MEd Academic Practice – TELT Pre-reading 1

The MED in Academic Practice continues with a different module, this time the Technology Enhanced Learning and Teaching (TELT) module run by Mark Hetherington from CELT at BCU. This, on the back of the Curriculum Design module, is definitely keeping me busy at the moment. My brain has become a non-stop thinking machine. So many strands of thought where I wish there were five versions of me to do all the research that I want to (and one to just sleep as I just don’t seem to sleep right now)!

The pre-reading (or pre-watching) for the first session began with the short lecture by Mark on ‘A Journey Towards Flexible Learning starts with a typical lecture theatre. Has anything really changed in terms of education and teaching? Has it changed since Victorian times or even Roman times? We all know that a good lecture can enthuse, motivate and can even inspire our students to greater things. The lecture can provide students with a structure, a discipline and a social experience such as the meetings before and after lectures. Does any learning happen in the lecture theatre such as Bligh (1971) and Gibbs (1980s). Times have moved on and students now live in a complicated world with commitments…it makes it difficult to get into class…can they get in at the right time? Most of our students have grown up in a connected world and happy to download lectures from professors than come into campus. Students find the passive process of sitting in a lecture quite alien, irrelevant to the world they are living in now.

A journey towards flexible learning TELT

From this, Mark recommended watching ‘A Vision of Students Today’ by Michael Wesch…a short video summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. Created by Michael Wesch, it was a collaborative film made with 200 students from Kansas State University.

The short video begins with serious piano tones showing the quotation below then panning to an image of hand scrawled words on the lecture room white-painted brick wall…these words lead to questions and answers. Very honest answers from the students.

A vision of students today Michael Wesch

If these walls could talk…what would they say? If the students learn what they do…what are they learning sitting here? The information is up here (on the blackboard)…follow. Of course, walls and desk cannot talk but students can. So what is it like being a student today? 200 students made 367 edits to the document…here are some of their responses:

  • 18% of teachers know my name
  • I complete 49% of the readings assigned to me, only 26% are relevant to my life
  • I will read 8 books, 2300 webpages and 1281 Facebook profiles
  • I will write 42 pages for class and over 500 emails
  • I spend 3 and a half hours online
  • I spend 2 hours a day only
  • I am a multi-tasker (I have to be)
  • When I graduate, I will have a job that probably doesn’t exist today
  • I did not create the problems, but they are my problems
  • I Facebook through my classes.

“Can technology save us? Writing on a chalkboard…what is missing?”

A vision of students today Michael Wesch 2

This film immediate made me think about the value, use and purpose of my blog and how it feeds into my professional and personal development. How can online and social medias be assessed more as a marker for reflective progression and development on both a personal and professional level and as part of learning and teaching? Are these platforms appropriate for professional development? How can we talk more and talk often with our students to get this insight, as with the Kansas students, as to how they feel, learn, experience and engage with their learning journey?

Pre-readings for the first session included:

‘Flexible education’ (flexible learning and flexible teaching) within Australian Higher education…a contested term as it has a multiplicity of meanings. How can ‘flexible learning’ be used in teaching models informed by interdisciplinary contexts? Synonymous with e-learning, open learning, recourse-based learning, distance learning and self-directed learning. No universally accepted definition nor an agreement on how flexibility as an institutional objective should be implemented in relation to the student-teacher relationship. Cites the use of a “matching process”…a process of negotiation between student and teacher to bridge the gap between student expectations of flexibility within the limits of the pedagogical context and resources. Seen as a “bottom-up” initiative…”teaching-learning” rather than “managerialist discourse”…in this respect it becomes tailor-made to the student’s individual needs.

The article aimed to address both the traditional modes of Higher Education delivery in contrast to modern student demands – ‘being able to learn when they want, how they want, and what they want’. There are five basic categories of flexibility – time, content, access/entry requirements, instructional approach and delivery.

“Rather than making assumptions as to what students like – and are like – universities and their staff must look to evidence to inform both policy and practice.”

Moving from fixed to flexible is difficult…

“The transition between offering a well-designed and well-supported course, and offering more of a ‘cafeteria’ of options will require conceptual changes not only for course providers but also for the broader society.” – Collis et al (1997)

Sudden move to web-based learning alienated less technically competent students. First year students don’t cope with flexible learning provision. Online students rate the flexible pacing, time of study and management of conflicts between study and other commitments as more important, and social interaction as less important’. Online learning should augment rather than replace, experiential face-to-face learning (Jones and Richardson 2002)…advocating a more holistic approach that uses multiple strategies and take into account the changing student generation. Psychological implications of new media may require a new way of understanding ‘how tools and thoughts’ contribute equivalently to educational and practical outcomes’.

Flexible learning exists between the fixed, content determined, instructional traditional courses and the just-in-time, work-place based, problem-induced, decision driven, life-long learner creating learning – at a point which matches student expectation. In this spectrum there are two key types of flexibility – ‘Planning Flexibility’ (same pedagogy of learning and teaching programme) and ‘Interpersonal Flexibility’ (student-centred relating to the individual needs of the student), where a change to the latter is more difficult. [Lack of international focus in the case study and article, largely looking at the learning of home students (98.7%) and of part-time students. Furthermore, it didn’t map the backgrounds of the students and their previous experience(s) of flexible learning. Would this alter their definition(s) and understanding(s) of ‘flexible learning’?]

They went on to speak of the awareness and understanding of what flexible education is…is it seen as a core educational goal? By half the students yes, and all the lecturers yes as part of the study. How important to you is it that your education is flexible? How flexible should your education be? Clear response from students that flexible learning was important for three reasons – educational, personal and economical – and should allow for them to learn how, when and what they wanted. They went on to suggest three components of online delivery ‘wholly online’ or part of a blended approach:

  1. Whether the activity served as a replacement for or an enhancement to conventional face-to-face instruction
  2. The type of learning experience (pedagogical approach)
  3. Whether communication was primarily synchronous or asynchronous

Information are to be starting points not prescriptive templates to traverse the complexities of negotiating flexibility. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. A flexible learning ‘matching’ tool enables students and academics to articulate their understandings and preferences, and to bridge the gap between student expectations of flexibility and their teacher’s willingness and ability to provide that flexibility. How do we negotiate this flexibility in an increasingly digital world? There are a number of implications for flexible learning:

  1. For studio modules – only in content students demanded less flexibility than teachers offered, whereas for lecture modules students in all cases demanded greater flexibility than teachers. In creative subjects, therefore, learning can be more flexible than it is at present – multiple mediums of knowledge delivery that allowed student flexibility in when and where they could learn
  2. Multiple mediums of delivery (types of learning material) – more important for theory-lecture-based modules than design-studio-based modules (as individualised, experiential and face-to-face)
  3. For time, content and access/entry requirements – no flexibility required
  4. Paradox of choice – learners decrease in confidence when an increase in options, where for creative subjects there is uncertainty in the learning outcome with infinite solutions.

Meaning and value of flexible education in local discipline contexts – not without limitations. It can be said that a new group of students would shape a new group of preferences. Flexible learning in an increasingly digital world.

Increased availability and access to new technologies has focussed attention on technology-enhanced learning (TEL) and the possibilities now open to educators. New technologies have the potential to reshape all scholarly areas (Weller 2011)…radical change in the application of these new technologies such as Massive Online Open Course (MOOCs). There is a disconnect between technologies, research, design and practice (Wang and Hannafin (2005)). ‘The field is beginning to recognise that teachers need to help each other to discover how best to organise the mix of learning technologies in support of learning’ (Beetham and Sharpe (2013)). Five conditions for successfully implementing, embedding and up-scaling innovation:

  1. Effective, multi-level leadership and management
  2. Climate of readiness for change
  3. Availability of resources
  4. Comprehensive systems in institutions and funding bodies
  5. Funding design that demands, encourages and supports risk-taking, change and dissemination

Definition of TEL – technology as a means of supporting new types of learning, experiences as well as enhancing existing learning contexts…interactive and cooperative digital media have an inherent educational value as a new means of intellectual expression and creativity (Laurillard (2009: 289). The route to innovation requires:

  • Understanding of the professional contexts that will influence a curriculum and assessment practices that need technology enhancement
  • Congruence between innovation and teacher values
  • Teachers having time to reflect on their learning and teaching philosophy
  • Sense of ownership in the development of TEL as part of their learning environments
  • TEL research must be conducted to reflect the interdependence between researchers and users
  • Education leaders need more support for radical change
  • Teachers more closely engaged in the design of teaching that uses technology and collaboration with peers

Ten best practice outcomes:

  1. A focus on learning design allows academics to model and share good practice in learning and teaching
  2. Authentic learning provides a means of engaging students through all aspects of curricula, subjects, activities and assessment
  3. Successful academic development in projects focuses on engaging academic over sustained periods of time through action learning cycles and the provision of leadership development opportunities
  4. Engaging teaching approaches are key to student learning
  5. Technology-enhanced assessment provides flexible approaches for academics to provide feedback to students
  6. Integrating TEL and teaching strategies across curriculum, subjects, activities and assessment resulted in major benefits to the discipline
  7. Knowledge and resource sharing are central to a vibrant community of practice
  8. Academics need sophisticated online teaching strategies to effectively teach in higher education environments
  9. Academics need knowledge of multi-literacies to teach effectively in contemporary technology-enhanced higher education
  10. Exemplar projects focused on multiple outcomes across curricula integration, sustainable initiatives, academic development and community engagement

The potential of computer mediated communication (CMC) as a means of enabling interactions and sharing of ideas between learners, wherever and whenever the learner is situated, has been extolled for more than two decades now…a ‘weaving together of ideas and information from many people’s minds, regardless of when and from where they contribute.’ Kaye (1989, 3).

  1. Learning within an online discussion environment
  2. Effectively supporting and sustaining learner engagement in online environments
  3. Online behaviours of students in asynchronous discussion…engaging in asynchronous discussion potentially benefits learners by enabling them to take time to reflect on messages previously posted before making their own contribution

There is nothing new about learning…what is known about traditional modes of learning will transfer to learning in online environments (Mayes and de Freitas (2007), and more recently Laurillard (2009)). The potential benefits of learning through online discussion are well documented but not always evidenced in practice…need to know more about how learners actually spend their time online. Some learners do not have the skills required to work in collaborative social constructivist environments (Murphy et al. (2005), Sharpe et al. (2006) and Ellis et a. (2007)). Online discussion is neither like oral discussion nor individual writing, sometimes like formal published text and at other times to be like informal chat (Erickson 1999), engaging in writing as a process of learning…the process of articulation or externalising thinking either by writing or by talking helps deepen thinking. Group interactions, which are as a result of paying attention to others’ contributions, create opportunities for collective, shared thinking in which the individual thinking of a learner may be shaped by engaging with the thinking of others (Mercer 2000). The potential benefits of learning through online discussion are well documented but not well evidenced in practice. Further consideration needs to be given to the nature of online discussion in that it is neither like oral discussion nor individual writing. Online discussion to be sometimes like formal published text and at other times like informal chat (Erickson (1999))…it creates opportunities for enhancing learning by engaging in writing as a process. This act of composing helps to shape and develop understanding whilst writing, if the writing is consciously reviewed whilst composing (Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987)). In asynchronous discussion, there is an opportunity to use writing to articulate thoughts and externalise thinking by writing or talking. Interactions, paying attention to each others’ contributions, create opportunities for collective, shared thinking in which the individual thinking of the learner may be shaped by engaging with the thinking of others. 

The paper referenced a study of how third year undergraduate learners engage online with a History of Art course in Scotland where 20% of the course was through an online discussion component in the form of a virtual seminar. During this online component, contact time was suspended for 2 weeks where learners engaged in discussion about a given virtual seminar topic for which they had to write a 2000-word essay prior to the start of the virtual seminar. The essay had to be uploaded in the form of a webpage to make it publicly available to others in the group. Learners were explicitly told to engage in the online discussion as an interview format by asking a minimum of three questions about their peers’ essays and responding within 72 hours. This was an asynchronous online discussion.

Themes within students’ comments in relation to the need to articulate clearly for others; engaging with the ideas of others; temporal aspects of using the time delay to research and prepare responses; impact of assessment. Students felt they were more likely to respond and get involved because”you don’t have to turn up anywhere really, I mean you can just sit in bed and do it…if you’ve got something else to do you can go and do it and it’s learning in your time.” “Also, people want to get the best marks they can and I think that probably shapes how people do things.” The interaction of learners were not necessarily matched with the learners’ perception of how they engaged with each other. Need to ensure that everyone is actively involved…highlight that lurkers are engaged in learning through the reading of others contributions. Other people’s comments were seen to broaden thinking in that area giving a more critical approach to examining’s someone else’s work, helping to understand a topic more. Also giving time to reflect, time to read, time to shape and develop answers and articulate thoughts.

There is a need for learners to understand more about the processes involved in learning through online discussion so that they can maximise the opportunities presented…these opportunities are not, however, always acted on by learners. The act of writing can help develop understanding of the subject itself (Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987), Mercer (2000)). Articulation is at the heart of making things known to others (overt collective informed thinking)…articulation may be unconnected to others. To move from individual thinking to collective, shared thinking requires the individual learners to read, reflect and make connections which are then articulated in messages posted. The overt articulation of thinking creates possibilities for individual thinking to develop new, collective, shared thinking. (Bain 2011: 38). Learners interactions can be influenced by the non-participating presence of the tutor or researcher.

“Tutors need to be explicit about the rationale for including online discussion as part of the learning experiences, not just in terms of noting experiences of frequency of posting or desired response times, but in terms of what is meant by discussion and how discussion is expected to develop as the learning activity progresses (Bain 2011: 40)”

In addition to these sources, I came across the TED talk ‘Build a School in the Cloud’ by Sugata Mitra. He questions what is going to be the future of learning – Help me design the School in the Cloud, a learning lab in India, where children can explore and learn from each other using resources and mentoring from the cloud. He presents ‘Self Organized Learning Environments’.

He had a plan but first had to set the stage with a story. Where does the kind of learning we see in schools come from? It came from about 300 years ago and it came from the last and the biggest empires on the planet…the British Empire. Imagine trying to run the show, the planet without computers, without telephones, with data hand written on pieces of paper and travelling on ships. The Victorians did it…they create a global computer made up of people…still with us today, the bureaucratic administrative machine. To keep it running you need lots and lots of people…they made another machine to produce those people, the schools. They must be identical to each other. They must know three things:

  1. Must have good handwriting
  2. Must be able to read
  3. Must be able to do maths in their head (addition, multiplication, division and subtraction in their head)

Build a School in the Cloud Sugata Mitra TED talk 1

They must be so identical you could pick them up from New Zealand and ship them to Canada and they would be functional. The Victorians were great engineers and built a system that is so robust it is still with us today…continuously producing identical people for a machine that no longer exists. The empire has gone so what are we doing with this design and what are we going to do next.

“Schools as we know them are obsolete.”

What kind of jobs do we have today…the clerks are the computers, you have people who guide those computers to do those jobs. We don’t even know what the jobs of the future will look like. How is present day schooling going to prepare them for that world? 

He made a hole in the boundary wall next to his office and put a computer in there for the children to use…pretending not to know how to use it. About 8 hours later, he found the children browsing and teaching each other how to browse. His colleague suggested that perhaps a student passed by and showed the children how to use the mouse. So he did the experiment elsewhere in a remote village, returning after a couple of months finding children playing games on it asking for a faster processor and a better mouse. How do you know all this? You gave us a machine that is only in English so we had to learn English in order to use it. “Teach ourselves”.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 21.25.18

In 9 months, a group of children left alone with a computer in any language will reach the same standard as an office secretary in the West. I was curious to know what else they would do if they could do this much? What about pronunciation to improve their job prospects?  How far does it go? When does it stop? These children were doing things a decade ahead of their time. Use the method of the Grandmother – stand behind them and say, wow, how did you do that? This encouraged scores and success to rise.

Build a School in the Cloud Sugata Mitra TED talk 3

What are jobs going to be like? We know what they’re like today. What learning is going to be like? We know what they’re like today. Mobile phones in the one hand…reluctantly picking up books with the other hand. What could it be tomorrow? Could it be that we don’t need to go to school at all? Could it be at the point when they need to know something they can find out in two minutes? Could it be that we are heading towards when knowing is obsolete? It took nature 100 million years for the apes to learn how to walk and become homo sapiens, and it took us only 10,000 to make knowing obsolete. Encouragement is the key. It is simply saying wow and saluting learning.

There is evidence from neuroscience that when the reptilian part of the brain is threatened, it shuts down everything else, the parts which learn…punishments and examinations are seen as threats. We talk our children, shut their brains down and then ask them to perform. Why did this happen? Because it was needed…you needed survive under threat. What happens to creativity in our age today? We need to shift that balance back from threat to pleasure.

In the UK, he looked for British grandmothers with broadband and a web camera…he got 200 in the first 2 weeks now called ‘The Granny Cloud’. Learning as the product of educational self-organisation…if you allow the educational process to self-organise, then learning emerges. It is not about making learning happen, it is about letting it happen. To watch learning happen…

SOLE – Self-organised learning environment = broadband + collaboration + encouragement and admiration. We need a curriculum of big questions. We’ve lost sight of wondrous questions.

Build a School in the Cloud Sugata Mitra TED talk 4 SOLE self-organised learning environment

When did the world begin? How will it end? What happens to the air we breathe? The teacher only raises the question and admires the answers. My wish is that we design the future of learning…we don’t want to be spare parts for the great human computer. We need to design a future for learning. My wish is to help design a future of learning by supporting children all over the world to tap into their wonder and their ability to work together. Help me build this school. It will be called the School in the Cloud. It will be a school where children go on these intellectual adventures driven by the big questions which their mediators put in. The way I want to do this is to build a facility where I can study this. It’s a facility which is practically unmanned. There’s only one granny who manages health and safety. The rest of it’s from the cloud. The lights are turned on and off by the cloud, etc., etc., everything’s done from the cloud. But I want you for another purpose. You can do Self-Organized Learning Environments at home, in the school, outside of school, in clubs. It’s very easy to do. There’s a great document produced by TED which tells you how to do it. If you would please, please do it across all five continents and send me the data, then I’ll put it all together, move it into the School of Clouds, and create the future of learning. That’s my wish.

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