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Issue 23, August 2006  

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Show me an example!
Mary Jane Mahony and Helen Wozniak
The College of Health Sciences and the eLearning Resources Centre
Helen Wozniak and Mary Jane Mahony 

One outcome of the increased promotion of elearning at the University, as one of a suite of strategies to support and improve learning, has been the emergence of statements from colleagues such as 'I don't know what the possibilities are', 'I don't know what I don't know', 'Can I have a look at some examples that illustrate elearning in my field?' The Health Sciences eLearning Resource Centre was a strategic response by the then College of Health Sciences through its eLearning Working Group to meet this voiced need.

How were the examples identified and selected? The development project commenced with a series of focus groups with both experienced and inexperienced users of elearning. This consultation assisted in making explicit the issues that staff had about the design or use of elearning techniques. The focus groups also helped the project group to identify six key teaching and learning components in health science education that were used to locate the exemplar materials (see Figure 1).

A key principle in selecting the examples was that most would be pedagogically and technically accessible by any university teacher with basic WebCT skills. Few examples make use of 'high tech' solutions.  All are solidly grounded in good educational design. Key attributes were direct relevance to university teachers in the health sciences and minimal barriers to perceived usability.

The exemplar materials provide the 'story' behind the elearning development from the eyes of the university teacher who developed the example. This includes user-friendly commentary on the pedagogical and technical aspects of the example. Each example includes a description of the context or problem providing the impetus for using elearning techniques and the solution developed. The experience of the university teacher involved is also described to illustrate which aspects of the example worked, and what further issues arose.

The stories told with most of the examples make the case for relative advantage as seen by designers and users. For example:

  • Increased opportunity for interactive small group learning experiences is achieved through replacing some traditional lectures with online modules (Learning Foundational Knowledge: Replacing face to face lectures with online modules)
  • A positive effect on staff workload is achieved by replacing several small group face-to-face case discussion tutorials with one online asynchronous discussion open to all students to share their cases, thus reducing the timetabled commitments of the lecturer and shifting some of the teaching-learning responsibilities to the students) (Learning through Interaction: Learning by reporting and discussing clinical cases)
  • Where several units of study have overlapping materials (standard and advanced components) and are taught by several different academics a WebCT site can be used to co-ordinate all the learning materials. Depending on student enrolment each student can be given access only to the materials required. This means that instead of constructing several sites, one for each unit of study, all materials can be contained in one site making management easier (Learning Foundational Knowledge: One website for coordinating multiple units of study).

Twenty-one different examples were initially collected from within the University of Sydney with a further four from other institutions; links to outside websites with further examples were also provided. This is an evolving resource: built into the initial strategic project was the opportunity that as further useful examples come to light, they are added to the site (and flagged – 'Latest Additions'). During 2005 seven additional examples were added with some that link to full working examples (see: Learning Using a Case Study or Scenario: Templates to enhance the clinical reasoning process for allied health professions and also Learning through Interaction: Experiencing Interprofessional Collaboration - Roundtable Discussion described in another Synergy article in this issue). An index has also been added so it is now possible to quickly identify entries that use similar elearning methods.

The Health Sciences eLearning Resource is regularly visited by both returnees and new visitors. Use is, however, less than would be expected give the strength of the expressed need for useable examples to which it was a response. Meeting the call by busy academics for examples and guidelines on ways of improving student learning and, perhaps, ameliorating workload, through use of elearning strategies is a continuing challenge.

The eLearning Resource Centre was a joint project between CHS and the Office of the PVC (Learning & Teaching) as a strategic initiative under the umbrella of USyd eLearning. It represented a 'middle-out' approach recently described by Cummings, Phillips, Lowe & Tilbrook (2005) linking policy developments with teaching and learning at the coalface in both communication and action and focused on meeting the needs of the 'early majority' (Rogers 2003) of academic staff.


Use the WebCT bookmark
This online suite of examples is available to all staff in the University through WebCT on via an institutional bookmark (on the right hand-side of the screen after login). Contact the WebCT helpdesk with your UniKey if you are unable to log in to WebCT or you are unable to access the bookmark.

Cummings, R., Phillips, R., Lowe, K., & Tilbrook, R. (2005). Middle-out approaches to university reform of teaching and learning: Champions striding between the top-down and bottom-up approaches, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, March.  Retrieved 9 December, 2005, from

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed.). NY: Free Press.

Mary Jane Mahony is Director, Education Connections and Senior Lecturer in Distance & Flexible Education, in the Faculty of Health Sciences. She was chair of the College of Health Sciences eLearning Working Group 2004-2006 and is currently the eLearning representative for the faculty. Her interest is in providing flexibility for learners, not only in time and place but also in learning activities and resources which respond to learner differences in learning purpose, context, preferences and needs.

Helen Wozniak is a project manager in the Flexible Online Learning Team with responsibility for the University's faculties concerned with the human health sciences. Prior to joining FOLT Helen was a Lecturer in orthoptics at the Faculty of Health Sciences. She has a particular interest in the purposeful use of online discussions.

The vision for this site was created by the 2004 College of Health Sciences eLearning Working Group led by Dr Mary Jane Mahony. The original development project was conducted by Helen Wozniak and members of the Flexible Online Learning Team (Tim Lever, Jenny Pizzica, Stephen Sheely, Mary Helen Ward & Lyn Melville) under the oversight of the CHS eLearning Working Group. The numerous contributors to the CHS ELearning Resource Centre are acknowledged in the website.  For information about other USyd eLearning projects go to webct/projects/index.shtml

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