Monday, 31 August 2009

Passive Learning

Just read an interesting blog post Kicking Powerpoint to the Curb. In it, there is this statement:

“Strangely enough, the people who are most resistant to this model are the students…Students have been socialized to view the educational process as essentially passive."

There is a tension here between what we perceive your average young person is used to and motivated to use, i.e. Web 2.0/social media and this statement. Passive learning is how things are done in the didactic world and it's actually less effort day-to-day for the students to experience this. For me, this is the main problem with lecture and didactic teaching. You can get away with not listening and therefore not learning. This is easy path and many look for it. With Web 2.0, it's the ethos that I am attracted to more than anything else - the collaboration and active participation in the process. Forcing someone to do this forces them to pay attention. So, although your average students is used to using Web 2.0/social media they are not accustomed to the active learning that it's use in education would entail. This isn't an argument for not pursuing this route. On the contrary, forcing them to active learn is a vital step forward for education.

Higher education actually has a tougher job because it probably isn't the case at the moment that your average student is so clued up on Web 2.0 as the younger generation. This is particular true in my case where the demographic is often a higher age group.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

EdTechRoundUp30 - Learning Points

I recently discovered the EdTechRoundUp podcast. I'm trying to make a conscious effort to introduce podcasts of this kind into my learning. I'm often too tired to read when commuting and listening to a podcast while resting my eyes could work well - now that I have my iphone (hooray).

I've only listened to one and it was good quality. The only issue I have when I listen to a discussion like this is that it can be frustrated when the point you would make doesn't get made. Anyway, here is my learning.

"Teachers think VLEs are clunky" was centrepoint of a fairly long discussion. I think the clunkiness perception comes from the glimpses your average educator has had of social software where drag and drop is common and intuitive is the norm. Broadly, I agree that the perception is there and also that this perception is correct. In 2009, they do feel clunky. But what does this really mean? The dictionary definition is:
  1. clumsy or awkward
  2. not stylish or attractive
It's difficult to know much of the clumsiness when compared to Web 2.0 tools or whether they are intrinsically clumsy or awkward. What is definitely true is that with a social networking site, like facebook or ning, there is less to learn and the usability is better. When it comes to attractiveness, I think a certain amount of this comes from social software looking more up to date. There is a fashion factor just as clothes go in and out of fashion. Overall, web 2.0 is all about the user getting involves easily. The usability has to be good for any tool to be viable. Just thinking about what it takes to upload and publish a file on moodle and I can think at least two points where it should be made easier.

But surely the answer is to make them less clunky! Well this is easier said than done as the clunkiness seems intrinsic to how they are built. There are two reasons for this:
  1. Any tool (like a moodle quiz or a blackboard blog) has to have the same look and feel as the rest of the system. So whereas independent Web 2.0 survey or blog tool can concentrate on making it the best in terms of usability and attractiveness. Within a VLE, you are limited to the template of the bigger picture. A bigger picture which is much more difficult to change and is much slower to change. This is why a blackboard blog looks archaic compared to blogger.
  2. Any online tool in education has the question of security to consider. Security protecting the children from the outside world; security protecting the outside world from the children; security protecting the privacy of the class; security protecting the intellectual property rights of the educator; data protection! This security add layers of clunkiness that other websites don't have to the same extent. This is one of the tensions education has with web 2.0. At its heart, web 2.0 is about openness. VLEs first and foremost are designed to protect (almost obsessively). This is why where VLEs have adopted a web 2.0 tool into its system it often doesn't feel quite right. So whatever tool we use, clunkiness is unavoidable to a certain extent as securities are put in place. Maybe we should try and bring this spirit of openness more into education! That's another can of worms.
The discussion went down the line of using other tools instead, e.g. facebook. Well yes, as long as we understand that usability is just one of the reasons for this. Overall, it should be done in the knowledge and understanding of what social networking has to offer over and above your average VLE. By the way, I would favour Ning over facebook as facebook for learning can bring up tricky issues. Something they discuss on this podcast and it's worth a listen.

I have slight concerns about using a social networking site as the house within which what currently happens on a VLE occurs. This is because, for most, the VLE is a file repository and an assignment dropbox. However, I would favour the shift because the social aspect of a Ning, for example, are so intuitive and attractive that it would encourage educators to explore their use in a more recpetive frame of mind.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Faculty resistance to using IT tools in active learning instructional strategies

I've been reading through a behemoth of a discussion on the Ning network - Innovate-Ideagora called Addressing the problem of faculty resistance to using IT tools in active learning instructional strategies. There is so much of interest that I had to read it all. I wanted to record my main learning points here because I am positive there are many. The problem is that, as with any discussion, the discourse jumps around a lot and it's difficult to absorb properly as you move through the debate. However, I'm going to try and record the main issues here. When reading debates of this kindsd common issues crop up:

  • Challenging the notion of the "lecture"
  • Didactic vs collaborative pedagogies (in this discussion active learning is the key phrase)
  • Higher education research priorities
  • Assessment - and it's driving force dictating the teaching
  • Process learning now becoming more important than fact-based learning
Interesting side issues here including the nature of blended learning and issues of cheating which was linked to the nature of assessment. Below are some additional thoughts.

A lot of the debate pitted the lecture against active learning strategies exemplified in the TEAL initiutive from the physics dept. of MIT. So the heart of the issue is the realisation that the most important thing we are doing is promote active learning through learning technologies - not just learning technologies. It's important that we understand that.

The discussion explored how a lot of learning technology use involved augmenting the lecture experience, reinforcing it in a way that didn't promote active learning - a reinforcement that added to the cost of the learning experience. Steve Eskow was prominent in challenging the notion of the lecture as all powerful and advocating alternatives to the face-to-face. I happen to agree with this. For most (nearly all) the traditional didactic lecture is so much the right way to educate that it isn't even worth debating. Currently, learning technologies have to fit in around these face-to-face events which are a pegs to hand our education onto. It's a fit that can work but often doesn't. However, this approach makes things more difficult than they need to be. Of course, face-to-face has value. But start off thinking of all your tools on an equal footing not with one on a higher plane.

The discussion described the performance involved in giving a lecture. I have a hunch that this is an important element for many educators. Why be receptive to different teaching methods if we like you already do? Put bluntly, some like the sound of their own voice too much. There, I said it. But how can you challenge that? Not easily for sure.

I've said in previous posts how important it is to educate the educators in learning technologies. One good idea from this discussion is to give them a reason to use it in their real lives, e.g. an aggregator for their news, and they will naturally start thinking about their teaching once this is embedded.