eteaching: pedagogy and practice for a digital age

baby ipad

My thoughts have turned to a book from my Phd thesis. It’s ambitious I know, in particular as the only place the thesis exists at the moment is in my head and there it’s more like a broken jigsaw than anything complete. But it’s a plan. The title would be – eteaching; pedagogy and practice for a digital age – so I’m laying claim to that now!

Advice on doing this is plentiful. There’s the phd2published site and Pat Thompson‘s blog posts as well as lots of doctoral writing support in general including Patrick Dunleavy’s Authoring a PhD and Kamler and Thompson’s Helping Doctoral Students Write. The key message seems to be a thesis is not a book. It needs rewriting for a different audience. Fair enough. I’ve always thought the strongest point of any research is the narrative which emerges from a qualitative data collection process and I prefer words to numbers. It’s everything else. Like head-space and time constraints which hamper the process. My never ending and never far away twin excuses!

The summer didn’t go quite as planned. Although I read a couple of research books and managed five interviews and transcripts, the dust on NVivo has remained largely undisturbed.

I thought a book plan might spur me on but recognise it could also be an avoidance technique. I’m good at those. I’ve repotted the house plants and my laminate floors are the cleanest they’ve been, even behind the settee and the sideboard. However, a book on e-teaching appears to fill a gap. There are books about online education but mostly either theoretical rather than practical or aimed at primary and secondary school. I had more of a research informed higher ed narrative in mind; one which combined pedagogy and practice of virtual learning environments and followed a number of different academics as they worked through the TELEDA learning blocks. Chapters would include Activity Based Content (ABC) Design, Introduction to Open Educational Resources and Social Media for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

The framework would be one of educational inquiry and the scholarship of teaching and learning. It will also contain guidance on essential areas like accessibility, inclusive practice and copyright with TELEDA participant comments threaded throughout. All identities would be protected. My data is so anonymised even I’m not sure who said what and when, and I also thought about inventing a hypothetical learning environment so there’d be no worries about corporate branding. All VLEs do the same things and the whole point of educational technology is the generated learning  opportunities rather than the tools which deliver the content and interaction. So eteaching; pedagogy and practice for a digital age. You read it here first.

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Top Tips for e-teachers

I was asked this week for my top tip for moderating online discussion forums. It reminded me of a conference presentation I gave last year which offered Seven Top Tips for e-teachers. Here is refreshed and revised version.

Tip 1: banish myths of digital confidence

When it comes to digital ways of working everyone has different approaches. Many staff who teach and support learning might be less confident than you think but disguise it well. Incorrect assumptions about digital capabilities lie at the heart of most VLE failures. To teach effectively online requires more than technical competence, there are social , emotional and pedagogical challenges too so avoid making assumptions about attitudes and practices with regard to online spaces.

Recommends. Build in time for an online course induction. Have a draft or practice activity before the real one. Get students to interact. Encourage sharing aims and feelings about working online. It’s helpful for new e-learners to know others might also be nervous about what lies ahead and beneficial for e-teachers to know about these hopes and fears. Avoid seeing social media like Facebook as indicator of  the prerequisite digital literacies required or effective use of VLE.

Tip 2: avoid mis-communication

We’ve all had emails which leave you thinking ‘What do they mean by that?’ The absence of face to face clues makes it easier to misinterpret virtual messages. eteachers need to know how online communication has different rules. You can expect expect silence through reluctance to engage or over-enthusiasm dominating a forum. Be prepared for the possibility of receiving mixed messages and always think before you click the send option in particular if the subject is sensitive or  contentious. Better wait an hour if feasible or ask a critical friend to look over it first. Once online always online.

Recommends. Discuss the advantages of digital text with students, for example how you can practice, reflect, edit, check spelling then paste the finished content into the Text Editor when ready. Have a net-etiquette guide, either given or constructed during induction. Include the standard advice such as  avoid ‘shouting’ with capital letters, using emoticons convey emotions and not being rude or offensive. Make it clear if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face don’t say it online and if you would say it face to face it still might not be appropriate within a learning environment.

Tip 3:  expect identity blur

What do you call an e-teacher? It sounds like a bad joke but is a serious question. You hear tutor, trainer, moderator, facilitator, instructor but never e-lecturer. The status of teaching online isn’t as high as it should be considering the skills required for managing it effectively. e-teachers have a shift in identity from ‘Sage on the Stage’ to the less visible and more silent ‘Guide on the Side’; the loss of accustomed status and practice can take time to get used to.

Recommends. eteaching is complex and challenging but a valuable expertise in its own right. It requires revisiting pedagogies and practices and for some this may require an exploration of the scholarship of teaching and learning . Done well, VLE offer powerful tools for widening participation and enhancing the student learning experience. Be proud of your e-teacher status and take every opportunity to share your new knowledge and skills with others.

Tip 4: use activity based content (ABC)

Online resources have to work hard to guide, motivate, enthuse and excite students as well as retain them through to the end of the course or module. Blended or flipped learning requires a redesign of the curriculum along socio-constructivist principles with lots of opportunities for interaction and activities. Creating opportunities for communication and collaboration are essential for maintaining and completing an effective online learning journey.

Recommends: set up groups with forums, blogs or wikis and offer a choice of activities based on key texts or issues. Get students doing what they do in social media such as searching for and sharing resources. Ask them to comment on the contributions of others and synthesise core ideas. Do this through posters or mind maps. Create presentations with slides, audio and video. Allocate students to groups and ask for peer reviews and feedback summaries.  Avoid replicating lectures with 50 minutes of talking heads, coughs and sneezes. Instead, chunk lecture content into smaller pieces interspersed with formative assessment questions. Be inclusive and always provide multimedia transcripts or text equivalents to suit all learning preferences.

Tip 5: put up effective signposting

eteaching and e-learning are different experiences to being in seminars and lectures. elearning is often carried out in isolation and it’s easy to forget how a VLE like Blackboard might look like to a new user accessing it alone. Without the physical presence of tutors or peers, it becomes easy to misread instructions or get lost and then confused in a mass of links and resources, so effective signposting through content and activities is essential.

Recommends. Be clear about learning outcomes and ways to demonstrate them through formative and summative assessment. Be sure your students know what is expected from them, in particular with regard to their online interactions. Give contact details and appropriate times to get in touch through the VLE. Agree response times. Arrange some synchronous activities. Have a weekly virtual drop-in session.  Check links are not broken. There is nothing worse than seeing a 404 message. when you want to access a key document.   Post weekly summaries which look backwards and forwards. Do this at the same day and time.  Keep everything within two clicks from the Home page.

Tip 6: go do a MOOC

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) offer free opportunities to see other eteachers at work as well as experience first-hand the loneliness of the long distance learner. You can dip in and out of courses and observe ideas for designing content and enabling communication. Make notes on the diversity of presentation formats and their quality. How important is a professionally produced video compared to the knowledge being disseminated. A webcam might be as effective as a TV Studio.  Open Educational Resources (OER) are also worth investigating. These are educational materials made freely available through a Creative Commons licence.

Recommends.  Build activities around discovery of open educational resources. Ask students to explore MOOC in their subject area, write a short critical review and share their findings. Visit Coursera, Khan Academy, Udacity or FutureLearn for MOOC and JORUM or MERLOT for OER.  JISC offer OER information as well as lists of repositories. Look up Creative Commons licences. Some support re-purposing as well as re-use. Build activities around searching and evaluating free online content. Use social bookmarking like Delicious or Diigo tor a Twitter hashtag to collect links and share them with others.

 Tip 7: experience the Pedagogy of Uncertainty

Sometimes e-teaching can feel like communicating with a big black hole. A major challenge is not knowing what to expect. eteachers don’t always know who their learners are – other than their names – or whether or not they will engage with activities. If not, you have to figure out if they’ve got lost or simply lost interest. Either way you need to bring them back to the VLE. Disengagement might be through miscommunication or misunderstanding. Following the these tips will help avoid common errors. Check out the recommendations below.

Recommends: Be honest from the start. eteaching isn’t an easy option but the rewards are worth it. VLE offer inclusive opportunities to widen participation in higher education, in particular for those with multiple time commitments. They can enhance on-campus experiences through encouraging independent and accessible learning at times which suit individual students.  Revisit pedagogical approaches to virtual learning. Try Salmon’s Five Stage Model and broad range of e-tivities. Look up Laurillard’s Conversational Framework between tutors, students and peers. Consider the Community of Inquiry approach of Garrison and Anderson, built on the Community of Practice model put forward by Lave and Wenger. Explore the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning  through a digital lens. The future of higher education will be increasingly digital and e-teaching a more essential craft and skill, one which is well worth persevering with.

Looking back looking forwards and some future dust

I’m not sure what’s worse. Taking annual leave for your research and not getting any done or spending your annual leave ill in bed. When is a fail not a fail? Maybe when a plan changes trajectory. More research interviews this week. Interviews mean transcription – on average  half a day for each one – but I can’t think of a better way to get research re-engaged.

The challenge of digital competence has concerned me for some time. The sector wants to see technology enhancing student learning. Which is fine. I passionately believe in the affordances of VLE to widen participation and accessibility, but while the literature is full of accounts of elearning and student digital expectations, the eteaching aspect is all too often missing. Decisions around Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) rest on assumptions of digital capability – I call these the myths of digital competence – and like attracts like leaving few opportunities to expose the true diversity of digital practice. TELEDA brought together the sure and the less-sure when it came to learning technologies. It highlighted digital divides on campus where academics have traditionally viewed ICT as a burden and a barrier to practice or  managerialist tools for the 3 e’s – economy, efficiency and effectiveness (Becher and Trowler, 2001:13) but  TELEDA’s stress on reflective practice encouraged deeper approaches to what digital pedagogy and online collaboration really means in unchartered places where theory meets practice face on.

Transcribing the interviews I’m reminded of just how much digital attitudes and practices are as individual as we are. In the way handwriting and fingerprints are unique, so are the ways in which we approach and utilise online environments. This makes a one size fits all approach impossible and with so little common ground, the process of data analysis also gets complex – this is qualitative research in 50 shades of grey compared to the more quantitative black and white binary.

The research is progressing – albeit slowly – and there is a growing sense it is making a difference. The soapbox will soon be travelling again. I’m presenting on the digital university at this year’s SHRE Conference, at the Higher Education Stream at BETT in January and have been invited to give the Keynote at the Making Research Count Network for North West England.  Meanwhile the summer draws to a close and a new academic year is in sight. All over the country digital devices are being purchased and prepared for learning, staff know Blackboard is ready and waiting for them to log on and the inevitable dust is waiting to gently settle on the PhD again.

Synthesising TELEDA; seven top tips for e-teaching and final #Bbworld14 reflections

TELEDA Top TipsFollowing #Bbworld14 advice to including audience takeaways, I synthesised TELEDA into seven top tips, supported by quotes from colleagues and recommendations for e-teaching practice.  I’ve already blogged about the value of stand-out titles when competing with high numbers of parallel sessions http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2014/07/25/bbworld14-re-imagining-education-and-the-importance-of-presentation-titles/  The size of #Bbworld14 emphasised how headline titles are an art worth collecting 🙂

Seven Top TELEDA Tips

TELEDA tip 1 busting myths of digital confidence

TELEDA Tip 1: busting Myths of digital confidence means not making assumptions about the use of technology

Everyone works differently. They might be less confident than you think but just disguise it well. The quote shows VLE are not only about technical competence  but have social and emotional challenges. Don’t make assumptions about how people feel psychologically as well as cognitively.

Recommends: build in time for a course induction. Have activities which encourage sharing aims and feelings, it’s good for e-learners to know others might be nervous about learning online and good for e-teachers to know what students are thinking about.

TELEDA Tip 2 awareness of text mis communication

 TELEDA Tip 2: awareness of text mis-communication

We’ve all had emails which leave you thinking mmm…. what do they mean by that? The absence of face to face clues makes it easy to misinterpret messages. The quotes reinforce the value of learning design and how online communication is different, sometimes scary. e-teachers should expect reluctance and be prepared for the possibility of mixed messages.

Recommends: discuss the advantages of digital text; how you can practice, reflect, edit, check spelling then paste when you’re ready. Have a net etiquette guide, either given or constructed during induction. Include the standard advice e.g. capital letters are shouting, emoticons convey emotions 🙂 😕 😎 and don’t be rude or offensive. If you wouldn’t say it f2f don’t say it online. If you would say it f2f it’s still not appropriate here!

TELEDA Top Tip 3 experiencing identity blur

TELEDA Tip 3: experiencing identity blur 

What do you call an e-teacher? It sounds like a bad joke but is a serious question. You hear tutor, trainer, moderator, facilitator, instructor but never e-lecturer. The status of teaching online isn’t high. e-teachers have to shift identity from  ‘Sage on the Stage’ to less visible and more silent ‘Guide on the Side’.

Recommends: knowledge is power so be prepared. e-teaching is complex and challenging but also an expertise in its own right. Done well, it’s a powerful tool for widening participation. Be proud of your e-teaching status and take every opportunity to share your practice.

activity based content

TELEDA Tip 4: adopt activity based content

Online resources have to guide, motivate, enthuse and excite students as well as retain them. Face to face sessions need to be redesigned on constructivist principles through an activity based curriculum. Interaction with content as well as other e-learners and e-teachers is essential for maintaining and completing the learning journey.

Recommends: set up online groups with forums, blogs or wikis and a choice of activities based on key texts. Ask for synthesis of core ideas through posters, mindmaps, presentation software, audio, video. Ask students to peer review and feedback summaries. Avoid replicating lectures with 50 minutes of talking head. Chunk content, be inclusive and always provide multimedia transcripts to suit all learning preferences.

TELEDA Tip 5 effective site signposting

TELEDA Tip 5: effective site signposting

e-teaching and e-learning are very different experiences to campus based education. They are often carried out in isolation and it’s easy to forget how a VLE like Blackboard might look like to a new user. Without the physical presence of colleagues or peers, it’s easy to get lost or confused so effective signposting is essential.

Recommends: be clear about the learning outcomes and ways to demonstrate them. Make sure e-learners know what’s expected and how they’ll be assessed. Give them your contact details and times when you’ll be available. Check links aren’t broken. Write weekly summaries which look backwards and forwards. Keep everything within two clicks from the Home page.

go do a mooc

TELEDA Top 6: do a MOOC

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) offer free opportunities to see other e-teachers at work as well as offering first hand experience of the loneliness of the long distance learner. You can dip in and out  and they’re great for ideas for designing content and enabling communication. Open Educational Resources (OER) are worth looking at too. These are educational materials made freely available through a Creative Commons licence.

Recommends: visit Coursera, the Khan Academy or Udacity for MOOC and JORUM or HUMBOX for OER. SCORE have a list of repositories. Look up Creative Commons licences; some encourage repurposing as well as reuse. Built activities around searching and evaluating free online content. Use social bookmarking like Delicious or Diigo  to collect links in one place.

TELEDA TIP 7 be prepared for a pedagogy of uncertainty

 TELEDA TIP 7: be prepared for a Pedagogy of Uncertainty

The challenge of e-teaching is not knowing what to expect. You don’t know who your learners are, or if they’re going to engage in your activities, and if not, you have to figure out if they’ve got lost or simply lost interest. It might be miscommunication or misunderstanding but following the six tips above will help avoid some of the commonest errors.

Recommends: be honest. e-teaching isn’t the easy option but the advantages outweigh the negatives. VLE offer genuine opportunities to widen participation in higher education, in particular for those with multiple time commitments. They also enhance campus experiences through encouraging independent and inclusive learning.  The future is digital and e-teaching is an increasingly essential craft and skill.

Missing my MOOC. Goodbye TOOC. It was great knowing you.

goodbye TOOC14

I miss my mooc. It was good to feel part of the TOOC14 learning community, in particular from the student point of view. It’s a sign of positivity when you feel sad about an ending but I reached the point where something had to give. In this case it was the mooc. For the tutors at Oxford Brookes on TOOC14, here’s my feedback.

  • I always felt my contributions were valued.
  • I liked the individual-ness of responses.
  • It was helpful to have additional questions built in. I felt tutors were interested in what I had to say. These questions also stretched my thinking and enhanced the learning.
  • What I really liked was knowing tutors had experience and expertise in managing online communication. As a consequence I felt it was ok not to know something, ok to get it wrong or even not get it all.
  • On TOOC14 I felt a real sense a community of shared practice and inquiry was building up.

It was a mooc but not as you might know it from coursera, udacity or khan academy. Not all but mostly, they can be impersonal. You feel like a grain of sand on a beach.

Online education is never an easy option. It takes time and commitment for staff and for students. Resources need redesigning. Retention is low. Text talk easily misunderstood. The advantages and disadvantages of virtual learning environments are about even. I think the team at Oxford Brookes have got it right.  I’d have liked to complete.

I’m using the phrase tutors but am not sure this is the right word. When it comes to online ‘tutoring’ what should we be called? When the pay scale says Lecturer, how does that translate to online environments. I’ve submitted a conference proposal  this week suggesting greater attention be paid to the role of e-teacher. The word e-learning has worked its lexographical way into the vocabulary of education but we rarely come across e-tutors or e-lecturers.

Who am I online?

Teacher, Tutor, Trainer? Lecturer?  Facilitator? Moderator? Just someone passing through?

The pedagogy of uncertainty which underpins all online courses is also one of invisibility with regard to participants. I wonder if this is indicative of the lower status attached to virtual learning environments. It feels like they remain the second best option. Learning online is what you do if you can’t get on campus. Supplementary. Other. Students are students where ever they are but the identity of those who virtually teach remains much more of a mystery.