Friday, December 5, 2008

1.5.2: More from the New Zealand scene

The 2007 WIP report from AUT (PDF) gives a useful snapshot of Internet use in New Zealand. Drawing on a sample of 1,430 New Zealanders (randomly selected from the adult population, with 'booster' samples from specific groups), the report found that:

  • 78% of the sample are Internet users. 16% are non-users, 6% 'ex-users'.
  • 15% of the sample accessed the Internet from work, school or public access (that is, not from home).
  • 66% of home users have broadband, 31% dial-up. A further 29% have wireless or mobile access (an unfortunate breakdown in that wireless connectivity might be home-bound).
  • 44% of Internet users believe themselves to be 'excellent' in ability; 30% 'very good', and 30% as 'not good'. Level of confidence is related to the respondents' income.
  • The Internet is rated as the most important source of information, above television, newspapers, radio, and other people. Of course, this conceals more than it reveals; syndicated information sources frequently run across these different media.
  • New Zealanders are divided in terms of how reliable online information is (see prior post on what this means for information literacy). The importance of the Internet for information decreases with age; about 90% of 16-19 year-olds view the Internet as an important source of information, adding more weight to calls for information literacy among the new adult learner population.
  • Significant for those pushing a 'Web 2.0' agenda on the grounds that it is what users demand: only 28% are actively involved in social networking, and only 10% keep a blog. While the report does state that "Some aspects of Internet behaviour such as content creation or social networking were much more prevalent among the under-30s", only about two-thirds check social networking sites on a monthly basis (21% report 'never') and less than 20% of users aged between 16 and 29 keep a blog (and, of course, 'keep' is an open-ended term in itself). Online games are accessed monthly by only about 30% of those aged 16-19, the highest user group of online games.
  • Connectivity and perception of the Internet's usefulness increase with respondents' income. 
The report contains some very useful extrapolations of connectivity based on various demographic information. In my view, e-learning practitioners need to be up to speed with this sort of information as it alerts us to opportunities and potential barriers to our practice. Findings like this help to keep practice well-grounded and realistic; too often we assume what the end-user has, and what their online behaviours are.

1.5.2: The context of connectivity

A recent World Internet Project report for 2009 has some disturbing news for New Zealand internet connectivity, but some encouraging news for online education. An overview in Stuff reports that:

  • While three quarters of New Zealanders are Internet users, only about 65% have broadband connections
  • About 80% of users check email at least once a day
  • New Zealand's broadband services rank 12th out of the 13 countries surveyed (beating only Columbia).

The press release and highlights from the report itself (PDF) reveal that New Zealanders are split between those who think that some online information is reliable (51%) to most information is reliable (49%). About 40% of online Kiwis buy online at least monthly. Of those Kiwis not online, 45% said it was because they were either not interested or the internet was not perceived as useful to them; 19% because they were confused by the technologies. Kiwis are the highest users of internet banking in the responding countries. Interesting, too, is that over 38% of Kiwi respondents over the age of 65 are online.

In response to the question, "For information in general, how important is the Internet to you as a source?" 33% of Kiwi respondents said 'very important', 38% 'important'. 17% were 'undecided', and 'not important' and 'not important at all' were 7% and 5% respectively.

  • "How frequently do you use the Internet to get information for school related work? (18 years and older)"
Several times a day: 20%
Daily: 31%
Weekly: 24%
Monthly: 17%
Less than monthly: 5%
Never: 3%
  • New Zealanders are not high online video watchers (65% of users 18+ report 'never').
  • "Are you currently using the Internet? (18+)":
18-24: 92%
25-34: 89%
35-44: 86%
45-54: 82%
55-64: 75%
65+: 39%

The New Zealand connection to the WIP is provided by AUT. While I was unable to find any information about sampling, the fact that the international research is coordinated among universities gives some assurance as to validity.

So what? Well, here's my analysis.
  • Applying the Internet to tertiary study is completely defensible. Issues of access are passé; even 'the last trapper in the north' is likely to have reasonable dial-up access. Those without Internet access are either extremely unlikely to be interested in tertiary study, or else are likely to be surprised as to how easy it is to use. Given that about half of those not online said it was because the Internet was not perceived as useful, and that Internet for higher education would provide a use, it seems that there is an exceptionally small number of New Zealanders for whom Internet access would be a barrier to participation in tertiary education. Age, it seems, is not a significant barrier to access.
  • We must not (still) assume broadband connectivity when applying technologies in education. While the last trapper in the north may well be connected, they are also likely to be frustrated by large downloads and applications requiring high traffic.
  • Adult tertiary students are actively using the Internet in their studies, however there are issues of infortmation literacy. That about half of online Kiwis believe that over half of the information accessible online is reliable is not a very useful statistic in some ways; sites vary in terms of the impression of reliability they offer. Still, steps must be taken to ensure that tertiary learners are able to discern the good from the bad (and the ugly).
It is vital that e-learning practitioners consider Internet access in their technology mix. The findings here indicate that there is little excuse for not making use of Internet technologies on the basis of access, and that it is still too soon to assume broadband connectivity for required learning experiences. While New Zealanders are remarkably e-literate, there are still issues of information literacy to contend with.

1.4.3: The transferability of 'e'xcellence

I received a copy of the Ako Aotearoa "Excellence" report today, which profiles the 2008 recipients of the Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards (PDF report available from the Web site).

What makes an excellent teacher? In the forewords and opening comments, terms such as "...committed, knowledgeable and enthusiastic...", "...enthusiasm... their passion and commitment to their subject, an ability to stimulate their students' thinking and interests... ever alert to the teachable moment and... a profound commitment to enhancing the achievement of their students", "It is about integrity, passion, resilience and continual reflection on the nature and scope of the teaching-learning process". Dr Peter Coolbear remarks that the awarded teachers have approached their calling in contrasting ways, and "were also engaged with their subject and anxious to share that engagement". Students talk of being empowered and inspired, and consistently comment on the good listening skills of their excellent teachers.

I loved this quote from Graeme Fraser:

"[They see their students] not as objects to be stuffed with information, but as creative learners who are exploring their horizons" (p.7).

Each of these principles and observations, in my view, is transferable to the online environment. I am particularly reminded of Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach, and his comments on good teaching:

“...good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher” (1998, p.10); “Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching – and in the process, from their students. Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life… [they] possess a capacity for connectedness” (p.11).

Most informative for e-learning practice are these quotes from the recipients themselves:

  • Dr Lisa Emerson, Prime Minister's award recipient:
"The e-learning strategies I design give students learning opportunities they couldn't achieve in any other way: more access to me as their teacher, the opportunity to be part of a community of learners, and custom-designed tools which allow them to develop mastery of specific skills through an individualised learning path."

  • Dr Hamish Anderson:
"Since 1999 I have explored the use of on-line student support including the delivery of formative assessment. The quizzes provide students with a flexible learning tool which they can attempt multiple times, on demand, at any time prior to the final examination. Every quiz contains a randomly selected question set covering the same learning outcomes and has the same overall difficulty level. Calculation questions covering both elementary and complex problems use randomly generated variables so students must recalculate a new answer for each quiz attempt. In total I have developed close to 1,500 questions and I add to these each year.

The value for students of the on-line quizzes and large questions database is the ability for students to complete them multiple times and receive instant feedback. I encourage students to use the quiz learning tool to target their learning by identifying which areas they are yet to master."

  • Adrian Woodhouse:
"I make use of on-line tools in my day-to-day teaching practice to create an environment of comfort and familiarity as well as provide an expanded access to resources. I have developed a blog site where students can view movies of dishes they will prepare during the course. The site also contains footage of past students training for and competing in cookery competitions (both local and national) and theme dinners held over previous years. While useful as a flexible learning tool, it also allows students to view practical content that is taught during the course prior to it being formally introduced. Recently I have taken this initiative one step further and converted our practical movie clips to a format that allows students to download them to their iPods."

What strikes me about these accounts is that none of them are complex or particularly innovative. Rather, they are useful and meet a particular and identifiable learning need. They are different yet effective strategies.

Want to be a good e-teacher? Then attend to the basics. Know your stuff. Love your task. Serve your students. Take (evidence-based) risks, and learn from mistakes. Take a long-term view of your success. Have the courage to succeed. And, don't expect technology to outshine you or do your job.

Friday, November 7, 2008

4.*: Want a PhD topic for e-learning?

I'm getting toward the first draft for what is proving a rather demanding E-Primer: "04: Online discourse". What is making it difficult is the incredibly rich literature. I have over 300 peer-reviewed articles (from the last ten years only) and a stack of 18 authoritative titles to search through. So far I have 51 pages of draft; I'm picking at least ten or so more before the initial editing and polishing takes place. I aim to (at least) halve that so that the final product will consist of 30 quality pages!

Anyways, there is a hot topic at present just crying out for some PhD-level activity (or some other form of intensive research project). There are several methods for analysing asynchronous online discourse, and comparative studies between them are few. The results of studies into the nature and dynamics of asynchronous discourse are many, yet spread across different methodologies. As a researcher and practitioner, I would value an analysis of the same set of raw threaded discussion data analysed using different methods. Meyer (2004, PDF) compares four different frames of analysis in the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks however various popular techniques were not selected as the basis for comparison. The effect of different categorisations for discourse (such as those of Oriogun 2003 in AJET and Han & Hill 2006 in JALN) have not (to my knowledge) been assessed in terms of how they might influence outcomes.

Wow. Lots of potential to add to knowledge in this area, and establish a study that will be widely cited. If you'd like to go lead author, count on my support!

Ah well, back to the draft...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Published E-Primers

I have received news confirming that two of the E-Primers ("E-Learning in Context" and "E-Education and Faculty") will be published in a book soon to be released by Icfai University Press. I was approached by a Research Associate for the Press in August, seeking permission.

Great news! The two E-Primers will still remain available through the Ako Aotearoa Web site.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

3.1.1: Is instructional design teaching?

A good question. To what extent is participating in the instructional development of a distance or blended course actually an extension of teaching? As I prepare the fourth E-Primer, I have re-read an article by Bill Pelz (2004), (My) three principles of effective online pedagogy, found in the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 8(3), 33-46.

Pelz (2004, p.33) asks:

If I create an environment in which a majority of students gladly learn that which they and I deem relevant and salient, then have I succeeded as a teacher or as a designer? - and does it matter?

The questions are challenging, yet falsely dichotomous. Teaching always has an aspect of instructional design to it; instructional design is always an expression of teaching. The best tertiary courses always reflect the complementary power of both. Together, they make great education. The relationship between teaching and instructional design is a useful thing to consider. Instructional design for distance or blended delivery might receive a new energy from faculty if they see it as an extension of their academic reach and their tenured role.

So, I wonder if tertiary faculty - often known by the title of lecturer, a most unhelpful one when it comes to formal instructional design activity - might instead be better known as 'education facilitators', or 'teaching and academic design specialists', or more realistically perhaps, as we once tried to name them in an institution I was previously with, 'subject matter experts'. Currently, we term those faculty responsible for developing and overseeing blended delivery courses in our institution 'lead academics' (note that 'lead' rhymes with 'feed', and not 'fed'!) This, at least, usefully contrasts with their formal job titles as 'senior lecturers'.

No matter whether actual titles are adapted, tertiary faculty must appreciate that their academic expertise can reach beyond the bounds of the campus, that they have the potential to transform lives through their subject expertise beyond that small group able to eyeball them.

Pelz, you have succeeded as both a teacher and a designer. And may more follow your example!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

1.1.2; 3.4.5: Sweet transgression

I have finished reading bell hooks's Teaching to transgress, and discovered an interesting perspective in a chapter she shares a dialogue with Ron Scapp. Ron is a philosopher and friend of hooks. He writes (1994, p.154):

Sometimes it's important to remind students that joy can be present along with hard work. Not every moment in the classroom will necessarily be one that brings you immediate pleasure, but that doesn't preclude the possibility of joy. Nor does it deny the reality that learning is painful. And sometimes it's necessary to remind students and [academic] colleagues that pain and painful situations don't necessarily translate into harm. We make that fundamental mistake all the time. Not all pain is harm, and not all all pleasure is good.

It is reassuring to see this admission – though hooks's work is certainly the sort where you would expect to encounter this type of honesty and critique. I find this quote useful comfort when participating in instructional design. In the College I serve, each credit of study is to be the equivalent of 10 hours' study. It is always difficult to judge how the 150 hours in any course should be planned. In E-Primer section 3.4.5 I address areas of student workload; often I have been uncomfortable with assigning workload to the 'max'. However Scapp is right. Often it's a case of 'no pain, no gain'. It is our responsibility as educators to stretch student thinking, to cause transformation.

But there's far more to this than just the quantity of work. What is discussed, and what is confronted during a course also need not be the sort of subject that might lead directly to amusement. Transformation can be all the more powerful through the painful realisation that one is biased, prejudiced, imperfect, judgemental, flawed, mortal. It is here that we must not get Scapp out of context; the remainder of hooks's work is about giving students their voice, establishing trust, negotiating meaning, and challenging perspectives.

So, what does this have to do with the 'e'? Plenty. As I point out in E-Primer section 1.1.2, e-learning is a means to an end that must fit within a particular educational framework. It is work such as hooks's, Mezirow's, Palmer's, Ramsden's that inspire me as an educator. E-learning literature helps me to take their rich ideas and implement them online; very seldom does e-learning work transform me in such a way.

Monday, October 6, 2008

New versions available

New versions of the E-Primers are now available through the Ako Aotearoa Web site. The new versions include a numbering system (which will be keyed to future blog entries) and CC licensing.

The series of E-Primers to date includes:

#1 - E-learning in context - An introduction to e-learning and the international experience; definitions of terms; a theory for e-learning; technologies; benefits

#2 - E-education and faculty - Education theory and e-learning; the changing role of faculty; workload issues; quality

#3 - Designing for e-learning - Instructional design; learning objects; constructing a hybrid course

The following two e-Primers are being written under funding from Ako Aotearoa's Northern Hub Fund:

#4 - Online discourse Synchronous and asynchronous communications; designing online discourse; online facilitation.

#5 - E-xtending possibilities Web 2.0; ePortfolios; virtual worlds; lifelong learning.

#4 is progressing well, though I am very self-conscious about how discussion forums seem passe in an age when wikis, blogs and additional forms of Web 2.0 interaction are the rage. Given the widespread use of discussion forums (and their centrality for most forms of distance and online educaiton at the moment) I have foucssed on these in particular in the draft for E-Primer 4 to date. Wikis, blogs, ePortfolios and additional elements will appear in E-Primer 5, as initially planned.

Monday, September 22, 2008

1.1.2: Learner-centred psychological principles

I have blogged on these before... The American Psychological Association released 14 principles of learner-centred education in 1995. The principles provide a wonderful background for educational decisions, and the subsequent application of e-learning approaches. We do not need to use digital technology to educate within the APA learner-centred framework however various of the principles do seem highly congruous with e-learning techniques. Personally I am still in favour of a subject-centred approach (as advocated by Palmer, 1997), but the APA list continues to be a valuable point of reference.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

5.*: ePortfolios in education

Many thanks to Derek for alerting me to a fresh report from the JISC regarding ePortfolios. JISC reports are invariably authoritative and have a wonderful sense of combining theory with case study-based practice. The lack of reference to Mahara, our own home-grown product, is disappointing - particularly because it has the very features needed for flexible, user-centred ePortfolio experiences.

The six-step model in the report (PDF) is valuable, and the entire report serves as a very useful introduction to what ePortfolios are and what is involved in their implementation.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

3.4.6: Desiging authentic problem-based learning opportunities

In researching for the fourth E-Primer, I read an article by Herrington, Oliver & Reeves (2003) called "Patterns of engagement in authentic online learning environments".In it, ten principles for generating authentic learning environments are listed:

  • Authentic activities have real world relevance:
    match as nearly as possible the real world tasks of professionals in
    practice rather than decontextualised or classroom based tasks.

  • Authentic activities are ill-defined, requiring students to define the tasks and sub-tasks needed to complete the activity:
    inherent in the activities are ill-defined and open to multiple
    interpretations rather than easily solved by the application of
    existing algorithms. Learners must identify their own unique tasks and
    sub-tasks in order to complete the major task.

  • Authentic activities comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time:
    are completed in days, weeks and months rather than minutes or hours.
    They require significant investment of time and intellectual resources.

  • Authentic activities provide the opportunity for
    students to examine the task from different perspectives, using a
    variety of resources:

    The task affords learners the opportunity
    to examine the problem from a variety of theoretical and practical
    perspectives, rather than allowing a single perspective that learners
    must imitate to be successful. The use of a variety of resources rather
    than a limited number of preselected references requires students to
    detect relevant from irrelevant information.

  • Authentic activities provide the opportunity to collaborate:
    is integral to the task, both within the course and the real world,
    rather than achievable by an individual learner.

  • Authentic activities provide the opportunity to reflect:
    Activities need to enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning both individually and socially.

  • Authentic activities can be integrated and applied across different subject areas and lead beyond domain specific outcomes:
    encourage interdisciplinary perspectives and enable students to play
    diverse roles thus building robust expertise rather than knowledge
    limited to a single well-defined field or domain.

  • Authentic activities are seamlessly integrated with assessment:
    of activities is seamlessly integrated with the major task in a manner
    that reflects real world assessment, rather than separate artificial
    assessment removed from the nature of the task.

  • Authentic activities create polished products valuable in their own right rather than as preparation for something else:
    Activities culminate in the creation of a whole product rather than an exercise or sub-step in preparation for something else.

  • Authentic activities allow competing solutions and diversity of outcome:
    allow a range and diversity of outcomes open to multiple solutions of
    an original nature, rather than a single correct response obtained by
    the application of rules and procedures.

Clearly these are worthy criteria for developing activities, defined in E-Primer 3 as "working with knowledge in an applied context" (p.21). Recently on the Henderson Laidlaw campus we had a visit by Dr Terry Stewart of Massey University. Terry won the 2008 DEANZ award for his work on problem-based learning and the SBL Interactive tool (Scenario-Based Learning). It is easy to see the value of Herrngton et al's criteria as a framework for using SBLi!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

5.*: Net Gen focus

The blog 'Net Gen Nonsense' is committed to exposing the myths surrounding the Net Generation. The latest post by Iain reports on the use of Web 2.0 technologies by staff and students (presumably at the University of Auckland). The result: they "are not making use of the web 2.0 tools in any great way in their personal lives".

This is not to deny that such tools can make a contribution to e-learning, just that they should not be sold as inevitable or compatible with how students prefer to collaborate. Pedagogy should always be the guiding factor - pedagogy in terms of applying educational interventions based on their actual effectiveness for teaching and learning, rather than a notion of student preference or technological progress. As more and more actual research is conducted, more and more doubt is cast on the optimism surrounding the Net Generation and the application of Web 2.0 in education. The bubble is bursting.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

5.*: Primary research on gaming and academic performance

The latest issue of the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology (AJET), 24, 4 includes an article by Barry Ip, Gabriel Jacobs, Alan Watkins called "Gaming frequency and academic performance". The article measures the exam performance of students vis-a-vis their 'gaming frequency'.

The results are not surprising, but they are timely. Marc Prensky popularised the use of video games for learning, and optimism over their use in education persists. To be fair, Marc emphasises the use of simulations rather than true recreational gaming. However, the article in quesiton here disputes Prensky's optimism.

There is a real difference between games as recreation and games as education. Many of the by-products of gaming are fine for developing spatial awareness and simple (bounded) problem-solving however the line between educational simulation and gaming can be a rather fine one. Kids are more likely to get involved with World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto IV (shudder) than Restaurant Empire, for example. I challenge anyone to find beneficial education outcomes from this list of Top Ten 2008 computer games... even those designed to encourage collaboration (such as WoW)!

Anyway, Ip et al took a sample of 713 university students and measured their gamer profile according to four groups: non-gamer, infrequent gamer, regular gamer, and frequent gamer. The result: well, I said there would be no surprises...

The results reveal that examination marks are in fact negatively correlated with gaming frequency - i.e. frequent gamers generally achieve lower marks than less frequent gamers.(2008, p.355).
Of course, this assumes that the games were little more than a distraction from formal studies. But at least we now have a reference to a primary research study that disproves any assumed link between frequent gaming and academic achievement. Of course learning takes place during recreational gaming, but this is at the expense of the (more transferable) learning that takes place during formal education. The effect of simulation on educational achievement is a very different matter!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

1.1.1: Types of education, illustrated

The diagram in 1.1.1 differentiating between on-campus, distance and online education never really did it for me.

So, when I came across a much better way of diagramming the differences between on-campus, e-learning and distance education settings, I knew that the e-Primer needed updating. This diagram is from Bullen, M., & Janes, D. (Eds.). (2006). Making the transition to e-learning: Strategies and issues. Hershey, PA: Information Science Publishing, p.ix.

The diagram respects the extremes of the face-to-face classroom with no e-learning whatsoever, and the classic correspondence-style distance education that might make use of analogue technologies. In between, the relationships between e-learning as a classroom aid and online learning are well illustrated. You can also see why so much fuss is being made about mixed-model or hybrid learning; it is where e-learning, distance education and the classroom all intersect.

1.1.1: Navigating the terminology

In reviewing Bates's (2005) Technology, e-learning and distance education, I was impressed with his differentiation between distance education and e-learning.

Bates (2005, p.5) defines distance education as “a method of education”, whereby “[s]tudents can study at their own time, at the place of their choice... and without face-to-face contact with a teacher”. Bates adds that “[t]echnology is a critical element of distance education” (ibid.) however Bates includes print as a technology (the e-Primer, in its new version, will more carefully define e-learning in terms of 'digital' technologies for this reason).

Also of interest is Bates (2005) sharp delineation between distance education and e-learning; he argues that technologies such as the World Wide Web are “just different” (2007, p.3) to print and video-conferencing. Of course this difference is very significant in terms of the operational elements of education, but pedagogically Bates is correct. As the e-Primers make clear, the rules of teaching and learning do not change as a result of digital technologies. Rather, how those rules are implemented changes.

Fibally, Bates acknowledges that the term ‘e-learning’ is a variable one “where courses may have anything from a relatively small Web-based component of a course or program to a fully online offering” (2005, p.9). This is an important observation, as e-learning "is incredibly open-ended" (e-Primer 1.2, p.9).

Terminology is an incredibly important part of e-learning; it is encouraging to see effective coverage of this in an authoritative work.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

5.*: More on social networking

Apologies for what seems to be a sole focus on the "e-Xtending possibilities" e-Primer... which is, itself, yet to be written! It just seems that it is this area that is most dynamic at the moment. I intend to place some further thoughts relating to e-Primer 1 soon.

Anyways, a friend passed on a link that led me to the latest findings of the "Annual Realtime Generation Survey" of UK 13-17 year olds. The main shift: toward social 'not' working (rather than 'net' ;o) ). There seems to be a shift by young people away from social networking sites, and, contra popular opinion in the blogosphere, a preference for face-to-face communications.

Further, in the context of the phrase, "the majority (29%) would prefer to have face-time with, for example, prospective universities, than any other communications or technology
medium", there could be an underlying acceptance by 13-17 year olds for lecturing or didacticism (although I hasten to add that this is not an exclusive endorsement for didacticism as a teaching technique) in HE.

The study further finds that the 'Not' generation (my term, it's a nice contrast!) "expects and demands the availability of [thelatest gadgets]" and suggests that "education establishments will therefore need to consider multi-channel communication policies that support the use of formal and informal practices". Here, I think, is where the issue becomes very clear. How can we best apply technology in ways that complement formal education practices? This is a different agenda from plotting how social networking might topple the formal establishments of teaching and learning and is, in my view, a much more progressive and helpful one.

The study, commissioned by an IT services provider (Logicalis), is not the first I have heard of this. A few years ago there was an article (somewhere out there) about US students in their mid-20s who were forsaking social networking as they grew into another stage of life. Social networking, it seems, is not a silver bullet for lifelong learning nor a comprehensive addition to higher education.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

5.*: JISC report - Great expectations of ICT

A new report from JISC (PDF here, 417KB) considers the potential contribution of social networking sites to formal education. The conclusion: students on the whole are using social networking, consider them useful for educational purposes, and are generally satisfied with the ICT services and support available at their institution.

What the statistics do not support is the notion that students are eager to have their learning based on social networking. From the list of key findings:

  • Attitudes towards whether lecturers or tutors should use social networking sites for teaching purposes are mixed, with 38% thinking it a good idea and 28% not. Evidence shows that using these sites in education are more effective when the students set them up themselves; lecturer-led ones can feel overly formal
There is an informality around social networking that makes it a great supplement for formal education; students do not perceive it as a viable replacement. Further, 'social networking' as a category excludes online activities such as blogging (28% of the 'boost' sample blogged) and taking part in an online community (12% of the 'boost' sample). The 'boost' sample is thought to be representative of 'mainstream' users; a separate 'cohort' sample represents more the cutting edge.

The results add further support to the notion that "many students will collaborate and engage in Web 2.0-style activity regardless of whether a course requires or includes it" (see eBCNZer, "More from the Net Gen' and 'The third place') suggested by a previous JISC report (Student experience of technologies, PDF) and an earlier report from the University of Melbourne (again, eBCNZer post).

It seems that the link between social networking and formal education is best considered a complementary one, at least according to the students themselves. The distinction between 'social networking' and 'taking part in an online community' is an important one, as both have different norms and purposes. High participation in the former and low in the latter is something we must bear in mind as we consider ICT use in higher education.

This quote also stands out: "Face-to-face interaction is still seen as the best form of teaching. However, the use of ICT in teaching is now perceived to be a good thing, but only as long as it is done well." (2008, p.10). It seems that didacticism and teaching still has a place, valued at least in the eyes of students themselves.

As an e-learning theorist and educator, I find this report extremely useful in terms of getting social networking into perspective from the students' own opinions. With much debate about how the incumbent education system must adapt or perish to accommodate Web 2.0, it becomes clear from reports such as this that 'adaptation' must be carefully managed lest the benefits of what is currently offered in education are lost in the process.

Monday, July 28, 2008

5.*: Online reading: A starter

[Note - of relevance to ePrimer 5, once finished].

"Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?" is a rich insight into the issues surrounding reading in the Web 2.0 age. The suggestions range from redefining what reading is, to considering the purpose or reading itself ("finding what you need", as one suggests).

This issue seems to be one in the limelight at the moment. Recent works by Jeanneney, Keen, and particularly Bauerlein make reference to it; the recent article by Carr bought it again into the limelight.

There are a number of concerning issues in the story for me. One is the quote from Zachary Sims, teenager: "The Web is more about a conversation... Books are more one-way". Why is this observation about books a criticism? Why is the internal dialogue from books, the internal conversation, vicarious experience and reflection, somehow inferior to a Web-facilitated conversation?

For me the issue is not 'either-or', it is most certainly 'both-and'. If the Net Gen cannot sustain both an appreciation and ability to engage with extended narrative and what seem to be effective strategies for dealing with the plethora of information available over the Web, its members will be detrimentally affected.

I finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird only yesterday morning to my 12 year-old, who set his alarm for 6:30am so that we could finish it (very unusual for a boy who is usually dragged out of bed at 7:30am!) We're now looking forward to seeing Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch... black and white, but, hey, it's the story and characters we're into. We have just started The Call of the Wild, and he is reading The Two Towers himself (I read the entire series to him about five years ago, finishing just before Return of the King was released in theatres... odd that in Amazon the DVDs now appear in listing before the books!) The "one-way" story of Mockingbird has helped him to see the world, and people, in a new way. Within its meta-narrative are accounts of humanity, love, prejudice, and society which a "finding what you need" mentality misses entirely.

No doubt there will be much said as the online reading debate unfolds. I simply hope that we are careful to not lose the implicit messages that extended reading provides. It is these, after all, that influence our personal development. The Wikipedia plot summary is accurate, but does not replace the vicarious experience of a dedicated reader. Unfortunately many of the comments to the "Literacy Debate" article miss this entirely; reading, to many, is reading. Perhaps the real issue is one of engagement, the extent to which the reader is willing to invest themselves in a vicarious experience rather than a quest for answers.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

5.*: An 'e' school of the future?

[Note - this post will be of relevance to ePrimer 5, once it is finished]. From Edutopia.

A new high school in Chicago, VOISE Academy High School, is trying something (mostly) new - laptops for all students, and a completely online resource-base. I say (mostly) because there is still plenty that will be familiar to students in all schools - teachers, a curriculum, even classes. However there is also an emphasis on different pedagogies - individualised tuition, teachers appointed specifically for their ability to facilitate learning through teaching relationships, problem-based learning.

This is exciting and heady stuff. But, many questions arise for me from the article. How are the tensions between individualised instruction and curriculum handled? Do students still need to attend classes? Besides access to electronic information, purposeful use of online resources, and an emphasis on problem-based learning, what is really new? Is this approach scalable? Will it suit all learners?

Probably the most provocative matter for me is the terminology used, and some of the underlying assumptions made. The same approach is described as 'tech-centred' and 'student-centred'; which is it? Both, perhaps? What might the use of both terms used side-by-side reveal about the article? I think a far stronger case could be made for describing the approach as learning-centred, with technology enabling different pedagogies which may prove more effective.

I say may prove more effective because of another assumption made in the article: "...learning what it should be: student directed, project based, rigorous, and relevant".

Actually, learning should be appropriate to what it means to flourish in society (Brighouse), subject-centred (Palmer), understanding-oriented (Ramsden) and transformative (Mezirow). Further, the descriptions used in the article need further unpacking. To what extent can a curriculum-based approach be 'student centred'? Does 'student centred' mean learning just what I want to, or just what interests me? What are the dangers of this? And, 'project-based'... is this a sound approach for all forms of learning? What does use of the term conceal? For example, learning Spanish is mentioned in the article. To what extent would a 'project-based' approach work here? Is 'project-based' the most effective and efficient means of learning another language? 'Relevant' is a highly charged one - relevant to whom? Is studying Shakespeare 'relevant'? If not, is it beneficial nevertheless?

Also intriguing is the school's use of Apex Learning courses... I, for one, would love to take a look at how these are constructed, assessed, and facilitated through the school. This is the real point of interest to me as an e-learning specialist, far moreso than the fact that laptops are used and resources are available online. How are such courses facilitated? How might this differ from courses offered through the school itself? Finally, the school is probably more likely to attract students with parents who value the pedagogical approach... the very students who are most likely to succeed from the approach on offer. This is likely to influence the transferability of the approach, and casts some doubts on it as a valid case study.

I do not post here to cast any doubt on what looks to be a very interesting and progressive initiative! Rather, I think we must attempt to be more critical and accurate in our descriptions of how technology is aplied to education, and to be mindful of the overall context in which such initiatives are offered. The Chicago high school in question is attempting something very bold and innovative... the results will be worthy of following. I suspect that it will result in a mild overall improvement, with some excellent results for those students such an approach suits!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

GENERAL Ako Aotearoa regional seminars discussion paper

Back from a two week break, I found a copy of the discussion paper resulting from three Ako Aotearoa regional seminars held in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The seminars were well attended, a variety of institutions and professional bodies represented from across the spectrum (Universities, Wananga, polytechnics, PTEs, ITOs, etc). The document is available as a PDF.

The seminars were on "Whole of Organisation Approaches to Improving Teaching and Learning", a subject very dear to me and very timely for higher education in New Zealand to wrestle with. The seminar identifies improvement in teaching and learning as a strategic priority for HE institutions, which is frequently taken for granted in practice. The ideas generated in the seminars will form the basis for future Ako Aotearoa funding.

The initial findings certainly ring true, betraying a phenomenon that tends to undergird education - the knowledge/application gap. Consider these, from the covering letter by Dr Peter Coolbear, Director of Ako Aotearoa:
  1. Teaching and learning is not driven strategically in most tertiary organisations.
  2. This is of concern to all parties, and there is considerable willingness to address it.
  3. These are complex matters and there is very definitely no one size fits all solution.

Straight away the mission, importance, and difficulty of Ako Aotearoa's role becomes clear!

Key observations for me from the report are as follows:

  • The importance of identifying teaching as a profession in its own right, even at tertiary level. Boyer's (1990) scholarship of teaching, it seems, remains somewhat elusive in practice.
  • The importance of - and associated difficulties of - measuring and rewarding effective teaching. How can you tell if a teacher is 'good' or not? Do you measure student outcomes, so easily manipulated? Do you measure student enjoyment, which may or may not equate to effective learning?
  • "The locus of the debate [about organisaiotnal paradigm] needs to change to how can organisations become centred on teaching and learning; what this means; how it might be demonstrated to external stakeholders and how it might impact on the day-to-day operations of the organisation" (4.1.3, p.10)
  • The importance of effective professional development, which is strategically aligned.

This last item is of major import to me as my role is somewhat strategically aligned with teaching and learning, and professional development is an area I am currently concerned with. It occurs to me that there are different forms of professional development that might focus on technical skill, general principles, reflective practice or strategic alignment; the term 'professional development' does tend to be a rather amorphous one, with a number of assumptions lying beneath its use.

What does the term professional development immediately imply for you? A two hour workshop on preparing PowerPoint slideshows? A contentious debate about what constitutes effective teaching and learning, with a follow-up reflection?A full-course menu of theory, active learning, and discussion?

For my part, I am considering professional development that is explicit on general principles and reflective practice, is aligned with the specific strategic focus of the institution's teaching and learning objectives, and which is implicit in its treatment of technical skill. This is, well, 'complex' to achieve - and there is definitely no 'one size fits all solution' (point 3 above).

Naturally, this fills me with confidence in Ako Aotearoa's objectives. Already, it seems, there is a good handle on real issues and a commitment to engage with them.

GENERAL A new blog is born!

This blog will consist of teaching and learning information of specific interest to adult education and the application of technology to adult education. It has been created to specifically complement a series of monographs soon to be made avaialble on the Ako Aotearoa Web site, currently available on the Flexible Learning in New Zealand Web site.

The monographs are:
  1. E-learning in context
  2. E-education and faculty
  3. Designing for e-learning
Each of these is linked to on the right. Two more monographs will also be produced as follows:

4. Online discourse
5. E-xtending possibilities

Both of these latter monographs have recently been funded by Ako Aotearoa and will appear toward the end of this year and mid 2009.

None of the information in the monographs will remain static, so the purpose of this blog is to present further thoughts, updates and additional information of interest to those who have read (or studied) the monographs and who see them as a valuable basis for understanding e-learning.

Each post will be identified initially by a number, or 'general' (such as this post). The number will correspond to a particular monograph section. My intention is to make this blog somewhat more focussed than my previous ones (eBCNZer, MasseySELF, and WizID), which are all now retired.

Comments and dialogue welcome!