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]

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]

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:

embracing the tumult

By robynjay On March 23rd, 2010

I’m doing some design and facilitation work at present on projects that essentially focus on equipping and inspiring teachers to rethink and redesign their practice. It has led me to reread a load of approaches to learning design but also to ponder why it is that we see so little in the way of exemplary contemporary practice.

I think that many (but not all) senior managers and Ministers are genuinely interested in providing ‘quality’ education services. Misguided often its true; outrageously bad decisions are made by incompetent incapable advisors, out of date practices continue or alternatively the latest ‘fad’ wastes inordinate amounts of public monies. But I’m going to be generous and say that its ignorance, and not evil (Mike) that is the cause.

And most teachers too have hearts in the right place. Unfortunately in post-compulsory settings most ‘teachers’ lack education training that allows time to read, revise, connect, deconstruct and reconstruct the models of being a teacher they carry in their minds from their own life experiences. (How some people end up in teaching roles I have no idea – good conditions and reasonable pay I suspect. I watched my sons suffer in the hands of a science teacher who spent each class writing notes on a blackboard for them to transcribe.)

Good teachers are genuinely interested in how people learn. The really dedicated stay in touch with the latest trends, opportunities and theoretical approaches in their own times and by their own means. They are what George Siemens describes as master learners; not only reflecting on what works as a learner in a metacognitive sense, but continually looking at how they can do it better.

“Good teaching may overcome a poor choice of teaching, but technology will never save bad teaching.”

(Tony Bates, 2005)

Good teachers are an inspiration no matter what approach they take;  good teachers armed with effective educational technologies are mighty. Bad teachers are simply a drudge no matter what medium. Tragically education largely reflects the model of 100 years ago. It IS still predominantly something that by and large is DONE to people in courses that run over X weeks…. transmission of ideas happens via hideously bad lectures, readings etc.

So let’s focus on those with potential. A window of opportunity exists if we can capture the good teachers and support them to grow and re-establish momentum. We’ve dangled tools and strategies as carrots until we’re blue in the face but that’s not enough.  What we get in reply is ‘but now what, how do I use these in my teaching?’ For some, models and a kick start are all that’s needed but if your teaching approach is instructivist in nature the best we can achieve is to adjust PDFs to video or the inclusion of quizzes. We give them the tools but not the inspiration and scaffolds to rethink practice. It’s no wonder people cannot see beyond the walls of the LMS – why would you if your world as a teacher is to instruct?

Good friend and mentor Robby Weatherley suggested last week that the pendulum has swung back to a focus on learning design. But we need to think very carefully what that looks like before we turn the clocks back. Too often what WE ourselves provide is instructivist in nature. I’ve seen leading thinkers in contemporary educational thought stand and lecture.

We need to model contemporary learning design in our staff development programs.

We need to acknowledge and what learners (teachers) bring to the environment – their strengths and experiences and passions.

We need to provide the scaffolds for teachers to become independent networked learners beyond their time in staff development programs and under our gaze.
We need to acknowledge their lives and interests and identify areas as launching pads for experimentation and risk taking.

As George Siemens suggests ‘our learning institutions have been created in the spirit of research and openness, yet they have acquired their own neurotic tendencies. Yes we need a dynamic alternative to address our ambiguous, tumultuous personal learning needs and that scares the heck out of most educators.

No it’s not really about resourcing Mike . Some of the very best learning happens in small, community based, lowly resourced programs. It’s about WILL not dollars. And while I agree that stagnant dinosaurs of institutions will and DO lose the innovators its not necessarily to an emerging educational counter-culture –  That has always been present. We are lured to job security and better pay that institutions offer but that’s not where satisfaction lies.

Relationships grow in communities – thats where uniqueness and individuality are valued, cherished and encouraged – within communities of shared values and goals.  Don’t fear the reactive policy measures – they will come and go – thankfully most of us at least in Australia live with freedom and choice. We can opt-out.And we should if it becomes soul destroying.

So in the coming weeks I’ll be working with some excellent minds to play with new designs, and hopefully to give inspirational teachers room to grow and embrace the complex and chaotic beauty of contemporary learning possibilities. I’m looking forward to the challenge.


cc licensed flickr photo shared by radiobrain_

follow the leaders

By robynjay On January 22nd, 2010

Don’t be a martyr Mike!

Early-adopters, ground-breakers, risk-takers – call them what you will, bu most workplace leaders and innovators I know cannot remember the last time they themselves had any substantial professional development opportunities.

Their ongoing issue is that they are constantly developing the skills and knowledge of others. Typically local events and conferences, and workplace learning strategies are designed for the bulk of employees interests and needs. It is the so called ‘early-adopters’ who run the sessions and inspire the attendees. They also mentor and provide constant informal support within their units and Faculties.

But read my lips!!! – leaders and innovators require exposure to new skills, ideas and technologies too, and they shouldn’t be left to outlay personal funds and time to meet this need.
Unless this happens people like Mike burn out and find a space where motivational interaction and learning occurs. The success of in-house support etc depends on keeping leaders and skilled employees happy and motivated. They need to be actively encouraged to engage online and they need to be supported to identify and attend at least one inspirational event each year. The trickle-down benefits of flying a person to an international event are significant.
Yes we are FAR better off now with online connections and events, but there’s nothing quite like actually physically mixing with and conversing with like minded innovators.
Mike captures the loss beautifully when he says “It’s the feeling that I’m missing out on the excitement, the creative energy, the showmanship, the passion and the fun – missing out on the incredible aire of enthusiastic jubilation that makes for an incredible collaborative learning environment.”


cc licensed flickr photo shared by deserttrumpet