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CourseGenie at the University of Bristol: Observations on the journey so far

Introduction :

CourseGenie has been used at the University of Bristol for over a year. The Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry purchased a campus licence to support the development of eLearning material for their Clinical Academies. They generously allowed other Departments at the University to use the software. Since then the software has been used by more than 50 individuals across nearly all the Faculties.

The number of users implies that courseGenie at the University is still in its infancy. In terms of Roger’s Technology Diffusion Curve we are very much at the early adopter stage. Interestingly, given the specific nature of courseGenie, it is difficult to estimate the number of users that would indicate full implementation. Even with this uptake, there are important observations that can be made after this brief time period, particularly in terms of use and support.

The aim of this discussion is to consider, firstly, how courseGenie is being used in teaching at Bristol and, secondly, how the Learning Technology Support Service (LTSS) has supported its introduction to academic staff.

The use of courseGenie at the University of Bristol

CourseGenie is designed for the creation of online tutorials, and this is what it is being predominantly used for by academics within the University of Bristol. However, there have been examples of alternative uses by staff: for instance, the conversion of Word material into a more accessible format for internal publication, such as course handbooks and subject guides. Students, too, have used the software to create resources that they submit for their assignments.

In deploying courseGenie to create online tutorials it is important to understand the role of the tutorial within the course. We start, therefore by aiming to understand the specific objectives of the tutorial in question. One way of differentiating between tutorials is by the learning model they adopt. For instance, some adopt a style of transmitting knowledge which can be classified as ‘presenting information then testing at the end’, whilst other tutorials have been designed to include more learner activity, with interactive questions posted throughout the tutorial. Another way of differentiating between tutorials is that some tutorials are designed as the students primary source of information, while others are intended to supplement more traditional teaching methods, such as the lectures and seminars.

The following two screenshots are intended to illustrate some of the uses and include comments from this author.  

Screenshot 1: Example of a courseGenie Tutorial

This is a text heavy page that focuses on transmission of knowledge. The designer has thought of ways to minimise scrolling through the use of a table in courseGenie.

Screenshot 1

 

Screenshot 2: Example of a courseGenie Tutorial

The video clip has been blacked out to maintain patient confidentiality. This example is where the learner is more actively involved within the learning process. The transcript is available via the D link, and the student needs to apply the information they receive from the video and prior knowledge to answer the question. The subject expert has made a conscious decision to re-enforce the impact of the question by stating why it is correct based on the information the student was supplied.

Screenshot 2

Given the varied use of courseGenie across the University there are some generic lessons. The software is very simple to use for those familiar with Microsoft Word and the learning curve is not significant. However, the creation process can be improved through adopting certain strategies:-

  • If you are converting large existing Microsoft Word documents it is advisable first to save the document in Word RTF form. This will strip out the Microsoft Word formatting. This process reduces the problems of rogue formatting in the Word document that will cause errors in the courseGenie conversion process. An issue with courseGenie is that some of the error messages are not very informative, so tidying up the original Word document is important.
  • If developing a large number of tutorials from scratch via a team of people, I would recommend that you establish one or two prototypes, ensuring that the subject experts agree with the design and that and it achieves their desired learning objectives. You should then develop a template to this standard.
  • It would be helpful to have some web editing skills at your disposal. Occasionally courseGenie creates a large amount of white space in the final web page. This means that the student will have to undertake large amounts of scrolling. This may have detrimental effects on their learning process. However, some experience with a Web Page Editor, such as Dreamweaver, will allow you to organise the page to enhance the onscreen readability.
Supporting the Introduction of courseGenie: The emphasis is on learning design

The support model the Learning Technology Support Service has adopted to introduce courseGenie to academics mirrors how we support most software packages: face to face and online support.

Three specific factors about courseGenie influenced our decisions on the most suitable support model:-

  • If you can use Microsoft Word then you can easily create tutorials in courseGenie.
  • By following the courseGenie Getting Started documentation you can quickly create your first tutorial. From discussions with our users we have found that the documentation provided by courseGenie is very good.
  • From the users perspective the software is not large, complex or baffling.

Face to Face Support

From our experiences the ease of use has meant that a novice can, with 10 minutes of face to face tuition, create a multi-page tutorial, which includes static images and web links. Where we tend to devote more time is discussing how to create interactive questions, and the use of multimedia. The time needed for the interactive questions is due to the question range and sub options. The discussion on including multimedia tends to focus more on the quality, source and distribution mechanism, as well as the pedagogical application of the material as opposed to how to include it within courseGenie.

Online Support

An issue when introducing any new piece of software is the question of how do you get people interested and aware of what it can do? In terms of online support we provide two types of online tutorials, both created using courseGenie. The first is the ‘how to guide’, which focuses on technical aspects. The second is ‘online tutorials for self paced and self directed learning’. Both tutorials focus on learning design issues.

Due to our satisfaction with the courseGenie documentation, the in-house how to guides focus on the new features introduced due to a software upgrade. For instance, when we upgraded from version 1.3 to 1.5 we developed two courseGenie tutorials to introduce the new navigation options and the potential to personalise tutorials with header images.

The emphasis of the second type of tutorial is on developing skills within learning design. The screenshots included below are from this type, and the navigation indicates the general direction of the tutorial.

Screenshot 3: University of Bristol: Getting Started with courseGenie Tutorial

The aim is not simply to provide the getting started guide but to place the task into context by going through the cognitive processes of developing a tutorial. Screenshot 3 illustrates the generic format for our getting started with courseGenie tutorial. It is designed to evolve and integrate with other resources, such as the courseGenie getting started guides and reference manual, our own video (screen captures of the task), example tutorials and the blog (see later). It also includes a set of reflection topics.

Screenshot 3

Screenshot 4: University of Bristol: Designing an online tutorial

This illustrates another tutorial which focuses on the issue of how to design an online tutorial. It introduces the reader to different learning designs and the role of the student within the process, capturing the idea of increasing the degree of learner activity within the tutorial. It is proposed that increased learner activity (when and where appropriate) will improve the learning experience for the individual compared to being a passive recipient of text information.

 

Screenshot 4

 

Engagement with subject experts

A common problem for many institutions when supporting software is how to engage the users. Given the nature of the software, the ease of use, and the current demand, we reviewed potential support requirements (type of support and who would want it) and the decision was made to engage with subject experts through a two pronged approach.

  • Drop in sessions and user group meetings (show and tells). These have only just started, and we will be evaluating their success in the future.
  • Where possible, and with appropriate funding, integrate members of the LTSS with the development team.
The courseGenie Blog

We made the decision to disseminate FAQs about courseGenie through a Blog. This was to allow more than one person to upload comments, questions and answers, and provide ease of authoring from any web accessible machine. It is hoped that this approach, if properly marketed will increase the likelihood of an effective community of practice being created. It was thought that a blog might overcome the limitations of email lists, and password protected discussion boards.

The aim of the courseGenie Blog is to act as a central place for questions and answers. The contributions focus on ‘how do I’ questions, ‘did you know’ statements, and bug updates. Recent contributions include;

  • Errors messages when using Media in courseGenie
  • How can I improve the layout of questions within courseGenie?
  • Working with pictures and includes in courseGenie
  • Adapt your workflow to reduce errors when generating courses in courseGenie
  • How can I reduce the line length?

This is where we publish our findings on exploring the functionality of courseGenie. For instance, the technical discussion of how to manipulate the stylesheet, or integrating question types from other software, such as Hot Potatoes.

CourseGenie, Blackboard and other systems

Currently, the University of Bristol uses Blackboard as its centrally supported Virtual Learning Environment. This has resulted in many of the people developing courseGenie material wishing to integrate it with Blackboard. The degree of integration has varied in sophistication: from simply uploading the material and using Blackboard as the delivery mechanism, to:-

  • Integrating Blackboard discussion boards into courseGenie
  • Exporting self-assessment questions from courseGenie in an IMS QTI standard, then uploading these as Blackboard question banks via a third party piece of software, called Respondus .. This has improved the management and re-use of questions between courseGenie Tutorials and other online assessment systems.

In the future we will start to explore the opportunities that courseGenie 1.6 offers in terms of enhanced integration with Blackboard through creating SCORM compliant resources.

Concluding thoughts

Our experience over time suggests that courseGenie is very easy to use. This has had a positive impact on our support model. As the volume of technically orientated questions has been small, the support overhead in terms of creating how to guides has been correspondingly low, therby releasing the LTSS to concentrate on developing methods to enhance the learning design aspects of creating online tutorials. At the same time, the subject specialists are finding the process of creating material and uploading them for distribution to other systems, such as Blackboard, relatively easy. This then allows the opportunity for more insightful reflection on the effectiveness of the tutorial they have developed.

In terms of the future, it is expected that we will continue to use courseGenie and to continue with the challenge of actively encouraging the creation of a community of practice throughout the University of Bristol, and to make sure that the support model scales as more people adopt the software.

To view some of the training materials developed by LTSS go to
http://www.ltss.bris.ac.uk/ole/cg/get_started/index.htm

 

Andy Ramsden is a Learning Technology Adviser in the Learning Technology Support Service (LTSS) at the University of Bristol. He would like to acknowledge the LTSS Team for their comments on this paper and their work in supporting courseGenie.

Author: Andy Ramsden

18 January 2005

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