Its a wrap

My own photo. Blue skies. There is light.

Introduction

This final blog will be a bit eclectic. Firstly, I will report on my experiences of the MA programme because this is expected of me. However, I will also outline my serious learning outcomes dilemma which I mentioned in a previous blog. Finally, I will upload that picture you have all been waiting to see – the bold Penny.

Firstly, let me reflect on the MA programme. I chose to do the MA part-time. I was not sure how part-time study would pan out. Two years of study seemed daunting when I first registered. Even though I had read up on the course, I was not fully sure what the course was about – certainly not the technical writing aspect. I gravitated to the learner profile and read that many teachers had previously completed the course. This was the big selling point for me. Another big lure was the fact that it was as good as fully online with little on-site presence. I figured I would be able to work part-time and study part-time, and hopefully work out the few on-site days with my employer (if they were scheduled during the week). For these reasons I decided on this course.

Support from work colleagues

As it happened, it has been a really good decision to study part-time and work part-time. My work colleagues are like a second family to me. They encouraged me to keep going when I hit the down days. A few months into the course I suffered a major bereavement. I am a very independent person but I needed their support to get back on track after I took time out. I had fully intended to return, but I still needed their support. I benefitted from seeing these good people everyday (pre-Covid!) while resuming study. It proved to be a good balance.

In addition, when I returned to online study a year later, there was a completely different class group to get to know. This took time for me to “fit in” again so I was glad to have important and encouraging humans in my life.

New skills I developed during the programme

The course is well worth doing. I cannot praise it enough. I developed new skills and I have improved on existing skills. Skills and knowledge I gained include:

  • New awareness of IT potential

Even though I have been using Microsoft products for the past 15 years, I never realized the potential of PowerPoint as a creative design tool. Ironically, I used to wonder why there were so many shapes! I now see the potential of PowerPoint to aid storyboarding, storytelling, animation and to have impressive templates far beyond bullet points. In addition, I now have experience of using Audacity, Articulate, PowerPoint, Doodly, Wix, and WordPress. Their potential as tools for my own future work have been realized. I am actively now using Audacity and Articulate for work. I will use Wix next year to build my own website.

  • Writing skills

I can compare my writing to my driving. I picked up bad habits. This course highlighted this. I am now more aware of my content. My writing has improved. My notes, instructions and emails are more concise. I do not use as much jargon as I did! I had never heard of plain language until I researched this for my literature review. This and Universal Design I am particularly interested in.

Regarding this blog and writing, I kept a diary for years but I got out of the habit of writing. The release of feelings and thoughts while diary writing is so good for mental health. This blog has reignited my interest in writing! I will keep up with a blog.

Finally regarding writing skills, I like to think I finally got to grips with Harvard referencing! I do hope so.

  • New theories and their application

I was knowledgeable of leading theorists such as Gagné and Bloom. As a teacher, I applied their theories regularly (daily!) in my work. I was also somewhat familiar with different learning styles and face-to-face classroom strategies. However, I was not aware of new models relating to blended and online learning. Gilly Salmon comes to mind because her Five Stage Model was a model I was part of as a learner, and also one I applied this year as a learning practitioner. I love this model. I have continued to read up on her and I will continue to follow her workshops and presentations. In fact, my employer arranged external trainers to train all staff on her Five Stage model recently. I felt like saying “stand back folks, leave this one to me” – I jest of course.

  • Design skills

I have always loved design. I learned so much about the importance of Sans Serif fonts and clutter free design. I am now a big fan of Edward Tufte. I had previously heard of The Gestalt Principles but had not applied these to my own work. I am more aware of design choices when creating my own assignments and documents. I was not aware of the principles of Universal Design. I now take more care and make more effort with my own course resources. Applying Millars’ Law and The Magical Number Seven and chunking information have improved my own work in the online classroom.

Knowles’ Theory of Andragogy has been very relevant now that I have transferred completely to adult education from second level. Adults learn very differently to young students.

  • Time Management

I learnt how to be more organized and how to make more of my time. Time management is essential when studying online. In particular, during the lockdowns, days and weeks became a blur. Keeping track of weeks and assignment deadlines is necessary. Keeping lists and planning life and work around assignments was crucial. I had to learn to pace myself in a way which was workable. In fact, I had to plan to be well ahead of deadlines to ensure I met them.

Elements of the programme what gave scope to work creatively

I think creativity is the core of the programme. The assignments gave scope to work creatively. They are learner centered. Decisions were ours to make regarding what topics we wanted to develop or research. We were given scope to create our own podcasts/instructional guide/e-learning resource/website based on our own knowledge and interests. The assignments are very well designed. I didn’t think I would ever say this, but they are enjoyable to do.

Furthermore, I enjoyed the e-tivities. These allowed a lot of freedom for discussions and creative suggestions. I particularly enjoyed the Gestalt e-tivity. Design is my thing!

The most valuable things I learned

Firstly, I have learned the value of clear and concise writing. I am more conscious of what I write. My instructions to my own learners have improved. In addition, I use less jargon in my emails. I use imperative mode for instructions. I am benefitting from better outcomes and reactions to my own assignments and general better productivity in my own work.

Secondly, becoming a learner for the past two years has been very valuable. I have taken away a lot from being at the other side of the table and having the perspective of a learner. Studying online is not easy. Even the most motivated of people may face external stresses which can completely derail progress. For this reason, I feel learner supports are key. I would have had little understanding of this pre-embarking on this programme. I was probably a bit intolerant of people who did not complete their courses. I am now a lot more empathetic as a result of my experiences.

In addition, I learned the value of e-tivities. They can take the heaviness from assignments, yet are crucial steps to build ability for assignments. They are essential for retention and engagement. They help also to establish a class community.

I have learned how to use IT more effectively in my job. Only for assignments such as this, I would never have tried using WordPress or Wix. I simply never thought of using tools like these.

I have taken some of the ideas from e-tivities and assignments from this course and I will redesign resources for my own learners. This year, I provided my own learners with templates of documents such as reports with automatic table of contents similar to what we were given. I also provided samples of assignments because I experienced the value of seeing samples of work.

What differences would I like to see in future

I cant suggest any changes. The e-tivities are excellent. The peer feedback assignment in Year 2 turned out to be a very positive experience. I really enjoyed this assignment. Before this, I did not know any one in the class. The Twitter assignment is also very good because I feel it has connected the group better.

Impact of Covid-19 on study

Covid has had both a positive and a negative impact on my study. From a positive viewpoint, the course has given me something other than the virus to think about. The assignments have allowed me to escape mentally from everything going on.

However, due to Covid, my day job workload increased. Last year, I had state exam classes and QQI learners to contend with. All the stress of uncertainly and the chaos of predicted grades affected my study. I felt completely overwhelmed. The time I had put aside for assignments was eaten up by the craziness of the emergency. Circumstances changed every week and work that I was doing became void because of changes in government decisions. I worked late into the evenings trying to devise alternative assessments and marking schemes for QQI. It was chaotic and my energy levels plummeted. My cognitive load certainly reached maximum capacity. I do not think I have recovered yet from the stresses and exhaustion of last year.

In saying this, Year 2 has been better. I could even say – it is “calm.” I am glad I am doing the course as Covid lockdowns continue. The course has focused my mind on the future and post-Covid. I am not on the lookout for new employment. I am very happy with my transfer into further education. However, I do hope to use my skills in another way. I hope to help volunteer groups and community groups design websites. Covid has made me very aware of supporting my local community.

My motivation

Initially, I was motivated to do the MA as a personal challenge. I was unstimulated in my job and tired of it to be honest. I was in a complete rut. However, I am now in a new and growing further education college. The college is benefitting from much investment and there will be many new opportunities. This course will open many doors. I am now extremely keen and motivated to get to the finish line. I just hope I do.

Learning Outcomes Dilemma

Almost finally, my dilemma with learning outcomes. I say this from a learners perspective. I question whether learners read LOs? From my own observations and experience, few do. They are often skipped and ignored as learners are keen just to get into the main content. However, LOs may be read at a later stage. I have been delving into this topic and doing some further reading on this. Do LOs presented at the very beginning of a course hinder rather than help? Should LOs be kept very broad and basic for learners initially with more detailed outcomes placed after learners begin a course? Are there alternative ways of presenting LOs? I am considering this with regard to my final year project. I would not have considered this topic except this programme has stimulated my interest in all things related to online learning. In addition, I look more closely at websites and all things in print. Design, content, chunking, colours and fonts strike me even when I am out shopping! The course really has opened my eyes.

Finally,

no words needed.

End of blog

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