Case study for Academic Writing Online
Petra Hauptfeld-Goellner was involved in the project Academic Writing Online (AWO). The project’s aim was to develop an online course providing support for students in writing an academic paper or thesis. OEE interviewed her to find out more about the project and her experiences.
Can you tell us a bit about your project and the issues you want to address with it?
I’m a professor at the University of Applied Sciences in the province of Burgenland, near Vienna. I work in the Department of Economics teaching German, intercultural communication, organisational behaviour and leadership as well as academic writing. I teach in many countries including Austria, Slovenia and Hungary through the Erasmus+ programs.
I am in charge of the academic program for incoming students at our University and Head of the examination centre for the Austrian Language Diploma in German.
In addition to teaching, the University of Applied Science has a strong focus on scientific research. This is perfect for me as I enjoy writing/publishing papers and attending international conferences. I thrive off the international exchange as it provides me with inspiration for new ideas and projects.
What do you love about your job?
My job permits me to be creative, innovative and allows for international collaboration. I enjoy designing new curricula, lectures and subjects. It is a highly creative process, even more so when implementing e-learning tools and virtual classrooms. I started to focus on this area with the production of the online course Academic Writing Online. I think that MOOCs will be an essential way of learning in the future but they are still underestimated in their importance.
Can you tell us about your project and the issues you wanted to address with it?
Our project developed an online course with texts, exercises and instructional videos for academic writing in German, English, Czech, Croatian, Hungarian, Slovak and Slovenian.
The open access online course provides support for student groups such as part-time students and students coming from second chance education. We provide the necessary tools and skills to write an academic paper or thesis in a flexible way.
The Central Eastern European languages Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Slovene and Croatian, were chosen as they were related to the incoming students at our University. Central Eastern Europe is the target region within our Business Studies.
The approach of the course was to follow college writing programs in the US and the UK where academic writing is seen as a practical ability. We wanted to give students at hand the skills and tools to overcome obstacles when writing their final theses or academic papers.
We therefore decided to choose a MOOC format to provide the utmost flexibility for the above mentioned student groups. Moreover, using MOOCs is a part of our University’s strategy that highlights personal learning (p.learning) by implementing three phases of contact hours, self-study periods and online hours.
Module seven within AWO is dedicated to teachers and educators. It demonstrates how to work with the MOOC within the p.learning strategy. Students are asked to prepare some tasks. The tasks are then uploaded on an interactive learning platform and fed back to a virtual classroom. Lastly the texts are discussed with peers and teachers. This process requires different didactical competencies and skills similar to those found in traditional teaching. The educator has to clearly frame the process incorporating diverse roles (teacher, coach, moderator) and adapting teaching styles. The course therefore aims to be a model for educators embedding and using MOOCs within blended learning formats.
Why are online courses and MOOCs important to lifelong learning?
In my opinion they are important for 3 main reasons:
- They enable disadvantaged student groups/persons with viewer opportunities to participate in the educational process.
- A MOOC can be repeated until the content is understood.
- MOOCs and online courses will change the mobility processes to a huge extent.
Quality digital content will come to the learner. This change in mobility means that we can think of accreditation universities. students receive their subjects from several universities and hand them in at an accreditation university that reviews the subjects and accredits the ECTS (Dräger/Eiselt, 2015). In such a case the students will never see a lecture hall from the inside. The example is extreme but nevertheless every university is well advised to formulate an e-learning strategy for future education.
What were some of the bigger challenges you faced during your project?
During the lifetime of the project we faced many challenges. All the problems were solved thanks to a motivated project team that was really dedicated to fulfilling all the tasks. Most of the challenges were caused by circumstances we did not expect – for instance job losses. We also faced issues such as bureaucratic obstacles, and time management.
Coordinating a project always means to expect the unexpected! It is essential to have a clear organisation, a really motivated project team, good relationships with the National Agency, patience for legal procedures and the ability to solve problems in a creative way.
Can you tell us something more about the stages of implementation of the project? Did you use any special tools or resources to complete the project?
It was essential for AWO to follow a clear time structure in order to accomplish the goals within two years. The original course was written and designed in German. Translating and adapting the course from German to English and the CEE languages was a challenging task.
Work was organised in parallel: During the creation of module 3 and 4 in German, for instance, the translators worked on the modules 1 and 2. The project proceeded like this with an overlapping work schedule that meant clear time frames and a quite tough organisation.
Within this structure each single module was produced by following five distinctive steps:
- The module was designed/written/translated.
- The second step concentrated on the implementation of the text and exercises within the Alpha-Campus, the technical e-learning format.
- The respective lectures recorded the videos of the module.
- Post production of videos.
- The final feedback phase at the universities. Feedback gained from students and lecturers was implemented
To manage the project we used a tool called Basecamp. The chat function meant each project member could provide immediate feedback. This served as a first quality check and decreased the amount of email correspondence.
BASECAMP was also used for disseminating project materials, conference information, poster presentations as well as quality management issues. For each module a questionnaire was designed and translated into all the project languages for evaluating the modules.
What were the measurable results of the project?
The project strived to provide a flexible online course with seven modules in seven languages, with all the necessary tools for writing a final thesis. In the EU application we had to define the measurable outcomes precisely and through the entire project these results served as decisive milestones.
Each module comprises three to four main topics in 15 units. This means four to five units per topic, in sum 20 to 25 ‘pages’. The most challenging factor indeed has been the choice and the structuring of this content due to the electronic format. Positively speaking this meant concentrating on the core topics presenting them in a structured way with understandable language. Modules provided eight instructional videos with additional support and information, feedback from students showed they were fond of the videos and its short easy to digest content.
How did you personally benefit from this project? Could you share some fond memories from the project?
The project acted as a self-assessment. I was keen to discover if I had the skills to conduct an EU project. The project allowed me to develop my project management skills and extended my presentation skills.
I learnt a lot of new technical skills during the course of this project such as video recordings. If you record a MOOC, you become a public person!
I have many fond memories from this project but one that stands out the most was from the midterm meeting in Maribor in June 2015. The meeting was the first time I presented our website. It was interesting to witness how the project members reacted when seeing the site for the very first time. There was a sense of pride in seeing the project come to life. This gave me a very intense feeling that we are very much a ‘family project’. We had many chances to bond during the midterm and final meeting in Eger which meant for many memories.
My final conclusion is: never underestimate the atmosphere in a team. This is where the quality comes from!