A case study exploring the evolution of one online course design

Get Ready for Southampton

This month’s blogpost is by Julie Watson, Head of eLearning in the Department of Modern Languages:

Since 2011, all incoming University of Southampton international students have been offered a free online course to help them prepare for university life and study before their arrival. The course called ‘Get Ready for Southampton’ (GRfS) has its roots in a tutored online preparatory course taken annually between 2005 and 2010 by up to 200 international students before going onto a pre-sessional course in EAP. As that course grew, so its learning design changed and in its new ‘skin’, GRfS now draws between 2000 and 2500 participants each time it is run. Pre-sessional students have been joined on the course by direct entry international students, Erasmus exchange students, visiting scholars as well as next year’s wannabe students of Southampton.

A recent study has focused on exploring how the course has evolved over the past ten years and the part that international students themselves have played as agents of change in this process. The role of students in influencing educational change has received particular interest in recent years (see e.g. JISC Change Agents Network, 2010) and studies have been undertaken elsewhere in areas such as listening to student feedback about institutional implementation of learning technologies, involving students as partners in course design, using learner-generated content. Given the length of time that our online course has run, I wanted to take a long view on course evolution and examine the role of student agency as well as the impact of parallel developments in educational and Web. 2.0 technologies.

The results have been interesting and have shown student impact across the course. A notable shift has taken place from small tutor-directed groups to a much larger open and fluid format, which allows students to have much greater influence in the direction of the course and, in this sense, also generate content. The teacher’s role has shifted as the phenomenon of MOOCs is also showing. The growth in the role played by the social aspect of the course together with the Web 2.0 proliferation of social networking tools and technologies has led to students making the choices of course tools and organising use amongst themselves – especially in the multicultural context of participants. The provided content of this course has also undergone significant change since making podcasts for education (see e.g. Salmon, 2009) marked a move away from purely text-based content at least seven or eight years ago. In many cases, including our own open content has eased the path of course design in recent years.

The study was presented at ALT-C this year and will be written up for publication in the proceedings. More information about the online course is available from the Get Ready for Southampton page on the eLanguages website.

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