Like buses – you wait for ages then two come at once. I’m MOOCing again, still with Oxford Brookes and this time with the Teaching Online Open Course #tooc14. It’s been a busy week but what a great start for the tutors and TAs. 77 individual posts in the new arrivals lounge with more likely to be browsing around seeing what a MOOC looks like and wondering about joining in. It will be interesting to see how many make it through to the end but with MOOC I’m not sure completion is the name of the game. Participation is what counts. Getting theMOOC experience, dipping in, dipping out, a taster for – or reminder of – what online learning is about.
TOOC14’s first subject is induction. Something close to my work-life heart. It’s been nearly ten years since the idea of pre-arrival support for new students via the University of Lincoln’s VLE was first suggested. Today, Getting Started is a whole institution initiative led by teaching and learning, the student engagement office and made technically possible through the enthusiasm and expertise of Matt Darch in ICT. So it’s with great personal interest I’ve been following discussions and taking part in the best ice breaker activity I’ve ever seen.
But what a challenge to the digitally uninitiated this ice breaker is. First of all you need a google account. We’re not yet at the point where google registration is ubiquitous like a national insurance number. If google has its way, the day is not far off. There’s something spooky about collaborative working on google docs where everyone can see what you’re doing. Like digital text stalking. A taste of the mighty google’s omnipotent eye. Every digital step you take, Big G is watching you. Digital footprints are permanent. Online has no boundaries, no secrets, nowhere to hide. This is digression into a my digital danger sessions – or less digression and part of the social impact of the internet. This covers OER and MOOC as much as digital identity and the ways we present ourselves online. The start of any online course is a test of digital competence and TOOC14 is no exception. It highlights how virtual participation requires digital capability. I’ve learned to be brave in online environments but it’s taken time and practice and I mean brave rather than confident. The screen which protects me also creates a virtual mirror image, one which doesn’t go away. A digital slip is a lifetime online and for many this awareness remains a barrier to be overcome.
Of all the comments I’ve read this week, the one which has stayed with me is nothing to do with induction or MOOCing – at least, not directly. It was from tutor Greg Benfield who wrote: ‘Our general line on this is that we tutors and TAs try to have a life. So participants in our courses should not expect us to be around on weekends. One of us will check on things from time to time but we won’t actively intervene on weekends except in some kind of emergency.’
Wow, an off-line weekend. No catching up with email or the tasks you meant to do last week but haven’t found time for. No – dare I say – research activity, or paper writing or transcribing interviews.
Do I still have one which is not in some way or other work related? If I take anything from this MOOC it should be this reminder – weekends are not workends – so tomorrow I go to the beach with my camera to reflect on sea, sky and fossils. Sounds like a plan!
The MOOC bubble is bursting. See Online Revolution Drifts Off Course or Completion data for MOOC For some time there’s been evidence of a shift in MOOC attitudes eg MOOC Star Professor defects and Professors Won’t Use a Harvard Professor’s MOOC It will be interesting to watch FutureLearn; the UK HE MOOC consortium’s 36 free online courses.
MOOC have been good for online education. They’re raising key issues around the value of VLE where VLE can be institutional like Blackboard or any combination of free software. Bursting MOOC bubbles mean it’s time to talk about the big questions. Like do VLE enhance learning? How best can face-to-face practice be transferred? What might digital pedagogy look like?
For me, one of the strengths of the VLE is in widening participation; opening up potentially 24/7 opportunities for those unable to commit to a campus based education. But this can’t happen without appropriate support for the shift of traditional lecture and seminar content to online delivery. VLE need investment in digital literacies, scholarship and pedagogy. UCISA reports into Technology Enhanced Learning show since 2010 the top two barriers to TEL development are lack of time and money. The JISC Digital Literacies Programme released the Summary of the Professional Association Baseline Reports last year showing the main challenges for professionals becoming more digitally expert were lack of time, speed of change and training not being available, timely or relevant.
A lot of staff who teach and support learning at Lincoln have a DIY approach to technology; learning to use it effectively and integrate it into their lives. There are also those who are less confident. The adoption of a DIY model privileges the innovators and risks excluding those unsure about digital change. Taking the time to do things differently using Blackboard might not seem a viable option when it works doing it without. The issue of self-selection poses a risk. If you’re unsure of your VLE you’re less likely to go to digital workshops or seminars, attend digital technology conferences or apply for research funding in the area of education technology.
Often there simply isn’t enough time, resource, or role recognition attached to developing digital expertise. One way forward might be to highlight the development of an ethos of support and resource for shifting to digital ways of working. The University of Lincoln has a new Digital Education Plan. The VLE procurement process has highlighted the need for additional support for virtual teaching and learning. Thanks to the MOOC bubble bursting, there’s renewed interest in what works well and less well in online education. One thing is clear; ‘Staff expertise is the most important asset in a university and without it literally nothing can be achieved.’ (Blackmore and Blackwell 2003: 23) I cautiously predict exciting times ahead for Lincoln next year with TELEDA at the heart of discussions about all things pedagogically digital.
Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) Learning Block Two Discussions were based on Connectivism by George Siemens (http://www.itdl.org/Journal/Jan_05/article01.htm). This paper suggests digital networks are making fundamental changes to education and new theoretical approaches are required.
It was clear from responses, the world has changed less than Siemens would like us to believe. Education has always been an evolving discipline, one which has taken advantage of ‘the technologies of the time’ and while Siemens’ ‘networks, chaos and complexities’ may be useful ways ‘to identify some characteristics in the digital age’ you see many of the features of connectivism as already part of our learning designs.
‘the chaos is life(!)’ A fantastic way to describe the complexity of day to day living as well as teaching and learning in a digital age. Problem-solving and decision-making are long standing examples of ‘networks of learning’ and ‘thinking, reasoning and reflecting’ are still essential. There was consensus attention to digital literacies. Students believe ‘the net holds all of the information they could possibly require’ and ‘resources will be available at a click of the button or by typing the question into a single search box’ The critical issue being‘They might find the answer… but do they understand the answer and how to correctly apply it?’……‘Context is king! So cue the tutor…’ Exactly! In this age of MOOC the role of the tutor remains vital because ‘the knowledge base is increasing at an amazing rate but just how much of that “knowledge” is real thing?’ students need guiding and supporting students to make the ‘all-important distinction between knowledge and information. Otherwise known as wheat and chaff.’ The problem can be a mix of resources and attitudes ‘…some teaching teams don’t have the time, and sometimes the inclination to change the module guide, to reflect on what tools are available to enhance the learning experience in their subject area.’
Conversations showed how the risk over exposure to virtual worlds is leading to lack of confidence with real world. ‘Many students need more encouragement and help with the social skills…[the] natural interaction that students miss because of all the social media’. Here is the irony of teaching and learning in a digital world – how do you achieve the relevant balance digital graduate attributes when students need to be skilled in all the social media because it plays such a large role in people’s lives? The internet is a technological product of our time. We only have to read The Printing Press as an Agent of Change by Elizabeth Eisenstein (1980) http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Printing_Press_as_an_Agent_of_Change.html?id=5LR1SrkIrocC or The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage (2009) http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Victorian_Internet.html?id=vPVbi6GVodAC to see how the inventions of the Gutenberg Press and the Telegraph did not happen in a vacuum. Instead they evolved out of the social conditions of their time amid a mixture of much contemporary alarm and excitement; just like the internet in 21st century!
However, the internet poses challenges across the sector. On the one hand students (and some staff) may appear cyborgs, permanently connected to their mobile devices, and the quality of that interaction may suggest they are ‘amusing themselves to death’ (see Neil Postman’s analysis of television culture on 1980s America), but on the other it’s clear how making the shift from face-to-face to virtual interaction is one which needs prioritizing and resourcing rather than taking for granted online learning design is absorbed through some magic process of osmosis!
For summing up, I couldn’t say this any better. Firstly with regard to learning theory for a digital age: ‘The characteristics of connectivism theory already exist….Perhaps we just don’t call it connectivism’ – excellent insight – but the most important point of all: ‘However, we do spend a great deal of time ensuring that they [students] know how to deal with human beings – they are still the ones that really matter.’
Says it all!