Once again, I am having to catch-up on ocTEL on a Saturday. I’m sure there’ll be some point soon when I can get involved sooner/more frequently throughout the week but this week was certainly not going to be it (the week from hell springs to mind!) So- here are some reflections and notes on some (not all) of this week’s activities.

The Webinar

The Head of e-Learning from the University of Bath introduced herself (Kyriaki Anagnostopoulou, University of Bath) was first.

She displayed a Venn diagram that indicates how technology brings together the three parts of an institution: academic, administrative and technical. It can bridge the gap but it’s also where the conflicts originate.

She asserted that e-learning is all about embedding and learning should lead decisions made- and not the technology. She displayed this triangle to support her point:

(sourced from: http://labspace.open.ac.uk/mod/resource/view.php?id=426992)

Learning design is about considering the learners; the environment around them and the tools that they use. There are a number of frameworks that can be used.

She displayed this image as one learning design framework example:

(sourced from: http://murderdoll-nm3204.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/week-4-learning-design-authoring-and.html)

In this model, technology would be seen as a resource.

Using this model, teachers devise a task, offer resources to accompany the task and ensure the right kind of support is put into place. Elements of choice are great practice and technology being introduced as a learning resource enables learners to develop their employability skills. The example she gave was of students being given the opportunity of rewriting a Wikipedia page relating to the subject being studied. The resources weren’t being created by students solely for assessment purposes- it was a ‘real-life’ task and this generated higher quality work and better peer assessment as the work was made public.

The more recent demand to provide an individualised learning experience is changing the landscape of the use of technology in learning.

Each system that is ‘rolled-out’ needs to allow for customisation according to the individual preferences of learners.

She mentioned ‘developing digital literacies’ and on searching this, I came across more information about the project here: http://www.bath.ac.uk/learningandteaching/courses-development/current-projects/pride-project.html

When we choose technology, it needs to be unique and should add to the learning experience (rather than a ‘nice to add’ bolt-on).

James Little from the University of Leeds was up next.

One thing that stood out from what he said was how we make sense of the overwhelming choice that we have in terms of technology.

James pointed out a number of the problems that arise when dealing with learning technologies:

  • Change isn’t something we can prepare for- it’s happening right now!
  • Technology shouldn’t frustrate or add a barrier.
  • Staff often feel like there’s not enough time to keep up.
  • There’s an expectations gap between one sector of education and the next.

There are three areas of concern when making a learning technologies decision:

Pedagogical- Who? Why? and What? are three questions that can help to guide decisions (or raise problems to the surface).

Self-awareness- Applies equally to staff and students- What skills do I have? What do I need? How can this transition be achieved?

Digital Skills- Is everyone given fair access? How can we ensure participants (staff and students) aren’t excluded?

Some models were introduced but I couldn’t see the use of them personally. I did like the three E’s approach though. It helps to define one possible approach that can be taken to decisions made around learning technologies.

Enhance: Adopting technology in simple and effective ways to actively support students and increase their activity and self-responsibility.

Extend: Further use of technology that facilitates key aspects of student’s individual and collaborative learning and assessment through increasing their choice and control.

Empower: Developed use of technology that requires higher order individual and collaborative learning that reflect how knowledge is created and used in professional environments.

(Taken from: http://staff.napier.ac.uk/services/vice-principal-academic/academic/TEL/TechBenchmark/Pages/3E.aspx)

A learning technologist within an institution was described as a bridge between the teachers and the way they do things now towards the new developments and changes to choose from. They are essential to an institution as without that bridge, there’ll be an insurmountable gap.

Creating a community of practice is recommended as it enables sharing. Sharing is vital as the continuing conversation about the best way to do things can be had.

I felt this webinar gave an over-arching view of technology’s place in learning but it didn’t really help me to define how the difficult decisions about technology can be made.

Some points from the questions afterwards:

If you’re developing decisions with SMT (and trying to convince them that change needs to happen) then you need to give them an evidence base to work from; explore the impact that can be had from the use of technology.

Staff engagement generally centres around a lack of time time rather than a lack of willingness to engage. Ensuring the the discussion is had around the education side of things rather than ‘we’re going to use this tool’ is a far more effective approach in engaging staff.

Activity 1.1: My Practice

Dimensions that affect teaching and learning

The example that I’m going to explore is ‘essay writing’ as this is the main skill I develop with my students. Doing this in class would generally land in the directed and individual quadrant but when I’ve done things differently then it moves.

If it is structured together as a class or in small groups, perhaps pairs, then it moves into the directed and social quadrant.

If it’s a task without a set structure or rules then it becomes more autonomous; with students figuring out the best way of approaching the task.

If I want students to complete an essay from home but I want them to have support with the process then I had to look at how technology could be used to help that process. They can now use:

  • The Google+ community to ask for support- from me or their peers.
  • Our Joomag revision magazines for each unit- for advice on writing.
  • My YouTube channel- for videos of me talking through model essays
  • Google docs- for them to receive immediate comments and feedback on their work.

When faced with an essay to write from home- students are left alone… until technology is introduced.

Activity 1.3: Champions and critics of teaching machines

I loved watching this video on ‘Teaching Machines’.

The improvement offered to the student through this resource is that they will learn immediately whether they are right or wrong. This has a motivating effect and their work becomes more pleasurable as feedback is instant. Instant feedback is certainly something I need to reflect upon myself for the English classroom…

Another positive outcome of this resource is that the learner can control the pace of their learning and this is important to maintaining motivation and progress according to individual need.

What struck me most about this video is that whatever new fads emerge about learning, the key factors that affect learning in a positive way never truly change.

Explorer activity 1.5: Are you ready for online learning?

I decided to engage with each of the suggested questionnaires to see if I’m ready for online learning.

My results: Your Total Score is :49

You seem to be well-organized. Good organization and time management skills are very important for online learning, as you will have to work independently much of the time. You are prepared to pace yourself, figure out things on your own and communicate with people in writing. You generally seem to realize that taking an online course is more time consuming and requires more study discipline than a face-to-face class.

If you feel that there are some areas where you may still need improvement and would like to learn how to be even more effective in your learning, try resources like ITS HelpDesk.

Overall, you will probably do fairly well in an online course, with a little extra effort on your part. Hopefully this survey has helped you assess whether or not you want to enroll in an online course. If you still have questions or concerns about online courses, please go talk with your adviser.

My results: You scored above 45!

I was then given a whole set of advice about how to engage best with an online course.

My results: Your score is 12

Sign me up! You are a great candidate for online learning.

My results: Your overall score is 203

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Some of these questionnaires were far more thorough than others- especially in the results and analysis of them. I preferred the first and last questionnaires in terms of how confident they made me feel that I was ready for the course that lay ahead.

As expected, there are similar questions asked in each: along the lines of being able to use a computer efficiently and independent working skills. What I struggle with, is that some of the questionnaires lead to some students being deemed categorically unsuitable, at least in their present state, for online learning. What I perhaps think is more the case is that online learning doesn’t yet meet the needs of all learners in the same way classroom learning does at present. It isn’t personalised enough and it doesn’t cater for those who have less well-developed independent working skills… or at least that’s what these questionnaires seem to suggest.

Some other links that I’ll need to explore at some point:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvw68sLlfF8

http://hotel-project.eu/content/learning-theories-map-richard-millwood

http://www.amazon.co.uk/E-learning-Theory-Practice-Caroline-Haythornthwaite/dp/1849204713

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