Archive for September, 2012

ID pep talk

September 11, 2012
Last from the MOOC.
Monday, June 11, 2012 11:05:22 AM EDT

Just a couple weeks late (if you were in Venice, what would you have been doing??).

As an instructional designer, rather than a subject-matter specialist (although if you want to know anything about where Jane Austen meets speech act theory, I’m your girl), I’ve been particularly interested in the medium’s interaction with the message over the last few weeks. Some ideas have crystalised for me…

I was reflecting earlier on the style-before-substance trap that is easy to fall into when confronted with new technologies (or any form of new instructional methods) and it seems to correspond more closely to the question of the ‘new’ role of the instructor than I anticipated in my second blog. Here’s what I think:

The mode of instruction has, in he past, been predetermined by available resources and tradition (more or less, and with notable exceptions). By this token it was distinct from the subject matter (again, with exceptions). With a huge number of new possibilities for innovation in instruction, however, there is the potential to reunite the mode with the subject. Likewise, as Jill Golden pointed out commenting on my previous post, the role of the instructor itself should be focussed on filtering already available information and guiding (or whatever term you want to use) students through concepts–and so new tools have the potential to bring the instructor closer to their subject as well (e.g. flipped classroom).

For instructional designers, however, this creates some new challenges. It’s no longer enough to look at the design process as a simple inputs-outputs exercise (you give me your content and I’ll put it into Captivate for you). We need to work much more closely with instructors from the inception of the course (or whatever it is) right through delivery. We need a firm grasp of pedagogy, and well as an in-depth understanding of the available tools and how they work. Just as importantly, we need to communicate the ethos of what we’re trying to do, whether it’s from a purely pedagogical perspective or specific institutional aims such as increasing accessibility.

So I’d better go do some of that now!

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Death of the teacher

September 11, 2012
Another from the MOOC.
Monday, May 28, 2012 6:03:34 AM EDT
An interesting question came up in the chat during Wednesday’s webinar, one that I’m sure a lot of those interested in online learning have been pondering in recent years: if all of the information you would ever need to present to students is easily available on the web, does that meanĀ  all theĀ  thousands of people who would have otherwise been presenting that information separately in classrooms (etc.) all over the world are now out of a job?This question was rather neatly raised at the Bb users’ conference here in dear old Durham earlier this year by Ray Land (here’s the presentation: http://bit.ly/JApsHH). He didn’t dwell on the answer for very long, although he did hint at his take on it through the course of the talk, but it start the following ideas flowing in my head…

  • Information (facts, data, collation of evidence, results of research, informed interpretation of events, etc.) used to be very difficult to access. Anybody could buy a textbook or an academic journal (if you had a spare $1000 and nothing else to do), but if you wanted it explained, contextualised or challenged, you had to go to a lecture.
  • Lectures were designed to disseminate information efficiently. They could do the things listed above, and add some updates if necessary.
  • Both of these are expensive ways of learning, but people will pay for them because, with the addition of assessment, they gain a worthwhile qualification.
  • But now…both text-based information and lectures can be made available very cheaply–cheap for the learner to access, but macrocosmically also cheap for educational institutions (a lecture is delivered once instead of 5000 times in different places every year).

So let’s just say that the person best suited to present every fact, concept or theory that you would ever want to teach has made a high-quality video free to use across the world. And let’s say that all of your students have the means to access all of the videos they need. What’s left for the individual instructor to do?

I think a big part of the answer is in the question: how likely is it that a video–any more than a textbook–will be sufficient to really teach students in a certain place (virtual or real) and time everything they need to know? And what does ‘know’ mean, anyway?

Let me step back a bit: there are a lot of good practices that are already embedded in the ‘old fashioned’ system. I’m particularly thinking of the university model, which started with experts taking groups of two or three students at a time and leading them through the material. In my undergrad experience, at least, this was translated into small(er) discussion sections (humanities) and of course labs for the sciences. This compromise most likely came about because of the democratization of university education, which was of course a very good thing. But in the compromise I think the purpose of discussion and labs was warped. Now, I believe, if the chancellor (or whatever flavour person-in-charge you happen to have) were to ask departments why they needed discussion sections or labs, they’d be more likely to say ‘so that we’re sure that students understand the concepts’ or maybe ‘so they’ve had hands-on experience’. This is true enough, but I think it avoids the more subtle reasons–probably because they are ‘softer’, less quantifiable and largely dependent upon the instructor. The purpose of these types of sessions is to allow students to (1) interact with, challenge, prod, mangle, reform, connect, deconstruct and make mistakes with the course content (whether it’s The Metamorphosis or hydrogen chloride) (2) with other people who are on the same journey (3) driven by someone who’s taken the journey before.

Of course, the one thing about this is that it’s not new whatsoever. It’s Dewey (and all those other people I’ve forgotten since I last took an education class), it’s the flipped classroom, it’s an ideal Montessori school, it’s the Cave. I think the danger, though, is that because it’s not new, a lot of instructors have probably already gone through the ‘this sounds great, but I’ve still got to somehow get this real information into people’s heads before the end of term’ process and given up ideals of interaction by necessity. The challenge of new technology is that of rethinking everything again and again.

This goes for institutions as well. Who wants to be the first put all of their content online for free? Who wants to tell their instructors that, because MIT is better at teaching this subject, students can just watch their videos and then have a chat with you about them later? Who wants to offer actual credit for students who have never set foot on campus? Who wants to pay editorial staff to process articles and get them peer reviewed only to release the finished product gratis online?

There are so many other questions as well: Would students (or their parents) feel cheated if the content of a course was all free, third-party material, leaving just the ‘fluffy’ conversation/experiment bits to the in-class/synchronous instructors? Would there be some kind of clearing house for the best of free video (peer review was mentioned a couple times in the webinar) and would this be a free service? What about the kind of interactivity that is currently available through software like Articulate/Captivate–would anyone think of producing these as OER? Is the institution’s unique selling point boiled down to its ability to bestow accredited awards, or would the emphasis also be on its identity as a community of practitioners, from novice to expert?

I said ‘challenge’ above, and won’t quote any motivational posters drawing a connection between this and opportunity. For a new kind of education to emerge, there will have to be a fundamental change in the perception of learning by institutions, students, governments. But, as in most cultural shifts, it will start with the small things–it will start with me researching how best our online students can interact with the material, each other and their tutor, and in a way that they will find rewarding. It will start with instructors deciding to create OERs, or posting cheaply filmed lectures onto iTunesU. It will start with projects like MERLOT and this MOOC.

But it won’t start with bloated blog entries.

do or do not. and try.

September 11, 2012

Here’s another one from the MOOC.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012 10:41:47 AM EDT
Last Edited:Thursday, May 17, 2012 10:14:48 AM EDT
This might be mind-blowingly obvious to most people ’round these virtual parts, but here’s a bit of a continuation of what I was pondering on the individual blog last week.

Just as with new technology, software and systems, we’re required to look at some teaching models the wrong way round. We have to know what is possible first, but then go backwards to the actual subject matter. We have to keep the model in a theoretical reserve until what we want to teach is best facilitated by this or that bit of it. A pedagogical match.com.

I think this applies to both TEC-VARIETY and R2D2 in that simply picking a few from one and one from the other and sticking it onto, say, Epicureanism, isn’t going to produce the optimal result. Of course, this seems to be why the idea of learning styles is being thoroughly slated across the board (the discussion board, anyway). You can’t slap a Kinesthetic onto Avagadro’s number and get the Do-ers all into grad school.

On the other hand, the value of these models is that, once you know what’s possible, you’re free to choose what’s best for you. I think a lot of us (including self, who was an undergrad in the ’90s when chalk and OHPs were all the rage) don’t realise that we’re not ‘free’ to start with. We’ve got loads of assumptions about the ‘default’ way to present material (e.g. outside of science it’s Read with a Display as close to a Read as possible). Content that would have been much better taught as Reflect or Do has been shoehorned into R1 with a hint of D1 for centuries. To be fair, this is probably more true of higher education than in high schools, etc.

I guess what I’m suggesting is a just-in-time approach to course design and, (I liked my metaphor so much that I’ll use it again), an empty cache–no preconceptions about how something is ‘usually’ taught.

Here’s my question, though: how do you do Do online? While I could easily fill in the YES! column for Read, Reflect and Diplay for our online learners, I had trouble differentiating some of the Do ideas from some of the others (e.g. is a student-created timeline D1 or R2? how about a blog or wiki? is creating a course glossary R1 or D2? is a mind map D1 or D2?). I’m not trying to get pedantic. Rather, I want to avoid the trap of declaring that we’ve got a well-balanced course when really all of the D’s involve (for example) displaying and doing things with text.

This might not be such a conceptual problem for more naturally hands-on programmes (chemistry, nursing), but is still a pretty big practical obstacle for purely online courses. It’s not cheap to render (or buy from an outside source) every lab experiment in Flash (sorry–HTML5) or build a SL environment for every medical scenario…but neither is it easy to find OERs that someone else has laboured over and then offered up for free.

In my job, we’re developing resources for post-grad business students, so we’ve got the problem of distinguishing Do activities from the others for a start. But when there is something that F2F students could really Do, we share the issues that more ‘concrete’ disciplines face. Can I find a free hawks-and-doves simulation that will be available around the world? Can I spend the time making one myself? Would the students use it if I did??

Any ideas? Am I being too rigid in my categories? Is it okay if large amounts of text ooze into Do?

the ambiguous ubiquitous

September 11, 2012

This is one of my blog posts from the Empowering Learning Through Community MOOC this past spring. I couldn’t get a link that bypassed the login, so decided to throw it up here for all the world to see!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 12:04:42 PM EDT
I’ve hinted at this in a brief comment on the Learning Designers in Higher Education group blog, but what strikes me in this–and many other–pedagogical discussions of blended learning or online teaching or technology in the classroom is that we have to look at things the wrong way round. We can’t start from ‘how best can students learn X’ and then work from there. We seem to have to start from ‘what tools are there?’, ‘what do they do?’, ‘how have they been used?’, ‘could I use them to teach X?’, ‘would students learn anything if I did that?’… To be fair, this isn’t much different from what instructors have always done, but with full understanding of the tools from the start: ‘how best can students learn X through the medium of chalk/OHP/video/DVD/PowerPoint/interactive whiteboards?’ The methods are embedded in the question.

My list of ubiquitous tools, of course, has a flaw in that none of them started out this way–ubiquity is in the eye of the beholder. The tools embedded in some instructors’ questions will be very different from the ones embedded in others. And this won’t just have to do with digital literacy; a great proportion I think will have to do with the tools that were available when the instructor was a learner, which they like best, and which were available to them up to now. You then need to add to the equation what each student finds ubiquitous (and what they don’t–one student might find chalkboard teaching unacceptable; another might not know what a tweet is). (This is the long way of rephrasing this blog’s title.)

I think my point is that everyone has preconceived notions of what is new, what is established, what is innovative, what is traditional and (as in the aforementioned group blog) what is entertainment and what is learning. And since this is true for any mode of teaching, we have to go back to the fundamental purpose.

Since it’s just the first week (okay, the second–I’m a bit behind) I’d like to be totally idealogical and say this: as educators, whether in-class, blended, online, whatever, we need to clear all of our learning tool cache, all of our teaching method cache, and start from scratch–with knowledge, to be sure, of as many tools as possible, but not with presuppositions about what a learning experience should be. Then we could ask the original question, ‘how best can students learn X’ without constraint. Once we’ve got the ideal in our heads, we can start looking at the method that would best achieve it.

This probably either sounds like complete pie-in-the-sky/first-day-of-teacher-training, or like a false distinction that really boils down to what we do everyday. As far as the latter goes, yes it is…but I think we could edge toward this mind frame rather than the reverse. In answer to the latter, it may be that the methods that are ubiquitous to us are more insidious than we might think. A TED talk, for example, while probably superior in delivery and content to most lectures, is still a person talking in front of some slides (for the most part). The medium through which it’s viewed (oooo…it’s a video online!!) is just a more convenient way of doing what’s been done for sixty years (films in school) or rather 5000 (speaking in public). Not that convenience and accessibility aren’t very important, but they can sometimes masquerade as something completely new when they’re not.

On the ground, then, I guess I’m suggesting that we should be redesigning learning from scratch (aiiiee)…and maybe partially from OER scrap…with the latest, most exhaustive set of tools at our disposal.

Oh, yes, I know that ‘latest’ is ridiculous in this context. Maybe I’ll save that to think about next week…