The limits of navigation: how far does the online go?

Lechlade by Bhopix

Reflections on New Lecturers Courses at Oxford Brookes

Among the practices, which have emerged through the New Lecturers Programme in 2011-12, there are three that challenge the limits to online learning: massive open on-line courses (moocs), virtual conferences as a means of assessment, and distributed collaboration as a means of working in learning sets. While each of these topics deserves a full paper, together they allow us to examine, briefly, the role of the university and to re-imagine a place for institutions in a world where openness, access and community have come to underpin academic knowledge. Massive open online courses work for some, not all. A feeling of being lost can affect participants. The development of autonomy benefits from scaffolding. The literal and metaphorical walled garden of the university, where openness is limited and access is controlled, even if only with the lightest of touches, provides a sense of security. Virtual conferences challenge our understandings of academic literacy: we do not yet know how to “write the internet” in a way that makes us comfortable in the security of our knowledge. Text and citation in text reasserts itself vigorously through all the fissures opened up by multimedia discourse. And, learning sets are powerful motivators. They might well be supported through distributed collaborative approaches (FXPAL 2012). But unless the extrinsic drivers are very powerful, the centripetal force of physical presence and trust engendered through face to face meetings overcomes the benefits of distributed collaboration. All three practices, massive openness, multimedia academic discourse and distributed collaboration will and should, I suggest, be part of academic practice. But, if implemented uncritically in pursuit of openness, access and community, these practices may undermine very laudible aims.

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