Providing fast, focused feedback to a cohort of 200 busy professionals undertaking vocational distance learning with tuition provided by a diminishing number of tutors, a number of whom are part-time, is definitely a challenging undertaking, and one for which the TQFE-Tutor system at the University of Dundee provides an innovative centralised approach. The Evaluating Feedback for eLearning: Centralised Tutors (EFFECT) project, part of the JISC Assessment and Feedback programme Strand B, will be exploring the impact of this system and considering ways of further refining the process to maximise efficiency and student benefits.
Students studying on the Teaching Qualification (Further Education) programme at Dundee since the start of the 2010-11 session have been supported by a centralised tutor system that enables consistency and timeliness of feedback across the entire programme. TQFE-tutor consists of a centralised email account, blog and microblogging site to which all tutors on the course have access. Rather than students being assigned a personal tutor (who may have as little as 0.1 FTE allocated to the programme), support is provided by the entire team acting through the centralised account. Students may email the TQFE-Tutor email address or post comments via the programme blog, with duty staff picking up queries and assignments as they arrive. Programme announcements can be disseminated via the programme Twitter account, offering time and potentially cost savings.
As well as significantly increasing efficiency – students are guaranteed a response to any submission within two days, and usually receive one much faster – there are more subtle but equally important pedagogic benefits. Feedback and advice provided to an individual can then be disseminated, suitably anonymised, to the rest of the current cohort via the TQFE-tutor blog; these entries also remain available for future years. The accumulation of an effectively tagged bank of data supports independent learning while peer interaction and support enriches the learning process. The use of Blackboard Safe Assign in place of paper submission has also helped streamline the assessment process and reduce administrative workloads. Student achievement rates have risen, and the system may well contribute to increased retention.
You can follow the project’s progress over the next few months via their project blog, from which project outputs will also be available in due course.
Anyone who’s ever worked on a European funded project or programme will be all too familiar with the volume of paperwork and time spent on administration and auditing to meet European funding and reporting requirements. Digital signatures, although highly time and cost efficient, are not acceptable for auditing purposes with only hand signed documentation being permitted.
As part of a consortium providing a significant amount of European funded work based learning in Wales, Coleg Sir Gâr were keen to find a solution that would meet both European and Welsh Assembly Government requirements for hand written signatures as well as providing the elegance and efficiency of the online learner management and learner support systems colleges and tutors wished for.
The Secure Work-Based Learning Administration through Networked Infrastructure (SWANI) project, funded under the JISC Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants SWaNI FE programme, therefore set out to identify ways of addressing this tension and establish a pilot project as a proof of concept to form the basis of a long term solution.
After some research the project team settled on the Fastdox digital document system as offering exactly the combination of hand signed originals and timestamped digital copies necessary to meet the needs of all parties.
The documents to be signed are created in a MySQL database supported by a very user friendly and remotely accessible web interface. These are then printed using the Fastdox software which applies a unique pattern of microscopic dots to the physical document to communicate with the digital pen. The pen functions just like an ordinary pen, allowing trainers to sign the documents normally and therefore produce the required hand signed physical document, but the pen also stores all the written information, time stamped, for later downloading into the online learner management and auditing system: an excellent overview of the entire process is available from the product site itself and an exploration of how it was put into practice can be found on the project’s blog. At between £4-500 for each pen and software package it represents a one-time investment that fulfils a long term requirement, requires little training for tutors to use and meets all the requirements the project set out to address – indeed, the biggest problem the project team ran into was the lack of standardisation in documents across WBL providers and changes to the document design part way through the project which required some revision.
With the pilot now coming to a close, the project team will be adding further information to the project website and undertaking a series of dissemination activities. Their solution should be useful not only to FE colleges with similar funding and auditing requirements but for anyone looking for efficient and effective digital document management and tracking.