Add to Technorati Favorites

Sunday, 3 January 2010

A New Year - but Old Mantras?

Painting by Terry Kitson of 'Surrey Artists'
The ‘New Year’ is a time when we invariably look forward to new initiatives, a fresh start or a promise to follow New Year’s Resolutions. However, recent proclamations appear to be promising ‘more of the same’ – is this really all we can expect?  Are we really being encouraged to 'throw out the baby with the bathwater' all because of a few 'bad apples'?

Our friendly Welsh essayist, Graham Attwell, is in fighting spirit for his socio-political vision when he states:

“If Open Education is to mean anything, it has to address the question of social divisions including class, gender and race. I am unconvinced this can be done from inside the existing educational institutions, although of course it will need the support of those working in those organisations. Instead I think we need to use the power of the Internet to provide opportunities for education and learning outside the present system and to embed those learning activities in wider communities than the present institutions address.” See:

Tony Bates flags up another essay on college costs in an article by Michael Bassis,

Again, another eloquent essay in which subtle misrepresentations are embedded in otherwise constructive thinking:

“Let's return to the case of online learning. This design began as an inexpensive way to deliver the standard curriculum. While it did provide increased access to many students, it was widely regarded as inferior to traditional degrees delivered by faculty in the classroom. But online learning is proving to be a classic example of a disruptive technology.”

I don’t know from which planet Michael Bassis originates or how old he is, but surely, some 30 years ago we were already exploring how Learning Platforms could support ‘anytime access’ and how this steadily evolved into some of the exciting VLE deliveries at local, national and international scales. Nothing to do with ‘inexpensive’ and certainly not ‘disruptive’.

Alongside developments in educational thinking, of recognising 10 Multiple Intelligences, of discovering the benefits of collaborative learning even with the 4 walls of a conventional classroom, of the acceptance of an increasing diversity within our classrooms and a recognition of the implications of increased family mobility it is no surprise that online learning has come of age. The relevant technologies are certainly NOT ‘disruptive’ but rather ‘supportive’ of educational thinking.

Again, sadly, Jon Mott and David Wiley in an extensive article fail to recognise the root cause of the problem in their paper:

“Alternatively labeled learning management systems (LMSs), learning content management systems (LCMSs), and virtual learning environments (VLEs), such software has generally been focused primarily on helping teachers increase the efficiency of the administrative tasks of instruction (e.g., distribute documents, make assignments, give quizzes, initiate discussion boards, assign students to working groups, etc.). This instructor-centrism comes despite the best intentions and efforts of system designers, early adopters, and instructional support staff who sought to use these systems to transform the dominant learning modality of higher education from traditional, classroom-based instruction to online and hybrid courses. In practice, the vast majority of instructors who adopted the CMS largely ignored Bloom's challenge to make an "educational contribution of the greatest magnitude," instead focusing on increasing the administrative efficiency of their jobs.”

In my opinion all of the writers have failed to appreciate the root cause: it is not a failure of the technologies but, rather, a failure of some educators to move with the times, to take on board new teaching and learning styles and to appreciate how modern technologies can dramatically assist these strategies. As a practising technologist for over 50 years, I would suggest that just jumping to yet another isolate technology as the solution to all our problems will solve nothing.

As this new year dawns, let’s stop laughing at those tutors who still use the IWB as if it were no more than an OHP, let’s stop taking inward gasps of dismay when we see students actually printing out their essays for marking, let’s stop procuring content for a CMS on a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ basis but rather, ask the Senior Leadership Teams why these things are still happening. Let’s ban the familiar setting of homework as ‘finish off your classwork notes’, let’s ban the use of pre-scripted activities that have no sense of personalisation or topicality, let’s remove all ‘pigeon-holes’ or ‘duckets’ from our staff-rooms and begin to establish liberated teaching and learning norms which equally apply to all sectors of education.

'Transformative change' is not so much about the use of contemporary technology but rather about the mindset of the instructors – or even the assessment Boards.

Instead of the powerful voice of HE maintaining the didactic traditions of pre-Victorian England, perhaps it is the time to re-vitalise all sections of academia not by introducing low-cost technologies so much as enforcing rigorous Schemes of Work which recognise improved efficiencies of teaching and learning and the support that contemporary technologies can offer.

Although all of the above refers to CMS/LMS/VLEs etc the arguments for e-Portfolios are similar:  Confusion and ignorance relating to the provenance of the e-Portfolio along with poor implemenations and even poorer teaching strategies are sufficient to encourage anyone thinking about e-Portfolios to drop the subject like a 'hot potato'.

Rather, as I have said frequently, 'Let the VLE do what it does best and allow the e-Portfolio to do what it can best do."

No comments: