An EPiC Solution To Educational Demands



Jimmy Teo Hui Thian (jteo@oum.edu.my)

Here's a little academic puzzle: how do you fit an additional four courses (12 credits) into an existing programme of 120 credits without exceeding 10 credit hours per semester within 12 semesters?

This was the puzzle that the Faculty of Education and Languages (FEL) had to solve when Bahagian Pendidikan Guru (BPG; Teacher Education Division, Ministry of Education Malaysia) asked us to incorporate four additional courses into the Bachelor of Teaching programme we run for BPG

The solution, as the Faculty worked out, was to offer the four courses online instead of in the usual blended environment.

Based on this principle, a team of us from FEL started working on a new OUM learning portal.

Our challenge was to design a suitable conceptual framework, restructure content delivery, rebuild learning support, and rethink assessment.

After tackling these challenges one by one, the Education Portal for Internet Courses (EPiC) began to take shape.

The idea of EPiC is to enable learners to control their own learning time by utilising the time pockets they have in their daily schedules.

A parallel analogy of rocks, pebbles and sand explains how learners can utilise time in this environment.

The rocks represent the learners' work and personal demands; the pebbles their existing course demands; and the sand their new, fully online course demands. The spaces between the rocks can be filled with pebbles and the spaces between the pebbles can be filled with sand.

Coming up with the portal concept and design was a big challenge that took up most of the EPiC's development time.

After toying with several ideas, we decided that simplicity and the fun factor should drive the design and learning environment. To achieve this, we thought of Datuk Lat, whose cartoons are not only renowned and much loved, they also represent Malaysia's multicultural identity which fits perfectly with EPiC's design concept.

We approached Datuk Lat to enquire if he could contribute to the design. After some convincing, he finally agreed to contribute fresh characters to adorn EPiC because he believed in the noble cause of training teachers who in turn will be educating generations of young Malaysians.

With the design direction set, we then considered the critical importance of scaffolding the learning process of our target audience, namely in-service teachers.

To put this into practice, we structured their learning material in such a way that learners are guided to progress from the simpler Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to the more complex Extended Learning Ecology (ELE).

To alleviate the potential loneliness of doing the courses online, two networking platforms was introduced. The first is a discussion forum that enables learners to interact with their peers and online supervisors. The other is called EPiC Community, which is a social networking site created on the Google+ platform. It is an informal avenue for learners to discuss non-academic matters, voice opinions, provide feedback, and so on.

EPiC also provides learners with an e-portfolio that collates all their work submitted online. Learners can download their e-portfolios at any time for their own records.

Our work on EPiC has been highly rewarding. It is still work-in-progress, which we aim to improve over the coming semesters. If anything, we have come to learn that technology can really do wonders when it is strategically employed to address educational demands.

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