First Steps Again

FSLT15 is off to an easy start so far. It will be interesting to see how many attend the webinar on Monday. There are about 60 participants signed up and about 26 are taking the course for University Credit (10 credits CATS level 7, M-level). The course is validated and acceptable on 3 programmes: The OCSLD Associates Programme leading to Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy; The Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE) and the MA Education: Higher Education.

Participants are mostly from the UK, with people from South Africa, Spain, Ecuador, Portugal, Zambia, St Vincent, Ireland also joining. And there are a number who have not yet indicated, suggesting about 20% may be from outside the UK.

The course is feeling like a “traditional” part of what we do, now that it is in its fourth year. It is easy to forget what a step it has been to develop this programme. The big thing is that many of the people taking the course for credit are Brookes Staff who feel that the online option may be more effective for them, even though they are based in Oxford.

So as we work through the Week 0 oddities I trust we will be fully engaged by Monday

 

Open Learning Designs

I came late to the Teaching online open course #TOOC14 discussion on learning designs. But wanted to think about this both for tooc as well as courses I currently have a hand in designing.

There were frameworks presented. Personally I take a checklist approach evolved from a number of frameworks:

  • Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) Principles
  • Kolb’s (1984) cycle
  • Brookfield’s (1995) lenses
  • Activity theory (Engeström 2001, Vygotsky 1962)

Over the years I have distilled a set of terms from these and others, which work for me to capture something of good teaching practice. I presented these terms in #FSLT14: outcomes-led, experiential, activity-based, dialogic, participatory, community learning. I ask myself how what I am doing allows at least some outcomes to be intended in advance. Is it linked to any external benchmark reference? How does it draw on or explicitly use activity to create an experience for the participant? How is conversation enabled with co-participants or collaborators? Where do the tutors stand on the participant-observer axis? I would have them stand toward the participant side. For learning to be authentic and to engage learners, tutor engagement works. And, so does group-work. We may not build persistent communities around any one course but we will use support techniques that are based in community-building practices. Some of this will involve peer evaluation. Previous students are invited back as teaching assistants.

Now I am working on a book idea in a similar vein. The organising principles are emerging from a series of conversations with David Jaques.

  • Learning in groups, which picks up on themes of activity, community, identity, discipline, teamwork
  • Authentic learning, which picks up on learning from experience, professional work-based learning, problem-based learning, simulation
  • Technology and learning, which expands on spaces and places for learning, physical and digital
  • Criticality and reflection, which picks up on group and public evaluation, incident analysis, direct and indirect objects of learning, diversity, inclusivity, perspectives, models and theories that might explain or predict learning

References

  • Brookfield, Stephen D. 1995. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publlishers
  • Chickering, A., and Zelda Gamson. 1987. “The Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.” American Association for HE Bulletin, no. March 1987 (and frequently reprinted): 3–7.
  • Engeström, Yrjö. 2001. “Expansive Learning at Work: Toward an Activity Theoretical Reconceptualization.” Journal of Education and Work 14 (1): 133 –156.
  • Kolb, David. 1984. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
  • Vygotsky, Lev. 1962. Thinking and Speaking (first Published as Thought and Language). Edited by Eugenia Hanfmann and Gertrude Vakar. Lev Vygotsky Archive transcribed by Andy Blunden. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/words/index.htm

 

Reflecting on reflections

I have just spent a rewarding hour reading initial reflections on teaching by participants on First Steps into Teaching in Higher Eduction. The people on this course are, for the most part, new to teaching in higher education and are entering into the identity of a teaching academic in their many ways. There are many ways of being a teacher. It is not like there is one way that we can teach. But, I suppose there are some broad areas of practice, which might be considered widely useful. And – no surprises – reflection is one of these.

But it is hard. It is especially hard to take a critical perspective on yourself! So we put some structures in place. Brookfield’s lenses and Kolb’s cycle are the two opening moves made on this course. Patience and kindness come out of these writings as virtues for new teachers. I am tempted to add mindfulness and compassion, but that might be for a later stage! Patience and kindness have to be applied to one’s self as well as to students, of course.

History – ones own history – is crucial but sometimes the fact that we have done something for a long time can stand in the way of growth and development. How can we turn our history into critical learning? Self questioning is important. It is not always easy to ask why we did things in a certain way, but if we can’t answer that question, maybe we need to try again. Self-criticism of the negative sort can be unhelpful. Scaffolding helps, and that’s what frameworks like Brookfield and Kolb offer. FSLT is, itself a framework, breaking things up and arranging them propped in a way that they won’t easily fall down, even if we are unsure of our footing.

 

 

 

 

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.

Revenue management and the price of education

Might a hospitality industry revenue management model work for higher (or post compulsory) education? This is a question that Kate Varini has recently explored with me in a paper (in submission – link to come). We probably need to further examine the similarities and differences between post compulsory education and the hospitality industry. I suspect there is more overlap than many in HE would like to see, but I also expect that there are key differences which might challenge such an approach. In principle I am in favour or pricing models which subsidise some participants. Where the subsidy is generated, how it is generated, and whether the subsidisers need to receive a different level of service are questions to be addressed. For education there has been an important notion of civic or national good, which is (or was) subsidised through the tax system, with all participants receiving (nominally, anyway) the same service. What value incentives can be offered to the subsidisers in order to allow more or less equivalent service to the subsidised? At the moment we are testing a “freemium” model in our fslt open online course. Everyone can participate for free but only those who pay get tutor feedback and academic credit. Could revenue management concepts such as advanced purchase discounts or bulk purchase discounts or late-place price auctions work for academic credit? Last minute education .com? Groupon for learning?

Drop ins: MOOCs and the price of learning

As an undergraduate in the US in the early 1970s, it was not uncommon for there to be people in our classes “auditing” the course. (Auditing in the sense, “listening”, i.e. attending but not enrolled.) While auditing was supposed to be governed by regulations there were a range of practices from entirely informal dropping in, to what amounted to full participation in all but the exam. There were supposed to be fees payable for auditing but as far as I could tell actual practice was to go under the radar and simply ask the prof (lecturer) if she or he minded. Mostly they didn’t. This practice was so wide spread there was even a national network TV comedy drama about it: “Hank”; “He’ll get his degree/ His Phi Beta key/ And get ’em all for free!/ That’s Hank!”. Being an American comedy drama, Hank also ends up marrying the Dean’s daughter, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hank_(1965_TV_series) . The point is that a college degree was expensive, but access to the knowledge was free to those with the gumption to drop in. I audited Latin at the local state university before coming to Oxford to study historical and comparative linguistics. As far as I could tell the Classics Department was delighted to have someone interested come to classes.

MOOCs remind me of this practice of dropping in under the radar.

But times have changed a lot. Everyone teaching in higher education has a much less certain tenure, and that tenure depends to some extent on bums on seats in your class. If there are uncounted heads that doesn’t help your job security. But, on the other hand, the Internet makes learning so much more accessible.

MOOCs invert the ratios of enrolled participants to drop-ins. In FSLT12 this was the cause of some tension. Were the enrolled participants the “real” participants?

We will have to work this year to make sure that on the one hand, people who have paid for an accredited course feel that they have got their money’s worth, but equally on the other not to devalue the drop-in seekers after open knowledge.