessary learning materials. As the pilot used both SCT and ASCT it was essential that the Production Advisors were fully conversant with the range of skills required in order to effectively communicate with the students and personalise the learning medium. The range of skills, or rather roles, that the Production Advisors took included:

  • Mentor
  • Advisor
  • Counsellor
  • Assessor
  • Tutor
  • Conference Moderator

(Thorpe, 2001)

An interesting observation was that during the pilot all participants took on one or more of these roles, not only the Production Advisors, which highlights a significant amount of power showing having taken place and in essence a learning community established, certainly a constructivist one.

What was not so clear to the students before the course started was the precise range of skills the Production Advisors were to utilise, and the type of learning culture that was to exist. This would be made explicit for future versions of the course.

Advertising

The pilot course was advertised on an online forum owned by the magazine Sound on Sound. This is one of the most widely used online forums for the audio world in the United Kingdom and can be found at: www.sospubs.co.uk

The intention was to run the pilot with only a small group of students, aiming for around five so the message that was posted was kept suitably modest. The message posted can be found in appendix 8.

Expressions of Interest

The returns of interest were fairly immediate, and within 1 week the following students were committed to the programme.

  • Aloysius – New York (sadly I didn’t hear from him again after the Trade Towers plight
  • Graeme – Devon UK
  • Javen – Cornwall UK

Though small in number it was felt that these numbers were adequate; considering the newness of the medium we would be using, and no further advertising was put forward.

Initial Support Needs

There was a significant amount of questioning from the students at this point, which took the form of:

  • What do we need? I.e. software/hardware configuration
  • When do we need to be online?
  • What will we be taught?
  • What will we get out of the programme?

These questions were discussed through e-mail during the week before the first live workshop was held. This highlights an obvious need for more detailed information on exactly such issues. As the number was small there was no hardship in providing such information by personal e-mails, in fact this aided in cementing a supporting relationship at a very early stage. Though one can envisaged a slightly different situation with larger numbers (due to time constraints), experience intimates that the personal touch of having a Production Advisor available for questioning at this early point cannot be under estimated. Naturally, many of the above questions could be answered by providing online literature detailing such topics. However, the pilot and further versions will aim to provide the above personal service. The web site has now been updated to reflect this early support structure need with literature to tackle typical questions along with the role of the Production Advisors in being available for queries.

Data Collection

Within this week, full contact details and background information on each student was obtained. The questioning that was put forward was styled to obtain information on the type of equipment and experience each student had, and their main interests with regards to audio production techniques. Addresses were collected in order to be able to use the postal service for sending audio assets and evaluation versions of software on a compact disk read only memory (CD-ROM). These were found very useful by the students as indicated by Graeme. ‘The use of a CD with all the software and samples needed was also very useful.’ (appendix 7)

The students were also asked if they would agree to being added to a distributed mailing list in order that the Production Advisors could keep them up to date with general developments and in essence become part of a new learning community. All agreed to this and the mailing list is currently distributed monthly and growing in number.

The first activity set through e-mail was for the students to install PalTalk, (a SCT application) and get the feel of using it, as this would be the main vehicle for course communication. The scheduled meetings were to be termed Live Workshops.

Synchronised meeting

During the e-mail exchanges a date was put forward for the participants and details of where to meet online. The learning material web site found at (no longer in existance) contains a live chat applet which allows users to log in and become part of a chat room. This was the first form of contact. And all participants showed up at the agreed time on 15.08.01. This chat applet proved very successful in allowing everyone to communicate in real time through his or her web browser. The downside of the applet is that the text within cannot be saved, or even copied and pasted into another application. Doubled with this the applet does not allow audio or the exchange of files. It was merely a first point of contact. And will be used in further versions of the course due to the ease of use and as a ‘back-up’ in case of primary application failure. ‘There was only one time when Paltalk was unavailable, though that was unlucky as it was only for the two hours that the course was scheduled. There should have been a backup plan, though I didn’t think of it at the time and that would be to use the website, the only thing you couldn’t do is send files to each other.’ (appendix 7)

PalTalk

PalTalk is an application that allows synchronous text and audio exchange along with file swaps, more details can be found in appendix 10. While the web chat applet was active, participants were directed to the Production Techniques room that was created for the pilot in PalTalk. The sight of seeing students arrive on time in the Live Workshop was highly encouraging for both the Production Advisors and dialogue took the form of welcoming. The welcome dialogue can not been seen in the message appendices as both Production Advisors had periodic interrupts in their Internet Service Provider (ISP) therefore text was lost. This theme will be tackled in more detail later in the essay.

Audio Software

It was stated very clearly that though the Production Advisors would be using CoolEdit (manufactured by Syntrillium) as an audio editor, the course was not about cloning techniques, or more importantly, focussing on one particular software application, but motivating and encouraging the students to utilise any combination of software/hardware. This proved to highly effective in not ostracising any student. Graeme, for example, showed quite early on that he was uncomfortable with CoolEdit and preferred to work with his preferred software, which can be seen in the dialogue exchange that took place in the first Live Workshop. Funky_35 is a screen name for the author. Ben m is the other Production Advisor.

  • J_Graeme: Are you actually wanting us to use cool edit or can I use my sampler and Logic
  • funky_35: great question…
  • funky_35: what do you feel Ben?
  • ben_m: it may be advantageous to use both
  • J_Graeme: I’m not really bothered it just that’s the way I normally work
  • funky_35: Do you have access to DSP with your normal working set-up?
  • funky_35: i.e. compression and filters etc?
  • J_Graeme: yes
  • ben_m: using cool edit will certainly make it easier in later sessions regarding specific effects, but you can never have knowledge on enough platforms so maybe you could mirror the activities on both platforms
  • J_Graeme: Filters in the sampler and compression with the mixer
  • J_Graeme: Ok I’ll give it ago on both
  • funky_35: Ben makes a good point about being flexible in approach..
  • J_Graeme: Basically I use effects in Soundforge on the samples and then send them to the sampler
  • ben_m: soundforge is very similar to CoolEdit in a lot of ways minus the multitracking option
  • J_Graeme: Yes I know, That’s the only downside
  • ben_m: but if you are using a sequencer it kind of levels out
  • J_Graeme: However my music computer is only a Pentium 166mmx so I don’t do any real-time audio work with it
  • ben_m: fair enough, my celeron 433 can struggle with a few tracks
  • J_Graeme: I use the controls in Logic and the outboard to do that!!
  • funky_35: My advice is keep an open mind and use what you can to a creative outcome… but as Ben states for exploring techniques software based applications may broaden your experience.
  • funky_35: Certainly CoolEdit is the in the style of being a little sister to the Two main performers of Soundscape and Protools
  • funky_35: for high-end audio production
  • J_Graeme: Oh definitely, I love the software approach and want to give Cool Edit a go for the multitracking, however I’d probably do more with my existing set-up.
  • funky_35: Don’t feel we are looking for your best shot at an audio track!
  • funky_35: we are looking for you to explore….
  • funky_35: and are here to aid you in that..
  • J_Graeme: OK
  • funky_35: 馃檪
  • funky_35: see it as a journey
  • funky_35: not a test…
  • J_Graeme: Ok, I’ll probably do one using cool edit and another with my set-up
  • funky_35: that’s a cool idea.
  • (edited from appendix 2)

The above dialogue is an explicit example of the Production Advisors’ philosophy of maintaining flexibility. This is borne of hard-learned lessons in the industry and the very real need of adopting this flexibility and cherishing the open approach in industry. This also has cost implications. Providing a course that opens the possibility of each student using his/her own preferred software will mean less expenditure. The implications are also for the course provider, in that if common software were to be provided this would make the course fees higher and reduce the intake.

Graeme also voiced his fears on the suitability of his computer hardware in being able to cope with the course. This theme certainly is an issue for all online courses. This insight led to the creation of student support documentation indicating minimum specifications and recommended specifications to assess if student computer equipment is suitable for the course (appendix 9). This process of assessment will form part of the enrolment dialogue in future versions of the course, possibly through completion of an online questionnaire.

Missing Students

As the first Live Workshop continued it was clear Javen and Aloysius were otherwise engaged or having difficulties arriving. After the workshop closed, e-mails were sent to the missing students with a transcription of the first session. Javen returned an e-mail expressing personal reasons for not being able to attend and he would rather ‘give it a go’ another time. Aloysius expressed he had to work at the last minute and would be online for the next session.

Message Board

Within the first session one of the activities that was discussed was the use of the course message board. This is an ASCT application whereby messages can be posted 24 hours a day seven days a week. It can be found at: (no longer active). The purpose of the board was discussed and an activity set that was for each student to post an introduction message. Two students and both Production Advisors completed the activity. As the course progressed the message board was not used and the students prefferred voicing their opinions and insights during the Live Workshops. This led the Production Advisors to not create activates for the message board but to allow the students to operate in their preferred manner. This was one of the first key insights that took place, that of allowing the course to be dynamic and organic which translates into giving the students what they want. Naturally, the Production Advisors would not make message board activities mandatory in the future but the option would still be available in case the need presented itself. Certainly the author has a great deal of faith in the potential of message boards and in some disciplines they can be seen to be invaluable. Though for Production Techniques where the individuals are not in the situation of having to create long academic arguments, the directness of being able to ‘throw around’ ideas live seems to be far more attractive.

Further Activities

The students had received by way of post a CD-ROM that along with containing some software applications also contained audio files that were to be the source files for building a track (song). An activity was mutually agreed upon. Graeme immediately expressed concern with the software choice and the Production Advisors went on to suggest he complete the activity in the manner most fitting for him, but also with an open mind to further options. The activity was to be ready for the next Live Workshop. The suggestion of this activity immediately promoted a great deal of dialogue regarding typical questions and techniques in the audio production arena.

The session ended and the Production Advisors then went on to discuss and review how the first Live Workshop had gone.

  • ben_m: that went ok didn’t it?
  • funky_35: yes I thought so…
  • funky_35: Has a great deal of potential huh?
  • ben_m: certainly, I think the only limitations are the quality of the phone line/ISP and the compatibility of the software
  • ben_m: as for a medium though it is certainly promising
  • funky_35: Good point..
  • funky_35: will be good for auditioning tunes in the future
  • funky_35: and I also feel it personalises the experience
  • ben_m: too right. if broadband was more widespread then I think that this form of learning would be amazing in terms of media distribution and communication
  • funky_35: I see BT have info about broadband on their site.. plans a foot as you mentioned
  • ben_m: right! can’t wait!
  • (edited from Appendix 2)

Ben_m raises the issue of broadband. Broadband being a high-speed Internet connection with improved connectivity. Both Production Advisors and students through the pilot found it frustrating to find themselves being disconnected periodically. This is disruptive to the flow of the Live Workshop. ISPs do exists with good connections but as yet high-speed connections are not the norm in the United Kingdom. Broadband would bring several advantages to such a course that utilises SCT. Current ‘off the shelf’ modems do allow file transfer and audio streaming but the quality is low and transfers slow.

Live Workshop Session two

The second Live Workshop gained the participation of Aloysius. Dialogue for this session took the form of discussing how the week had gone and in particular how the activity had progressed. As three participants had agreed in the previous Live Workshop to complete the activity there was an abundance of experience to reflect on. Some file swapping took place to share audio examples and then we discussed the techniques used to create them. A substantial amount of audio technicalities were discussed in this session, which we do not feel would be so suitable to follow or have realisations of were it not for the live media that we used. This can be seen evidenced in the dialogue of appendix 3. Funky_35 is cued into describing the recording method of vocals and there is continuous interjection from the participants based on the explanation put forward. This form of interaction is typically the way f2f instruction can operate, which is lacking in many forms of ODL that do not utilise SCT. The session ran over our two-hour allocation by a further 60 minutes. None of the participants minded and in fact it was a shame to bring the session to a close through moderation skills. Further activities were agreed and a date set for the next Live Workshop.

Live Workshop Session Three

Mid-way through this session the author set Aloysius the task of backing up the dialogue as Aloysius’s connection was Broadband and in the previous sessions he had not experienced any loss of connection, the first part of this sessions dialogue the author had lost. We also set an another date for the next session very early on as a safe guard of anyone missing the agreed date and time. The topics concerning Production Techniques varied greatly and all were based around what the group desired. In this session the author suggested that for future course a web accessed file area would be very desirable to aid the participants in uploading and downloading files. One of the problems we found was that PalTalk only allows one from transfer either in or out from one user at any time. As music files (although compressed into MP3 format) are very large, and the higher the compression ratio for quicker transference, the lower the quality. This is a paradox for audiophiles to live with as many of the subtleties and techniques that Production Techniques aims to tackle are compromised.

Live Workshop Session Four

The topic of file types for transfer over the web was immediately picked up in this session and the participants discussed various opinions. Further dialogue in this session took the form of Personal Computer (PC) chat for audio work. A vast amount of information was exchanged in which Graeme seemed to be very pleased with. This insight gave the Production Advisors the idea that perhaps a future course would in fact be just for Personal Compuetr Audio. A course that has the primary aim of optimising a PC for audio work. This area is a minefield currently, as the audio world continues to borrow many processes and equipment designed for non-audio work. This convergence is naturally beneficial to the audio world though, as faster processors and computer equipment can be utilised for audio operations.

As the participants of Production Techniques were by now more familiar with each other, and all had experience of the pilot, the Production Advisors steered the dialogue into questioning the medium. The results were highly insightful as the following (edited) text highlights:

  • funky_35: I think an upload centre is a good option…
  • This was the Production Advisors idea of reducing time spend transferring files in the Live Workshops
  • ben_m: If for instance the course was £x more BUT you received a legitimate copy of an audio editor would you rather pay the extra?
  • funky_35: what a about a university credit scheme?
  • J_Graeme: I think it would help, because then you have some idea it’s a proper course – no offence meant
  • funky_35: none taken… it’s a pilot. 馃檪
  • funky_35: it’s also interesting to get an idea of what people feel a legitimate course actually is
  • J_Graeme: However if you are paying for an audio editor and that’s not your specific choice then it’s money wasted
  • Graeme response is interesting in that he does not want a course that is outside of his own personal situation. He wants the course to aid him and his current equipment set-up. Not surprising if he has spent a great deal of money on equipment.
  • funky_35: good point Graeme.
  • funky_35: what about the credit thing…. for a uni degree?
  • funky_35: or do you like the idea that the course is more flexible?
  • J_Graeme: I’m not sure what a legitimate course is, and doing music online will be difficult, without broadband, but if you teach want people want then they should be up for it.
  • Again clear statements that giving students what they want will keep them.
  • Aloysius: I like a course that has structure..
  • J_Graeme: flexible course would be more useful, so people can fit it around things
  • ben_m: 馃檪
  • J_Graeme: though with in that have structured tasks to work through
  • funky_35: I like structure too, though it can impede on the organic nature of what people desire
  • J_Graeme: i.e. building a drum track, adding bass, etc
  • Aloysius: true.. but this is a course and you are the teacher.. a student doesn’t choose what they want to learn? they don’t know what’s good for them yet..
  • J_Graeme: good point
  • This is interesting in that both students do seek some form of structure and feel they maybe do not quite know what they need to learn.
  • ben_m: that’s a point of contention I think
  • ben_m: I think that with the online course model, there is less of a teacher/student divide than in a conventional classroom
  • ben_m: Of course there would be some kind of syllabus
  • ben_m: but if you are teaching 10 people and 7 people all ask if you could specialise in drum editing one week it would be hard to say no
  • Aloysius: I think an online course is more difficult since the medium is slower.. but the interaction is the same..
  • J_Graeme: True, but that should be a section of it
  • Production Advisor ben_m makes a great point and unwittingly asks the students to consider the difference of the online medium.
  • ben_m: The problem is that production techniques can mean many things to many different people
  • Aloysius: I think the most difficult part of an online course is sharing the work when it comes to transferring files to other people.
  • Aloysius: that’s true Ben.
  • ben_m: Certainly broadband access would make the course much more feasible
  • J_Graeme: the upload centre would help
  • Aloysius: yes the upload centre would work..
  • ben_m: in the states I am sure the course could be run at its potential
  • ben_m: due to the better bandwidth
  • funky_35: yes I agree.
  • Aloysius: unless students upload their work beforehand..
  • This idea of a file area keeps coming up as an issue.
  • J_Graeme: However you also need to see how things are done, especially for people with little or no experience
  • Aloysius: yes there is no blackboard in an online course.
  • funky_35: do you need a blackboard?
  • ben_m: well, an upload centre where each student has his/her own password to access their own file area could certainly be useful. Then students could be told that they have to have their work uploaded by the start of a session
  • Aloysius: no but it would help
  • J_Graeme: I think a blackboard would help
  • funky_35: why do you think a blackboard would help?
  • ben_m: would it help if we could send you jpgs/gifs (which we could with the current software) to illustrate principles (i.e. compression, eq, panning etc)?
  • funky_35: is it not merely a visual of what we are doing now?
  • J_Graeme: but more in terms of how to use the software and not a normal school blackboard
  • Aloysius: yes sending material before the course would help in explaining some difficult concepts such as compression..
  • J_Graeme: I think jpgs would help to illustrate techniques
  • An interesting concept has come to light here, in the form of perhaps ’ready-to-go’ resources as and when a topic is raised for illustrative purposes.
  • ben_m: should the course assume some familiarity with PC techniques on the students’ part?
  • Aloysius: yes I think so..
  • J_Graeme: you’ll need it
  • ben_m: should there be different content for beginners, intermediate, advanced etc?
  • J_Graeme: that would certainly help
  • Aloysius: yes of course..
  • J_Graeme: I would have been lost if I hadn’t written stuff before
  • J_Graeme: even just switching to Cool Edit was difficult

Ben raises the issue of content level, which the students agree to be a good thing, this may have implication for different student with different abilities being put into groups.

(edited from appendix 5)

A fitting quote to summarise the usefulness of the above dialogue has been made by Moore and Kearsley: ‘Students’ reactions are a good source of information about the effectiveness of a particular course and help give ideas for how to design a course for a particular group. Student satisfaction with distance education courses relative to traditional classes can vary according to students’ personalities and other characteristics and the design of the course and how well it is taught.’ (Moore and Kearsley, 1996)

Production Techniques Final session

This final session was held two weeks later than agreed due to the PalTalk server being down and after the devastating situation presented in New York concerning the Twin Towers. It was known that Aloysius was from New York and he did not show for this session. In fact to date (three weeks later) none of the participants have heard from him and we can only hope the situation is not grave.

Being the last Live Workshop of the pilot, and the recent events, naturally the dialogue took on a closing down nature.

Recommendations

It is the belief of the Production Advisors and the participants, that the pilot course was highly encouraging and that all participants gained a great deal from the experience. We all learnt a lot, the students honed their production techniques and the Production Advisors obtained a great deal of knowledge on how to progress for future version of the course. Indeed the course will become active in the future and be advertised commercially. A number of issues arise that do need attention if this course is to be competitive and attract and keep students.

The major issues take the form of:

  1. Course file area for uploads and downloads – This file area needs to be simple to use and access. Basically what is needed is a fairly large amount of web space where students have a segment of space for their own use. File exchanges can then take place more efficiently and downloads and uploads can take place outside of the Live Workshops.
  2. Prepared resources that are ready to go should a topic arise during the Workshops – Resources that are web based covering typical topics need to be constructed. Students can then be directed to areas that are being discussed, the resources to be a blend of audio/text and graphical information.
  3. Online information concerning the role of the Production Advisors – Details outlining the purpose of the Production Advisors would be helpful. This to include how new learners can obtain support and be assigned the assistance of a Production Advisor to make the enrolment process smooth.
  4. Online information concerning the learning culture – The way in which the Live Workshops function would be beneficial for students to understand what they can get from the environment and to understand the Workshops are organic and can be tailored/steered into topics that are required. Essentially to be seen as a help centre.
  5. Online information concerning the types of activities that will be worked on – Typical activities that the Live Workshops can focus on need to be explicit. Presenting examples of work carried out as a result of the Live Workshops should help the understanding. These examples may take the form of past students songs being published on the course web site with contact details for each of the students. This seems to be desirable as the participants did express a keen interest in having an outlet for their compositions. As the course grows in stature and the course web site obtains a greater amount of ‘hits’ (visits to the site), students may find themselves being contacted regarding their work.
  6. Improved ISP connections to avoid interruptions – The Production Advisors need to ensure that their own ISP is of sound quality and that they are relatively free of broken connections. This also being a recommendation for students. Many current ISPs in the UK have connection limits where after say two hours their connection is re-set. This situation is highly frustrating and to be avoided. The course can of course still function as there is redundancy built in by having two Production Advisors available at any given time. The likelihood of both being disconnected is remote. Nevertheless the situation is highly frustrating.
  7. Possibly a dedicated SCT application similar to PalTalk that is exclusive to the course – PalTalk will allow commercial use though at a small cost. This cost can easily be absorbed in student fees but of more concern is that the course is in the hands of the PalTalk servers. Should PalTalk decide to conduct routine maintenance rendering their servers useless, then, the course cannot operate, as was the situation for one of the scheduled sessions. Though the chat applet on the web site does provide redundancy.
  8. Student profiles giving potential learners an insight into the style of learning – Having information written by past students and Production Advisors available would help potential learners make a judgment on their suitability for the course. Evaluation forms for this pilot were distributed and this would continue for future versions. Permission would be sought to allow the outcomes to be published.
  9. Broadband connectivity – The benefits of having broadband connectivity cannot be underestimated. Companies such as British Telecom are currently conducting research into this area and there does seem to be a high degree of need. This is one of the main obstacles preventing a very rich learning experience indeed. As stated in one of the sessions a course such as this would certainly be able to operate much more effectively in the USA where broadband is more widely used. To give a very clear example; an audio CD quality file has a bandwidth of 10Mb per/minute. Therefore, a three-minute pop song would have a bandwidth of 30Mb. Naturally the infrastructure of the web currently widespread in the UK simply cannot cope with such a large amount of data. Though modems can operate at 54Kbps, in reality a 30Mb file can easily take two or more hours to download/upload!
  10. Possible Accreditation – It could be envisaged, as was documented in previous H804 assignments, that a University could validate a course similar to this. This would enable students to be able to gain credit toward a degree. Certainly I feel the experience that took place has academic virtue this seems very clear in the way students responded and participated. My reservations are that many traditional Universities require outcomes based objectives for assessment purposes. This could impinge on the relaxed nature and wonderful culture that was established for the pilot. Therefore. The jury is still out on that as a concept and further versions of the course will continue to assess if there is a need for such validation or not.

Conclusions

This essay has tried to put across to the reader the very unique nature of the style and feel that is needed in running courses for those interested in audio. The project really does deserves more than the 6000 word quota to do it any justice. Running the pilot was highly rewarding and the experiences of H804 were without exception fundamental in ‘building the road’. It was took a great deal of commitment and hard work. However, for parties interested in finding new forms of education, utilising new media, the author whole-heartedly recommends undertaking such a project. The ‘Lone ranger’ approach may not be ideal but as can seen the individuals that took part in this pilot have experienced something quite unique that can now only move forward.

References and Background Research

  • Calder, J. and McCollum, A. (1998) Open and Flexible Learning in Vocational Education and Training, Kogan Page, London.
  • Collis, B. (1996). Tele-learning in a Digital World. London: International Thompson Computer Press.
  • Evans, T. (1994) Understanding Learners in Open and Distance Education, Kogan Page, London.
  • Freeman, R. (1997) ‘Managing Open Systems’. Kogan Page, London.
  • Gentle, P. (2001) Course Cultures and Learning Organisations in Active Learning in Higher Education, Volume 2 number 1, Sage Publications, London
  • Gilbert, A. (1996). The Virtual University? in G. Hart and J. Mason (eds) The Virtual University?, Symposium Proceedings and Case Studies, University of Melbourne.
  • Kristiansen, T. (1993). Five years of research into the use of telecommunication in distance education. Report TF R 29/93. Oslo: Norwegian Telecom Research Institute.
  • Lewis, R. (1994). Planning, in Lockwood, F. (ed.) Materials Productions in Open and Distance Learning, London, Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd.
  • Lockwood, F. (2001) Quality Assurance and Evaluation, Block 4 overview essay, H804 course guide, Open University, England.
  • Lockwood, R. (1995) ‘Open and Distance Learning Today’, Routledge, London.
  • Mandell, A., Herman, L. (1996) ‘From Teachers to Mentors: Acknowledging Openings in the Faculty Role’, in Mills, R., and Tait, A., (eds) Supporting the Learners in Open and Distance Learning, Pitman, London.
  • Mason, R. (1994) ‘Using Communications Media in Open and Distance Learning’, Kogan Page, London.
  • Miller, G. (1995) ‘Technology, the Curriculum and the Learner: Opportunities for Open and Distance Education’, in Mills, R., and Tait, A., (eds) Supporting the Learners in Open and Distance Learning, Pitman, London.
  • Moody, T. C. (1996) Does God Exist?, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Moore, G. and Kearsley, G. (1996) ‘Distance Education’ – a system view, Wadsworth Publishing, California, USA
  • Morgan, A (1993) Improving Your Students’ Learning, Kogan Page, London.
  • Nipper, S. (1989) ‘Third generation distance learning and computer conferencing’, in Mason, R. and Kaye, A. (eds) Mindweave, Pergamon Press, Oxford.
  • Parer, M (1993) Developing Open Courses, Centre for Distance Learning, Australia.
  • Reid, J. (1995) Managing Learning Support, in Lockwood, F. (ed) Open Learning Today, Routledge, London.
  • Rowntree, D. (2001) Preparing for Course Development in ODL, Block 2 overview essay, H804, Open University, England.
  • Schramm, W. (1977). Big media, little media. London: Sage Publications.
  • Sewart, D. (1995) Regional Advisory Service Working Group, Internal Memorandum from the Director Regional Academic Services to Regional Directors, 29 September 1995. Internal document, Milton Keynes, Open Univeristy.
  • Thorpe, M. (2001) ‘Learner Support – Planning for People and Systems’. Course Guide, Open University, England.

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Foundations of Open and Distance Education

Introduction

The assignment is as follows.

Part 1 asks us to select and briefly describe one real or hypothetical example of a distance learning course and its target group that exemplifies each of the following orientations:

(a)    technical – vocational

(b)    liberal – humanistic

(c)    emancipatory

Part 2 requires us to look at the above courses and imagine and describe the experiences of the following students:

(1)    one with a personal/intrinsic orientation starting the liberal-humanistic course

(2)    one with an academic/intrinsic orientation starting the technical/vocational course

(3)    one with a vocational/extrinsic orientation starting the emancipatory course

Part 3 asks us to look at in what ways might one of the courses be modified, by introducing typical elements from other orientations, to accommodate a wider range of students with different orientations. We are also asked to assess how practical it might be to implement the possible modifications.

Orientation definition

The word orientation has crept up twice through this part of the course and I shall take the advice of Nigel <msg #199, Nigel’s Tutor Group> and use ‘curricular orientations’ in conjunction with Elli Chambers use, and ‘motivational orientation’ in conjunction with Alistair Morgans use.

Part 1

Curricular orientations to education

I have described three different hypothetical courses that categorise the different curricular orientations to education as listed in the above brief.

(a) Audio Electronics Engineering HNC

Course philosophy

A course built around the technical – vocational curricular orientation. The course is two years duration, requiring approximately ten hours a week, practically based, and having a background in the science & technology school of thought. The explicit rational for course existence being the preparation of students for employment. Focus is aimed toward competence and performance, giving students key skills within specific technological areas. Students who successfully complete the course will have a practical knowledge base that can aid them in the search for employment within audio related disciplines.

Tutorial support

This is provided by telephone support and counselling at local regional studio centres. The centres double as drop in open access workshops, which are equipped with high quality industry standard audio electronic equipment, available for student use. The centres have specialist tutors and engineers available to help with student projects.

Learning environment

The learning environments are practically based with a clear hands-on approach. The emphasis being on how to do. Practical problem based learning situations are suggested providing students with the opportunity to gain key skills that are deemed observable in the work they submit for assessment. Kits, incorporating source material and audio engineering software are distributed to students that provide the platform for edit, design and build techniques. Assignments are centered on a PC workstation.

Assessment

Students are assessed against clearly defined objectives, course aims and learning outcomes that are stated prior to enrollment. Although updated and modified from year to year to reflect the changing needs of the industry, the course content is fixed and rigid throughout the course, giving students clear skills to be mastered.

Submitted work is compared to set industrial standards and considered good enough, or

Target groups

Individuals currently in the electronics industry wishing to achieve a specialist qualification relevant to their job are encouraged to enroll, along with candidates from other areas of technology that have an interest in the subject wishing to take it onto a further level.

(b) Italian History and Culture PGdip

Course philosophy

A course set in the liberal-humanistic curricular orientation. A programme of studies nine months in duration, at post-graduate level, focusing on Italian culture and history. Students join a family home in a variety of
historically relevant cities throughout Italy, allowing themselves to become absorbed in the culture and community of that area.

Tutorial support

Tutorial support is available through telephone, and three visits over the nine months are made to the students’ temporary home.

Learning environment

Course materials are supplied and posted to students. A variety of media are available such as: course notes, set books, relevant papers along with compact discs for aural appreciation and analysis. Reading/listening lists are available and specific museums/places to visit etc. are recommended.

Students are very much on their own, but are encouraged to make contact with each other to pool resources and establish studying relationships for the transmission of knowledge and shared ideas, beliefs etc. Active engagement in the reading, evaluation and interpretation of texts, which are taken from a variety of historical periods, is the focus.

Assessment

Students are assessed through academic essays that reflect the experience gained from the course and from their encounters of living the Italian life. Primary assessment criteria looks at the way students have addressed issues of cultural understanding, depth of experience, along with the ability to appreciate the development of common beliefs.

Target groups

Graduated students wishing to deepen their intellectual capacity and appreciation of Italian history and culture are encouraged to enrol. The programme provides the opportunity to broaden the experience of life and enlightenment through the study and attainment of cultural and social understanding. Students from a variety of backgrounds have gained great satisfaction from this course, many of which having taken a year out from full time employment, and then used their experience gained in Italy as credit transfer to a masters programme in the arts.

(c) Social Critique Lifelong Learning

Course philosophy

A course set in the emancipatory curricular orientation. The program me is open to all, and has as its chief concern the emancipation and empowerment of the self. Explorations of definitions, syntax, and the relationship of knowledge/power provide a framework and vehicle for engagement. The academic level of the course is dependent on the students that enrol and create the group dynamic. The social nature cultivated is paramount to learning; academic exclusion is not considered in-line with the ethic of the programme. We see ‘education as the vehicle for bringing about a relationship between a whole group of people (and the individual at the same time, why not?) and their social, economic and political reality, in order to understand their disadvantage and defeat It.’ <Cecillia-l, Plenary Area, #375>

Tutorial support

Both fellow students and programme facilitators provide support. All participate in an online message board system and the use of e-mail. Also, face-to-face relationships may well flourish if participants are geographically close to one another.

Learning Environment

Internet access is a necessity as the point of contact for the programme is a web site containing questions and responses. Facilitators set topics at the beginning of every month that are then opened up for discussion to all
who have subscribed. The messages are then condensed and summarised at the end of each month indicating the general outcomes of debate.

Assessment

Assessment is through self-assessment and peer-evaluation. Participants submit their work through web forms for the message system. The facilitators are fellow students who assess each other in the same capacity. There is no pass and there is no fail, the idea being that a continual process of emancipation takes place. When the programme reaches its time allocation (usually change of topic), peer evaluation is shared and all participants are encouraged to reflect. The group is continually working towards social consciousness and the emancipation of its members.

Target
groups

The programme is open to all, globally, and hopes to attract people from
many walks of life, and from many different cultures. However, with written English being the main tool for communication, it would be beneficial for students to be fluent in the language. No qualification is gained through completing the course, the experience of taking part is considered of higher value. The goal is in achieving self-emancipation and an understanding of one’s true interests. Students are free to come and go as and when desired.

Part 2

Motivational orientations to education

1) Personal/intrinsic motivational orientation, starting course (b)

Before the course

I was at a point in my life that was not presenting me with a great deal of satisfaction, my job was boring, and I felt as if I had become stale and a little introverted. All around me were things that I had become uninterested
in. I was looking for a change and something that would give me a feeling of satisfaction, something that I, and only I could be proud of, something that I could look back on as a life changing experience, a milestone of achievement.

I saw the course advertised and immediately knew I had to get on it, when I finally got accepted I was deeply excited and couldn’t wait to get to Italy.

In Italy

My temporary family is ideal. I am staying with a husband and wife who are both lecturers at a local university here in Rome; they teach the humanities and are always willing to engage in debate about the arts. Their English is first class, although we have times when only Italian is allowed in the house, after three months I am finding that my basic knowledge has improved dramatically, not to mention my appreciation of the Italian etiquette.

The course

The course is brilliant, the written texts are stimulating and it’s very easy for me to imagine myself in these historical periods that are being analysed, I guess because I am actually here. The Museums are incredible and really stimulate my interest in how these people actually thought at the time of creating such masterpieces. I have been to many of the suggested concerts
and met other students there, this experience has been very enlightening, as we have gone on to socialise and had some wonderful debates about the course topics.

The essays are quite demanding but that’s ok as I feel I am improving myself. Once completed and returned with my tutor’s comments I feel a sense of achievement. I am getting something I feel I need, in that I am seeing things from other points of view.

Reflecting

This is certainly proving to be a milestone and it’s the best thing I have done for years, I’d certainly recommend this to anyone who’s at a crossroad in his or her life. I feel rejuvenated and able to discuss cultural and social topics with my new friends. I see life differently now and I will certainly carry on with the broadening of my perspective on life when I return home.

2) Academic/intrinsic motivational orientation, starting course (a)

Background

I chose this course because I have a deep interest in electronics. I do work in the field of electronics but I don’t always get to experiment and to discover new ideas, especially audio related circuits. This course seemed the closest to my interests and would allow me access to some state of the art technology in the regional centers. I live in a remote area and there is not a great deal of sophisticated equipment available around here.

Course structure

The course is very well structured and all topics are just what I am interested in, we have a lot of circuits to build and test. The assessment criteria are very clear; it’s very obvious what we are supposed to achieve. However, I find that I don’t have anywhere near enough time to take my interest beyond what is required for the course. We seem to move through the material far too quickly and appear to be cramming many of the concepts into a time frame that could do with widening. Some of my peers don’t seem to mind this, they are only interested in gaining a qualification, but I didn’t enrol for that reason.

Broad based knowledge

The trouble with me is I like to dive right into a subject and get to the root of it, I don’t like skimming and only touching on certain aspects of a
subject if I have an interest in them. I don’t think the course is particularly well designed for me, for that reason, I’d much rather have a situation where I can pick and choose exactly what I’d like to learn and how far. I know we have to be assessed and the tutors need some means of comparison between us, but, it’s not ideal for me. My way around this is by doing what is necessary for the
assignments and no more, and then devoting more time to the areas I enjoy. My tutor usually comments that I appear to do just enough to pass, and always points out that the course is designed to give students a broad based knowledge, rather than a deep understanding.

Work placement

This placement is much more up my street. My placement supervisor understands my needs and is very accommodating in allowing me to pursue my genuine interests, he then observes me in that capacity so enabling me to gain my certificate of competence, a requirement for course completion. He gains too, as he benefits from my depth of research and can use it to improve his production methods and cost effectiveness in the market place.

3)
Vocational/extrinsic motivational orientation -starting course (c)

b>Background

I’m trying to get noticed and climb up the ladder of promotion in my work. The bosses always seem to look at my CV and suggest I need to do something about my lack of qualifications. I want something on paper that helps me gain status and weight within my company.

I chose the course of social critique because I like people and one of my friends has gone back to university to study a sociology degree, I thought I might like it too. This leaflet came through the letterbox and I thought I’d give it a go. I understood that there was no formal qualification at the end of it, but I thought that as I had done nothing since school it might help me to get used to studying again, without having to worry about passing anything.

Course experience

I’ve made a wrong decision and I don’t think this course is going to help me at all. I mean there is no formal qualification, so how on earth can that help anyone? I thought that without this I’d get used to learning, but I need to know how I am doing. I’ve done three weeks and all the topics seem
really airy-fairy. Some of my friends and other people on the course suggest that what I may need is a change of attitude in life, but I tell then that what I need is a better salary that I won’t get through taking this course. They suggest that a change of thought may help me to discover what I really want and need from life, and that a better salary may not really be the important thing to strive for.

I sometimes get lost in the course conversations and uncomfortable too, many of the people on the course seem anarchistic and have some pretty wild ideas about life and people. They seem to analyse words so much, aren’t words just words?

Dropping out

I will look for another course that’s going to give me a formal qualification, I don’t even feel this course helps me to get used to studying as nothing is marked it seems. I’m getting nothing from it. I don’t want to meet these people or discuss something over and over; I just want to do as little as possible to get a qualification. I have a life too, the others on the course are deep thinkers and that bores me silly. They are probably into train spotting too!

Part 3

Technical/vocational course (a) – incorporating more students?

Firstly, would incorporating elements from other curricular orientations be a good thing? Secondly, how would these be achieved if indeed they were considered beneficial?

Technical/vocational courses tend to have a particular feel, they are industrious and full of work ethics that usually have an attitude of lets get the job done and get it done efficiently. This attitude could be argued to be fair enough, our hypothetical course is designed for people who are interested in doing, who are in work or are seeking work. In most cases an employer employing person x will want her to perform task a. this is certainly the case in England in the post Thatcherism 90’s. And increasingly apparent in other countries too.

So our course takes into consideration the needs of employers, the marketplace, the employability aspect of its graduates. I am negating others’ needs in this context as I am assuming graduates do want to work in a professional environment, and the difficulty of balancing needs has been argued previously.

Questions that arise are:

Do employers want to employ reflective thinkers?

Do they want their staff to analise and reflect on their tasks?

In my research for this assignment I spoke with various professionals about what their requirements were for employees such as those that would graduate from our hypothetical course. The overall outcome seems to be what one might expect; they require tasks to be completed efficiently and well. The general feeling was they didn’t want employees with too strong an opinion.

But, professional engineers did express that they look for new employees/engineers that are open-minded and are able to be moulded into general studio etiquette and philosophy. Along with this they require employees that are able to work independently and that take the initiative in learning new technologies. They do not require a member of staff to be constantly told what to do. Our hypothetical course does not address such concepts and I don’t feel technical/vocational education does generally. So what is missing? And can it be taught?

Blending the elements

Negating motivational orientations, students enrolling on a course such as sound engineering usually fall into one of two categories of curricular orientation. Either the technical/vocational or the liberal/humanist one. Occasionally we have students who could be described using the emancipatory orientation model.

The technical/vocational curricular oriented students are interested in how equipment operates and why, they become interested in the design of technology and the mathematics behind it. On the other hand, the liberal/humanistic students are interested in exploring what they can do with the equipment from a creative standpoint. Rarely do these different orientations blend particularly well. The irony of the situation is, that when
students can effectively blend these different approaches they are very well suited to being a professional sound engineer!

Can this difference be taught? Can we turn students on to a subject that is uninteresting to them? How do we make mathematics appealing to the creative mind and the producing of a record, with all the vibe, feel and reflective approaches, attractive to a mathematically oriented student? Should we even try?

Answer number one

Mathematical problems are surely creative in nature; a creative thought process takes place when one is trying to solve an algebraic equation. Likewise, when creating a soundscape an engineer has to step out of the artistic reverie and analyse the technicalities of a song and ensure recording levels are set correctly etc.

Technical problems made creative and creative thought processes looked at logically might provide a route into the problem. If I can construct a course that addresses this problem then I will attract and possibly keep happy, a wider range of students.

But keeping the students happy and giving them what they want may not make them more employable. We still have not accounted for studio etiquette, this sensitivity to artists and musicians, this interfacing of mediums.

What is it in a person that has the ability to feel equally comfortable in both areas? Is it emancipation? Being comfortable in both fields could be argued to be a form of emancipation and a self-realisation, an indication that the individual is comfortable with combining both curricular orientations.

Answer number 2 – emancipation?

As educators, is it our job to give people what they want (think they want/need) or to help them see other points of view, to help them discover their own interests? My stance is the latter and if students are able to view things in a different light after attending a course/lecture etc. then I feel something worthwhile has taken place. ‘It is part of our job to enhance the quality of their learning by helping them develop their approaches to study so that they take a “deep approach” and not a “surface approach” to the material. One way to do this is through unique learning activities that maximise the use of dialogue (between students, and student and teachers) and encourages critical reflection.’ <Beverley-p, msg#143, Mary’s Tutor Group>. If a student realises halfway through a course that the subject matter is not for her, then something important has taken place for her. Better to have a realisation and take another road in life than to slog away on something un-enjoyable, for the sake of external influences.

Sound engineers have to be very self-sufficient and have an aptitude for learning new technologies as and when. The sound engineer not keeping up to date will be out of work very soon. So good engineers are life-long learners, mastering new skills frequently. They are independent beings who have a desire to learn. If I followed this theory into course design then perhaps I could say to all students that if you are still here at the end of the course then you have failed. If the students are still dependent and need spoon-feeding then they will not survive as engineers. This may sound extreme but I wonder how much truth it has.

Problems of qualification

Addressing the needs of the society, in relation to a qualification is particularly difficult. The importance of certificates and pieces of paper are self-explanatory in our society, migration away from this can be seen to be taking place, but nonetheless it is slow. The OU has made brave moves in this area, in fact the H801 is a wonderful example in that it accepts students without formal qualifications, and the course certainly allows emancipation to take place. ‘It is getting us to look at our preconceptions of ODE and perhaps change the way we think about it, education in general and also the way we teach.’ <Sandra-w, msg#328 Plenary Area>.

But, emancipatory education is by definition difficult to access. How can it be successfully observed and assessed? How we state that person x has achieved a level of emancipation, a level of self-understanding, a realisation of true interest, therefore, credit her with a certificate. I am troubled with this and at this point in time I am struggling to find an answer.

Sandra-w found an emancipatory course that states: "The experiences gained through the course will assist students to . . . reduce divisions in society and provide opportunities whereby disabled people have the right of control in their own lives and in the society in which they live." <Sandra-w, msg#236, Nigel’s Tutor Group>. Conceptually, I understand this could take place, but how can this be graded and assessed?

Qualification courses have aims and objectives; students have to be told how they are going to be assessed and what is the likely outcome of a period of study. If the aims and objectives are expressed in a way such as to understand ones’ true interests, we are expecting something to take place. I see emancipation as being different in everybody and caution needs to be exercised in how this is assessed.

Put another way, ‘are there not students who "do enough" to get their pass degree because that is the key that they want to open doors through which they want to walk to fulfil their lives? If this is empowering people to fulfil their ambitions, is that a false goal of education, even though it might be quite different from the person who wants to "roll back the frontiers of knowledge" in their pursuit of self-fulfilment?’ <Christopher-rh, msg#145, Mary’s Tutor Group>.

We find ourselves in a complex situation, considering motivational and differing curricular orientations, opening up education and catering for all is a noble stance but again we fall back to the problem of the missing yardstick! I can’t see meaningful qualifications with ‘a full-blown case of emancipatory education’, <Chambers, Plenary Area, #360>. Indeed I still don’t know what this full-blown case is! Also, I feel broadening courses too far could breed students who fit the description;
"Jack of all trades master of none."

References

Blackmore, J. (1996) ‘Pedagogy: Learning Styles’, Telecommunications for Remote Work and Learning.
http://www.cyg.net/~jblackmo/diglib/styl-a.html

Cantor, Jeffrey A. (1992) ‘Delivering Instruction to Adult Learners’. Toronto: Wall & Emerson. (pp. 35-43.)

Chambers, E. (1999) ‘The Nature of Education’, Open University H801 course notes.

Gold, K. (1998) ‘Great step up for the sector’, FE Now!, issue 50: December 1998, page 1.

Imel, S. (1992) ‘Reflective Practice in Adult Education’. ERIC Digest No.122. http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed346319.html

Morgan, A. (1993) ‘Improving
Your Students’ Learning, Kogan Page, London

Morgan, A. (1999) ‘Learners’ Experiences of Learning, Open University, H801 Course notes.

Nipper, S. (1989) ‘Third Generation Distance Learning and Computer Conferencing’, in Mason, R and Kaye, A. (ed.) Mindweave: Communication, Computers and Distance Education, Pergamon Press, Oxford.

Peters, O. (1983) ‘Distance teaching and industrial production, a comparative interpretation in outline’, in Stewart, D et al, Distance education; international perspectives. Croom Helm, London, pages 95-113. Open University H801 course readings.

Rumble, G. (1989) ”Open learning’, ‘distance learning’, and the misuse of language’, Open University H801 course readings.

Sherry, L. (1996). Issues in Distance Learning. International Journal of Education Telecommunications, 1 (4), 337-365.

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Learners’ needs

An FE college

Truro College is a tertiary Further Education institute that has around 1900 full time students working toward ‘A’ levels, and over half that number again of mostly adult part-time students taking evening and vocational courses. There are a number of new initiatives in operation, including DE packages, and ‘open’ is the new buzzword within the college. The institution is funded by; the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC), the European social fund (ESF), along with part-time students and government schemes such as New Deal. I am going to consider whose interests are being served in meeting learners’ needs at this institute.

Part 1

Learners’ needs – a students perspective

Learning is an experience that is unique in every individual, the needs are ‘diverse and complex’, <neville-g, Msg #94, David’s tutor group>. We all have different motivations, varied objectives, for enrolling on a course. The basic fact of differing motivation or ‘orientation to education’ (Morgan, 1995), is fundamental to understanding what the learners’ needs could be, from a student
perspective.

Cantor (1992), points out different motivations for adult learners:

        To make or maintain social relationships

        To meet external expectations

        Learn to better serve others

        Professional development

        Escape or stimulation

        Pure interest

Morgan (1993), uses table 1.0 to categorise student orientation.

Orientation

Interest

Aim

Concerns

Vocational

Intrinsic

Extrinsic

Training

Qualification

Relevance of course to future career

Recognition of worth of qualification

Academic

Intrinsic

Extrinsic

Following intellectual interest

Educational progression

Room to choose stimulating lectures

Grades, academic progress

Personal

Intrinsic

Extrinsic

Broadening or Self-improvement

Compensation or Proof of capability

Challenge, interesting material

Passing course, feedback.

Social

Extrinsic

Having a good time

Facilities for sport and social activities

Table 1.0. Students’ educational orientations (Morgan, 1993).

Table 1.0 is practical for indicating the motivational aspects of learners, and although students orientations will merge, and perhaps conflict, ‘a criterion for classification is necessary’, <neville-g Msg #94, David’s tutor group>. The concept of ‘orientation to education’ is important, for it helps us to formulate possible reasons for student enrolment. This aids teachers/instructional designers in tailoring courses to the motivational needs of students.

Bustami-k, suggests five factors that determine learners’ needs. These are removed from motivation, although factor two could be considered linked. But, the five factors do assist the defining of learners’ needs.

1.      Demographic: age, distance, physical disabilities, employment, family commitments, etc.

2.      Aspirations: promotion of knowledge, employment, and social status.

3.      Learning capabilities: prior learning, skills, and experiences, time available for
learning.

4.      Accessibility of resources: postal facilities, technological hardware and skills, libraries,
etc.

5.      Financing: private, sponsorship.

<bustami-k, Msg #91,
David’s tutor group>

One could say Bustami-k has highlighted learners’ needs in terms of practicalities, the factors are related to learners’ situation, rather than student motivation.

The issue of learners’ needs, from a student perspective (but not only), is indeed ‘diverse and complex’. It’s worth noting that ‘just because you have an idea what students needs are does not guarantee that you can meet them fully – or even at all’. <nigel,
Msg #75, Nigel’s Tutor Group>.

Government interests

It is clear that FE is going through a period of expansion, the government are seeking growth within the sector. Karen Gold, writing an article for ‘FE Now!’, highlights this when she comments on the Education Secretary David Blunketts’ speech at the Association of Colleges annual conference:

‘Colleges would be expected to deliver major progress towards an extra 700,000 students in FE by 2001/2.’ (Gold, 1998).

Blunkett then goes on to say ‘Colleges could also look for money from the Higher Education Funding Council for teaching HNDs’, and, ‘the Government looked to FE to meet its agenda on social exclusion’, making reference to students that were more suited to vocational college courses than traditional school types.

It’s clear that the Government has interests that are to be served in the FE sector, which will affect learners’ needs. The government has pledged there is to be a broadening of access to Higher Education and that this is not to be simply centred in Universities, but that opportunities exist for FE institutions to develop this form of provision. There has been a joint Universities’ bid to the HEFC for funding to develop courses within the county which all of the Colleges will have some access to.

Bustami-k states:

‘Governments initiate and fund institutions of DL to serve the needs of the society and primarily the learners’

<bustami-k, Msg #92, David’s Tutor Group>

The initiation for courses can come from a variety of areas, and to think it is just governmental is limiting. Governments’ reasons for policy can be generated from a number of areas, encapsulating culture, unemployment figures, under represented skills in the workforce, and so on. Therefore, the learners’ needs are not always the primary concern, certainly not in FE.

Employers interests

‘We have often heard charges that graduates do not have the necessary skills for today鈥檚 industries, there has to be a reasonable amount of input from employers in order to identify the skill shortages’, <andrew-e, Msg #84, Nigel’s tutor group>. Employers define what skills are required for particular jobs, their desires reflect back to institutions and course designers, growth and expansion in industry creates educational niches. The learners’ needs are defined somewhat by the skills required by the relevant industrial position. One could argue that these are not learners’ needs, but employers’ wants. Employers want specific graduates that have a commodity, and that are of value. Truro College’s industrial links are an important aspect of course development, particularly in the HE sector. Indeed, validation of new schemes is impossible without industrial intervention and advice.

Institutions and teachers interests

‘Perhaps among the most important goals of employers in providing distance training is to achieve high productivity with low costs’. <bustami-k, Msg #91, David’s Tutor group>

This is a strong point and
applicable to Truro College. The institution’s needs are that education/training has to be shown as being cost effective, making a profit and having some impact on the success of the business. The mission statement of Truro College is to provide the education requirements of the local area. However, the College is linked to the economic offerings generated from Government interests, in that the broader the range of courses, the higher the intake, the more ‘bums on seats’ and the greater the financial gains. There is a limit to the amount of growth that a College can sustain in a local FE sector and, therefore, other opportunities need to be sought to increase provision. It is a competitive market and Truro College is in competition with at least one aggressive Local College, so it must match their developments in this area of education. ‘The catch is of course that market needs are the needs of the majority. If the number of student enrolments for a course is too low, the course doesn鈥檛 run, which deprives those few who did want to take it’, <louise-a, Msg #70, Mary’s Tutor Group> which, as well as student consequences, has consequences for the lecturers/course designers interests’, namely employment!

An institution can have so many internal variables that can be working against the interests of learners’
needs.

Suppose an institution proposes a media course, because of a shortage of trained professionals, and therefore a hole in the market, so is able to draw funding. The course requires a network of computers, for the distribution of information. The course leader may prefer and have experience of PC based networking systems. The IT staff /technicians of the institution, may also be skilled in PC systems. How do these employees cater for the needs of the students, who will go into an industry that uses mainly Apple MAC networks for media systems? The likely outcome is that the course will be shaped and made comfortable for those staff involved, depending on the expertise available. Is this meeting the needs of learners? Many courses in the FE sector are in fact run on a ‘shoe-string’, both traditional courses and DL programmes, with staff doing their best to train on the job. ‘We’re in a terrible hurry with deadlines, we’re not the best person for the job, were working in an uncharted area’. <nigel, Msg #75,
Nigel’s Tutor Group>

Government, industry,
economy, employers, teachers, course designers, and culture all have a bearing on the learning needs of students.

Gerlinde-b says:

‘The ‘real’ needs of the students are secondary to the (perceived) needs of a bureaucratic system and its representatives’. <gerlinde-b, Msg #77, Mary’s Tutor Group>

At Truro College, the needs of the students are secondary to the ‘real’ needs of society.

Part 2: Implications for practice

What has this ‘critical reflection’ (Imel, 1992), told me? What can I draw from this situation and apply to my own practise?

Firstly it is clear, that when we design courses we must consider the needs of society. There are so many interests involved, a ‘circle of interest’. It is impossible to separate the needs of society, the ‘circle of interest’, if we are working within a market. Outside of this market we are free, to design individual programmes that give individual students exactly what they desire, what they think they need, without society or without a ‘circle of interest’ being considered. This will not put food on our tables, as it will not be cost effective, it will also be doubtful as to the amount of academic weight the programme may have, but at least it could be done, in theory, and the students may or may not be content.

Secondly, I have to ask myself, do learners know what they need? My job as a teacher/facilitator is to broaden student perspectives and encourage self-development. There could be a conflict here if courses are designed with only the learners needs considered. We have to address the problem of balance between what the learners think they need and what societies think they need. It’s getting this ‘circle of interest’ to stay circular and not become distorted in leaning toward one set of interests more than another.

The OU H801 operates within a market and therefore has to be cost effective, obviously it cannot bow to the individual wants/needs/desires of the learners, again, a balance has to be struck between all the vested interests. A ‘happy medium’ in serving the needs of those concerned is appropriate. Truro College also operates within the competitive market and society as a whole. The College needs to be aware that it has a duty to try to address the interests of all concerned, but must pay attention to its clients, as should the OU.

‘The educational world should go beyond the broad based market place to the individual and meet the needs of as many individuals as it can’. <david-d, Msg #69, Mary’s Tutor Group>

A valid point, David-d goes on to say

‘The marketing issues should take a second place to the students needs. If these needs are not met who are we going to market a course to anyway?’

David-d is making the point that without customer satisfaction, an institution will obtain a bad reputation, and not recruit. I agree to a certain extent, but if the ‘circle of interest’ is not circular we have an in-balance of interest, that has consequences for learners themselves in gaining recognised qualifications. We need to tread carefully.

DE is particular in that it is a relatively new (science?) in comparison to education generally. It has had much bad press, and many institutions have jumped on the bandwagon in providing very bad educational programmes. DE has to steer a careful passage through uncharted
territory, it must not be allowed to be consumed by financial viability in the market place, nor seen to be a tool for Government saving. Addressing the needs of learners is extremely important, but not the ultimate factor.

Nigel, in reference to the OU
states:

‘Our ‘top’ level courses have to be equivalent to those of conventional Universities, or we would not be doing our job. And that sets constraints on what we are able to do to ‘smoothe the gradient’. (And we are not just talking
of the ‘needs of the institution’ here. This is just as much a need of a student looking for a degree.)
<nigel, Msg #76, Nigel’s Tutor Group>

An interest of DE must be the breaking down of isolation that DE students can feel. To look at the motivation
and needs of learners’, the use of new technologies, how those needs differ from face-to-face tuition, and how to maintain a balance of interests for all concerned.

‘Instructors should be aware of the possible motivations behind their students’ enrolment. Then they can better shape the instructional materials.’ (Blackmore, 1996)

‘We need to ensure that students are supported adequately, not just educationally but emotionally as well. This, I think would be in the interests of the student and the providers. <graham-p, Msg #89, Nigel’s Tutor Group>

References

Blackmore, J. (1996) ‘Pedagogy: Learning Styles’, Telecommunications for Remote Work and Learning. http://www.cyg.net/~jblackmo/diglib/styl-a.html

Cantor, Jeffrey A. (1992) ‘Delivering Instruction to Adult Learners’. Toronto: Wall & Emerson. (pp. 35-43.)

Gold, K. (1998) ‘Great step up for the sector’, FE Now!, issue 50: December 1998, page 1.

Imel, S. (1992) ‘Reflective Practice in Adult Education’. ERIC Digest No.122. http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed346319.html

Morgan, A. (1993) ‘Improving Your Students’ Learning, Kogan Page, London.

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Englishman In Italy

Sunday morning always feels good to me it’s a time to reflect a little on how the proceeding week as gone. This Sunday was no different really, sure I was in a foreign country but this was the third Sunday that I had awoke to the block of light that penetrated through the wooden shutters.

It was 9:30 and I had an appointment in one hour. As I propped myself up with the aid of my solitary pillow (I really ought to get hold of another) my mind recalled the events of the previous evening. I think I crawled into bed at around 2:30. The evening was entertaining. Jason (the American) and myself had ridden the bikes up to the local Blockbusters and had become members of this video emporium. We spent most of the time there studying the female of the species and very little time in choosing a video for the evenings entertainment. Blockbusters have a reasonable supply of native tongue videos and we left the place with the Scorsese classic “Casino”. I had seen this epic four times before but I knew it was right up the Yanks Street and I told him I wouldn’t mind watching it for a fifth. As we left Blockbusters we both felt hungry so we headed for the Pendola (pendulum).

Now this place makes the best pizza I have ever eaten in my life, they are around fifteen inches in diameter, wafer thin in the middle so they roll up like a charm and they are exceedingly juicy. We both left the place feeling well fed and watered after having the house speciality and a large glass of beer not to mention some good conversation about the male gene and how man in a relationship has a constant battle with his instinct, something that all males have surely.

It took us about 10 minutes to cycle home at a casual speed, we bantered all the way.

“Casino” was as good as it ever was. Robert di Niro and Jo Pesci make such an unbeatable combination and with Sharon Stone added to the melting pot I was in a seventh heaven. Jason loved the film too; particularly the way the whole filmed had a narration running through it very similar to “Goodfellows” although Jason hadn’t seen this. We polished off a bottle of white wine that was half-empty when found, and we could have managed another, as the film being three hours long makes you thirsty. I made it into bed after biding Jason a good sleep, locking the vaulted door and watching some crap soft porn that is ever present on Italian television.

Ten minutes had passed since sitting up against this foam pillow. I pulled the sheets back and made a positive move towards getting ready for the door buzzer that was expected in 50 minutes. First job for me after getting out of bed is to whack the kettle on and down a glass of orange juice to wash away the felt left on the throat from the deep slumber. The shower was on and left for about three minutes to warm, it’s a great shower but as it’s gas driven it takes a wee while to get up to temp, still could be worse, could be steam driven.

The buzzer went at 10:40. I laid the guitar down, put the keys to the door in the slot, turned the key to the left four times (security or what), opened the thick wooden door and made my way down the stairs to the front door, pressed the button to unlock both the main door and the front gate and walked through onto the pavement. I looked left then right and spotted a little white fiat with Jason in the passenger seat and Laura waving for all she’s worth in the drivers seat, I waved back and then rubbing my eyes I cleared them of sleep. I hadn’t being imagining the buzzer.

Jason looked like I felt, I gave his shoulder a squeeze as I hopped into the back of this tin can and said hi to Laura, she replied with a very confident yet calm hi. The motor started and off we headed for the flea market in Cortemangiore. I felt comfortable as the language spoken was English and we all make valuable contributions.

It took us 20 minutes to reach Cortemangiore after a safe but hot drive as Laura had the car heater up to boiling point (I hate that in cars), my saving grace was that I kept the window immediately to my right down about three inches. We swung into the main drag of the town, the place was buzzing and full of life, we parked up and strolled into the market.

Flea markets at home never seem to excite me a great deal they are inevitably inside old church halls and the ones that are set up outside tend to be called car boot sales and offer the buyer a great deal of junk! The ones I have seen fit this description anyhow.

Italian flea markets are altogether a different affair to their English counterparts. Always outside and always running up and down the main street of the town or village these markets present an all together contrasting environment. This market stretched for about half a mile and turned into side streets and meandered around little squares and shop fronts. As the three of us strolled through the vast collection of iron work and antique wood pieces arranged in neat columns. I became aware of Laura joining in with my singing of Some Might Say (Oasis). “Yes I have the second album” she joyfully spoke. This was a great starter for getting to know her a little better.

Jason found a little aluminium tube that no longer contained the thermometer for which it was designed and stated it would very useful for storing his drill bits. We mooched for around an hour, sized up a couple of suede jackets (I almost parted with cash), then Laura decided it was time to head back to her place to meet her parents and eat.

As we drove up the cobbled street Laura reached for the little transmitter and clicked the button upon which a motorised gate slide across to reveal a long driveway. I became aware that the family was not poverty stricken and in fact, probably were quite wealthy. We entered by the back door straight into the kitchen and were met by both parents and younger sister. The reception was warm and I felt immediately at ease although I understood very little of what was being said. No time was wasted and we sat down to the moderately sized kitchen table.

The first course was chicken and pork stuffed green olives coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried, to compliment this was bread and duck liver pate and some good red wine. I am far from a cognisor of wine as I have only developed a taste for it very recently but this really did taste good with the food. The second course was made by Laura’s aunt and brought over to celebrate All Deads Day which Laura explained is the day after All Saints Day. It looked a little strange being pale in colour and quite thick. An explanation revealed the ingredients – chicken liver, black eyed beans, pigs intestine, salami and some kind of thickening agent, probably cornflower. I always try things at least once with knowledge of exactly what the deal is, without which I stay clear. This really did taste good, very rich and extremely filling although maybe a bit heavy. Next came more bread crumbed ball things containing meat, we ate these with courgettes in garlic. The fourth course was roasted chicken and some more courgettes. Without sounding any more like a food and wine critic we finished with lemon sponge and lemon liqueur and washed it down with good coffee. I was packed and ate like a king, I couldn’t move!

Jason, Laura and myself climbed the stairs and entered her bedroom where we all fell asleep on her bed for around an hour; it was like being fifteen again. We chatted about loads of things and explained differences in American, English and Italian cultures. Laura opened up to us and told us all about her boyfriend and problems she has with him and we discussed differences in Men and Women and relationship problems and all those wonderful things.

Someone suggested English tea and we drank a large mug each before wishing the family good bye and showing extreme gratitude for the hospitality. I was made up with the whole thing, the family lives for their eldest daughter being 20 and they are very happy to see her enjoying herself entertaining guests. They were so so generous and interested in my opinion of Italian life and of course Italian food (standard topic). Laura ran us back in her fiat to the workshop in Via Bonomelli where Jason and myself sat and discussed the day.

I felt so relaxed and comfortable and decided to roll a cigarette and have a smoke. Golden Virginia really does taste good after you’ve eaten and when you’re really in the mood for it. Jason suggested we visit the Irish pub and have a beer, I couldn’t argue with that I was gasping for a pint of bitter and I knew the watering hole in question served a good beer.

I choose a barstool, which gave us a great vantage point of the barmaids. A friendly atmosphere in an English/Irish style decor promoted free flowing banter and we chatted for a while about jazz and spontaneity and how I feel life can be lived through jazz and other styles of music. Jason being more of the classical mould became enlightened about how I appreciate playing jazz and the fact that if your pissed off when you play then that’s fine you just go with it and express it and not try to cover the mood and disguise the emotion, as has to be the case with a performance of classical music. Classical music has a mood before you approach it and this has to be worked. Jazz however, has a free rein in many ways and I told him that I thought life could be viewed and lived in that way. Why should you hide your mood and put on a performance for a situation when you can live it with the way you are at any one point in time? Anyway it made for interesting conversation.

Jason introduced me to an ex-lover of his called Claudia who pulls the pints in the Old Tower. Claudia speaks no English and my Italian is poor so we understood little language but she has great eyes a lovely body and one of the nicest pair of tits I have ever seen (they far outweigh her slight frame). She was entertaining and a sight for sore eyes. One pint of Kilkenny and my eyelids were heavy. So, I coated up, said farewell and straddled my bike and coasted down the road taking in deep breaths of the cold air and trying to catch some of the falling leaves from the branches of the towering trees of the avenue.

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Hybrid Sound Engineers?

This is some text I am backing up from 98, it’s certainly not up to date.


Modern sound engineering and music recording involves much more than simply picking up an instrument plugging it in and getting a musician to play it. There are enormous amounts of skills and techniques that must be mastered by the new age sound engineer if he/she is to compete in the highly competitive music industry. Until recently engineers have learnt their skills on the job in the 鈥渟chool of hard knocks鈥 as they develop their careers. These days however, an up and coming engineer is presented with an extremely steep learning curve that continues its incline with the rapid advances in technology. Indeed an engineer is expected to understand the foundation and history of his/her career and master the new rapidly advancing changes and developments that take place daily.


Mainly due to the technological advances over the last decade we have seen a shift in the working practices of many organisations, and sound engineering is no exception. The technology has spawned new opportunities for creative sound engineers. The multimedia/interactive hungry public demand high quality audio in all situations. A CD player exists in just about every home in the developed world and the medium is able to store audio that is theoretically beyond the listening capabilities of the Human ear. This situation feeds and fuels developments for high quality audio in parallel industries. People want (if not sub-consciously demand) CD quality audio not only in the home but at the theatre, in the car, from the television, games, CD-ROM and the internet to name but a few.


Combined with this scenario is the overlapping of the disciplines of art/media and sound. We can find multi-media booming everywhere around us and this in turn creates a need for hybrid professional engineers that can translate artists ideas/concepts into real, albeit digital integrated packages, suitable for a variety of digital mediums.


As an example, Internet Web sites exist where whole albums along with video are self-published and can be downloaded to a personal computer and recorded onto a recordable compact disc (CD-R). The old school music industry is in fact struggling to keep abreast of the incredible rate at which the digital age is affecting the storage, transmission and more importantly the cloning of high quality audio. Some predict diminishing CD sales from conventional record stores as the Internet gathers momentum driven by the non-technophobic youth.


This leaves the door wide open for active sound engineers with the necessary skills to become part of an exciting new continually evolving industry.

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