John Seely Brown
Archive for March, 2008
I’ve been working quite abit this weekend on my Spanish course. I am getting behind and need to put some effort into it. Had fun using a set of flashcards associated with the course and using these as a basis to create a vocab mindmap using the Freemind mind mapping software. How sad am I? Also was sent a great link to an online dictionary. via a tweet. At the same time I have just asked the students on our H809 course how they are finding things so far. It’s really interesting to reflect on the learner/teacher thing. The students who have responded so far have been positive overall about the course, but are finding it tough going. They have also been discussing the balance of activities on the course and in particular the role of the discussion forums vs. their blogs. Opinions as you might expect are mixed. Some students like the reflective nature of blogs, others don’t and prefer the more targeted discussions which are possible in the forums. We wanted the students to get a feel for the technologies so that they could then make up their own minds on the different affordances of the technologies and their own personal preferences. Reading their discussions on this in the forums and their blogs they sure seem to be doing that! In terms of my own learning - how’s it going so far? Nerve-wrecking in short. Being a student again is such an emotional thing! I’ve been close to dropping out, even reduced to tears, and in contrast felt great when I’ve got a good mark in an assignment or when I feel I am making progress. So what do I think are the different aspects of learning and their impact on me? I think there are four main things, listed below - along with my reflections on my own experience with these:
- The content and activities - I have to say the materials for the course are superb, beautifully constructed and pedagogically excellent. There are a nice blend of different types of activities - reading, writing, listening, speaking. The pace is good, the exercises well structured and of about the right length, the quality of the audio files is great.
- Structure - one of the reasons I wanted to do the course was to be given some structure, to be forced to do something within a timeframe. The course is doing that for me - my study calendar drives me, the periodic assignments force me to work at a certain pace. I have been wanting to learn Spanish for years and have numerous audio cassettes but have never got very far.
- Accreditation - not really important for me, I don’t need this professionally, but relates to point 2 - ie forcing me to work towards a goal within a given timeframe.
- Support - on the plus side the feedback I’ve received on my assignments has been excellent - detailed and helpful. Now the negative. One of the other reasons I joined the course was to be part of an online community with other students. I can see that that’s happening in our H809 course - the students are supporting each other and the tutors provide excellent overall support and guidance. On my Spanish course communication is via an audio conference, Lyceum, once a fortnight, and that’s the problem - I can’t access it, which means I have no communication what so ever with the other students, and no chance to practice my speaking with others. Pretty major problem for a language course!! I am not technically stupid and use alot of other audio and video conferencing systems as part of my job - I used Eluminate on Friday in a video call with Canada. But despite many, many, many hours of trying and hours on the phone to the help desk, I still can’t get in. I’ve been amazed at how emotional I’ve been about the whole thing - really really upset and really really angry. It’s sobering to be reminded how tough being a student is - I think we forget that sometimes as teachers.
I’m involved, to a small extent, in a really exciting project at the OU at the moment - currently called “Social:Learn”. Martin Weller gives a nice overview of it, Tony Hirst has also blogged about it. Martin sums it up in his post as follows:
It is born of the recognition that the OU (and higher education in general) needs to find ways of embracing the whole web 2.0, social networking world, and that the only way to understand this stuff is to do it
Martin wants me to wear the “pedagogy hat” (whatever that is!) in the project. So in January we held a two-day workshop with people involved in the project, as well as some of our external consultants (Stowe Boyd, Stewart Sim, and Hardin Tibbs) and some of the key e-learner researchers at the OU. The aim was to tackle the P-question: “What pedagogy underpins Social:Learn?”. We had an incredibly stimulating two days and the outcomes were a set of “principles” which we believe encapsulates what Social:Learn is about. When Martin and I were refining these after the workshop, it occurred to me that it would be useful to map them against key aspects of pedagogy and then I remembered some earlier work which might be useful to link this to. Martin Dyke and I came up with a simple e-learning framework (Dyke et al., 2007) which encapsulates, we felt the key essence of good pedagogy.
There have been attempts to provide a more holistic approach to identify key elements of learning, such as a model proposed by Dyke (2001) which includes elements of ‘learning with others’, ‘reflection’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘practice’. Conole et al. provide a map of learning theories against three axes: individual – social; reflection – non-reflection; information – experience (Conole et al., 2004). We argue here that e-learning developments could be improved if they were orientated around three core elements of learning: through thinking and reflection; from experience and activity; and through conversation and interaction.
These seemed pretty good with respect to Social:Learn too, but “Evidence and demonstration” is also important - so the diagram shows a revised version. Below is a table setting out the principles we derived in the workshop against these aspects of pedagogy. We plan to use this as a checklist against the apps we develop in Social:Learn. It will be really interesting to see how many of them we can embed in the system. Hopefully they will provide a useful checklist to guide our activities.
Dyke, M., Conole, G., Ravenscroft, A. and de Freitas, S. (2007), ‘Learning theories and their application to e-learning’, in G. Conole and M. Oliver (ed), Contemporary perspectives in e-learning research: themes, methods and impact on practice’, part of the Open and Distance Learning Series, F. Lockwood, (ed), RoutledgeFalmer.
Really interesting approach being adopted by Michael Wesch for his Digital Ethnography course, where he and his students/fellow researchers have created a shared online collaborative space and set of tools. It sounds great and I’ll be interested to hear how effective it is and what the participants reflections on it are. I think understanding the technologies through the technologies themselves is crucial - you don’t “get” this web 2.o stuff just by reading it - you have to be immersed in it to understand how it can or might change the way you do things. In a much more humble way we are trying to do elements of this in our H809 course which is about research with and through technologies. The students are using forums, blogs and wikis and it’s fascinating to start to see them reflect on their experiences so far now that they are a third of the way through the course. They have just started a great discussion on this in the forums sharing their views on using these tools.
The JISC online conferences are always excellent and very lively! Two books associated with last year’s conference are now available - on institutional change and supporting lifelong learning. I was involved in the second one, talking about some of the findings from our JISC LXP project. The e-books are a nice output from the conferences, I’d certainly recommended signing up for this year’s conferences as the events are very well organised and run and provide an excellent means of getting a summary of a range of current e-learning research and development activities. But be warned if you do sign up be prepared to set aside some dedicated time to participate - the pace in the forums is fast and furious!!! At last year’s conference Helen Beetham and I were at an event on a day we were supposed to be involved in the conference and so kept running next door to use the one networked PC to contribute to the forums! All good fun though!
The second JISC pedagogical planner tool that we looked at in the JISC workshop on Tuesday was Phoebe, discount which has been developed by Oxford University. Phoebe adopts a very different approach to the London Pedagogical Planner. When you log in you are presented with four options of things to do: Create or modify your learning designs, cialis View shared learning designs, capsule Browse Phoebe’s teaching and technology guidance or Manage your design template.
It consists of a rich set of resources on different aspects of the design process. This help system is context specific, so that when users are creating a learning design they can have a split screen. The right-hand side consists of various fields to complete as they start to create a learning design, whilst the left-hand side has context-specific help related to each of the fields. So the picture here shows the help in the system about “Learning Outcomes”. There are a number of existing templates for designs which users can start with, but its also possible for users to customise their own template with fields which are specific for their own context. You can also view and adapt designs that others have created and agreed to make publicly available. The tool includes a very rich set of information on different aspects of design including:
- Contextual information
- Curriculum aspects
- The students
- The Learning Activity Sequence
- Dealing with Contingencies
- Reflections on the learning session
The design templates are a helpful way of starting a design and provide a useful form of structuring/guidance, here’s a link to an example of a template. The shared design section is laid out in a simple format with a title for each design along with a summary about it, then there are three options – to get more information about the design, view it or clone it. Phoebe is simple to use and the wealth of information on different aspects of the design process is particularly valuable.