Amanda's design narrative
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22 March 2013
Inter Alia: Getting students to understand the principles of Public Law
I am a W201 Tutor. W201 being a second level compulsory module for the OU Law Programme, focused on Public and Criminal Law.
Public Law is viewed by the majority of students as dull. The module activities are all text based, requiring the students to read passages or case law and consider their opinion, using questions as prompts. Comments are provided to guide students to the relevant points but, in reality, students simply read the 'comments' without undertaking the activity. The first few activities for Public Law are vital in establishing the principles on which public law is based. However, Students often fail to appreciate their significance, omitting them altogether and thereby making it harder to understand the principles of Public Law.
I decided to recreate the first activity in a website to make it engaging and interactive and help students make connections between their own values and the fundamental ones of public law, and to understand how these ‘fundamental values’ can be relevant to everyday situations. Inter Alia is intended as an additional resource for students, which they can use to supplement the first activity and, in particular, ‘bring to life’ difficult areas. I posted a link to the website on the Tutor Group forum so that students could access it and comment on its effectiveness.
I constructed ‘Inter Alia’ using Google sites. I prepared 5 web pages with navigation via the sidebar and embedded material using the various ‘gadgets’ available.
The first three pages provide a general introduction. These were easy to construct as they are text based. I inserted a picture of the Houses of Parliament so that students have a focus on the topic.
The fourth page is designed for students to identify the ‘fundamental values’. It sets out the learning outcomes and provides two activities to help the students achieve those outcomes. This was the most difficult page to construct, as it includes a variety of embedded material.
For the first activity I used the Xerte on-line Toolkit. The Xerte project is a suite of open-source tools for eLearning developers and content authors to produce interactive learning materials. I chose the toolkit because the content creation is via simple wizards so the resource took shape very easily. I replaced one of the text version case studies from the module materials with an Xtranormal video conversation and embedded it into Xerte. Making the video was straightforward; it was the decision to caption it, so as to make is accessible for those with hearing issues, which proved more problematical. As the ‘automatic’ facility was unable to understand the ‘actors,’ I had to produce my own. Captioning is not particularly difficult to achieve, it is just time-consuming, especially synchronising the text to speech. Having published the video to YouTube I was able to easily embed the video into Xerte using the code provided. Unfortunately, I lost the captioning, so I still had to provide a link to YouTube. I then continued to include content so that students can think about the meanings of various ‘values’, using Xerte to check theirs with the suggested ones. Finally, I used Xerte to produce a short quiz for students to practice identifying how fundamental values apply to given situations.
Having produced my Xerte resource, I sought to embed it into the website. I thought this would be relatively straightforward as, once published, a code is provided. Even though there are various gadgets for embedding, there wasn’t one specifically for Xerte so I had to use the ‘iframe’. Not being at all familiar with HTML, I had no idea how to insert to the code. Eventually, I worked out that I had to convert the web page to HTML and insert the code in that. A basic understanding of HTML is clearly a necessity in creating this type of resource.
For the second activity I inserted a copy of a headline into the web page. I then created a podcast, using Audacity, for students to listen to the facts of the case. Producing the podcast was straightforward as it simply involves recording what you want to say I then used the QuickTime gadget, available in Google sites to embed it into the webpage. I also prepared a transcript of the podcast and included a link to it, for those unable to listen to the podcast.
The final page is a resources page. I inserted a table which sets out the ‘values’ and their ‘meanings’ and included links to the transcripts for the video and an ‘online’ version of the Learning Outcomes assessment form.
I have a website which allows students to interact with the first activity. Students who have used it have indicated that they find the resource useful and the interaction helps them to understand the ‘values’ much more easily than the text based version in the module materials. They particularly liked the video, as it makes the scenario engaging and the quiz because they are able to test what they have learned so far.
Although I very much enjoyed producing the material, it was very time-consuming. This may be because I am technically inexperienced and using most of the tools for the first time. It is easy to construct a website using Google sites, provided one uses the ‘mainstream’ gadgets. It was not so straightforward embedding Xerte and I think a basic understanding of HTML is a necessity if one wants to deviate from the norm.
Likewise, with Xerte, in theory, it is the ideal tool for the novice designer, in practice I would suggest that it depends on the degree of technical ability ‘non-technical’ staff may have. I subsequently discovered that Xerte could only be viewed via a server; the online toolkit being server based. This is fine for institutions who have adopted the use of Xerte, but the OU is not one of them. Instead, the resource is in a ‘sandpit’ which is ‘cleared’ at the end of every month. This means that I have to make sure I upload the material to the sandpit each month for it to be available continually.