Claske DIJKEMA, Grenoble, May 2009
Strategic decisions for online course creation: explanation of a methodology
In line with The Network University pedagogy, Modus Operandi’s (Modop) approach towards online courses focuses on collaborative learning through intensive moderation.
Keywords: Internet and peace | New technologies for peace | | | | | Searching peace. Acting in favor of peace in a situation of war. | | | |
Some principle choices in the creation of the Conflict Transformation courses can be found below:
Interaction requires active coaching
The moderator spends per active participant roughly 2 hours on individual coaching in the form of giving feedback on assignments, discussing questions and encouraging participants. On top of individual interaction, the course coach spends roughly 20 hours on moderating the discussions, writing the conclusions, sending participants updates about the start of each week, the planning of each week and reminders about deadlines. To achieve an interactive 4-week course with 30 participants, couching time is roughly 100 hours. In Modop’s experience the relationships that are established between participant and coach are more intense than in classical teaching since interactions and feedback are more personalised.
Modop’s online courses are not free. It is our policy to demand fees for participation. Our experience that the drop-out rate among those who participate for free is many times higher than those that invested financially in the course. The amount is negotiable according to the financial possibilities of the participant. Most demands for financial assistance for participation comes from students and NGO’s in low-income countries. The costs (in terms of time) of running an online course are in most cases not covered with the income from participation fees.
Taking into account slow connections
The design of the course takes into account that many of our participants are from countrioes with very basic internet connections, for whom the site must also be easily accessible. So therefore not integrated video, limited number of graphs and pictures and a no need for extensive software. Documents in PDF format for example are already an obstacle for numerous participants. All course text is downloadable for students who can only be connected for small amounts of time. It has happened in the past that four participants from DR Congo followed the course from an Internet café.
« Learning Community »
The coaches have a specific expertise in post-conflict politics, but are not experts in all domains and regions. A number of external experts is therefore involved in moderating debates or in reviewing assignments. An example from the November 2008 course is Bryan Watters’ exchange with participants during the online discussion forum about his experience as Deputee Commander of the British Army in Iraq and Kosovo. Through these debates, group - assignments and direct messages participants are encouraged to learn from each other. The list of participant profiles is a first step to identify in what way other people can be a resource.
Assignments exist of a combination between individual and group assignments. The coach facilitates in forming small groups of 2-3 persons, based on participants’ professional profile and topical interest. This requires extra attention for co-operation and extra effort, as participants will be co-operating from different countries and sometimes different time zones, but if participants have matching levels this proofs to be an enriching experience. An recent example are the multiple phone calls between a student from the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation at the University of Liberia with a project Office Coordinator at the OSCE office in Albania.
Target groups can be defined relatively wide as participants can go into depth in subjects of their choice as a result of the layered content. In a first instance though we have focused on professionals from international organisations and NGO leaders. Recently we have experimented with combining this group with masters students to create an exchange between field experience and theoretical training.
As a result of these choices the conflict transformation courses exist of the following course tools
Backpack (collection of background documents)
If you think online courses are a relevant tool for sharing information and you would like to know more, please contact Claske Dijkema firstname.lastname@example.org. The online learning environment which The Network University has developed might also be used by other Irenees partners. Modus Operandi can facilitate in exploring this option.