OLDS MOOC – “Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum”

Why am I doing this course?  OLDS MOOC

First and foremost, my motivation for taking part in this MOOC is to learn. Learn about curriculum design that moves us on from the dominant 19th century model, which stubbornly persisted throughout the 20th century, and now, amazingly, finds itself in the 21st century. How did this happen? Who allowed it to happen? So, an outcome for me from the course would be to have clarified in my head what a 21st century curriculum looks like, why it should replace the dominant 19th century model, and how we go about doing this.

Secondly, I am interested in badges. I would like to evaluate their effectiveness both as motivators of learning and as alternative, and possibly, disruptive forms of accreditation. Will badges be one way in which learners are able to validate their learning in a manner that is determined by them, rather than by having to follow a set of rules laid down by some institution or awarding body? Will they hand responsibility to the learner to demonstrate what they have learned and to what level of proficiency, rather than have an institution telling them this? Will they allow learners to break free from the tyranny of the “one-size-fits-all” model of education, whether that be at school, college or university level?

Finally, I want to evaluate and compare, for myself, the effectiveness of the MOOC environment and design as a platform for learning.

Passionate about teaching

At the recent JISC RSC-YH conference, I ran an unworkshop where I asked 7 teachers to tell me why the were passionate about teaching. Here is what they said.

A common theme that came through from nearly all the speakers and from the discussion that followed, was that many were passionate about teaching because they had suffered at the hands of a bad teacher while at school, or had had an entirely negative experience throughout their whole school career. I wonder how common this is.

Many thanks to all of those who were brave enough to sit with me and tell me why they were passionate about teaching.

Advice from private sector on online learning

Pickering station
Pickering station

Tony Bates reports on an interesting article, available here,  carried out by the Ontario government aimed at supporting its intention of developing the Ontario Online Institute and becoming the leader in online learning in Canada and North America. They asked a number of the leading private providers of platforms, services and infrastructures supporting online learning, such as Blackboard, IBM, Pearson, Desire2Learn, CISCO and Research in Motion, a series of questions relating to their views on online and mobile learning:

1. Where does investment in the development of online learning technology “fit” in your company strategy?
2. What are the opportunities for your company to use online learning for professional development, training and re-training?
3. What gets in the way, do you think, of more college and university courses being available online?
4. If Ontario wants to be the lead online learning jurisdiction in North America at the post-secondary level, what would your company be able to do to help Ontario get there?
5. What kind of partnership arrangements would you like to see with:
a) Government of Ontario
b) Colleges
c) Universities
d) An Ontario Online Institute
6. When it comes to next generation technologies – e.g. mobile learning – what steps should we embark on as an OOI to fully leverage this opportunity?
7. How can your company help Ontario be the world leader in mobile learning?
8. There are emotional and attitudinal barriers to the use of online learning – e.g. certain professions are opposed to its use – do you think an alliance of public and private sector organizations can “shift” these views? If yes – how / if no, why not?
9. What emerging technologies – whether from your own company, your partner’s or others – do you think might be “game changers” for online learning?
10. What one thing could an Ontario Online Institute do that would have a real impact on online learning in Ontario and, at the same time, be helpful to you?
11. What’s the most important thing an OOI could do to signal that Ontario intends to be a leader in the world in online learning?

Responses were grouped into 5 main themes:

1. Think K Through Grey (i.e. think kindergarden through to retired adults)
2. Teaching Online is a Paradigm Shift
3. Focus on Outcomes and let the Technology Support the Outcomes – Don’t Focus on Technology
4. Think Infrastructure
5. Keep an Eye on Trends.

Some of the more interesting comments include:

“Teaching online is certainly a paradigm shift and for teachers that cannot realize the changes that are required to not only teach online, but to do so successfully, those teachers will significantly prevent adoption. This will be most apparent in the students, because classes offered online that are not designed for an online forum will result in struggling and frustrated students and likely declined enrolment. Issues resulting from poorly delivered online courses may be prevented by proper teacher training. Prior to migrating teachers to an online space we recommend that you train your teachers to ensure that they understand what it “actually” means to teach online and what makes an online class successful and engaging to the students.”


“There are many common misconceptions about online education and most are based on a lack of understanding or inadequate training. Unfortunately, Higher Education in general, continues to struggle philosophically with the stigma that online learning is somehow inferior to established on ground or campus-based programs. The documented and highly publicized financial aid abuses and lack of course instruction quality within many of the for-profit American universities have further perpetuated this mentality. In contrast, a meta-analysis and review of online learning studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009 showed substantial evidence that online learning was equal to or even better in some cases to campus based learning, helping to challenge or discredit the traditional dogmas and belief systems within Higher Education circles.”

“It is important to state that online learning is most successful when it is engaging and interactive. Universities have found they have a very low retention rate through course completion if they do not find a way to make the student feel connected and engaged. In order to increase student retention, online programs are blending online tools with HD Video solutions, allowing collaboration with the students.”

These 3 comments highlight the fact that the private sector considers that the education sector lacks an understanding of how to design and deliver online provision, a common problem not only in Canada and North America, but also here in the UK.

Other comments noted the importance of appropriate pedagogy for the online environment, emphasising that it is not just a matter of transferring your face-to-face course into an online space. The importance of focussing on the learning outcomes and not on the technology also came across strongly, with one respondent stating that the emphasis on outcomes should be “agnostic” with respect to the technology.

Also of interest from this study is the realisation by the Ontario government of the need for both education and training providers to work collaboratively with the private sector in order to ensure the development of new approaches and technologies for learning.

Freedom to roam – the other side of mobile technology

Mobile phoneThis post in Open Culture refers to the tracking of German Green Party member Malte Spitz by his mobile phone provider, Deutsche Telekom over a 6 month period from September 2009 till February 2010. Scary as it is, Zeit Online then took this geolocation data information, and combined it with information from his twitter feeds, blog entries and websites to give a graphical representations of his movements, meetings and activities. What is interesting about this process is that, on the one hand you would assume that the activity of Deutsche Telekom was illegal. But was it? And on the other hand, the information gleaned from Twitter, blogs and websites were all in the public domain and, presumably, either provided by or approved of by Spitz himself.

The story was followed up by New York Times.

Online courses – still suffering from bad design and mis-informed professors

Screen shot 2011-02-21 at 12.27.03A recent article in the New York Times by Randall Stross, entitled Online Courses, Still Lacking That Third Dimension, was interesting as much for its misguided fear of technology in education, as for its misinformed views on the design of online courses. Many of the views expressed by Professor Stross harp back 20 years or more when teachers were first confronted by the reality of technology in their classrooms. For example, his opening statement is:

“WHEN colleges and universities finally decide to make full use of the Internet, most professors will lose their jobs.”

It beggars belief that an educator in the 21 century still holds such archaic views. Surely the reality is that any professor who does not embrace technology to enhance the learning experience of their students deserves to lose his job. A college or university that doesn’t make full use of the Internet to teach their students will be doing them a disservice and will soon go out of business. Teachers will become “obsolete” if they don’t adopt technology.  Technology will not make teachers obsolete. It will change their role, but effective learning has always and will always depend on effective teachers. I suspect that professor Stross is confusing his changing role as an educator with the computer-based training of the 1980’s and 90’s. If he thinks that today’s students will pay thousands of dollars to a university that sits them down at a computer to carry out a series of self-paced activities, he is living on another planet. A quality education in the 21st century requires, first and foremost, inspirational teachers who understand the world their students are living in, and who can prepare them for that world. Technology is part of that world whether Professor Stross likes it or not, and there is nothing to be gained from fearing it.

Online courses designed around a computer-aided instructivist model will almost certainly lack a “human touch”. But why would you design your online course around such a dated and discredited model; unless you wanted to become an obsolete professor?  Surely, you would set out to design it to be active, collaborative, participatory and social.  An effective online learning environment depends just as much on creative teachers as does a traditional face-to-face one. There is absolutely no reason why students learning online should expect any worse a learning experience than their face-to-face peers. A well-designed online course that makes use of a range of appropriate technologies can deliver just as good, and in many cases better, learning than a traditional, face-to-face, lecture-based course.

Although we never quite find out what the “third dimension” in the title refers to (or, indeed, what the first and second dimensions are), I suspect that any missing dimensions in an online course is down to the fault of the teacher and not the fault of technology.

Horizon Report 2011

Horizon Report 2011This year’s Horizon Report, the 8th annual report by the New Media Consortium exploring the likely impact of technology on teaching and learning in Higher Education (HE) over the next 5 years, identifies an interesting array of key trends, challenges and emerging technologies. While all of the key trends and challenges will be familiar, it is nonetheless reassuring to see that they appear to be common across the global HE sector.

The key trends identified, ranked in order of likely importance, are:

  • the Internet continues to challenge the way we teach and influence the expectations of our learners
  • anytime, anywhere learning is an increasing expectation of our learners
  • the world of business is increasingly cooperative and collaborative and this needs to be considered in designing the learning experiences for our students
  • the technologies we use are increasing cloud-based and decentralised, and we operate more and more in a networked world

The critical challenges include:

  • recognising and addressing the crucial importance of digital media skills, both for educators and students alike
  • as new forms of scholarly authoring, publishing and researching emerge, evaluating and classifying these these using traditional metrics can be difficult
  • the traditional model of the university is increasingly challenged as a result of economic pressures and technological development resulting in new and innovative solutions being sought
  • keeping apace with new information, technologies and devices is increasingly a challenge to both educators and students alike

These key issues and challenges reflect the ways we now communicate, access information, network and socialise. The Report identifies 6 technologies that are most likely to impact on teaching and learning across 3 time frames:

Looking at the Report from a UK context it is clear that, while we are perhaps behind other countries particularly the US, in adopting many of these new technologies and innovations, they will be nonetheless significant in shaping the nature of our HE sector over the coming years.

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

SoTL imageNeil Haigh, Associate Professor at the Centre for Learning and Teaching at Auckland University of Technology, provides a concise (20 page) introduction to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). Published by Ako Aotearoa (The National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence in New Zealand), the first half of this paper looks at what the term means and describes how the phrase was first used by the US educator Ernest Boyer. Boyer viewed teaching as a scholarly exercise but recognised that most faculty members in the US university system saw research as their priority with teaching of secondary importance. Scholarship was something researchers did but not teachers. In an attempt to challenge this view, Boyer distinguished between 4 discrete, but interrelated, scholarships: the scholarship of discovery, of integration, of application,and of teaching.

As the drive to get more teachers to engage in SoTL increases, Haigh goes on to consider the factors that may both encourage and discourage this engagement. He describes Lee Shulman’s 3 arguments for teachers to involve themselves in SoTL: professionalism, pragmatism and policy. Schulman, like Boyer, was a president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In discussing the relationship between pedagogical research and SoTL, critical reflection, the specific rather than the generic focus, and the emphasis on improving student learning rather than the generation and evaluation of theory all contribute towards the distinctiveness of SoTL.

While the second half of this paper goes on to look at SoTL in the New Zealand context, much of what Haigh discusses is just as relevant to the UK educational system. In concluding, he sees overlap rather than distinct differences between pedagogical research and SoTL, particularly where the former involves action research and teacher-led study. In defining SoTL he states that:

“teachers engage in some form of systematic inquiry into, and critical reflection on, aspects of their own teaching and their students’ learning with the primary intention of improving students’ learning in particular contexts. Such inquiries and reflection processes embody features that give them the status of scholarship: that is, they are made public, subjected to critical review and communicated to a wider community of scholars and practitioners and they fulfil other criteria and standards associated with strong scholarship within disciplines.”

This is an excellent article that gives a good synopsis of the current thinking on SoTL and offers plenty of opportunities for further investigation.

The World in 2010: ICT Facts and Figures

ITU logoThe ITU’s latest ICT Facts and Figures publication provides an interesting picture of the growth of the Internet. The number of Internet users worldwide has doubled since 2005 and has now reached the 2 billion mark. In developed countries 71% of the population is online, while in developing countries this figure is only 21%. 65% of people in developed countries have access from home, while only about 14% of people in developing countries have home access.

This can be contrasted with access to mobile networks where nearly 4 billion of the 5.3 billion mobile subscriptions are in developing countries. Over 90% of the world’s population now has access to mobile networks.

Perhaps the most amazing figure from this report is the number of text messages sent in 2010 – 6.1 trillion. Or nearly 200,000 sent every second.

Study of UK Online Learning

Die Welt balloon (small)This HEFCE-commissioned report provides an interesting overview of the current provision of online distance learning (ODL) in the UK. Carried out by Dave White and his team at the Technology-Assisted Lifelong Learning project at Oxford University, the report provided advice to the Online Learning Task Force on the current state of ODL in the UK.

Its main findings, after looking at nearly 600 ODL courses in HE, FE and in partnership with commercial organisations, were that:

  • there is no existing database of ODL provision in the UK
  • most ODL courses offered in HE are at postgraduate level, and mainly in business, law, medicine, science and education
  • most ODL courses on offer could be described as Continuing Professional Development
  • it is not easy to find ODL courses on the websites of HE and FE institutions
  • what information there is about these courses is often inadequate in terms of providing help to potential students in making an informed choice
  • ODL courses offered in partnership with a commercial organisations were usually easier to find than those offered solely by an HE or FE institution

Interestingly, the study concluded that it was not the pedagogical design of ODL courses that was the greatest challenge to HE and FE institutions, but the underlying business model, supporting structures and resources needed to develop and deliver such programmes. Getting each of these 3 factors right was necessary if the ODL provision offered in the UK was to expand.

Online conferences – the environmental and ecological benefits

Image from frogandprincess.wordpress.com

Image from frogandprincess.wordpress.com

This is an interesting article where the authors compare the environmental and economic costs of an international face-to-face conference with that of its online counterpart. The conference itself has been running successfully as an online conference for 8 years, and in 2008 attracted over 240 participants from 18 countries. By estimating the environmental and economic costs of these 240 participants attending a face-to-face version of the conference, the authors Lynn Anderson and Terry Anderson from Athabasca University, came to the conclusion that the per capita CO2 emissions saved was greater than the entire CO2 emissions of Brazil in 2005. The economic costs of the online conference was around $70, while the estimated cost of the equivalent face-to-face conference was over $2000.

They argue that online conferences are not only economically and environmentally sound but they offer an effective, although different, alternative to face-to-face conferences.