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Online Learning Revisited
It won’t get me a job as a learning technologist (aka technician) but I’ve said it (in a presentation interview online) and will repeat it now and develop the argument, that the best learning experience a student can have is you in the room with them; if this cannot happen, then it is you LIVE, online, talking them through a topic, guiding them and praising them, correcting them and challenging them, responding to their individual stops and starts. Of course, one to one is not scalable. Nor is it sexy tech. So there have to be compromises.
In my five years completing a Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) with the Open University, taking the five required modules, and in due course another two or three to complete the ‘set’ I can recall two positive modules and equally positive experiences – and outstanding results. No longer the 42/53 and odd 70 I got in other (and admittedly earlier modules), but 92/93 – If I’d retaken the entire MAODE I guess I might have gained a Distinction. Though I am certain I would have needed the kind of support these tutors provided, but they only provided that support on their modules.
This was all online, ‘at a distance’ and very little of it was live. Rather we were ‘as live’ as much as anything putting content into a common OU Student Blog that our tutor and fellow students could dip into. I know that one or two students did outstandingly well and barely interacted at all … but I’m a social learner, I like the praise, I like to be ticked off and corrected too – and to put awkward questions, and to ask ‘why?’ over and over again. I don’t mean to be annoying but when I don’t ‘get it’ I just don’t and it takes a new angle, a new link, something else to read, a chance comment, an analogy or visualisation to get me over the line. Then once I understand it, I really understand it 🙂 I wear it on my sleeve, it is tattooed into my brain.
So where does this leave online learning?
It requires engagement, it requires responsiveness to the individual, even tailor-made – it requires direct engagement from the tutor – ideally the course chair, and where not that someone highly qualified in the subject – NOT a ‘nanny’ moderator who knows f*** all on the topic. Expertise matures over time, it is not last year’s PhD student or this years MA student, it is ideally a professor, or a senior lecture, who lives and breathes their subject.
But how can this be scaled up to teach hundreds, even thousands?
When I last checked there were over 223 million young people around the world hoping to go into tertiary education. There aren’t the professors and senior lecturers to teach them. So we have to create learning, create learning, gamify it, modulerise it, make it ‘smart’ and compromise. AI will do a better job that some tutors and mentors in due course – what is the point of a jobsworth mentor/tutor who restricts their engagement with you to a couple of hours on a Thursday evening – because, they tell you, they are only paid X to do X hours. This is where you need people who teach as a vocation, whatever the risk is to exploitation. This is for their line manager to protect them from, their union to negotiate or challenge if it goes wrong. Can a Chatbot behave like someone whose vocation it is to teach? To experience students finding and developing their strengths?
You have to make the time. And where time is limited you have to use Tech to make more time available – but it is always diluted. Online learning needs to be simple and effective for very particular tasks – I love the determined simplicity of the language learning platform LingVist for example. Involved tangentially in the development of a language learning platform in 2000/2001 I have followed developments closely, tried many apps and approaches (including failed attempts at an A’ Level, and even a undergraduate degree).
Online learning in the form of a course or module must be offered in a multitude of ways to provide a complete experience which includes live/as live, interaction, solo study, old fashioned reading and essay writing, lectures too, as well as smarter IT elements to ingrain specific necessary elements which are suited to a Tech approach.
How to compose rainbow sentences
Reflecting on FLST14
I will never tire of the kind of engagement that comes from working online. Despite being able to contribute far less than usual during the five weeks of FSLT14 I nonetheless folloed the steady, manageable stream of points being made in the threaded discussions which were never too overwhelming. The greatest value for me came from reading the assignments of others and in my own live session which, because there were three students and two tutors resulted in far more of a tutorial like atmosphere – I wish I’d had a chance to join all the others too as my perspective of what each speaker had to say was hugely magnified by hearing them explain, excuse, enthuse, apoligise for, compare or give reason to their response. I must remember too that committing your words, publishing them to the Web, is still a big thing for many people – not that many of us are still blogging as they did in 1999.
Worth remarking is that this intimate, manageable, not overly designed and human online course possibly achieved so much because it was delivered on a human scale and did what it set out to do. I have to wonder on the value, it did come up, of doing nothing as a learning theory (Knud Illeris) that the pauses and spaces in learning matter – that reflection occurs not just as a formal exercise, but occurs simply by taking things more slowly, and not just that, but stopping too.
Have I learnt by osmosis? I’ve read everything but unusually for me not jumped in to comment all the time. I did this because I felt I would be unable to keep up the discussion very closely, perhaps responding every few days, simply because I am online working and writing elsewhere.
I am not an educator in higher education, though I have had experience of teaching, talking and giving workshops at every level from primary school to MBA, in the conference hall or by the pool, in a class and online to one or being followed by many hundreds. This peripatetic online presence may shape up into something more formal as a regular moderator or tutor or I may retreat to whatever space suits me best to research and write.
Three years ago I challenged Martin Weller on how long it would take to recognise someone as a digital scholar – he said ten years, I said four. At the time I thought of voices like that of Andrew Sullivan as a scholarly voice of the digital age – but with a BA from Oxford, and MA and Phd from Harvard however much he lives out his life as a professional blogger he is surely the scholar who uses the digital platform, rather than a product of it. So I got that wrong. My thinking is that the scholar who is of the digital environment can still do it in four years, but we need to think of students who exploit it exclusively, and probably of necessity because of their circumstances – and indicated by fast tracking teenagers taking degrees here, and never moving on to the campus for their MA and PhD – or only tangentially. After all, at what point does all learning becoming blended between the online and the ‘off line’ and as appears to be happening, once again, all learning is simply that, without the need to add an e or an m in front of it.
Much more to reflect on – to chew the cud online.
Towards an assessment of my teaching
I often share a post I am writing as I do so. In this case having identified the story to tell : running a workshop to solve a ‘messy’ business problem I am pulling together or creating supporting images, in the above case a grab and mashup from Martin Weller’s book ‘The Digital Scholar’ – my goal is to be recognised as one. In a forum post as an Open University ‘Master of arts in Open and Distance Education’ (I graduated in early 2013) I suggested this could be achieved in four years – John Seely Brown thinks that eLearning speeds things up, while Weller reckons on ten years.
Reflecting on a presentation on learning to students at Oxford Brookes University
Fig.1. Rescue having failed a 4 tonne whale is dragged from Stinson Beach.
As a student on Oxford Brookes University’s online course ‘First Steps into Teaching and Learning 2014’ here in week 4 we have been challenged to consider an experience from teaching or being taught and in a five minute presentation reflect on this.
My interest is teaching postgraduates and/or ‘in the workplace’.
I should be feeling I’ve stumbled into the right time and place with this one having just given a ten minute presentation online as part of the Open University Masters in Open and Distance Education module H818: The Networked Practitioner, however with that one, despite every expectation to exploit my love of and experience with linear and interactive media I resorted to a Powerpoint. I needed to improve the script up to the line and this offered the flexibility I could not have had with a Prezi or video. There were too many cumbersome technical barriers and trips that I wasn’t happy to pursue or risk.
What I’m doing here is thinking through a presentation I need to prepare. Sharing this, if and where feedback can be garnered, then informs the decisions I take.
My immediate idea, often my best, is to do a selfie-video talking to camera while hurtling around a roller-coaster at Thorp Park. It would sum up the terror, thrill, highs and lows of taking a day long workshop with a class of some 40 year 9s (12/13 year olds) in a secondary school that had/has a checkered history.
The second idea, to change the setting radically, would be a workshop with nine on creative problem solving – the objective was to come up with answers to a messy problem, though the motivation to be present for most was to experience a variety of creative problem solving activities that I had lined up. This nine in an organisation, included MBAs, prospective MBAs, a senior lecture, junior and senior managers and officers: colleagues and invited guests from different departments. This example is probably the most appropriate.
A third might be something I attended as a student – apt because doing this in 2009/2010 in part stimulated me to take an interest in learning: I wanted to know what was going wrong. Here we had prospective club swimming coaches doing everything that was unnatural to them – working from a hefty tome of paper, sitting through a lecture/seminar and expecting assessment to be achieved by filling in the blanks on course sheet handouts. This from people with few exceptions who left school with few or no qualifications – often troubled by Dyslexia. They were swimming coaches to dodge this very kind of experience. It was, you could tell, hell for some. The misalignment could not have been greater. Here the immediate visual image, apt given the subject matter, would be to watch a fish out of water drown – or nearly drown and be rescued. What really grated for me in this course was the rubbish that was taught – too many gross simplifications and spurious science.
Based on the above I should challenge myself to do the video as I need to crack loading and editing. The fish out of water, whale actually, I can illustrate from photographs and the experience this summer of being present as a 4 tonne whale beached and drowned on Stinson Beach, California (See Fig.1. above).
Reflection: we are all so very, very, different when it comes to learning
Just ten minutes. A live presentation. Why for me should it be such a big deal?
I said to my wife that I have not problems delivering other people’s words (acting) and I have no trouble writing words for others to speak (speech writer, script writer), but what I loathe and struggle with is delivering my own words on any kind of platform.
Big fails on this count, emotionally at least would include:
My grandfather’s funeral
My groom’s wedding speech (I was pants at proposing too)
My father’s funeral
My mother’s funeral
Because it matters to me far too much when, and only when, the words that I give seem to emanate from my soul.
Let me blog, let me write letters, let me smoulder from my ears into the atmosphere with no expectation of feedback.
Both positive and negative feedback, especially if constructive, sends a shiver through my bones. Why is it that I crave confrontation, that I want to be mentally smacked around the head, then kicked up the arse and sent back into the fray to deliver some amazing show of ability?
We are all so, so, so very different, yet how we are taught, or expected to learn seems so very contrived, so set by context and numerous parameters.
I would prefer to be stuck in a cabin for a couple of weeks with an educator who hasn’t a clue about the subject, but is a natural educator, than someone who has ticked a collection of boxes in order to obtain their position. The natural educator can teach anything. The subject matter expert thinks they know everything. eLearning can be the subject matter expect – ‘IT’ (literally) thinks it knows it all.
So, connect me, and for me connect students and educators – worry only about the desire and ability to teach or transmit and manger those hungry to gain knowledge, and for students concentrate almost entirely on motivation. If they want to learn pores will open up in their skull so that you can pour in the information and they’ll never be satiated.
Teaching, coaching and mentoring
I have done and do all three. Are coaching and mentoring subsets of teaching? Yes, though I don’t have to have been the teacher to do either. Another person can be the teacher and that teaching could surely have been done through a book, video or game? After several months doing a Rosettastone language App where or who is my teacher? Perhaps my wife is my mentor and buying in time with a person will add coaching to the mix.
I wonder if to be taught is akin to taking a train or bus ride, while self-directed learning is like riding a bike? That learning like this is like driving a car where through choice the passengers are either fellow learners and the tutor/educator?
Timing would be a key consideration for me – which would relate to pace, variety, purpose and spreading myself around the ‘class’. I will be in a studio like ‘class’ this afternoon for three hours. The groundwork has been done by others, in this context I am a catalyst and sounding board. The teaching will have been done, I don’t know the students well enough to mentor them so it as ‘coach’ or ‘consultant’ that in small groups they will have me for 10-15 minutes each. I have learnt to set a timer on this, not just setting a stopwatch on an iPhone anymore, but going in with a large egg timer – A bit theatrical but it keeps everyone’s attention. Reflecting on ideas about ‘the lecture’ what the above means to me is exploiting the live nature of it – I even consciously dress for the part.
Increasingly I am coming to cherish the values of teaching live and in the flesh for me ‘the teacher’ and for the students. All the more reason to milk these up close moments and cherish them for what they are compared to being disembodied and at a distance online.
Where do I stand academically? Where and what next? And the madness of being.
Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) with the Open University, UK (OU)
H800: Technology-enhanced learning: practices and debates
H807: Innovations in eLearning – Learning outcomes
H810: Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students
B822: Creativity, Innovation and Change
H808: The e-learning professional
This completes the Masters Degree. I graduate on Saturday 27th April 2013
Currently (March 2013) I am taking H809 as a bridge towards doctoral research or professional consultancy. Complete in June 2013.
H809 Practice-based research in educational technology
I joined the #H817open MOOC for one component of this module. I will register for 2014
H817: Openness and innovation in e-learning.
- Why skiing is my metphor for life and learning (mymindbursts.com)
- Martin Weller and the MOOCers (mymindbursts.com)
- Openness in Education WK1 MOOC (mymindbursts.com)
- Making swim coaching a tad easier with SwimTag (mymindbursts.com)
- How to visualise learning – think Lava Lamps! (mymindbursts.com)
- How more deeply embedded is a visual memory if you crafted the drawing or painting that is the catalyst for its recall. (mymindbursts.com)
- No. 5 aha moment: the Web as a universal standard (downes.ca)
Turning thoughts into action – the life of Z A Pelczynski remembered
Read cover to cover yesterday, into the evening and small hours. I’m now onto the second read, with various notes to add, references to pursue and further research to undertake.
Yet to be published, I’ll give detials in due course of how to get your hands on a copy.
Why read ‘A Life Remembered’ ?
It’s a fascinating life story from surving the Warsaw Uprising as a teenager to achieving as an Academic and educator in England, Scotland then at various leading universities around the world while pursing various interests and causes with passion and dogged determination. A life lesson? I think so.
Gagné’s nine steps for instructional design
Picking through the OU Library for something on Gagné I found two great articles:
How to use Gagné’s model of instructional design in teaching psychomotor skills
Using Gagné’s theory to teach chest X-ray interpretation
However, no one can tell me how to put an acute accent on Gagné (neither of these reports did so).
And how to put an umlaut on Engeström.
I ask as I am fed up having this pointed out in every assignment I submit.