Thursday, October 25, 2012

The week that wasn't

The most important element that all MOOCs have in common is their incredibly high drop-out rate.
So that's why I promised myself I would NOT drop out.
So last week I went trough the required readings on Sunday night, but pretty quickly I discovered that there were simply too many of them.
The theme of week two was: Net Pedagogies: New models for teaching and learning
However the University of Central Florida's Blended Learning Toolkit is certainly one of those sites that I will be visiting again and again.
Once again there are three prescribed learning activities:
  1. Map what you are hearing to your institutional context. What parts are relevant to your institution?
  2. What might be your role in moving your school to a new model?
  3. Write a dialog/argument you would make to sell the administration on the idea of moving to a new model
Assignment 1
In terms of the institutional context the most important lesson from this module lies in Cavenah's (2011) defensive definition of "Blended learning": "Blended courses provide much of the flexibility and convenience of an online course while retaining the benefits of the face-to-face classroom experience".

So as far as the Faculty of Informatics and Design is concerned this is really what has been happening, particularly in the work done in the Department of Architecture.  They are following two models.  Firstly they extend the studio to the students' homes by supporting them via Facebook, and secondly they take the studio into the field in their Design Build activities, and then replace the conventional classroom-based briefing and support, by communication on Facebook.
In Public Relations the traditional "current awareness" lecturing has been replaced by a Twitter feed, and in Industrial Design students make videos to replace essays on field trips.


Wayne Coghlan sent me this excellent link to "Colour Theory for Everyone". Now here's the thing.  With such an EXCELLENT online resource WHY are we still teaching it the old way?  All we need to do is to develop an excercise for students to develop their own artefacts based on what they learnt on the site, and that's it.
The trick with blended learning is to do it in such a way as to maximise the LEARNING of the students by giving them learning tasks (real learning tasks, as opposed to "busy work") while minimising the work of the instructor by making such tasks "self-assessing".  By self assessing I mean that once the task has been completed, we will know that the student has achieved the learning outcome, because without that outcome having been acheived the student would not have been able to do the task.

Assignment 2
My role in moving the Faculty to a new model will lie in putting more pressure on innovative teaching. I was lucky in that Jolanda and Hermie decided to do their doctoral studies under my supervision, and so they are using the new pedagogies.  The problem lies in the fact that most of us teach the way we were taught. And not everyone was lucky enough to be taught by Renate Lippert at Masters' level.  So althouth many of the Faculty staff really want to change their pedagogy, and recognise the need to, they lack the knowhow and first-hand experience of how to do it.
So with our current "tablet project" I am planning to do exactly that - let them learn by experience.
We had our first tablet day a few Saturdays ago. Everyone brought their tablets along. But just about nobody could use them. Many had not learnt the interface. Nobody had set it up to work on the University Internet, and the University Firewall had not been opened to Android Applications. So it was pretty hectic.  But we learnt BY EXPERIENCE - that it may well be necessary to spend one session with students setting up their technology, and then another session teaching them how to use the technology something that we may well have omitted had we jumped straight into teaching with the new technology.
At the same time during "software week" a few weeks ago it was again brought to my attention that we spend an inordinate amount of time in a lab teaching students which buttons to press to achieve what, when we actually know that firstly good programmers teach themselves, and secondly there are Youtube videos and Queston and Answer blogs that teach the stuff much better than we can.

So next year I will be spending quite a bit of time with curriculum officers and staff generally interrogating the way we teach.  My secretary has already begun to set up meetings.

Assignment 3
This is the easy one. The administration has already bought into the idea. It is the academic staff who are lagging behind.  Nevertheless it may be a good idea to persuade administration to look at incentivising the move to new technologies and new pedagogies because, at least in the initial stages, they simply are more time consuming.  Consider the simple task of grading assignments.  If they are handed in on paper, you open them and grade them.  HOWEVER, if they are submitted through the elearning portal, a few things need to be done.  You have to log into the portal.  That means you have to find your password and hope that it has not been changed by the automated password expiry system.  Then if you are lucky and you get logged in, then you have to download each assignment into a directory.  This could take about 30 seconds per assignment.  Then you have to open each assignment and grade it using the "insert comment" feature.  Again this opening, inserting comments and saving could take a few seconds.  So, if you are teaching one or two, or even 10 students it doesn't really matter. But now when your class gets to 60, and you spend one minute downloading, opening, saving and uploading each assignment, then you spend 60 minutes doing busy work - work that has to be done by you, but that does not add any value.  So, that's an hour down the drain that you could have spent on getting your research output done, but it is an hour that was hidden inside of each of the assignments that had to be downloaded, opened, commented, saved and uploaded.
Now, even worse. If it were done on paper I could take it home and grade it while sitting on the bed.  If I don't have a laptop and a fast Internet connection at home, I have to do this at the office.
If administrtation does not see that the type of work has changed, and if admin does not compensate staff for their extra time, and for their extra bandwidth, and even for their extra equipment, then we have far to go.

Of course, the secondary objective (or maybe the primary objective) of my participation in this MOOC is to learn about them. So I have to report now on my learning so far.

What I am learning about MOOCs

The most important lesson that I have learnt from this Mooc is the same lesson that I keep on learning about online learning. It is about a mistake that I keep on making, and it is about a mistake that I keep warning my own stuents against.
The problem with learning on the Internet generally, has become one of too MUCH information, rather than too little information.
So what is making this particular course hard for me, is to decide which piece to distill for myself.
I realize that, as a constructivist and a post-modernist, I tend to do exactly what the designer of this mooc has done.  Give the learners as much information as you can, and then suggest to them that they contextualise it to their circumstances.  The advantage of that is that every learner therefore tailor makes his or her own learning.  The problem, of course, lies in deciding what is important, and in structuring it.  And maybe that is the job of the instructional designer. To help the learner navigate this world with too much information.
The analogy here would be for an instuctor to explain to a student of keyboard instruments that the note hanging from the bottom of the five staves is called D and that it corresponds with the piano key directly above the keyhole. The white key between the two black keys (as oppose to the set of three black keys on either side of the pair)  That piano key is called D. It is easy to remember because it is the D key, D for Donkey with two black ears.
Now, once you know the D key, as you go op one position, either onto the line or between the next, so you move one key up. And if you get to a "hash tag" in front of the key, you play the next black note instead.  And that's how easy it is. Now you can play anything on the piano that you like.
And that's why it is hard to learn to play the piano on your own.
And that is why it is hard to stay focused on a resource-based learning course.

1 comment:

Anja said...

Thanks for the link to the colour theory website! I paint wargame figures so stuff like this is always useful. You might also appreciate this series of articles:

Anja (person with camera at UP library)