Faculty and Student Focus Groups: Consolidated Summary
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The first phase of the Learning 21 project involved a comprehensive needs analysis; and focus groups were key components of this phase. We held twelve focus group discussions with faculty from across Dartmouth including several specific to Geisel School of Medicine; and we offered five separate meetings for students, led by students. The goal was to better understand what technology faculty do and would like to use in support of their teaching, and to hear from students how they prefer to learn and how technology can help them. Here’s what we learned…
Integration. This dimension emerged as the primary needs area for both groups. Faculty and students are already using a variety of applications, servers, and mobile devices to supplement their courses, and there’s a need to easily embed these tools within the LMS. In addition to integrating external resources, faculty want the ability to connect materials within the course through an “active syllabus”, i.e. a tool that links to readings, assignments, calendar, discussions, etc. Students, too, seek more integration with other applications and devices. They’d like an interactive calendar and the ability to access the LMS from their phones to view grades, the calendar, etc.
Communication and collaboration. Powerful group tools that foster active learning – small group work, student work spaces, real time collaboration options – are essential. Interactive content editing, i.e. the ability to write directly to student work, would support feedback processes, for both faculty and student peers. Incorporating different levels of open or limited access and filters in the LMS would enable faculty to collaborate and share content with colleagues and without compromising student privacy.
Group collaboration is a meaningful part of student learning, and for this process to work they need to store, share, and edit files in a central location. Many prefer to complete group projects face-to-face, but LMS group features would help them if they were more “useable.” Students envision the LMS as a vehicle to make connections outside of their courses – campus group collaboration, connecting with foreign students – though they have concerns about privacy on the internet. Very important to students is a dynamic and robust discussion board to support out of class discussion. They seek an “academic social network” that facilitates real time conversation. With this capacity available within the LMS, student social networks can remain separate from academic networks. In the classroom, the discussion board feature could be used to post anonymous questions or comments, or to expand the “clicker” concept to be more interactive.
Course content management and delivery. Faculty seek an LMS that supports student portfolios, large files, and content search in and across courses and discussions. Interactivity that allows the user to edit screen captures and other course materials will supplement how content is delivered and used by all. The ability to write directly to student work within the LMS is important to both faculty and students. We need to provide a “student-centered” LMS that each student can customize, to organize content in a way that works for them, and to store class notes and a portfolio of their academic work.
Evaluation and grade book. The consensus among faculty is that testing security safeguards for honesty and academic integrity are essential in order to use an LMS for formal evaluation. The grade book needs to be easy to use and intuitive. Students asked for a grade book that accommodates brief comments to accompany grades.
Design and balance. Intuitive design and function are key, and there is a clear need to find a balance between flexibility and simplicity in the LMS. Faculty recognize that one system may not cover all applications and specifications. Students agree that the LMS design needs improvement. “It looks dated and there are too many clicks.” It was clear from students that while they value technology’s role in their education they don’t want to get into a “technology bubble” in the classroom. They also observed that faculty lose effectiveness when they are uncomfortable with the technology.
Change. Faculty are heavily invested in Blackboard and expressed concern about the possibility of migrating to a new platform. There has to be a compelling reason to change.
Development partnership. Dartmouth needs to develop an open channel of communication with the LMS vendor to help meet the needs of the institution, and to improve the product.