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!