Category Archives: octel

Understanding the Potential

Boxes

So what comes first, technology or pedagogy?

For me one of the messages that comes out of the videos I was watching last week and resonates with me, is how the most effective way of using technology is where it is used to solve a problem.

The problem could be pedagogical, as with the teaching machine, that allows independent self-directed learning, or it could be social, as with Sugata Mitra’s hole in the wall experiment.

What I have noticed at conferences and online in social media is that this often results in the conclusion that we should put pedagogy first and before technology.

I do agree with that sentiment that we should start with the problem we are trying to solve and if it is a pedagogical problem then we should start with the pedagogy. We should the consider a range of technologies that could be used to solve that problem.

There is an assumption there that a practitioner is fully conversant in the ranges of technologies available and understands their potential for solving issues.

From working with practitioners is that they are not always aware of the different types of technology available and what their functionality and capabilities are. Without knowing what things can do and how they enhance and enrich learning, how can you make an educated choice about which is the right technology to use in which context? This is why I do think that sometimes we do need to talk about technology and how it can transform learning. This is not about solving problems with TEL, but providing TEL as a box of potential solutions to solve future problems.

Of course you are not going to be able to know everything, or understand how everything works to make use of it, but understanding the potential means that if you encounter a problem in the future then you will have a potential solution that can be worked on.

A secondary aspect that also needs to be considered is the transformative nature of technology. If we start talking about technology we might find there are new ways of learning, new pedagogies that could be exploited to solve problems. If we didn’t think about the potential of different technologies.

Technology can offer new ways of learning, that if we started from a learning perspective may be missed.

One example that comes to mind is GPS, location based learning can be transformative as it allows learning to happen in places that otherwise might be missed. If you think of those services on phones that remind you to buy something when you pass a particular shop, then put this into a learning context; imagine your phone alerting you to a building or location you are passing and how it relates to the current topic you are studying. You may not even realise that the location is connected, but GPS and location aware learning objects will help you to do just that. The problem here is about context-sensitive learning, but this just couldn’t happen in a classroom or lecture based scenario. Technology allows us to transform the potential for learning and create new ways for learners to access learning.

I do think we need to stop thinking about what we should focus on “first”, pedagogy or technology, but actually consider the context and audience we are working with.

If we are a teacher then more likely when working with learners, the TEL will be there to support the solving of a learning problem. The learning will come first in this instance, and the TEL will be supportive. However what if the teacher wants the learners to consider a range of technologies to support an assessment objective, in this instance then it makes much more sense to talk about the technology.

At a conference, training session or on social media, it can make sense that we start talking about technology and what it can do, rather than start talking about problems and pedagogy,

So what comes first, technology or pedagogy? Well both do, it depends on the context.

Image source.

So what if I am not connected?

First Great Western

One of the challenges with any MOOC is finding the time to engage with the course, especially if you are doing it in your own time and have no dedicated staff development time slot to fit it in. I am sure that I am not that different to many others undertaking ocTEL in undertaking the course in “spare” time as I like others are generally quite busy.

However what I have found with this MOOC, and I guess is an issue with many different MOOCs is that you need to be online! Well one of the “O”s in MOOC does stand for online.

Well in order to be online you need an internet connection, and I am finding that when I have time to engage with the course I am either offline or have a slow 3G phone connection.

Most of my reading and reflection is being done offline. I am writing this blog post in a word processor and will post it on my blog later when I have some internet.

As I said though, most of the time I am engaging with this course is when I am commuting by train when I have no internet (well not a stable consistent connection).

As a result I was unable to view the Diana Laurillard webinar recording, well that when I had a decent internet connection, I couldn’t as the machine I was on was having a problem with the Java required for Blackboard Collaborate (which I have used before on the same machine).

Of course it is proving a little easier to engage with ocTEL through Social Media, Twitter seems to work just as well on GPRS as it does on 3G and even Google+ isn’t too bandwith hungry.

Now we are in week one, there are a fair few YouTube videos to watch and in order to watch YouTube videos you need a relatively fast and stable internet connection. When travelling by train, this is something I don’t always have. CrossCountry for example block YouTube on their wifi on their trains, so no chance of watching it when connected on one of their rail services. First Great Western don’t even have wifi! It would have also been useful for me, as someone who listens to podcasts in the car to possible have downloadable mp3 audio versions of the “videos” to listen to. The option to download the video to an iPad or media device, or audio versions would have helped me enormously.

It would also appear to be crucial to view these videos first before I can progress on the course. As a result I am going to need to set time aside on a computer with a decent internet connection to view the videos.

What I have learnt from this part of the MOOC is that never assume your learners always have a decent always on internet connection. They may at times, but there may be circumstances which means that they don’t. As a result think about ensuring content is accessible in different media, or provide opportunities to convert formats into accessible formats.

Okay time to find the time to watch those videos.

It’s not Napster

It’s not Napster

Interesting Examples of Technology Enhanced Learning – ocTEL

Probably the most interesting example of TEL for me at the moment is the MOOC, but probably not in the way you would expect.

What interests me about MOOCs is the hype surrounding them and a belief that they will have a significant impact on the HE sector. Some have been saying that MOOCs are to HE, in the same way that Napster was to the music industry. I am less confident in that view, but I do wonder (as someone who works in formal education) if I am thinking as a record company rather than an innovator.

The thing is that over the last few years there have been a fair few ideas and technologies that people have talked about as revolutionising education.

Go back to the 1990s and lots of people back then were talking about how online learning and VLEs were going to revolutionise education. Fast forward to today and VLEs are embedded in a fair few educational organisations (and used intermittently in others) however the VLE is in the main used to enhance and enrich an existing educational experience. You still have traditional classroom and lecture theatre delivery, but there is support, communication tools, extra resources and activities on the VLE that allow for a more personalised and individual learning experience. Rarely will you see a course delivered wholly on the VLE and where you do, it’s usually by an organisation that was doing that kind of remote learning before with paper.

In 2006 many people were talking about mobile learning (oh and still are) and how mobile devices were going to break apart traditional education delivery allowing learning to happen at a time and place to suit the learner. Fast forward again and what we find is that mobile devices are again in the main used to enhance and enrich an existing educational experience. Learners use mobile devices to access additional information and resources, as well as communicate. Services such as Twitter which work well on mobile devices allows back channel communication and sharing of resources and links. You aren’t seeing in the mainstream whole courses designed to be delivered on a mobile device. Some subject areas have made good use of mobile learning, but as with the VLE, the real strength of mobile has been to add value to a traditional learning experience.

Go back just a few years and everyone was talking about the PLE (Personal Learning Environment), how every learner could create their own learning environment, how Web 2.0 tools could take learning outside not just the institutional VLE, but also allow learning in communities and add an element of social learning. At a simple level, in a PLE, a learner would use a range of web based tools and services to create their own learning environment, engaging with learning communities across a range of institutions. Though that is happening today, it certainly isn’t mainstream.

I don’t see mainstream education using the PLE concept, yes individuals are pushing it and encouraging their learners to engage with web tools and services, but the PLE revolution that was talked about, just hasn’t happened and the term is rarely referred to or mentioned today in discussions about learning technologies. Certainly I don’t think I have seen the term PLE in any of the discussions in this MOOC.

In many ways I do think that MOOC is similar to what we have seen before. A lot of people evangelise how this “concept” will revolutionise education and cause traditional institutions to change. Personally I don’t see that happening.

In many ways MOOCs for me are an evolution of the PLE. By adding content and structure to the PLE you get a MOOC.

So will MOOCs revolutionise education in the same way that Napster changed the music industry?

What needs to be remembered is that there were lots of other services at that time, as well as other technologies, it wasn’t just Napster that had an impact on the music industry. Well maybe we should look whether it was just Napster, in many ways I think mp3 and the iPod (and iTunes) had a bigger impact. Also where is Napster now, the original Napster concept that is? It’s gone.

MOOCs will change education, the fact we are talking and discussing them implies that this will feed into how we work and support learning. But is it Napster? I don’t think it is.

The real question – ocTEL

Red Flags

Many years ago, in 1999, I facilitated and delivered an online course, using First Class on how to facilitate and deliver online.

The participants were college staff, many of whom had limited experience of using the internet. My own experience was quite limited, but I had since 1998 really immersed myself in the internet and the web.

What was interesting and relevant to the ocTEL MOOC I am currently undertaking was the type of things participants were saying back in 1998 were very similar to the things the ocTEL participants are saying now.

In the main having the time and technical skills to deal with the quantity of conversations and handling the “platform”. A lot of people have posted to the ocTEL JISCMail list saying that they can’t handle the amount of e-mail and to remove them from the mailing list, I recall similar conversations with staff back in 1998 about notifications coming from the First Class system. Likewise the “too much to read, too many e-mails” reminds me of the “too many red flags, too much to read” from First Class.

It’s true that a lot has changed, technically and culturally, in the last fifteen years, but I do find it interesting that in other areas we’ve not changed at all!

One question that does appear to resonate a lot with ocTEL participants is how do we get reluctant practitioners to engage with TEL? That’s one question we were also asking back in 1998. Back then a lot of the TEL we wanted practitioners to use was e-mail, word processing and Powerpoint.

Don’t you think it’s interesting that back in 1998 we were trying really hard to get people to use Powerpoint, and now that they are all using it really badly we are trying to stop them using it and stop them doing “death by Powerpoint”!

I wrote a few years ago a post called Well I think differently in which I explained how I had moved away from the “let’s convince people how good TEL is” to one of changing the culture of an organisation. That for me is the only way to move forward.

The question “how do we get reluctant practitioners to engage with TEL” is for me the wrong question. It’s hard to get individuals to change as they are individuals and have different personal needs. There is an assumption that “reluctancy” is a common trait that can be overcome. What I recognise when I meet a reluctant practitioner is that there is no commonality for the reasons behind the reluctancy. Sometimes it as simple as a training issue, for others it requires a complete overhaul of the way that they work. As a result you need different strategies that work with all the different individuals that work within an organisation.

Another aspect of this is that by “getting practitioners to engage with TEL” implies that TEL is a problem that needs to be solved, rather than do what most technologies actually do, which is solve problems.

We may talk about reluctancy in using TEL as though this is stopping things from changing, the reality is that though there is a undercurrent of reluctancy, and that there is consistent change and people are engaging and embracing technology all the time. The reasons they choose to use technology vary, but the main one is because it solves a problem and makes life easier.

As far as I am concerned question should be “how do we create a culture in which practitioners engage with TEL as a matter of course”. Practitioners will want to engage with TEL as they see it as part of the solution to their individual problems and not a problem in itself.

Experimentation and Exploration – ocTEL

Google+

Activity 0.3 of the ocTEL MOOC asks

Experiment with and/or reflect on different ways of communicating with fellow ocTEL participants.

I have been using most (if not all) the different ways to communicate and chat with fellow ocTEL participants. I have posted and responded using the ocTEL JISCMail e-mail mailing list. I have posted to the Twitter and replied to other participants. Similarly I have done the same with the ocTEL forums. I have posted links and discussed using Google+. Finally I have posted blog posts to my blog (this one) and responded to blog postings from other participants.

What forms of reflection, challenge and learning do each of these do best?

How do they support relationship forming and community building? Is that important for learning?

Which do you prefer and why?

Each form of communication for me meets different needs.

For me the blog is an ideal place for reflection, well more posting my reflective thoughts. I actually do most of my writing in a word processor (Pages) on my Mac and then copy and paste into the blog. I have also made an effort to add an image to my blog posts. Partly so they stand out when linked to from in Google+ (and Facebook) but also so they add a visual identifier to those reading the blog posts and then trying to find it again.

I wonder if the ocTEL course reader would pick up the images in a similar manner to Google+ and Facebook.

Though people can post comments to the blog, one of the reasons I have posted the links to Google+ is that I find the discussion on Google+ is much more of a level playing field. My blog is mine and as a result I see it as a one to many form of communication. It’s not a place for community discussions, its a place for me to share my thoughts with others. What Google+ allows is a many to many communication. The Google+ community that was formed (sorry not sure who did that) makes it much easier to manage.

I have never felt Twitter is an ideal tool for conversations, it’s so much more of a broadcast medium. However it has worked for me as a discover tool using the #ocTEL hashtag. It is possible to have a chat with Twitter, but the 140 character limit makes more meaningful conversations much more of a challenge. This is where Google+ comes in, as there is no character limit.

As an active member of the ILT Champions mailing list and ALT-Member list, I would have anticipated that the ocTEL JISCMail e-mail mailing list would have been an ideal mechanism, and it would feed direct into my e-mail client. However the huge influx of e-mail to the list resulted in lots of people complaining and asking to be removed from the mailing list. The fact they were adding to the problem was completely missed by them! I found so many of the postings were “complaints” that in the end I stopped reading the mailing list. I am hoping that after the dust has settled that it becomes more useful.

I think one of the real challenges is using any form of communication tool to build a community. Very often the 1% rule comes into play. I am seeing similar engagement on this MOOC.

From my initial observation the rule does seem to be applying on the ocTEL course. The tools are been used, but not by most of the course participants. Will that impact on their learning? Well they will certainly lose a lot of the value that the interaction and engagement that these tools bring to learning, which will be a pity.

I am disappointed that we’re not making more use of video and audio, we’re not seeing participants creating short videos or podcasts.

Of all of the tools I use, I much prefer using the blog for posting and sharing information, however for conversations the winner for me is Google+, it works and is much more useful and flexible than the Twitter.