The role of experts

Noorena Hertz says that we should not be so ready to accept the ‘illusion of certainty’ and that we should engage with and challenge the ‘experts’. She uses the examples of the financial crisis and doctors misdiagnosing patients. She also highlights the need to question the findings of research funded by food/drug companies into their own products. I don’t think there is anything new in this argument. People have always questioned authority, although usually when calamities have already happened! e.g. rejection of national service after 2nd World War/ current reaction against nuclear power.

The most useful thing about this talk, I thought, was the example of how a company (Best Buy) engages its staff in determining the future of the company by getting them to bet on whether certain projects/products will work. It is easy to see how this kind of practical, democratic ‘crowdsourcing’ could be beneficial to the company. As for the medical profession, I think a lot of people are more likely to question doctors’ opinions nowadays, as they have access to medical information online (which has also led to hypochondria). Generally though, the average person is powerless to rebel against dominant socio-cultural paradigms.


Digital research

Time to start catching up with H809. I am just trying research activity 3.2 – finding papers relating to the course readings. So far I have found this activity frustrating due to difficulty with navigating the OU library. Thanks to instructions on different courses, I have found out that Academic search complete is the best place to start a journal search, but most of the searches I have tried i.e. entering key words (journal titles) and authors seem to come up with the message: ‘Your search found no records’. Unfortunately, my experience with ISI Web of knowledge has so far been similarly unfruitful. Google, on the other hand, corrects my mistakes (Did you mean…?) and throws up (probably) a lot of the same sources as the OU, so why should I look further? I wonder when the OU will make their search functions more intuitive?

Blogging in education

This is an extract from my reflective commentary from H808 (the elearning professional) regarding the use of blogs for academic research. I thought it may be useful/relevant for H809 (practice based research in educational technology).

The increased acceptance of blogs as a medium for academic discourse has resulted in information becoming more fluid. Blog posts often provide a useful summary of information and the inclusion of more personal insight. From a technologically deterministic perspective, the shift to a more informal, anecdotal writing style afforded by blogs is an example of how online tools shape the way we process information (Weller, 2006).

“The speed and pace of information change… leaves no space for contemplation and considered judgement, and promotes a more pragmatic, reflexive immediate response to new information, as it is pixilated across our screens.” Conole, Oliver (2004)

Check out the Top 100 education blogs for access to some great resources.

Useful links

Weller, (2006) VLE 2.0 and future directions in learning environments. LAMS conference, 2006.

Back to the grindstone

Christmas is over and it’s time to make a serious start on the end of course assessment. After a 10 day break (partly enforced by a dodgy stomach), it is pretty hard to drag myself back to the course, but at the same time, this was a useful period to reflect on a few things, particularly the motivational factors affecting participation and how this translates to my own practice.

Apart from the obvious distraction of Christmas (which incidentally is not celebrated here, so no Xmas hols for me), I put my lethargy down to two things. Firstly, the forums ‘dried up’ and suddenly, there was no-one to talk to. Of course, the ‘professional learner’ within me dutifully persevered with reading through the tasks and making notes about podcasting, but the drop in motivation due to lack of interaction was a reminder of the importance of ‘social learning’, and the need to include as many opportunities for collaboration as possible in my own teaching.

Having to take the initiative and ‘make the learning happen’ was the other factor that held me back. When I read through the instructions about making a podcast, all my previous experience of experimenting with Audacity and Podbean sprang to mind, but thinking of something useful or interesting to tell people proved elusive. Again, this reminded me of why, when I ask my students to record things, even with a very clear structure to build on, they are so reluctant to record their voices and rarely submit anything that goes beyond the basic requirements of the task. This, of course, is related to issues of self-consciousness and confidence with using technology, but also to the need for the content to relate to their existing knowledge so that they have something familiar to talk about.

Recently, I asked my class to work in groups and make a Powerpoint with narration on one of the themes of the course. Predictably, this was fraught with all the usual difficulties of group work: time management, group cohesion, equal participation etc, but, for those who managed to finish, the end result was a triumph, not only from the technical point of view, but in terms of communication skills, as it provided evidence that they had taken on board the ‘Tell ’em, Tell ’em, Tell ’em‘ presentation ‘formula’ I had been trying to enforce.

As with the group project on H808, the amount of information retained by the audience was by no means proportionate to the amount of effort put in by the group, highlighting that during such projects, ‘deep’ learning by individual members of their sections is secondary to the learning experience that results from the task process.

Employability and the move to competences

Note to self: here’s an article that may come in handy

Supplemetary Activity 6.4 – reflection on group work

After a whole day of tampering with it, I finally uploaded our presentation to the course forum today. These are some reflections on the lessons I have learned from the whole group work experience:

Lesson 1. Divide up the task and choose/delegate roles and do not deviate from the plan without informing the others

When we were asked to work as a group to choose case studies of effective practice in e-learning, my first thought was to find a communal space to take the discussion out of the course forum and give us a chance to chat informally. Skype was the tool chosen by the group, but finding a time for us all to chat synchronously proved to be impossible. As a result, we didn’t manage to negotiate clear roles for each group member. This was not helped by the absence, due to extenuating circumstances, of several group members. The end result was confusion over who was doing what and me ‘merging’ two of the competencies (scaffolding and clear guidelines) without asking the group as I thought it made sense. I put the new list in the forum in a Powerpoint, but it was too late.

Lesson 2: Agree on a medium for the presentation and do not assume other people want to use the same tools as you

I had an idea at the beginning, that Voicethread would be a good place for everyone to add their voices to our project, making participation up to the individual. This idea generated some interest, but due to unfamiliarity with the tool, take up was limited. Instead, we decided, as suggested in the task prompt, to use a ‘simple’ Powerpoint show, but to include some animation and narration as evidence of the use of multimedia suggested in the task. This seemed to be going pretty well, until the amount of slides, voice files and animations became unmanageable. Part of the problem here was adding media from the case studies, which proved time consuming to transfer. If we had agreed at the beginning, to use only 2 slides each with narration, and perhaps to store our slides in a separate place, this may have been avoided.

Lesson 3: set deadlines and stick to them

After hours of trying different media (Audacity, Screentoaster, Powerpoint), I realised that, to make the process democratic, and give contributors ‘ownership’ of their input, the easiest thing to do would be to go back to square one and use Voicethread. That way, each person could add whatever they wanted to say about their own slides. The problem? I made this decision too late, and there was no time for people to respond in the forum as to whether they agreed or not. As a result, I decided to add the voice file I had recorded in Audacity to the Voicethread, in time with the PP slides. The result (I think) is a more dynamic and collaborative platform than, say, Powerpoint/screencast, but the only person adding to the VT is me, which may discourage others from getting involved. Anyway, there it is. I found this whole process fascinating. All the familiar problems of doing f-t-f group presentations (everyone having different ideas of what’s best) were present, but exacerbated by time, space and technological difficulties. Nevertheless, I was engrossed from start to finish in the process and would definitely like to try a similar project with my own learners (perhaps from different campuses) in future. Here’s the Voicethread. If you have read this far, why not sign up and leave a comment? At the moment, I am feeling a bit isolated in my attempts to make this work. Or am I missing something?

Seven Principles of Effective Teaching: A Practical Lens for Evaluating Online Courses

This is a brief summary of this article, which adapts a framework for good undergraduate teaching practice from 1987, and applies it to online teaching. The principles, in brief, are:

1. Providing timely feedback to students.
This does not have to be to individual students, but can be for whole classes, to save the tutor’s time.

Information feedback = answers to questions
Acknowledgement feedback = for receipt of assignments etc

Designing tasks to encourage student interaction
Tasks e.g. discussions should be graded and require an ‘end product’.

Designing tasks to include regularly distributed deadlines.
This is to help students with time management and (for me) forms part of effective course management, which is an area I need to concentrate on

Linking theory to real examples
This can include models of good examples of student work, to set standards and let learners know what is expected. Models are important in my teaching context, as learners may be put of by detailed text instructions in another language.

Allowing for student centred/driven activities
Including a range of activities can be crucial in engaging students in the task and appealing to different learning styles.

I personally feel that student centredness and providing models of ‘best practice’ should go in the top ten list of e-learning competencies, as they are the most easily measurable.