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We were very keen to include RMIT University Vietnam in our project. This is our first post, from Li Ping Thong who kindly agreed to be interviewed via email. Li Ping is a senior lecturer from RMIT Vietnam’s Design department and currently teaches a range of multimedia courses in the Digital Media programme.

  1. Will you please give some background to your course and what you teach?

The courses I teach are more towards the technical side. I have been teaching 2 courses in the Bachelor of Multimedia program – Advanced Electronic Imaging, and Imaging and Animation. I am currently developing lesson materials for a course (Content Design Project) in our new Digital Media program; hence I am looking forward to implementing some innovative uses of Blackboard, to achieve intended learning outcomes of this new course.

Advanced Electronic Imaging is essentially a digital illustration course. Most students who joined this course have completed 2D design (a traditional drawing course). Advanced Electronic Imaging takes drawing into the digital realm. Students transfer their foundational drawing skills by doing digital painting artworks using Photoshop and Wacom tablets. Most students in this course have no prior knowledge in digital painting or any experience in using a tablet, so there’s a lot to learn, both theoretical and technical knowledge, in one semester. Students in this course are mostly in Semester 3 and above. This is an elective course, so most students have a very keen interest in this course as it is mostly a new experience for them (painting with tablets). Towards the end of the semester, students are expected to be able to visually communicate creative concepts and express ideas through compelling digital illustrations, while also demonstrate high proficiency in technical execution of digital painting.

Imaging and Animation is a basic 3d animation course. All students attending this course have no prior knowledge and experience of working in 3d before, so there are a lot of new concepts, terminologies and principles (modelling, lighting, animation, etc) that students need to learn. In addition, students need to familiarise themselves with the complex interface of 3d Studio Max, which is a huge undertaking within a short span of a 12 weeks semester. Some students find this course (and the amount of workload) daunting, due to the overall complexity and  learning curve for a beginner in 3d animation. At the end of the course, students should have a deep understanding on the overall workflow of producing short animations and be very proficient in 3d modelling and animation. Students who wish to expand their 3d knowledge further will often opt for Advanced 3d Animation (an elective course) in later semesters.

  1. How do you use Blackboard?

One teaching challenge in Advanced Electronic Imaging, is that students need to be up to speed in building up their digital painting skills within a short amount of time. This can only be accomplished with hours of rigorous practice. We work on exercises in class, which often do not get completed at the end of each class. Each student in class is assigned an individual Blackboard blog. Every week in the semester, students would submit 1-2 blog entries of completed exercises and post it in Blackboard. As a teacher I find this to be very effective. First of all, it makes sure that students complete the exercises and spend extra hours at home refining their artworks. I can also give feedback outside of class hours by commenting on their entries. Students are able to see each other’s work and comment on each other’s works, which gets everyone motivated in completing exercises with their best effort. I have previously made a class blog through Google Sites – we were upgrading Blackboard and the blog function was disabled by the university that semester. But having used the blog feature in Blackboard again this semester, I think it’s more ideal. Everything is more integrated under one platform (a convenience, perhaps?) and students tend to comment on entries are higher if the blog is in Blackboard instead of an external site. For Imaging and Animation, I have an archive of video tutorials – which I have developed myself, to cover important lessons or extra topics which may not be addressed in class. The interface for 3d Studio Max tends to be rather complex, so students often mentioned that the tutorials were very useful.

Aside from grade entries on Blackboard, I also occasionally use Blackboard to give comments on assignments. For example, there were essay submissions, in which students were instructed to critique 3 artworks of a famous designer. Students submitted their works on Blackboard and it’s very easy to make direct comments on their documents using the embedded feedback tool in Blackboard, as well as pinpoint areas of interest (for instance, circling a specific area of interest in an image and making further comments on it). It’s a time-saver, especially within the field of design, when many of the discussions revolve around visual images. We often need to discuss these issues face-to-face in class, but with Blackboard some of this can be done online.

  1. Are there any online tools other than Blackboard that you use in your online teaching delivery?

Currently I am developing a new course (Content Design Project), which will be offered to Digital Media students for the first time next semester. This is a motion design course and I am currently developing part of the lesson content with Adobe Captivate. Some of the Captivate lessons are interactive and will consist of audio, text and video to illustrate different foundational theories of design (typography, colour, principles of design), which will subsequently feed into the practical end of developing motion design projects. This learning resource will complement lecture slides and reading materials. With the addition of interactive media materials on Blackboard, I am hopeful that it makes for an engaging learning resource for students, encouraging them to be self-sufficient learners and making sure that they have sound theoretical knowledge, before proceeding with the more technical side of things. This will be on trial next semester, I am looking forward to test it out and see student responses.

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In parallel with this, I am also currently developing a digital role-playing game for digital media courses. This is part of my PhD study, in which I intend to investigate the effectiveness of using digital role playing games, to improve transfer of learning and accomplish desirable learning outcomes. The game will hopefully be completed on February 2015 and trialled next year.

4. Do you have a process to get information from the tool, or the students, that informs changes you make in your online practice?
I periodically run course reports to get a sense of overall summary of usage and frequency of student access in tools/course content on Blackboard. The feature gives a nice breakdown of all student activities in content areas of Blackboard and informs me about what course topics in particularly, are more frequented by students. The course experience survey is also a good source of getting feedback from students to determine whether existing course materials on Blackboard are adequate for their learning needs.

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