MELO is a cross-disciplinary project at the University of Michigan (UM) with a goal to facilitate the integration of curriculum-based sequences of online learning objects (LOs) that complement classroom pedagogy in large enrollment gateway courses to enhance student learning, engagement, and persistence in college. LOs are interactive web resources designed to support a learning objective and include such things as animations, simulations, tutorials, case studies, and games. In this project we work primarily with openly licensed and adaptable LOs, some created by students and instructors at UM as well as those freely available on the web and through MERLOT.
Research into the efficacy of online learning objects has demonstrated that, by offering students a sense of control and ownership of the learning process, students’ educational achievement improves compared to a control group (Windle, McCormick, Dandrea, & Wharrad, 2010). Other research suggests that educational strategies that improve understanding and provide learning feedback have a positive impact on student retention (Hershock & O’Neal et al., 2007; Seymour & Hewitt, 1997).
The project took a unique approach to overcoming barriers to technology-enriched instruction by involving undergraduate and graduate students in addition to select faculty and staff from across different disciplines as the key collaborators. By training these select students and faculty to find, evaluate, adapt, create, and integrate online learning objects (LOs), the project facilitated the incorporation of high quality inter-disciplinary and discipline-specific LOs into the curricula. We include the word “adapt” relative to just the integration of LOs because many useful online learning resources exist, but many must be adapted in some way to become a strong and useful match to a given curricula. Working in a cross-disciplinary setting of graduate students, staff, and faculty allowed for a rich learning environment where participants could creatively experiment with less risk and time demands due to the cross-pollination of ideas and technology infusion examples. This unique approach of involving graduate students in such a process is akin to training future faculty. Also, many of the graduate student participants were more knowledgeable and motivated with regard to technology and creative technology infusion and thus trained the faculty. One graduate student participant gave a presentation at the 2009 MERLOT International Conference entitled “Bottom-Up Faculty Development” which emphasized the dual direction of the project.
Working in a collaborative cross-discipline environment was formative for shaping the training program and its scalability and adoption to new and diverse curricula. Project participants were asked to document their infusion accomplishments via video capture technology. These short video summaries, which provided a statement of the initial problem, how the problem was addressed, and sample results, became a key aspect in successive training workshops.
Workshops have also been provided outside the project itself as part of the UM Enriching Scholarship (free annual workshops for any UM student, faculty or staff member). Evaluations of these workshops have been exemplary and have led to identifying new MELO project participants. We are in the process of “packaging” the various training workshops in the form of openly licensed materials. These materials address topics such as “Integration (and Creation) of Online Learning Resources: Why and How?”, “Open Educational Resources”, and “Web Adaptability”.
Cross-discipline sharing was not only formative for the development and integration of technology into curricula, but it also led to a shift in project participants’ views regarding who has the responsibility to craft curricula -- from that of instructors only, to instructors and students. For example, a MELO project graduate student instructor challenged the undergraduate students in their section of Intro Psychology to identify difficult course concepts and find interactive online learning resources that would assist student learning with respect to the identified concept. These undergraduate students contributed superior online resources that the instructors had not previously identified. Following this sharing, another MELO graduate student instructor for General Chemistry extended a similar challenge to the entire class of 450 undergraduate students through an “Online LO Scavenger Hunt” (see link 8 in the References and Supporting Documentation section below). Over 100 new LOs were contributed to the course by these undergraduate students. The MELO writing discipline team would subsequently ask undergraduate students in their courses to author reflective videos with regard to the writing of papers. These reflective videos populate a website as a teaching tool for all students. Thus the students are not only engaged learners but also co-teachers with regard to curricula development.