Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Edgeless University - Key messages

The first thing to say about the Edgeless University JISC document is there were quite a few new sites highlighted I hadn't seen before. All are now added to my delicious bookmarks (username - tpreskett if you want to look). The best is probably Teacher Training Videos containing loads of bitesize videos on lots of Web 2.0 tools. I will try look at and use some of these. I will also aim to start creating some of these. They use Camtasia, so we'll how easy it is.

The main messages seem to be:
  • Universities need to offer OER. Some already do it but most don't. It's a question of not wanting to give things away for free. This is the biggest barrier.
  • Universities need to be flexible in how they offer their courses. Tapping into the 'informal' learning seen on such sites as School of Everything. Shorter courses spring to mind. The paper suggested links between established 'informal' learning sites and higher education institutions. That's good news for the established sites. How would this work in practice? Maybe it's just a case of paying for validation once you've done the learning.
  • The importance of universities will be maintained with the validity that they give to any learning. It's a shame that we have to rely on stamps of approval. It's right that employers still need these stamps, they need the evidence. Hopefully, the 'informal' learning offering out there now and Web 2.0 in general will chip away at these perceptions.
  • An important point is that the normal university experience is still valued and popular. But there is a market for a more flexible approach. They evidenced the Open University of Catalonia which is entirely online. Most of their students worked as well as studied so, for them, the flexible approach was ideal.
I pretty agree with all of this. What's interesting is the focus on OER. This is the area that people in education can get their head around. Conceptually it fits in with current models of education and it's easy to see how it works. The only questions with it are where and to what extent. Questions that this paper answers. When it comes to new ways of teaching and learning offered by Web 2.0, the evidence and focus was of outside initiatives. Making links, not changing fundamentally what they themselves are doing. I think this misses the point. Higher education needs to change itself, educate itself on what this paper characterises as 'informal learning'. This way universities can change what they themselves are doing not just tap into what happening elsewhere.

Web 2.0 - Challenging Didactic Teaching

Originally published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal


Web 2.0 and didactic teaching may not seem directly related, but Web 2.0 challenges the way we teach across the board, and the impact will be felt as much in higher education as anywhere else. In general terms, in England, didactic delivery of lectures is prevalent. I’m happy to be challenged on this, but that is my experience. Whatever my motivation for starting this job (as a learning technologist), my motivation for continuing is very much to do with trying to change this status quo. There are others, but this is dominant.

Why? This is difficult to get to the heart of. But it might have something to do with my experiences of education. What worked best for me. What was negative for me. It might have something to do with the fact that where I perceive bad teaching, it usually involves didactic, transmissive models. Didactic teaching is also the setup that requires the least planning, sometimes no more than deciding on the content. In some ways, it’s lazy teaching. People who don’t want to think about how they teach, will be didactic.

Coincidentally, these people will also not want to hear about learning technology. I never saw myself as championing particular pedagogies, but the various collaborative models lend themselves to everything that is positive about Web 2.0 and, therefore, my way of thinking. I have used the phrase “Web 2.0″ rather than “learning technologies” because some learning technologies are concerned with presenting content (albeit in a flexible way) rather than offering different ways of delivering and learning. Web 2.0 gives us the right social, collaborative, creative idea.

So how does Web 2.0 or any learning technology challenge didactic teaching? The simple answer is that when you show educators any learning technology, they are forced to think about how they teach. For higher education in England, the didactic, transmissive model is prevalent so this is being challenged. So, by making people think about how they teach, you are breaking down the status quo as I called it earlier. It’s worth noting that I’m not convinced our educators think about how they teach enough. My role is not ostensibly about challenging teaching methods; it’s about learning technology. But the didactic approach is often the issue underlying resistance to change.

This is where the obvious impact of Web 2.0 on all of our lives is important. The more the impact, the harder it is to ignore. The more obvious the benefit, the harder it is to ridicule. Just look at Twitter and the Iran elections.

Monday, 29 June 2009

The Edgeless University - Comments

A massive new JISC document - The Edgeless University has just come out. It looked important enough for me to read. I'm about half way through and, so far, I've not learnt as much as with Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World. However, I've not got to the recommendations yet.

What's useful is that it focuses on the challenges facing Higher Education in the new Web 2.0 world. The basic idea is simply - Universities must become edgeless - blurring their boundaries. I'll comment on this in later posts.

Much of the focus so far is on OER. It takes the stance that with the wealth of OER available universities are still important because people "look to their expertise and their recognition to validate learning." Yes, this is true but will this perception always exist? It is true that universities contains the greatest concentration of expertise but with Web 2.0 others are springing up all the time. If everyone realised what is out there, people's perception of where they can legitimately learn will change. At the moment, employers are after same validity that the report say learners are. This could change if people realise that a university qualification isn't the only way that someone can gain expertise in a subject. I want this to happen but I'm not sure it will.

Deep down, the main resistence to OER and Web 2.0 in general from higher education is that fact that it's free. How can they survive if we give everything away for free. For me, this is about the democratisation of learning, of knowledge. Why not give everyone the chance to learn. The current system was set up by the elite for the elite. It's natural that university will defend what they have got and I can't see anything changing any time soon. But Web 2.0 challenges this notion. The report will no doubt give some interesting ideas for how universities can change whilst remaining financially viable. But the message is clear, if you ignore the new world, you will become irrevelant anyway.

This post is more of a stream consciousness that normal. I hope it makes sense to any reader and myself when I read this back later.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The culture of engagement will take time

Just read an interesting article on the Auricle by Derek Morrison about the number of users generating content on twitter and wikipedia. It's a small number. On wikipedia, 1/10 of 1% account for half of the content and for twitter 10% do 90% of the tweets. So why so few? My gut reaction is that the opportunities for user generated content are so new that people are still getting used to the idea. Consuming content is what we've been doing all our lives so to switch to a more participatory approach is alien and will take some getting used to. Also, for most of us, our experience of the web are purely as a consumer. Our use fo Web 2.0 will follow this path and it will take time to grasp the difference. Besides, you can 'participate' in and benefit from Web 2.0 just by consuming. Apart from this blog, my use of Web 2.0 is as a consumer. And it's quite to go from consuming to producing - it took me ages to start this space up.

There are always going to be a minority who dominate proceedings just look at any classroom. But the fact that you can now participate, and so easily, makes a huge difference. You are going to get many, many more voices. Voices that you didn't hear before, voices with nowhere to go before, voices that didn't really think they had it in them to speak up. The voices will grow once people get used to the idea.

However, let's be clear. There has already been an explosion with benefits for everyone to see.

Friday, 19 June 2009

What is your motivation??

It's been a while as I've been on holiday. Back now.

This doesn't refer to that Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World document which I banged on about last month. Instead, I been "motivated" to post by reading Tony Bates Expectations and goals for e-learning post on his blog. Very useful as it outlines common expectations and goals. They are:

1. To increase access to learning opportunities/increase flexibility for students
2. To enhance the general quality of teaching/learning.
3. To develop the skills and competencies needed in the 21st century, and in particular to ensure that learners have the digital literacy skills required in their discipline, profession or career - or, put simply, to get work in the future
4. to meet the learning styles/needs of millenial students
5. to improve the cost-effectiveness of the post-secondary education system
6. to stay at the leading edge of educational technology developments/to digitalise all learning - or put another way, to respond to the technological imperative
7. to de-institutionalise learning/to enable self-managed learning.
8. to embark on a journey of mystery to see where it will take me.

I commented on his blog and I want to record this comment here for reference. I wrote:

I have a role as a Learning Technologist at the Institute of Education, London so I spend a lot of time trying to convince Higher Education academics about the virtues of all things e-learning. Your list of goals is very useful.

I have used many of these at various times but the one I use a lot is where I present something as another tool to choose from in their toolkit when they design their course. I guess this is (2) more than anything else, but I don’t talk about improving quality because of the connotation that the quality isn’t good at the moment. It’s worth saying, however, that I think the social, informal learning offered by Web 2.0 can and should improve the learning for everyone. This is my main motivation for what I do.

Where it is clear, I will talk about cost-effectiveness (5) and flexibility and access (1) as these will always go down well. Tangible benefits like this where are indisputable are the hooks to get people open to your ideas.

3 and 6 are interesting. (6) never goes down well with sceptical academics and shouldn’t really be used. (3) I definitely agree with and one that I should use more often. It’s also increasingly hard to argue against. What I need is some more facts to back this up or at least some supplementary statements on this (I look forward to your further posts).

(4) - yes, but I think of it as - “let’s do what they are doing because they are doing it.” This sounds a bit silly but it’s valid. Another way of thinking about it is going into their world and speaking in a language that they understand (the web 2.0 world). I’m not in favour of using facebook or myspace but a comparable social networking facility - we don’t want to invade their private space. I’m not a fan of getting into learning styles because of the annoying “e-learning isn’t my learning style” mantra I often hear. This statement is so wrong on so many levels!

Self-managed or personal learning (7) is a phrase that is creeping into higher education but it’s often offered within a tightly controlled space which kind of misses the point (I agree with Jay about e-portfolios). I don’t find myself using this much unless it’s clearly what they want to hear. 8 is silly.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Blogs for Education, Blogs for Yourself

This post was originally published on the Educational Technology and Change (ETC) Journal on 3rd June, 2009.

Some things are obvious about blogging, some are not. Anyone familiar with blogs knows that it’s a way to publish content online. I used to think that the journal aspect was also a given. That is until I facilitated on a Web 2.0 distance learning module recently and found that many of the blogs the students created consisted of descriptions and links without much personal thoughts and opinion. This was surprising because I assumed that giving your perspective made a blog a blog. I should mention that many of them had a job which required them to share Web 2.0 resources with colleagues. But you can do this and still give your perspective, for example, Jane’s Pick of the Day.

A blog that presents information with little or no opinion is fine if that’s what you want to do. My point to the students was that if you just blog information then you might as well have a website instead where you can organise things better. This is especially pertinent as we were studying a course where the nature of blogging is the subject matter.

When I look at the use of blogging in courses, I often see that instructors don’t fully appreciate the social networking aspect of blogs. They are attracted by the reflective nature of blogs and ask students to record their learning at regular intervals. But the instructors treat the blogs as a private space between them and their students and often use blogs that are built into VLEs (virtual learning environments). I find this a great shame. Why? Well, the social nature and openness of blogs (and anything Web 2.0) is very important. It’s the essence, the lifeblood of what makes blogging so successful. It’s a shame to cut this off.

I don’t mind so much if the educators made an informed choice on this issue, but often it’s a natural instinct to keep thing private. “Of course, no one else will see it,” they say to the students. As if public exposure would be abhorrent to them. Why? What are they afraid of? This is partly a reflection of the insular, controlling nature of education and partly a reflection of their experiences and expectations of learning. Even if a student doesn’t want to blog public facing, it’s worth building in because creating and publishing online in a Web 2.0 setting is an important skill in the 21st Century. I don’t have a ready made study to prove this, but I’m going to say it anyway. At the least, instructors ought to create links between the student blogs to give them a ready made support network.

It may well be the case that blogging has diminished and will diminish due to social networks (at least for the teenagers), but blogging is still a valid and vibrant tool in the adult world. It’s not important for people to learn about blogging for blogging’s sake, but it’s important they learn about the ethos and the spirit of blogging, which is the essence of Web 2.0. It’s important they learn about collaboration, self-direction, independent learning, and networking. The new CLEX (Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience) document Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World characterises these as “soft skills” which are desirable in the new job market.


When it comes to using blogs for your own learning as part of your CPD (computer professional development), the plea I would make is don’t do it in isolation. Instead, immerse yourself in the blogosphere. In my context, this is true because reading others’ blogs is a really good way to keep up in my area of interest, learning technology. But this is true for any subject. Maybe not to the same extent, but it’s still true. It’s quick and easy and, most importantly for me, bitesize. With bitesize, I can knit things together much easier (tagging is very important here). The concepts can stick to my brain much easier, and I can make links better. I also approach it with less dread than I would an academic paper or book although my motivation might be different to yours. You can do all this without having your own blog, but this is where the knitting occurs. Well, some of it anyway. Also, one of the things that drew me to blogging was it’s conversational nature although this might be more my style than a rule.

To feel part of the blogosphere or a network of bloggers may be difficult if you don’t know anyone directly who blogs on your subject and if no one visits your blog. Just because you publish a blog doesn’t mean anyone is going to read it. You need to be okay with this, otherwise you’ll get disappointed very quickly.

My motivation for blogging is to capture my learning for myself. By making it public facing, I’m forced to be coherent, and it’s in that process where the learning happens. Quite often I end up in different places than I expected. So for me, if no one reads it, the blog is still valuable since it serves my purpose.

I’ve used Blogger for mine with the presentation Learning from Blogging: Creating Your Own and Learning from Others, by Tracy Hamilton, as the starting point. WordPress is the other main player but there are many more. The best way to start is to spend an hour browsing the blogosphere (not my favourite term) on Technorati or Icerocket. However, if you are reading this, you probably know all that.