My answer to this question is “Yes”, but with provisos. Students need to get to know the tutor as a presence on the course that guides learning by designing engaging and relevant activity, helps students develop subject knowledge by discussing their work and shows real interest as them as learners.
My end-of-term presentation for the Teach Online course at University of Sheffield. I was reading Kemmis & Carr and Stenhouse at the time and couldn’t wait to get round to Aristotle! This was enthusiasm, not posing! Honest!
So, it’s been a year exactly since my last post. Ho hum. Never mind. The glossary of terms for the EdD could still happen, the logging of what’s going on in my work and my studies should still happen. But it’s hard to find what I write good enough to share (I know, you wouldn’t guess from what did make it onto here).
In the light of this, I was interested in a post on Harold Jarche’s blog called “Friday Find” where he explains that in a move to reflect and make something of the information he finds and shares on Twitter, he summarises the best of it every couple of weeks.
Summarizing what I see on Twitter is probably beyond me right now (I have an assignment due in a month and a half), so for the same reasons as Jarche but with less ambition, I offer the first of my Friday Finds – something I ran across this week on Twitter which excited my interest and got me thinking about education, teaching and technology.
This first week I’m going with a Stephen Downes slideshare:
In particular, I’m taken with a couple of aphorisms here that are I suppose obvious but easy to forget:
To teeach is to model and to demonstrate
To learn is practice and reflect
This is a partial account of both learning and teaching but it emphasises teachers as models of learning behaviour and facilitators of student practice and reflection over say as assessors or holders of knowledge.
I really liked this slide:
I’m not sure what Downes means by it at all. But what I like is that ‘personal’ is about connections to other people, it is emotional, multifaceted, difficult, compelling. For me, most of the best moments in education and in life are about personal connections. Personalized is something that machines do to us using our data, like the Amazon “people who bought this item also bought” algorithm or the soup that Facebook serves up. It is interesting but it is not as thrilling as somebody going to the trouble to suggest we look at something, to disagree with us, tell us we can do better or make us laugh.
This reminded me of another Twitter find this week: Mark Barnes talking about the importance of encouraging learners to engage in discussion and try again as part of work towards learning rather than be handed a score for assignments.
With both Downes and Barnes there is a distinction between learning as data and learning as a process between people. I think both are useful, but technology can allow us to focus on one at the risk of undervaluing the other.
The first of a series of provisional descriptions in a personal glossary of terms to help me with my EdD.
Inductivism is the view that causation or at least significant connection can be drawn from observation of data. Furthermore, this connection can be tested by the observation of additional data by other researchers.
This is the scientific approach. It assumes that there is an objective reality, that we can measure aspects of this reality, that we can correlate these measurements in consistent and meaningful ways and then draw useful conclusions from them for predicting future events or situations.
In his lecture delivered at the University of Arizona on 8 Feb 2012, Noam Chomsky brings his own historical analysis, wide reading and critical sensibility to the question of not only which purposes education serves, but whose purposes. He delineates two approaches to higher education:
- The Enlightenment View: “laying out a string along which the student can explore and progress in his own way” (citing Wilhem Von Humboldt, the founder of the modern university system) [24’00]
- The Transmission Model (my phrase not his): a method for imbibing students with a prescribed set of knowledge and procedures and testing them narrowly on their ability to recall these.
Recalling Dewey, he links the second approach to the preparation of children for an uncritical acceptance of their lot in the workplace. It encourages students to fake learning rather than to engage with it. He contrasts this with a HE course taking the first approach, where on the first day students are required to ask not “what will we cover in this course” but “what will we discover on this course?”. This, he suggests is the whole of the curriculum at a serious university [32’00].
These two ends of a pedagogic spectrum will be familiar to anyone who has taught. It addresses the spirit of education: I would suggest that practice will range along the continuum from free inquiry to close instruction and that the two are not mutually exclusive.
Chomsky’s purpose is to place this dichotomy in the particular political and economic context of contemporary USA, in which public policy and priorities are increasingly set by corporate interests, so learning which doesn’t have clear economic benefits will be deprived of funding. The growth in tuition fees and student debt is part of a move towards an indoctrinatory system in which students will uncritically accept any education that leads to employment and then have an uncritical approach to that employment. David Harvey elsewhere has described as the creation of an indentured graduate workforce.
Placing this “education as social control” thesis in broader context Chomsky cites not Marxist theorists such as Gramsci or Althusser but Adam Smith on the immorality of a society where each is directed only towards their own welfare and Ralph Waldo Emerson for the necessity to gain the consent of the masses for privilege to be maintained.
Inevitably a narrative this wide in scope deals in generalisations, however the broad sweep of his analysis fits the picture both in the US and increasingly so in the UK. However, within the broad sweep there is wide variation and many educators are busy ‘laying out string’.
It’s interesting to ask in what ways the field of medical education, for example, with its guarantees of well-paid employment on graduation and hopefully high levels of ethical and critical thinking is able to buck the trend.
A little over a month away from starting an EdD and I’m starting to feel pretty excited about it.
I’m a trainaholic, a study junky, I like the challenge, the sense of community, the chance to read stuff at last that I wouldn’t be studying if left to my own devices, the opportunity to write. A small but significant part of my motivation comes from the swotty 12 year old in me that got squeezed out by hormones and bereavement as a teenager; he is still wanting to make order with words, to find solutions, to get things right, still craving good grades. Having got a Masters more than a decade ago, I’ve been eyeing the next challenge for years now. Until this last year or so, I’ve been sensible, telling myself, I don’t have the time, or the money or the motivation, that life is too short and time with family and friends too precious. And yet, a month or so from now I’ll be learning about educational research methods and pruning my list of research areas.
What has changed my mind is the conviction that through the EdD I will work better, add to discourse informing the teaching and learning of my School and contribute to the knowledge of other practitioners in the field of technology enhanced learning and in particular learning at a distance.
My thinking on this was brought into focus today by watching this talk by John West Burnham, someone whom I must confess to not having heard of before. In addition to useful tips for thesis writing he makes a pretty good moral case for practitioner research.
I’ve recently revived my college punk band and discovered some interesting things such as: I can’t play any more, I look really old, jumping around with a guitar looks silly if you can’t actually get off the ground. But I also found that it’s pretty difficult to set up a PA so that it doesn’t feedback constantly unless
a. the singer is in another room or
b. somebody gives the drummer a powerful sedative.
Why is this? How come the band down the pub doesn’t have this problem? I decided to find out. Obviously I couldn’t take the simple route of asking the band down the pub, oh no, I was going to do an online course.
I am a learning technologist, thus any online study serves more than one purpose. With a single stone I kill two birds:
find out how to set up audio equipment properly and
critically appraise somebody else’s course (what fun!) and build an amp.
Three birds in fact, which just proves what a good idea this is.
I’ve studied with Coursera before, and even completed one course. In my experience, what works well with Coursera is that they have some fairly undemanding content which is well supported by videos and text and then use MCQs as a way for you to check your learning. This is supported by discussion boards, but so far I have found these unusable. As Stephen Downes says, “numbers change everything” – several thousand people on the same discussion board leads to a kind of solipsistic chaos, and where students use pseudonyms, some pretty unpleasant trolling. I’m keen to see if Coursera have found any tricks to fix this problem, surely they’ve been working hard to make student to student interaction more reliable and useful?
Well, we’ll see…