Sunday, 13 May 2012

E-learning thoughts

 I have been developing e-learning for a while, mostly following gut instinct rather than good practice but at last it is looking like a paradigm shifting technology in education. It is beginning to change the way we approach pedagogy and looking at how students learn.

When I first started it was all about getting materials online and the technologies and environments that you would use. We did not use the technology to improve teaching, it was just there as a fancy add-on, or an excuse to reduce contact hours. Now it presents a chance to finally escape the curse of lectures and the ideas of transmission in teaching, but there are threats to this opportunity.

Big information - like the textbook companies live off transmission teaching so they are not keen for us to change our approaches. Students also need to be convinced that this is a way forward. They prefer the idea of transmission because it takes the blame away from them. If they did not learn it is because the teacher did not transmit that knowledge properly, not that they did nothing for learning. This will get worse as they pay more and so teaching might become more defensive. It is important that it does not. We have to sell the positives of employability, skills for life and deep learning to students whose focus is becoming the certificates at the end. We can do this by making stronger links to employers and showing them what we are giving students, both by doing CPD and by making some of our resources open access. 

Doing this course has made me feel more positive about e-learning and what we can do. It has also reminded me that the impact of e-learning has not been what we expected ten years ago. But worthwhile transformations take time and we are following the Gartner curve about early over-optimism is replaced by a second peak of realistic application. 

The course has strengthened my view that the pedagogy is the most important aspect and that the bells and whistles of the technology are always secondary. It has also reminded me to think more outside the box. Do not teach the same way you teach face-to-face try new approaches and try edu-tainment. You need to bring the teaching alive. So Terry Pratchett might soon be making an appearance on my course reading lists and I might make the students watch Moneyball (Brad Pitt fans will be happy). 

One of my favourite papers on education is Fox's paper on different types of teacher. We often think of different learning styles but there are different teaching styles too. I like to think of myself as a pith helmeted explorer in the deep jungles of education trying to find the lost civilisations of  student learning. Maybe I should upgrade it to a more Indiana Jones style professor hunting for ancient treasure with a bit more dynamic style, maybe I am not thinking far enough outside the box. 

I think we perhaps should have looked more at Web2.0 and e-learning2.0 if the terms actually mean anything but I am not sure they are more than empty brands. 

It is becoming too hard to separate what we can do in education from government policy because the financial constraints are so tight. What I hope is that technology can help to reduce these constraints to give us more freedom in how we teach the students and better quality interactions. If the technology can reduce costs and improve sustainability, while also allowing us to provide an improved educational experience then everyone should be using e-learning. We have to be evangelical if we believe it is the right way to go. 

E-learning design is no harder that any learning design. The only difference is that in e-learning we actually do it, whilst in face-to-face we can usually muddle along doing what-ever we want to,within the very loose constraints of "learning objectives". You cannot do that in e-learning because the technology has to be in place, you have to relate the things you do to how and what the students are going to learn. Planning is absolutely essential and the most important part of building an e-learning course. You also have to accept that your plan is unlikely to work the first time. It is likely to need tinkering and you will find that something works and something might not. It has to be an evolving plan and so I would also try to avoid over-planning. There has to be a balance between design and application and we are all learning in an experiential way how to plan e-learning. Taking this course is only a first step. The next step is carrying out the plan. Then there is the crying when it all falls over and nothing works and the students hate it and then there is the new plan and the next version. Edison tried over 1000 materials before he found the right one for the light-bulb.

I have been off the blogs recently as I have spent the last three weeks stressing over a Blackboard test for the entire 2nd year in Life Sciences. That is 360 students in many different degree programmes. The statistics test combined all the different question types you can use. It has graphics, it had many alternative sets of data so that each student had a different test. In total there were 22 questions and over 2000 question variants across the 22 questions. The module leader was really concerned about how it would run but it all went smoothly even with two computers dying mid test! In the end 85% of the students passed (got more than 40%) 15% got more than 80%. The mean and median were 60%. So statistically it is ideal, it is what you want of an exam. Even better NO MARKING it was all marked instantly by blackboard. So it has been a positive experience in the end but a horrible one until then as making sure all the sums were right was a nightmare! This is what e-learning can do and when it works it is great.

No comments: