Scran Learning Materials
1. Author details
|Job title:||Lecturer in Old English and Viking Studies|
|Institution:||University of Nottingham|
About the author:
My research interest is in the early Middle Ages, from the early Anglo-Saxon period to the end of the Viking Age. I am interested in 'cultures in contact', and the way in which such cultural interchanges influenced art and literature. I have a keen interest in archaeology and favour an interdisciplinary approach to my research. I use the same interdisciplinary approach when I am teaching, so that students have to find evidence from a number of resources. My seminars are student-led, because I believe that learning is more intense when students carry some responsibilities for the outcome. Most students find this approach empowering and it also gives them a number of valuable skills besides what is requested for the course, such as giving presentations and research skills. I have taught Old English while I was researching for my PhD, but I am now in my first year of a lectureship for Old English and Viking Studies at Nottingham. I would rate my IT skills as moderate, but I was surprised how user-friendly packages for creating web-based courses have become.
2. The materials
I have created a web-based learning environment for a level B module (second and third year students) on the Viking Age taught in the School of English Studies at the University of Nottingham. The pre-existing course, which I took over, was already well designed, but an increase in student numbers meant that I had to find ways to compliment traditional tools, such as photocopies and slides.
The module covers many aspects of the Viking Age. Students are asked to use a multitude of different sources, such as text-based evidence, archaeology and art; and they are asked to contrast and evaluate their material. For example, when we are discuss Viking Age Scotland, one student could bring the evidence of Orkneyinga Saga, but another student may bring the buried treasures from Iona, which s/he has downloaded from the Scran website. They are asked to evaluate their evidence and the two students can now point out that these two pieces give us conflicting images of Vikings in Scotland. Students will then discuss the context of their evidence, what kind of assumptions can be made and the significance for the overall evaluation of Viking impact on this specific area.
Why did you want to create these materials?
Student numbers in seminars had gone up and despite the fact that I separated them into small groups, they often sat huddled over one photocopy. Since not everybody could see what the others had prepared beforehand, materials were often duplicated, which caused some disappointment. Students like to think that their research is relevant and unique. The web-environment will allow students to view each other's contributions before they come to class.
How will your materials benefit learners?
Peer-assisted learning will be facilitated, since seminar templates are visible for all to see. Instead of photocopied sheets, students can use the interactive links to either get more evidence or point to divergent material. Other students can revisit sites after the seminar has ended. I have a number of mature students, who have to time their research when their children are away or who prefer to work from home. A resource tool which does not require a visit to a library is more convenient to them. Students with learning problems, such as dyslexia, as well as disabled students, can access and prepare material in their own time and at their own pace. Additionally students will learn how to gauge internet sites (unfortunately there are many unsavoury Viking sites) and be trained in the use of a virtual learning environment. These are key skills which will benefit them for other modules and also outside academia.
Students can be very critical and often the fact that they have to present to their peers, rather than writing an essay or evaluation for the lecturer, can be a great incentive. The discussion of evidence deepens their understanding of the subject, since they have to present their finds to other students.
How will they improve on previous methods of teaching this topic?
They will feel much more involved and empowered. They will have the benefit of having had access to other student's research, despite the fact that they have only prepared one small area of the seminar.
3. Creating the materials
I used WebCT, which is the virtual learning environment used by the University of Nottingham. I worked alone.
What additional support did you need in creating the materials?
I received some money from the University of Nottingham's Teaching Enhancement Scheme, which also included access to the IT support team. I have been sent on a number of courses and have had the ability to discuss my approach with lecturers experienced in web design at one of the English Subject Centre's VEL roadshows.
What are the main skills required in creating materials like this?
Some knowledge of html and creating virtual learning tools.
Describe any difficulties you experienced and how you went about addressing them.
The design. My pages still look bland. In my course booklets I used a lot of imagery to liven up the page; here you have to have a clear idea of how the page works before you can do anything with it. I will in future scan all my visual material or download it before I write pages.
What would you do differently next time?
Learn more about html before I write my pages.
What hints and tips would you offer to a colleague planning to create a similar resource?
Get in touch with your web team as early as possible and tell them what you want to do. Go on as many courses as your time allows and always bear in mind that a lot of really fancy pages are done by professional designers. Don't be disheartened. Simple designs can be much more effective and you can revise and redo your page as often as you want.
Recommendations – please note any reading, software, websites, online courses etc that were useful to you.
I used Dreamweaver to convert my Word files into html. It is a very reliable tool for people who have no programming skills.