The presentation below was created to introduce students to the availability of free open educational resources and courses. It refers to the OU’s Open Learn, MIT and Coursera. As I was recording the audio, Open Culture published a list of new courses, or MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), for 2013 at http://www.openculture.com/free_certificate_courses. If this were not enough to choose from, Open Culture link to a further 550 courses here http://www.openculture.com/freeonlinecourse.
I’ve been looking at Coursera’s Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (see http://thealphabetdances.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2012/11/20/150) and recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about the history of US poetry from the 19th century onwards. There are a thousand alternatives including E-learning and Digital Cultures from the University of Edinburgh which starts in January 2013 and will explore how digital cultures and learning cultures connect, and what this means for e-learning theory and practice. Learning has never been so flexible or such fun!
The presentation below is best viewed with speakers or headphones.
The ongoing VLE Options Appraisal is a useful opportunity to look at the wider issues around virtual learning environments. VLEs have come a long way since Dearing* but in terms of keeping up with wider developments on the internet, in particular the move to openness and connectivity, they can sometimes look a little out of date.
Open academic practice and the rise in content management systems are examples of formidable challenges to the VLE. Compare a locked down password protected environment to contemporary social media and you’ll soon find support for the VLE critics who say it is a staff driven content store, low on genuine pedagogical interaction and pretty ugly too.
So has the VLE failed? No, I don’t think so. It might never be the number one choice of personal learning environment but it has untapped potential. Rather than be critical of the tool, it may be worth investing more in research not only on the way it is – and could be – used within the institution, but exactly what staff need to get started – as well as to get innovative.
Over the past decade a giddy variety of technologies have been personalised for education. Their mix is both widening and deepening the gap between active users and those who are less confident with online practices. Innovation tends to be led by those with digital thought patterns who sometimes find it hard to conceive of worlds where paper and pen are preferred. The word learning needs to be added to technologist. Learning technology describes roles which can bridge the gaps between technical support and pedagogical design for teaching and learning in a digital age. Outputs from the JISC Digital Literacies programme will be useful but how broadly they’ll be disseminated to those who have yet to move beyond uploading content and horizontal browsing remains to be seen.
Unless we shift from the tool to the user then the full potential of any VLE cannot be realised. The VLE Options Appraisal is an opportunity to look beyond decisions based on the cost of the technology towards how best the university can resource the use of the technology. Digital scholarship in 21st century should include confidence with utilising the affordances of ANY virtual learning environment. To do this will inevitably improve the quality of use of those learning tools which are institutionally supported and maintained.
The Council for the Defence of British Universities have formed a coalition to defend universities against the erosion of academic freedom and the marketisation of higher education. They are highlighting, among many things, the lack of space in the curriculum for ideas. Maybe ‘higher education’ should be rebranded as ‘wider education’. The goal of employment is valid but not at the expense supporting students to think creatively, critically and to reflect – preferably through exposure to different ideas and concepts behind a broad range of arts and sciences.
My first degree offered a wide mix of subjects all under applied social science. Modules included introductions to philosophy, criminology and psychology and the examination of various sociologies behind work, gender and education. This eclectic mix offered multiple tasters of different ways of seeing the world; it enhanced the experience of getting to know yourself and the difference you wanted to make in the world.
If it hadn’t been the late 1980s when colleges and polytechnics were merging with universities I might never have been there. I left school twenty years before – dropping not so much out of education as out of life. When it came to defining widening participation students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds I ticked every box on the page and probably a few more which hadn’t at that time been invented.
Since then I’ve worked in adult and community education, widening participation and now educational development. I support the open access movement (while worrying about exclusion for those without the means of digital access. Digital inequality is fast becoming fundamental to social inclusion and all public institutions should be tasked with highlighting this.)
Times are hard. I accept that cuts have to be made and budgets squeezed. For some people this is the attraction of open education but we need to avoid the danger of marketising openness.
Open access has the potential for broadening knowledge; to dip in and out of a wide subject range and taste an eclectic mix of disciplines – which applied social science used to do so well. One possible way to challenge the move to marketisation might be a first year module on diversification and digital scholarship. This could include weekly tasters of the very best in topics as wide as philosophy, architecture, engineering, drama, chemistry, poetry and social justice. Adopting the principle of Ted Talks, it would show how the internet supports critical reflective practice, for example searching and evaluating online content, while also introducing the concept of learning for life. Although the module would be delivered face-to-face, it would provide guidance to quality open educational resources and courses freely available at places like the OU Open Learn and Coursera.
The open education movement is attracting some of the best educational institutions and educators to share their practice online. The principles of free access to learning are in place; we now need to encourage wider excitement about open education opportunities. Openness need not be a substitute but an additional strand – one which could enhance the learning experience for all and offer hope for a return to some of the best of traditional attitudes to learning in these challenging times.
Creating opportunities for online collaboration is easy. Ensuring collaborative activity takes place is much harder. The challenge is establishing communities of practice where by students take on the learning process through shared discussion and debate. I’ve recently completed a two week online course called Designing for Collaborative Learning. The course was part of the JISC-funded P2.0PLE project (Peer-2.0-Peer Learning Enhancement) at the University of Leicester. There were a number of drivers to my participation. I’m involved in writing a short postgraduate module which will be offered as part of the university’s Teacher Education Programme. The working title is Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age and it’s designed to give staff the experience of being an online student while engaging in contemporary approaches to digital pedagogy and open education. It’s been several years since I completed my MA in Open and Distance Learning so this seemed a useful reminder of the potential advantages and disadvantages of the medium. Also the course was being delivered through Coursesites; Blackboard’s contribution to open education. This is a free platform for constructing and delivering online learning. Very similar to Blackboard in look and style it offers a professional look and feel to academic study at no setup cost; see http://www.coursesites.com
Based around Gilly Salmons five stage model, the course proved an effective application of theory to practice with additional unanticipated learning curves. The first week I had a poor, at times non existent, internet connection. Frustrating as this can be, it remains a valuable reminder of the reality for students in low broadband areas and all education developers should have the experience of working under these conditions at least once a year. The course ‘e-tivities’ all contained learning opportunities with the most effective being the sharing of practice which is an inevitable by-product of a group of professional practitioners getting together. Overall the most striking part was my hesitancy in contributing to discussions. this is often under estimated yet barriers and resistance to online conversation are well documented by Salmon in her books Etivities and Emoderating. These books are nearly a decade old but the issues remain the same. The permanence of online comments can be a formidable deterrent; on the one hand you can practice and cut and paste into the forum but it must take extreme amounts of confidence to never be concerned about potential mistakes and responses.
One the most useful discussions was around assessment for contributions. This concluded the motivation factor overcomes any potential diminishment in quality. The moderator is often key to effective collaboration and again Salmon’s advice has never been bettered in terms of setting up and maintaining online groups. The current interest across the sector in transferring face to face courses to online delivery should also be opportunities to remind us this is never an easy process. The one hour lecture format works poorly online but lecture capture is still seen as a key tool for content creation. Not everyone can access video yet too few examples include transcripts and its the same for audio files. The technology that enables learning is always the same technology which can exclude it unless inclusion is first and foremost in people’s minds. Discussion forums are these days supplemented with blogs and wikis which offer powerful tools for learning but providing them is not enough. Too often a forum is created and nothing happens because there is no moderation process. Designing for Collaborative Learning was a useful reminder the key issues to establishing effective online learning opportunities have changed little over the past decade. Until staff become students it is unlikely the current view of online learning as transference of content to Blackboard will be challenged. Hopefully the new course, Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age will go some way towards achieving this.