It’s all about engagement: facilitating e-learning

By robynjay On May 3rd, 2012

I’ve enrolled in the new TAE50211 Diploma of Training Design and Development, and once again am busy gathering evidence for RPL. Its a good opportunity to look back over a career and reflect on what I’ve done and the changes I’ve made both in direction and thinking. A key part of RPL, I think, is reflection so I plan to use the blog to do this in a more public way so I can gain further input from readers.

It’s very difficult to tackle something that is your life, an integrated whole, in a segmented way i.e. unit by unit but I’ll see how I go.

I guess my first point of reflection about the unit ‘Facilitate E-learning’ is the unit authors view of what ‘learning’ is. Most of my work over the past 15 years has been in a range of staff development roles, and by this I don’t ONLY mean formalised training.

As educators we learn every day. We learn by reading, we learn by talking and debating, we learn by watching, and we learn through personal critical reflection. All of this can occur online and as a facilitator of learning for educators, my job has been to design spaces and guide processes to make that enjoyable, accessible, challenging and self sustaining. The goals have not changed over time. What HAS changed is the range of online spaces that allow individuals to create and drive their own connections with others.

Having lived and worked online for many years now, my first point of call was the web. If you Google your name what do you find? So, focusing on the online facilitation work I’ve done here’s a list of the most significant:

1. In what must have been the mid 90s I obtained funding to establish a space for the Far Nth Coast adult literacy network. While the site now makes me cringe it was quite ground breaking. Facilitation in those days meant talking to people, gathering ideas/content/needs via email/phone and uploading it. I can remember a lot of discussion about the audience and ongoing review about the effectiveness of the content. We’ve come a long way :) We went on to trial MOOs and MUDs for learning and networking but the platforms were simply too complex for most teachers.

2. From 1998 – 2004 I worked in a few roles on the North Coast supporting the Community Colleges and in particular the ELLN staff and programs. For general management communication and collaboration we used Sharepoint. ITs primary use was sharing of files and conversation around key issues in between regional face to face meetings. I set up and co-facilitated the space. Clunky but reasonably effective.

3. Around this time some virtual meeting rooms started to appear. For the Community Colleges most were over-priced, but one iVocalize proved accessible and was used for a number of years and varied projects. In 2005 I was on the executive of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy and acquired funding for the Literacy Live project. WE used the platform to connect adult literacy practitioners around Australia. It was used for meetings and guest presentations which I facilitated. I was also involved in running awareness raising sessions at conferences and training sessions for State ELLN bodies including QCAL

4. An then into my role as LearnScope manager etc for the then Australian Flexible Learning Framework. While our roles were largely management ones we also provided a range of e-learning awareness sessions and online resource information. Sessions were facilitated in Elluminate and ADobe Connect, a blog was published covering news, events, info and help, and we started a wiki as an information hub. The Framework then used a range of discussion forums and there were some rather interesting challenges faced by the national team around flaming and aggressive posts and how to deal with these.

5. In the past few years I have designed and facilitated a range of blended staff development programs. Typically these included a Moodle hub for content and ongoing asynchronous conversation forums, with face to face workshops and follow up conversation via Moodle and email if required. The material used for these outside Moodle is all freely available online via my Slideshare account and my wiki

6. Most recently I’ve developed the Designing for Flexibility blended workforce development program for Sydney Institute. We have used a mix of F2F, wiki, Facebook group and online Adobe Connect sessions. I facilitated the 2011 trial which has since been reviewed, updated and mapped against TP units, and we’re about to roll it out once again.

Each example has involved an ongoing process of review, evaluation and continuous improvement. In most cases this has involved a mix of informal feedback, team critical reflection, and the use of feedback surveys. In review the focus and emphasis will vary according to audience and purpose but typically will cover:

  • fit for purpose – applicability of content
  • accessibility – level of pitch and suitability of content for the level of skills
  • opportunities for engagement, feedback and ongoing networking and professional connections enabled
  • timing and access
  • suitability and effectiveness of the chosen platform or blend of strategies
  • follow up opportunities

Thankfully as technologies have progressed, and there has been a shift toward spaces that are increasingly easy to access and master, the interactive, collaborative element of learning and connecting online are becoming easier. It remains the case, however, that it is very very easy to teach (as opposed to facilitate) very very badly online. Whatever the platform, maximising engagement and focusing on business and learning needs is the imperative.

[CC FlickR image by Will Lion with acknowledgment also to Tapscott & Williams Wikinomics and Thomas Hawk]

 

what are universities for?

By robynjay On January 6th, 2012

In the past month two women I know employed by different universities in Sydney and who I know are passionate about students, learning and quality teaching practice have resigned.

I’ve blogged about the death of universities as centres of learning and teaching before but it seems to me rather than being addressed, the situation continues to worsen. It’s now two and a half years since Gerry Nolan’s post in the Australian; does no-one listen?

If universities are no longer places of learning then let’s be upfront about it. Give course funding to those who care, or (heaven forbid) the learners, and allow them to do it well. Use universities as research centres instead, pure and simple. If we’re serious about being a knowledge nation it’s time we focused on supporting REALLY good learning and teaching, and insisting that those paid to facilitate this are fully trained, equipped, supported and acknowledged for doing so.

[CC FlickR image by Daniel Morris]

trade winds

By robynjay On January 4th, 2012

[CC FlickR image by nyoin]

Next week we kick of our Career Clarity Camp with Michelle Martin and I’m really looking forward to some dedicated time to reflect and set a fresh path.

In preparation Michelle has asked us to journal some reflections on our current state but before posting on the past year I thought it might be interesting to look back on where I was at 5 + years ago. Towards the end of 2004 I was privileged with an Adult Learners Week NSW Innovation in Learning award. A week before the ceremony our contract positions with the Community Colleges were axed due to Government funding cuts to an already way under-funded sector, so my speech was seriously deliberated over!

Here’s an excerpt…

Its innovation that allows organisations to adapt to the constantly changing conditions.
Without innovation, an organisation stands still while ideas, technology and pedagogy move forward around it.
It’s about knowing how to make new ideas highly infectious;
It’s also about rocking the boat, and stretching the business as usual mentality and it requires passion, persistence and an open mind

However, innovation does not occur in a vacuum – it requires a dynamic healthy environment that is empowering and flexible, that honours new ideas, tolerates risk, identifies and celebrates champions, and encourages fun.
Innovation is a catalyst – but only one ingredient in a process that must be sustainable to be of value.
In education, the lasting value of any innovation is measured by its uptake by teachers and learners.
Teachers really are the key – unless they are given opportunities to critique, reflect, research and learn new skills; to feel encouraged, supported, and positive about their roles and skills, and are shown strong leadership we will not meet the changing needs of our communities.

In a climate of funding cuts it is tempting to slash easy targets such as Professional development and research
However…. It is at these times that we need skilled innovative staff most of all.
Difficult times are a spur to innovation…. It is the time when organisations must think analytically and creatively

I’m passionate about making that happen – about enabling passionate teachers, about designing innovative solutions. What drives me hasn’t changed and I’m glad.

”Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mark Twain

give me a child …

By robynjay On March 4th, 2011

I wonder how many primary school teachers retire surrounded by their now adult students? 27 year old son #1 traveled for 6 hours today to farewell his primary school teacher along with a number of his peers. Extraordinary really.

Deborah Brown has been teacher/principal of Afterlee School for something like 26 years. We moved into the community there in 1985 and like many others who bought in when the land was still relatively cheap, did so in search of a healthy, sustainable place to raise kids. Like many others we were poor but happy, growing food, kids, and a productive community of like-minded people. Central to the community was Afterlee School which for most of its life has had one teacher. Deborah both lived and worked in the community itself and her son was one of my boys friends.

The kids benefited from Deborah’s creativity and her partner Rodney’s IT skills. They created and learned in a small mixed-age group, working at their own level and from each other. Parents were always present, encouraged to be part of their kids education; sharing their talents with the kids via activity afternoons. I was lucky enough to do a bit of casual teaching there and we had some great times with paper, clips, tape etc exploring science challenges etc.

What I see now are a bunch of confident, sociable, creative, self-reliant and determined young adults. Schooling experiences are not everything but I am quite certain that the years my children spent in Deborah’s care have helped make them what they are today. Their presence at her farewell is testament to their respect and fondness for her, and their positive recollections of their earliest years of learning.

Thank you Deborah. I wish you many relaxing years up to your elbows in creative pursuits, travel and family.

[CC Flickr image shared by robynejay]

scaffolding learning design

By robynjay On March 3rd, 2011

In my last post from the DEHub summit I’ll cover what was a very interesting keynote by Diana Laurillard from the London Knowledge Lab on ‘The critical role of teachers in optimising technologies for open learning’. Lots to cover in this one…

Diana introduced work on a new tool (starter kit) to support collaborative learning design. Strangely enough I had been describing something similar only weeks before but was totally at a loss how the technology would work, so I’m excited to see how the tool might be adapted for our work in VET.

Diana began by presenting some major challenges:

  • the best people to take forward thinking in L&T are the practitioners themselves however time and funding are lacking and we are NOT going to get this from Governments
  • lack of teacher training and confidence
  • lack of senior staff involvement
  • lack of reward
  • need for documented case studies of good practice
  • dislocation between research and practice
  • top down strategies and policies are not followed through
  • bottom up activity is plentiful but not improving – market driven by software companies and localised

So what to do about it?

  • trust the professionals if we give them the right tools
  • a middle out approach where we focus on supporting teachers as collaborating innovators
  • a learning design support environment providing tools for design, development and sharing
  • focus on an iterative loop to support innovation – sharing learning designs → innovating pedagogic patterns → evaluating learning designs → implementing courses → expanding knowledge of teaching and learning

The aim of the design tool was to:

  • expand knowledge and encourage progression to new methods,
  • encourage thinking outside the box,
  • encourage reflection and sharing,
  • enable teachers to build on the work of peers
  • import existing ‘pedagogical patterns’ of good teaching – patterns of digital versions of what teachers do now
  • model pedagogical and logistical benefits and disadvantages
  • allow play and experimentation, testing in practice
  • allow redesign and adaptation

To do this the form and content are separated; content is stripped out and the pedagogy/design/form is left – fill in the gaps style. Each teacher, regardless of field of study, takes, adapts, improves and gives back. teachers are able to create a new design or import one. A range of outcome categories are presented and a choice of L&T activities (simulations, discussions etc). All properties are editable and can be dragged/dropped onto a timeline and then resized by emphasis/ % of time. The design data is presented via pie charts on the types of learning (practice,inquiry,production,acquisition,discussion) and the implications on cost (staffing etc).

You can try out the draft tool here!

[CC FlickR image shared by Giant Ginkgo]

conflict of interest

By robynjay On March 3rd, 2011

In her DEHub summit presentation Gilly Salmon spoke on continuity and change, and the critical challenges facing us to address both what Governments want vs what learners want, and referred to the work around a new definition of quality and CALF.

Governments are calling for:

  • competition
  • face to face learning contact
  • the pursuit of excellence
  • tight budgets and constrained funding
  • research

What learners really want is:

  • visibility/connectivity – for peers and employers and to make lecturers more visible
  • openness – personalisation, customisation, their own learning pathways, to ask more and prepare better
  • virtualisation – using many media
  • purposefulness – tell me what I’ve learned and what I can do with it
  • expression – search, research, express

[cc FlickR image shared by mikebaird]

on openness

By robynjay On March 3rd, 2011

‘If you don’t like change you are going to like irrelevance even less’

Notes and reflections on the Openness panel @ the DEHub Summit.

There was quite a lot of talk around Open Education REsources (OER) at the event so it was good to see this panel focusing more broadly on openness in general.

Terry Anderson began by speaking on ‘open scholars’ who he said:

  • are transparent with a key critique element
  • self archive
  • do open research and openly apply research exposing the learning that happened
  • filter and share with others
  • support emerging open learning alternatives
  • publish in open journals
  • assign open textbooks
  • induce open students
  • teach open courses
  • build networks
  • are change agents

Rory McGreal reminded that one third of internet connectivity in the world is ONLY via mobile devices and that our current model of elite education is simply not sustainable:

  • a balancing act is needed between bandwidth and performance etc
  • fluid design is needed to enable displays for different screens etc
  • OERs include games – titanic, mudball wall..

He asked how do we recognise what people learn on their own?

Don Alcott reminded that nothing is ‘free’ – so who does the work? who funds OER? – and stressed difficulties in a climate of competition and closed learning organisations.

Grainne Conole stressed the need to move from a focus on content and resources to practices, activity and use in open education (hear, hear!). Shae introduced her projects based in cloudworks and asked:

  • If learners and their context have changed, we need new approaches to L&T. How can we harness sophisticated tools and OERs
  • What are the quality implications?
  • Will a focus on OER practices lead to improvements in quality and innovation?
  • Will openness enable or restrict social inclusion?

I’ve pondered the last point myself for years.

Are we producing an elite group of learners?

The assumption that any potential learner is capable of finding, filtering, engaging with OERs and establishing connections is unfortunately absurd. So what is needed to support this – community OER mentors and Govt funding/resourcing?

[CC FlickR image shared by Paul Downey]

down to earth portfolios

By robynjay On February 27th, 2011

On day 2 of DEHub I enjoyed a workshop by Debra Hoven (now at Athabasca) on e-portfolios. Although plagued by internet problems (will conference venues EVER get it right!) that meant we were unable to build ideas in Debra’s wikispace (some great resources here) it was an engaging conversation across a very diverse group. Debra’s approach was very much one of student choice/ownership and a focus on narrative/ digital storytelling.

Here’s a few notes I took during the session:

  • E-portfolios are about the development of personal ‘brand’ not about proving something
  • A purposeful and cumulative aggregation of digital items/ artefacts – ideas, reflections, evidence, feedback
  • How to select? – choose 5 artefacts and justify selection
  • The repurposing of content has implications for use in recognition/RPL
  • We must be careful of validity – what is actually being assessed? the ability to reflect? technical skills?
  • Attempts to implement an e-portfolio system that is scalable and manageable assume something being DONE TO students
  • The benefits of being electronic (discussion) – portability, varied voice, connections, multimodality, updating anywhere/anytime, easier, variable access, sorting/categorisation potential
  • Avoid showcasing (as opposed to assessment) which tends to only highlight the best aspects – encourage discussion of things that didn’t work
  • How can we scaffold reflection? – this is particularly of interest to me as I continue to experience teachers, let alone students, who lack the ability to engage in critical reflection around their practice

Debra’s students shared the following pointers for supporting the use of e-portfolios:

  • Provide top 10 tips and best practices
  • Give examples of model e-portfolios
  • provide examples of artefacts
  • develop tutorials
  • provide access to one person who has completed a portfolio
  • offer videos of past students discussing how they used their portfolio to gain employment
  • set up facilitator/student discussion forums
  • record podcasts from staff explaining uses and how assignments are relevant to the portfolio

[CC FlickR image shared by nickrate]

3G pedagogy

By robynjay On February 27th, 2011

In his DEHub summit keynote Terry Anderson spoke on the technical challenges and opportunities of 3 generations of distance (in its loosest sense) education pedagogies. It was a balanced, eclectic approach that aligned to our approach in designing the PiE course at SWSI (moodle based).

He began by explicitly stating his values:

  • student control and freedom
  • continued educational opportunities as a human right, and that
  • we can continuously improve the quality effectiveness, appeal, cost and time efficiency of the learning experience

and his belief that ‘technology sets the beat and timing, and pedagogy defines what you do with it’.

The 3 generations – behaviourist, constructivist and connectivist – in themselves and their definitions were nothing new but he did a good job at positioning them as an integrated approach to meet the needs of life long learners in complex contexts.

A behavourist approach was presented as useful for

  • logically coherent self-paced study
  • context free skills and concepts
  • transmissable knowledge
  • presenting multiple representations
  • a support for student modelling and adaptation
  • reflection amplifiers
  • highly scalable teaching
  • reducing insecurity

Interestingly he placed most OER content in this bucket.

A constructivist approach is useful for:

  • presenting multiple perspectives
  • a focus on negotiation
  • metacognition
  • small group learning
  • dialogue
  • less structure
  • google docs, locked down spaces, discussion forums, voicethread

and a connectivist approach for:

  • learner control
  • highly scalable
  • emergent, soft skills related to real world engagement
  • connection forming
  • unpredictability
  • non-sequential

Terry encouraged a focus on NETWORKS of practice (as opposed to CoPs) and asked the audience ‘what is YOUR footprint online for others to connect with?’ and stressed the need to:

  • challenge our assessment models
  • use the network to filter/manage connections
  • rethink learning as a process of filtering and pruning
  • stop trying to MANAGE learning in a connectivist model but trust self-based accountability

My question is how do students learn the underpinnings of a connectivist approach to learning – the ability to filter, prune, connect?

Are some individuals destined to be excluded from the benefits this approach offers? What are the implications of this?

Terry’s slides:

what game are you in?

By robynjay On February 21st, 2011

Most of last week was spent at the DEHub/ODLAA Education 2011-2021 Summit: Global challenges and perspectives of blended and distance learning here in Sydney. I’ll try to share some of the highlights here followed by a couple of session specific posts.

To begin I was intrigued by the choice of terminology in the title and the purposeful exclusion of ‘e-learning’ and while we did on the whole get it over and done with on day 1, there WAS a lot of wasting of time and posturing around definitions. We should be flexibly meeting the needs and interests of ALL learners via a blend of methodologies and strategies whether they be distanced from the actual physical institution (physically, socially etc) OR within its walls. It is absurd to think that models of ‘distance education’ that abounded in the 1980s when I first studied independently, and which I was horrified to hear described as “the glory days of distance education”, which comprised solely of large bundles of text based readings and study guides, are indeed models that should be still in place today. (At the time of was finishing my education degree while teaching casually on Melville IslandI had no contact with my peers or lecturer apart from comments on returned assignments). Efforts to maintain a viable position for outdated models of provision came across as little more than geriatric academics attempting to remain relevant. Of course we have taken from those old models what worked; of course they were better than nothing in their day.

During the Day 1 morning panel it was revealed that some employers and in fact some countries are refusing to recognise qualifications completed via virtual labs and online study. Some are calling for the modality of courses to be listed in the academic transcript. Interesting given the apparent growth in Open Universities including the OU of Nepal discussed by Mohamed Ally on Day 3. Mark Brown from Massey Uni raised the current NZ policy stance that ‘real education happens on campus’ and the implications of this for a country where 80% of DE learners are over 25, two thirds are women and it is the preferred mode for 35% of Maori learners. Unfortunately he says ‘Government is not interested in personal narrative’ when it comes to policy decision making. Mark also discussed trends in the US for corporate ownership of universities (Kaplan owned by the Washington Post and the Walmart/Uni partnership as egs) as the commoditisaton of education.

Yoni Ryan raised issues around the reactive (as opposed to interactive) nature of current online design, comparing the common current model of making a few minor LMS content tweaks and a few comments in discussion boards, to both private US institutions like the Uni of Phoenix where new online course development is supported with 10-20 hrs/week over 5 months and also to previous DE team development models.

Throughout the conference there was a call to separate research intensive and teaching intensive roles in Higher Ed.

Terry Anderson prefaced his Day 1 keynote with the values of:

  • student control and freedom
  • continued education opportunities as a basic human right, and that
  • we can continually improve the quality, effectiveness, appeal, cost and time efficiency of the learning experience

He spoke of 3 generations of distance education pedagogies – I’ll return to this in a later post.

On Day 2 I enjoyed a workshop by Debra Hoven from Athabasca on e-portfolios, a panel on ‘Openness’, and a presentation by Gilly Salmon on ‘Creating viable futures for learning’ which I’ll return to in separate posts. Social inclusion finally raised its head!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how teachers can be supported, what scaffolds can be created, to engage in quality learning design so I found Diana Laurillard’s keynote – ‘The critical role of teachers in optimising technologies for open learning’ – very interesting. Diana spoke about a (quite sophisticated) starter kit to allow teachers to share learning designs adaptable across different content areas – a creative design starter kit.

In Day 3s afternoon keynote Mohamed Ally spoke on Mobile Learning and asked are we ready for ‘education in the pocket’?. He related the story of a very rudimentary Sth African school lacking in physical learning materials but where the teacher said “we have cell phones”. He reported research indicating that while (in 2007) 94% of students were  ready for mobile learning only 60% of staff were, and last weeks Australian newspaper research outcomes indicating that Uni dropout in Australia was largely due to poor teaching, course content, life issues and paid work commitments. He is working to support the development of the Open University of Nepal where students will be given mobile devices if required. Mohamed introduced a new digital divide definition: where learners have the technology but not the learning materials and opportunities.

I have to say the panel session ‘Anticipating the future’ following was characterised with a large degree of doom and gloom:

  • lean and mean policy
  • funding games and manipulation
  • innovation ONLY if it fits within Government directions
  • staffing issues
  • a continuing emphasis on research at the detriment of teaching
  • increased casualisation of teaching staff to fill research buy out gaps
  • private provider competition (focusing on teaching not research)

Phil Ice provided the Day 4 morning keynote and spoke initially on two technologies that should change our practice: Android 2.2 allowing us to work within different form factors, and Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) that will allow interactive experiences and engagement with limited/ variable connectivity. He also spoke of the role of analytics and a tool developed to track student engagement and risk.

And finally Grainne Conole spoke on ‘Social exclusion or inclusion in a WEb2 world’: digital literacy, community, sociality, digital signatures. See also  www.notschool.net and Cloudworks

[CC FlickR image shared by robynejay]