Many worlds of teaching in higher education

The intro week of #fslt13 has zipped past and things got off to a good start. Will the substance of the course hold up as well as the intro to the process? There is still a lot to do over the next five weeks but it is much better than starting with a raft of problems!

This is a brief reflection on week 0, from my perspective. What made it work. The team, the participants and the platform. And within these there are many subcategories, of course.

I put the people first: team :: participants. But, there is a continuum and that itself is one of the key features of this course. Guest speakers are participants, some “expert participants” are alumni from last year, tutors are engaging in the discussions, no one has a role that is “pure” one thing and not another.

This goes to my exploration of third space theory as an approach to understanding open online courses – and maybe many other educational phenomena.This is a theme I will return to. We are all hybrids; there is no privileged origin to which we return. As much as we may yearn for some ideal academy or celebrate transiting national or social divisions we all bring the echoes and interpretations of all our many cultures. In one sense everything is always new and in another even the newest shiny gadget has within it all the history and ancestory of its making.

MOOCs Stadium Rock or folk clubs

Choose your metaphor. The discourse around MOOCs is congealing around a set of qualities. Bigger better; inherited authority; transmitted knowledge; cognitivist construction; solitary interaction with content. To some extent it is a matter of taste. Or learning preference. Or community. I saw the Police play Twickenham once. It was OK. Entertaining. But nothing was challenged. Nothing was changed. A few childhoods were relived. 50,000 people left with all they knew reaffirmed and comforted. I have never been to the Reading festival or Glastonbury. I love little local bluegrass festivals, folk clubs, jazz bars. Even in strange towns. I don’t just hang out with my friends. Though I do seek a level of homophily: people who share some interests. Sessions. Lock ins. Dad rock in pubs challenges my categories but I would rather enthusiastic semi – competence over slick synthetic commercialism any day. It saddens me that the values of slick synthetic commercialism seem to be driving higher education. And it saddens me that moocs are being conflated with stadium rock learning. It seems unlikely to me that transformative learning will arise in massive settings. Yes, for some, content will be transmitted, things will be learned and many will have their world view affirmed. But for challenging conventions give me seminars, reading groups, learning sets – most of the time.

Blog conversation on FSLT12

Lakhovsky, Conversation (public domain)

The feeds are starting to come in to the FSLT12 blog aggregator. And it is already a rich source of information and potential conversation. Questions are being asked about what makes a good teacher, and what makes a bad one! Jenny Mackness addresses the issue of blog aggregation generally in a MOOC. We are struggling with this and will be making changes to the template so that syndicated feeds only show the first 100 words or so.

But my question is more about the nature of conversation in this context. I will need to locate references, or ask if anyone has any to support my assertion, here. I wonder if this new epistolary form may be going a bit Baroque or even Rococo.

Continue reading “Blog conversation on FSLT12”

Extending your online course

I am developing a new online course on “Extending your online course” (how meta is that). We go live with it on 2 November 2011. This four-week short course focuses on enhancing teaching and learning by using new technology and tools – social media – for interactivity and engagement.

What does that mean? We are going to experiment with new “stuff” to teach with. This has been the most fun I have had at work in a while. The website will go live next week. Contact me (Twitter @georgeroberts) if you want a preview.

The course is primarily aimed at teachers who have some experience of teaching online, those who have done one of OCSLD‘s other online courses, or those who are bold about trying new things. You do not have to be a techie. In fact the course is not really aimed at techies. But, you should be willing to embrace social media technologies for education and get your hands a little dirty when we “lift the lid”. If you are reading this, please forward a link to any of your new colleagues who are getting into blended online teaching.

The course is going to be experimental. We are not going to tell you what to do or how to do it – though we will if we can. We do aim that through this engagement you will discover (and we might as well!) new ways to interact in learning environments and new tools to facilitate that interaction. We will adopt the motto (though not, perfectly, the method) of the MOOC, “… we suggest, you decide”. We will look at not just the tools and techniques, but also the social implications of going on-line through the social media world. Questions of privacy, identity and community in respect to academic practice will be raised. (These questions were explored in a series of online seminars and are the subject of another new course “Academic practice online”, which I am developing for later next year.)

As with our other courses, “Extending your online course” will be taught primarily through asynchronous group discussion. However there will be some use of synchronous audiographic virtual classrooms. We will use Wimba Classroom. It is a lot like Elluminate or Adobe Connect. If you are thinking about participating you might want to put Friday 4 November 1200-1400 (GMT) into your diary for the first of the live audiographic sessions. And, there will be two more live sessions on the two following Fridays.

The course is organised around weekly tasks supported by associated readings. In order to make a full contribution to the course people need to commit approximately a total of 4-6 hours per week to course related activity.

I hope people join!

Digital Humanities and the #alt-ac track – but why need it be centered around the “academy”

the #alt-ac label speaks to to a broad set of hybrid, humanities-oriented professions centered in and around the academy, in which there are rich opportunities to put deep — often doctoral-level — training in scholarly disciplines to use. Recent #alt-ac conversation online additionally tends to focus on the digital humanities, a community of practice marrying sophisticated understanding of traditional disciplines with new tools and methods. The digital humanities constitute, in my opinion, the best gig in town — attracting scholars who exhibit restless, interdisciplinary curiosity, mastery of relevant research tools and methods (old and new), and uncommon comfort — in a world that defines expertise like this — with a general assumption that practitioners are jacks-of-all-trades.

Or, rather, ought the “academy” be equated with the “institutions” of higher education, which, now, seem to be serving the community of scholarship so poorly.

First thoughts on the final (?) draft Strategy for Enhancing the Student Experience

Oxford Brookes Academic Enhancement and Standards Committee has made its final (?) modifications to the draft Strategy for Enhancing the Student Experience (SESE). The two objectives of this strategy are to:

  • [implement] approaches centred on critical reflection, impact evaluation and continuous enhancement of the student experience.
  • [maximise] student involvement in the development of policies and practices for teaching and learning and in extra-curricular, student led initiatives.

The strategy has principles and guidelines and (eventually) will have maps. Overall the tone is a bit directive: there is a lot of insistance and requirement, but the intentions are (I believe) worthy ones.

From a PCTHE perspective some of the key messages of this document are:

  • All staff who support learning will participate annually in high quality professional development (3.5.2)
  • All academic staff who support learning will engage with processes of evaluation, reflection and research into pedagogic practice (3.5.4)
  • The fundamental purpose of assessment will be to help students learn by providing formative feedback. (3.6.2) (so obvious but so often ignored in practice)
  • Students will be expected to take responsibility for their own learning, to actively engage with feedback and assessment (3.3.1) (this is perhaps one of the key messages of the Assessment Compact)
  • Students [will have the opportunity] to provide input and play a role from the outset in the development of new programmes. (4.3.4)

From a wider educational development perspective:

  • [With our] internationally recognised in-house expertise in educational development, we commit to routinely carrying out impact assessment, review and revision of all significant academic development initiatives and of measures taken forward in the SESE and the consequent strategy maps. (4.4.3.1)

Learning technology messages

  • [People will be] able to use technology to shape their own learning environment and interactions. (3.2.2)
  • [The] curriculum will be enriched by technologies that empower students’ development as self-regulating, digitally literate learners, able to shape their own learning interactions and author their own digital artefacts. (3.4.5)
  • The physical environment will be augmented by digital environments and technologies in ways which support a distinctive Brookes learning experience (3.7.2)
  • The functional access, skills and practices necessary to become a confident, agile adopter of a range of technologies for personal, academic and professional use. To be able to use appropriate technology to search for high-quality information; critically to evaluate and engage with the information obtained; reflect on and record learning, and professional and personal development; and engage productively in relevant online communities. (4.1. d)

The first day of the PCTHE

We must have been given the worst teaching room in the University (Gibbs 2.15). It was on the edge of a building site with fork lifts reversing all morning. The room was the only unrefurbished one on this floor of the building. The seating was really poor quality: ripped seats, gum on the floor. There was no wireless coverage or 3G in the room (some might consider this a positive feature?). Roy is looking into finding a different room for Wednesday.

But that was not the whole story. The participants were a buzzy group: very little evidence of reluctant participation and a real willingness to talk with each other.

Frances showed Mike Wesch’s excellent video, A vision of students today. This stimulated discussion: what are we preparing learners for? This opened up a discussion of transferable outcomes or “graduate competencies”: team working, communication, academic literacy and so on. Frances also referred to John Biggs, one of the theorists that we draw on. Biggs characterised the “academic” and the “non-academic” learner (deep and surface) and advocated constructive alignment as a means of creating or inducing the behaviours of the more academic student in the less academically inclined. Our challenge is as much how to involve less academic learners as it is to stimulate and challenge the more academically inclined. This reminds me of a discussion I recently had with a participant on a previous cohort whose background was from an ancient university in another country. Her observation was that Brookes students, compared to those she was used to, were less well motivated. I am cautious of such generalisations, but I do expect that we experience much greater diversity in all dimensions of learner difference here than in some other places; but, I also expect there are places where the diversity is even greater. This is a factor of British Higher education policy over the past 15 years or so. The great benefits of widening participation are matched with new challenges for teachers.

The VLE introduction session took place in a brand new pooled computer room. The room was locked when I arrived 15 minutes early to get set up. There was no projector. It appeared as if the computers had never been turned on. All took 15 minutes to boot while building the registry, updating applications and so on. at least five computers would not run at all. At least five others would not launch applications from the desktop – though they did run from the “Start menu”. These are the things sent to try us. But again, the participants this year are a very tolerant group. They coped probably better than me!

I wonder, indeed, if this is the last time we need to run this session in this way? Each year I observe that the participants are more and more computer literate. At least half the problems, if not more, were due to the Brookes LAN and the pooled room: the computers not booting correctly and logging into the Brookes network caused more difficulty than interacting with the applications. Even people who had never used the VLE were able to find their way around and use the forums. Categorically, only the use of the Wiki was problematic, and some of those problems were only down to the fact that not only our group of 30 people were accessing. Greg observed that at the same time across the university over 500 people were engaged in similar  sessions. The load will be balanced by next week. Though the Wiki was a challenge for some to use, we probably picked the worst time and the worst place and the worst way to address the challenges.