Activity 19: Why change a good thing?

Implementing connectivism

In week 2 of the OU course on Open Education, I put together a course on digital skills for university teachers. The topic of the 5-week course was “Blended learning: the pedagogy, teacher and student roles and the tools”.

I found several good OERs on the topic and was very happy with the course I was able to design. However, we’ve now gotten to week 5 of this course on Open Education (we are actually in week 6 now, but I’m a bit late – fashionably late :-), and we are asked to “take the description of the short course on digital skills that you developed in Week 2 and recast it, so that it adopts a highly connectivist approach”. We are, furthermore, asked to explain how Siemens key principles of connectivism are realised in our “course, either as a general principle or by giving an example activity”.

I found this activity very challenging. Perhaps because it means flipping the coin completely, going from a resource-based approach to a network-based approach (Weller, 2011). Revising a course slightly, adding a few new OERs or learning activities and taking out others, seems like a more reasonable task, but this is not a feasible approach because we’re talking about different learning and knowledge paradigms. So I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find out how to recast my course. I’ve been inspired by studying the approach to learning in Change MOOC, particularly the “How it works” section on the web site and by the pedagogical model of cMOOCs outlined by George Siemens:

  • High levels of learner control over modes and places of interaction
  • Weekly synchronous sessions with facilitators and guest speakers
  • The Daily email newsletter as a regular contact point for course participants. The Daily includes a summary of Moodle forums, course participant blogs, Twitter iscussions related to the course, etc.
  • Using RSS-harvesting (gRSShopper) to track blogs of course participants
  • Emphasis on learner autonomy in selecting learning resources and level of participation in activities
  • Emphasis on social systems as effective means for learners to self-organize and wayfinding through complex subject areas
  • The criticality of “creation” – i.e. learners create and share their understanding of the course topics through blogs, concept maps, videos, images, and podcasts. Creating a digital artifact helps learners to re-centre the course discussion to a more personal basis.

(George Siemens in McAuley et. Al., 2010: 23)

So here’s my recast course:

digitalskills_recast

The columns Aggregate, Remix, Repurpose and Feed Forward are inspired by Change MOOC.

* Aggregate: Participants are asked to pick and choose content that is relevant to them and pursue their own learning goals.

* Remix: Participants are encouraged to keep track of their “favourite” content. A toolbox is made available for participants to show them some of the possibilities: Social bookmarking, blogging, Twitter, Google + etc.

* Feed Forward: Participants are encouraged to share the outcome of the “repurpose” stage by blogging, posting to Google + groups, tweeting etc. An important part of the stage is connecting to other participants through e.g. comments on work they have shared.

Now the question is how Siemens key principles of connectivism are realised in my recast course, either as a general principle or by giving an example activity.

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of pinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

Key principles devised by Siemens from http://www.open.edu/openlearn/education/open-education/content-section-5.4

When placing people at the centre of a course rather than OER it becomes possible to realise Siemens key principles. In my course, I want to invite different experts and experienced teachers to present each their approach to the topic. This sets the scene for diversity of opinions. Furthermore, participants are encouraged to study different approaches rather than one specific approach. Also, I believe that live sessions are a good way of connecting people and a good starting point for growing networks. Encouraging participants to use various social media tools for sharing and connecting is also an important element because these activities nurture and help maintain connections.

The paragraph above explains how Siemens key principles are realised in the course as general principles. With respects to the “[a]bility to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts”, this principle is realised through the activities in the Repurpose column in the table above. In these activities, participants are asked to explore, compare, reflect and encouraged to see connections and to widen their understanding of what blended learning can be.

The principle of currency is realised through the live sessions with experienced teachers that can share their current experiences rather than old text book examples.

During the course, participants will have to navigate between the many streams of content and live sessions and make decisions concerning what to focus and spend time on and what to let go. Thus they learn that there is no absolute truth or one right answer, but that it’s about being able to choose solutions or answers. So decision-making becomes a learning process.

I think connectivism is useful because you put people in the centre, and wonderful things happen when people meet and exchange ideas and experiences. They build on each other’s input and things grow.

But is connectivism in conflict with the traditional concept of a course? Well, I guess that depends on what traditional is. Having graduated from a Danish university that uses problem-based project work as the pedagogical model, I’m used to learner autonomy and control. However, if traditional means teacher controlled, transmission paradigm, teacher as sage on the stage type of course, then it’s very difficult to see any comparison at all to the connectivist type of learning.

What would it be like to teach a course based around connectivism? Very rewarding I suspect. But also very hard work trying to guide and comfort learners who feel in at the very, very deep end with too many choices, too much content to keep up with and too little direct contact with a tutor or teacher. I also suspect that participating in a connectivist course will be difficult for people who are not comfortable or used to “being exposed”, let alone learning online. There’s something very vulnerable about posting online and being visible to a group of people that you may not now in person. You may feel shy and insecure. I think this is the downside of recasting my course as a connectivist course. I’m not sure that this approach is the best way to scaffold the learning of new teachers. My own experience is that a connectivist course works wonders when an e-learning consultant, such as myself, wants to get up to date with current topics.

References:

Change MOOC (2011). How it works. http://change.mooc.ca/how.htm

McAuley, A., Stewart, B., Siemens, G. and Cormier, D. (2010) The MOOC Model for Digital Practice, Charlottetown, University of Prince Edward Island, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Knowledge synthesis grants on the Digital Economy. http://davecormier.com/ edblog/ wp-content/ uploads/ MOOC_Final.pdf

Weller, M. (2011) ‘A pedagogy of abundance’, Spanish Journal of Pedagogy, vol. 249, pp. 223–36. http://oro.open.ac.uk/28774/

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Activity 8: Where art thou, OER?

Reflections on designing an OER course on digital skills

Having recuperated from activity 7, I got around to activity 8 and quickly put together topics for the 5-week course on digital skills. And then the work started. I had the funny experience initially, though, that as I was trying to find contents for week 1, fairly ok resources for week 3 dropped into my lap. I was happy to see that the problem, I experienced, wasn’t really one of finding resources on the topics, I had selected. Rather the problem centered on finding the most suitable one in the list of resources that came up in my searches.

Here’s my course plan. The target group is new teachers at university:

digitalskills02

What’s your angle?

At the start of my search for OER, I kept on track with the topics in my course plan, but I found that the OER I located would take a different approach to the topic than I would. Ragan, e.g. has produced an OER collection called ‘Best Practices in Online Teaching’ (Ragan, 2007). This collection covers a wide range of aspects from preparation to delivery to evaluation. Ragan has a very practical approach and includes lots of examples. His OER also contain a feature called ‘Voice of experience’ which are interviews with experienced teachers. This will carry a lot of weight with faculty (it is only audio files, though). I find this very valuable and exactly what teachers ask for according to my experience. However, Ragan also has an instructional approach, posing questions and giving ‘fixed’ answers to these. I had to pause here to consider whether this approach could be combined with my own approach which is based on constructivism and situated learning. I came to the conclusion that Ragan’s OER collection is a very good start and that it can be combined with blogging and other network activities where teachers will have a chance to reflect on their learning and relate to their own, specific context. Most teachers are very new to the idea of e-learning both the pedagogies and the tools, so a more ‘rigid’ scaffolding will be helpful initially.

I did experience a bit of a problem trying to select the most suitable of Ragan’s OER and fitting these into weeks 1 and 2 respectively. I was tempted to rewrite the topics of these two weeks slightly to better fit the topics dealt with by Ragan.

I was surprised to find OER on the specific subject of week 3 ‘Blackboard, the e-learning platform: how do you design an inviting and easy to navigate virtual learning environment?’ The OER by Bartoletti (2008) are very useful, but contain context-specific links to ‘resources found in TWU ID, a set of resources for TWU distance educators’. This detracts from the value. Apart from the context-related links, Bartoletti also includes other ‘context-neutral’ links to additional resources. Can’t quite figure out if this is good or bad. It might be more helpful if all resources were collected in one place, instead of the user being redirected to other websites. However, I also like the idea of providing a first overview in a learning object and then pointing to additional resources that can be employed by those users who have the time and interest to dig deeper into the topic.

I spent some time browsing Connexions (http://cnx.org/) and found their ‘reuse’ feature very helpful. The feature provides you with a list of differently formatted references to the particular source, so referencing becomes very easy.reuse02

For week 4, I turned to MIT OpenCourseWare (http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm) and located some introductory slides on both blogs and wikis. The slides were only text though and therefore somewhat dull. However, they did contain helpful explanations, examples and tips concerning how to get started. Ideas for use were also presented, but the target group of these were clearly students, so this is off the mark. I was quite tempted to include a couple of Youtube videos that in a very simple but catchy way explain blogs and wikis:

I turned to Jorum (http://www.jorum.ac.uk/) to locate OER for week 5 and was quite amazed to find a very specific OER ‘Blackboard 6 – tests and surveys’ (Florczak, 2004). This OER is really helpful in that it thoroughly explains all the different types of questions, you can work with in the test tool in Blackboard. I never, myself, found the time to produce something like this. Unfortunately, the learning object is somewhat outdated already, since it is from 2004 and several changes have been made to the test tool. However, the basics remain the same, so it gives a great overview.

Time saving

If you do your course planning in an open and iterative way, the integration will not mean an extra workload for you as a teacher. The main benefit would be that learners can study topics online independently before any live online or face-to-face sessions. The teacher would then have time available to engage students in discussion and dialogue and active learning in different shapes. Be it case or project work etc. I feel that OER cannot stand alone, but should be combined with forms of active learning that also require teacher participation. However, it will be worthwhile to further explore what role peer assessment can play. It is sometimes difficult in formal education to get both teaches and students to ‘trust’ and give credit to peer assessment. But today, faculty spend too much time preparing and giving lectures that don’t promote active and in-dept learning, so let’s try new approaches!

References

Bartoletti, R. (2008, July 25). Using text and layout to enhance the readability of your content. Retrieved from the Connexions Web site: http://cnx.org/content/m17297/1.5/

Florczak, K. (2004). Blackboard 6 – tests and surveys. Jorum. http://resources.jorum.ac.uk:80/xmlui/handle/123456789/13062

Ragan, L. (2007, August 28). Best Practices in Online Teaching. Retrieved from the Connexions Web site: http://cnx.org/content/col10453/1.2/