The intro week of #fslt13 has zipped past and things got off to a good start. Will the substance of the course hold up as well as the intro to the process? There is still a lot to do over the next five weeks but it is much better than starting with a raft of problems!
This is a brief reflection on week 0, from my perspective. What made it work. The team, the participants and the platform. And within these there are many subcategories, of course.
I put the people first: team :: participants. But, there is a continuum and that itself is one of the key features of this course. Guest speakers are participants, some “expert participants” are alumni from last year, tutors are engaging in the discussions, no one has a role that is “pure” one thing and not another.
This goes to my exploration of third space theory as an approach to understanding open online courses – and maybe many other educational phenomena.This is a theme I will return to. We are all hybrids; there is no privileged origin to which we return. As much as we may yearn for some ideal academy or celebrate transiting national or social divisions we all bring the echoes and interpretations of all our many cultures. In one sense everything is always new and in another even the newest shiny gadget has within it all the history and ancestory of its making.
Might a hospitality industry revenue management model work for higher (or post compulsory) education? This is a question that Kate Varini has recently explored with me in a paper (in submission – link to come). We probably need to further examine the similarities and differences between post compulsory education and the hospitality industry. I suspect there is more overlap than many in HE would like to see, but I also expect that there are key differences which might challenge such an approach. In principle I am in favour or pricing models which subsidise some participants. Where the subsidy is generated, how it is generated, and whether the subsidisers need to receive a different level of service are questions to be addressed. For education there has been an important notion of civic or national good, which is (or was) subsidised through the tax system, with all participants receiving (nominally, anyway) the same service. What value incentives can be offered to the subsidisers in order to allow more or less equivalent service to the subsidised? At the moment we are testing a “freemium” model in our fslt open online course. Everyone can participate for free but only those who pay get tutor feedback and academic credit. Could revenue management concepts such as advanced purchase discounts or bulk purchase discounts or late-place price auctions work for academic credit? Last minute education .com? Groupon for learning?
As an undergraduate in the US in the early 1970s, it was not uncommon for there to be people in our classes “auditing” the course. (Auditing in the sense, “listening”, i.e. attending but not enrolled.) While auditing was supposed to be governed by regulations there were a range of practices from entirely informal dropping in, to what amounted to full participation in all but the exam. There were supposed to be fees payable for auditing but as far as I could tell actual practice was to go under the radar and simply ask the prof (lecturer) if she or he minded. Mostly they didn’t. This practice was so wide spread there was even a national network TV comedy drama about it: “Hank”; “He’ll get his degree/ His Phi Beta key/ And get ‘em all for free!/ That’s Hank!”. Being an American comedy drama, Hank also ends up marrying the Dean’s daughter, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hank_(1965_TV_series) . The point is that a college degree was expensive, but access to the knowledge was free to those with the gumption to drop in. I audited Latin at the local state university before coming to Oxford to study historical and comparative linguistics. As far as I could tell the Classics Department was delighted to have someone interested come to classes.
MOOCs remind me of this practice of dropping in under the radar.
But times have changed a lot. Everyone teaching in higher education has a much less certain tenure, and that tenure depends to some extent on bums on seats in your class. If there are uncounted heads that doesn’t help your job security. But, on the other hand, the Internet makes learning so much more accessible.
MOOCs invert the ratios of enrolled participants to drop-ins. In FSLT12 this was the cause of some tension. Were the enrolled participants the “real” participants?
We will have to work this year to make sure that on the one hand, people who have paid for an accredited course feel that they have got their money’s worth, but equally on the other not to devalue the drop-in seekers after open knowledge.
Choose your metaphor. The discourse around MOOCs is congealing around a set of qualities. Bigger better; inherited authority; transmitted knowledge; cognitivist construction; solitary interaction with content. To some extent it is a matter of taste. Or learning preference. Or community. I saw the Police play Twickenham once. It was OK. Entertaining. But nothing was challenged. Nothing was changed. A few childhoods were relived. 50,000 people left with all they knew reaffirmed and comforted. I have never been to the Reading festival or Glastonbury. I love little local bluegrass festivals, folk clubs, jazz bars. Even in strange towns. I don’t just hang out with my friends. Though I do seek a level of homophily: people who share some interests. Sessions. Lock ins. Dad rock in pubs challenges my categories but I would rather enthusiastic semi – competence over slick synthetic commercialism any day. It saddens me that the values of slick synthetic commercialism seem to be driving higher education. And it saddens me that moocs are being conflated with stadium rock learning. It seems unlikely to me that transformative learning will arise in massive settings. Yes, for some, content will be transmitted, things will be learned and many will have their world view affirmed. But for challenging conventions give me seminars, reading groups, learning sets – most of the time.
The feeds are starting to come in to the FSLT12 blog aggregator. And it is already a rich source of information and potential conversation. Questions are being asked about what makes a good teacher, and what makes a bad one! Jenny Mackness addresses the issue of blog aggregation generally in a MOOC. We are struggling with this and will be making changes to the template so that syndicated feeds only show the first 100 words or so.
But my question is more about the nature of conversation in this context. I will need to locate references, or ask if anyone has any to support my assertion, here. I wonder if this new epistolary form may be going a bit Baroque or even Rococo.
I am developing a new online course on “Extending your online course” (how meta is that). We go live with it on 2 November 2011. This four-week short course focuses on enhancing teaching and learning by using new technology and tools – social media – for interactivity and engagement.
What does that mean? We are going to experiment with new “stuff” to teach with. This has been the most fun I have had at work in a while. The website will go live next week. Contact me (Twitter @georgeroberts) if you want a preview.
The course is primarily aimed at teachers who have some experience of teaching online, those who have done one of OCSLD‘s other online courses, or those who are bold about trying new things. You do not have to be a techie. In fact the course is not really aimed at techies. But, you should be willing to embrace social media technologies for education and get your hands a little dirty when we “lift the lid”. If you are reading this, please forward a link to any of your new colleagues who are getting into blended online teaching.
The course is going to be experimental. We are not going to tell you what to do or how to do it – though we will if we can. We do aim that through this engagement you will discover (and we might as well!) new ways to interact in learning environments and new tools to facilitate that interaction. We will adopt the motto (though not, perfectly, the method) of the MOOC, “… we suggest, you decide”. We will look at not just the tools and techniques, but also the social implications of going on-line through the social media world. Questions of privacy, identity and community in respect to academic practice will be raised. (These questions were explored in a series of online seminars and are the subject of another new course “Academic practice online”, which I am developing for later next year.)
As with our other courses, “Extending your online course” will be taught primarily through asynchronous group discussion. However there will be some use of synchronous audiographic virtual classrooms. We will use Wimba Classroom. It is a lot like Elluminate or Adobe Connect. If you are thinking about participating you might want to put Friday 4 November 1200-1400 (GMT) into your diary for the first of the live audiographic sessions. And, there will be two more live sessions on the two following Fridays.
The course is organised around weekly tasks supported by associated readings. In order to make a full contribution to the course people need to commit approximately a total of 4-6 hours per week to course related activity.
There has been an excellent discussion on the SEDA maillist on the links (or not) between teaching and research. Hunt it down in the February archive here: re: PhDs and Learning and Teaching https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=sedaMy contribution makes less sense out of context, but I want to post it for my own purposes:
As a relatively recent appointee to lead a PGCert (and an even more recent PhD), the references and insights in this discussion are very useful. I can only add personal anecdote, expanding a little on John Lea’s observations. Although the evidence is convincing that there is at best a loose correlation between research activity and teaching practice, I suspect the story is a lot more nuanced and is coupled with what might be called para-academic factors of economics, institutional and disciplinary micro-politics, and identity.
Oxford Brookes Academic Enhancement and Standards Committee has made its final (?) modifications to the draft Strategy for Enhancing the Student Experience (SESE). The two objectives of this strategy are to:
[implement] approaches centred on critical reflection, impact evaluation and continuous enhancement of the student experience.
[maximise] student involvement in the development of policies and practices for teaching and learning and in extra-curricular, student led initiatives.
The strategy has principles and guidelines and (eventually) will have maps. Overall the tone is a bit directive: there is a lot of insistance and requirement, but the intentions are (I believe) worthy ones.
From a PCTHE perspective some of the key messages of this document are:
All staff who support learning will participate annually in high quality professional development (3.5.2)
All academic staff who support learning will engage with processes of evaluation, reflection and research into pedagogic practice (3.5.4)
The fundamental purpose of assessment will be to help students learn by providing formative feedback. (3.6.2) (so obvious but so often ignored in practice)
Students will be expected to take responsibility for their own learning, to actively engage with feedback and assessment (3.3.1) (this is perhaps one of the key messages of the Assessment Compact)
Students [will have the opportunity] to provide input and play a role from the outset in the development of new programmes. (4.3.4)
From a wider educational development perspective:
[With our] internationally recognised in-house expertise in educational development, we commit to routinely carrying out impact assessment, review and revision of all significant academic development initiatives and of measures taken forward in the SESE and the consequent strategy maps. (188.8.131.52)
Learning technology messages
[People will be] able to use technology to shape their own learning environment and interactions. (3.2.2)
[The] curriculum will be enriched by technologies that empower students’ development as self-regulating, digitally literate learners, able to shape their own learning interactions and author their own digital artefacts. (3.4.5)
The physical environment will be augmented by digital environments and technologies in ways which support a distinctive Brookes learning experience (3.7.2)
The functional access, skills and practices necessary to become a confident, agile adopter of a range of technologies for personal, academic and professional use. To be able to use appropriate technology to search for high-quality information; critically to evaluate and engage with the information obtained; reflect on and record learning, and professional and personal development; and engage productively in relevant online communities. (4.1. d)
The new PCTHE cohort is significantly different to those of years previous. There are 43 on the register. Of these 22 – just more than half – are eligible to enter with AP(E)L for 20 (out of 60) credits at level seven. They arrived with QTS and/or Associate membership of the HE Academy and/or a willingness to write a reflective statement demonstrating their attainment of the objectives of the first module through experience. I observed last year that it appeared the numbers of people arriving with APL might be increasing and that this stood to reason. This year APL has been realised as a significant factor in our programme. This will change the balance of our teaching programme. The first module, “Learning and Teaching in Higher Education”, will only have 22 enrolled. The second module will have 42 people on it. At this point only one person has stated an intention to do the first module only. Experience suggests that as the semester progresses several more will step down to a slower route, doing the single module this year and the double module next. This has implications for an outdated HR policy of making the PCTHE a condition of probation for new academic staff. We (the course team) are opposed to the PCTHE being a condition of probation. There is too much going on. Yes, make it a contract condition that they complete the programme in the requisite three years. Maybe make the Associate course (module one) mandatory in year one. But the full PG Cert is a significant effort which, with all the other pressures on new staff, seems in some cases un-necessarily harsh. There is a catch 22 also. Some schools give new staff time off teaching to do the PG Cert, but then they do not have enough teaching to qualify for the programme. Constructive alignment with policy and procedures is far more difficult than with intended learning outcomes, activities and assessment!
There is still a hard day’s work ahead before the introduction to the PCTHE for 2010-11. For some reason the VLE and wiki are not developing themselves. Packs for the day do not seem to be reproducing like the little bunnies I wish they were. The to-do list of best intentions is shrinking to only those that absolutely have to be done to ensure neither humiliation nor the sack hits me.
But that is not the whole picture. We have a remarkably good team and a robust programme. This is the fifth time we have run this version of the course. The design is dialogic and largely peer tutored. We all have to dig into ourselves to find both our well established coping strategies and something new for this year.
And, we have. It might be a bit close to the QA wind – nearly a minor change – but we have introduced two important variations to the programme: a base group position paper on how our assessment practice is an example of good teaching, and base group seminars. We are quite keen to see the seminars at work. We have conceived of these as a means by which our learners can influence the curriculum. This is really an anticipatory manoeuvre in advance of launching the revised course in 2011-12.
Implicit in all that we do is that there is something of value in higher education; it is not just higher skills training. Even if precarity increases and unrepentant financially-driven managerialism presses on all sides there remains something worth doing in the academy. We may end up gipsy scholars chewing off our own legs for the chance to bite the hand that feeds us, but there are principles – or “course values” to be upheld: an instrumental focus on the learning of others, experiential rather than didactic learning, reflective practice, critical thinking (and theory), delight in diversity, and learning communities.