Serendipity perhaps. Yesterday I found myself looking at an article by James Davies (2006), 'Dialogue, Monologue and Soliloquy in the Large Lecture Class', International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 19 (2) 178-182) which wonderfully articulates the difference between large class teaching delivered for, and to, an audience and the ruminations of a speaker in their own world on stage. Last night on the BBC Magazine website there was then a wonderful 4 minute clip of actor/director Samuel West describing the different manner in which that Shakespeare's famous soliloquy from Hamlet "To Be or Not to Be...." might be performed. The two sit beautifully together as a little staff development package for academics, and I for one intend to use them that way!
Universities are having a tough time. I know this because the EDUCAUSE workshop we were running next week has been cancelled due to small numbers, and I don’t THINK it was because it was simply too tedious for the US audience. Apparently there just isn’t enough money in the system to allow for that extra day of workshops for many people.
One might suggest Universities are simply having a tough time with reality. Where do we ‘fit’ now in Civil Society. Have we noticed that Civil Society has changed, is changing. Budgets are tight, government is weary of paying for the intangible benefits when there are so many pressing tangible needs and the commercial world (in the broadest sense) tires of ‘re-training’ graduates for a world of work.
What strikes me most about working in Universities is the earnest complacency. There are people, of course, who work at the sharp edge of their professions, advising teachers in the schools, doing a day a week at the counselling service, working in businesses delivering customised language and translation services, a myriad of different ‘real-life’ implementations of their subject knowledge. And then there are the rest.
And it isn’t about the soft woolly social sciences versus hard science. Both can be equally detached from the societies they serve. And they do ‘serve’. My current institution is developing an exciting vision of its future, including a Learning & Teaching Strategy, or Student Experience Strategy or whatever one might choose to call it.
There will be the usual round of cynical protestations about threats to academic freedom and the independence of the academy. The resistance to the ‘digital’ move, the wholesale adoption of the virtual learning environment to support all programmes is part of this tough reality. The difficulty for educational developers is knowing whether to talk at a personal and practical level or a theoretical level. The apparent resistance to ‘working digitally’ is often a simple failure to grasp a shift in some of the fundamental realities of the changing nature of Higher Education, the shifting origins of students (apparent digital natives and naives ) and the changing daily reality in work places.
The analogy of Universities being much like the Church, the last guardians of many significant aspects of our heritages and some fairly appalling abuses too, strikes me as rather apparent today. The 'denial', and it is often subtle, is not JUST about the relative merits of adopting contemporary communications technology to support learners, it is surely about the loss of the privileged position of the 'sage on the stage', the Savant Professor. We aren't going to make a meaningful impression on the students experience without an open and frank debate about the nature of contemporary Higher Education.
An institutional Learning &; Teaching Strategy should be a conversation about the nature of Higher Education, the nature of our knowledge society and our specific role, as an institution, within it. Where we are in Civil Society. And yes, we’ll have a tough time having that conversation.
It's been five weeks since I got back to New Zealand from a brief conference visit to the UK. Amazing how time flies.
I had some fantastic conversations around attendance at both the JISC Digitisation Conference (Gloucester) http://www.jisc.ac.uk/jdcc09 & European LAMS Learning Design Conference (Milton Keynes)
The UK education sector has invested very heavily in recent years in the digitisation of museum, library and University collections for tertiary teaching and research purposes. Following completion of Phase 2 of the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) Digital Content Conference 2009 discussed what was working with respect to the sustained integration of digitised content. Primarily focussed on UK universities, although other tertiary providers were represented, I would guess some 200 people attended over the two day event. The thematic strands revolved around: Managing Content; Content Development Strategies; Content In Education; User Engagement; Looking Into The Future. Kevin Burden, a colleague from the University of Hull, and myself had been invited to present the results of our Phase I assisted take-up project developing a framework of engagement activities (www.DiAL-e.net). Our 90 minute ‘workshop’, was concerned with mechanism for getting take-up of these rich digitised resources. It's clear that there is till a hige range of practical and logistical issues facing the broad spectrum of users. It's hard in fact to address an audience when some are still unsure 'why' you would use a digital resource and others are concerned with new rich blends of multi-media in immersive environments. A real challenge. But we got some great feedback and there's a good write up of the session on the JISC digitisation blog
The following week I attended the one-day 2009 European LAMS Learning Design Conference at the Open University. As a former employee it was great to see familiar faces in the audience and to be able to identify people by name during Q&A. The conference, attended by less than 100, was a rather specialist affair. My rearranged presentation followed is a series with some really interesting perspectives including one from Diana Laurillard on a large project run by the IoE in London on online learning design tools. My personal highlight was a stimulating insight into the OU’s OpenLearn initiative (what people access and why) from Patrick McAndrew. This gave me a good deal of food for thought. I again presented the DiAL-e framework and current work to make learning designs more accessible to practitioners. The two events demonstrated a strong philosophical move towards freely available open digital content (OER - Open Educational Resources), but a clear recognition that content needed to be interpreted, evaluated and reused effectively if the challenges of the massification of higher education were to be met with quality learning experiences.
Now I just need to work out how to get traction of the academic professional development side of the equation.
From information delivery to cognitive guidance.... how's that for a workshop title. I'm working up my notes for Wednesday, looking back on some great resources produced by Lynn Saville and her team at the University of Hull and various pieces by Richard Mayer. All those coffee conversations about poorly presented seminars and lectures and now I am actually being asked to tak about that to a willing audience ! So Auckland Wednesday...very early start and will be a long day.
The other concern about ‘transferring practice to alternative contexts’ has arisen in connection with staff asking about the ‘online delivery of lectures’. It looks like institutionally there will be some support for Adobe Connect but whether staff are in a position to use it effectively will depend on a range of external factors. I’m preparing for a couple of PD events on the PowerPoint->Presenter->Connect equation and again, it raises a number of interesting issues.
Why! The educational developers favourite question (were we all those kids at the pool and in the supermarket queue going’but whhyyyyyy’ to parents great irritation?) Why do you want to ‘deliver the lecture’ online. Why is it a lecture? Why is the student going to benefit from this mode of delivery. I’m looking at some interesting uses of PowerPoint/Presenter as stand alone resources which might be seen as multi-modal workbooks, animated, engaging
objects which stand-alone for the student. These might then indeed have some kind of facilitated discourse around them, and that may well happen inside Connect so the presentation (or an alternative version of it) might be shared and annotated, referenced and so on. I am struggling with the concept that the online synchronous ‘presentation’ is an effective use of the student, or lecturers, time. Why (there’s that word again!) would one take the time to present. Maybe it relates in part to the fact that in our face-to-face practice we can ‘half-prepare’ the representation because we often ‘busk’ around the edges. If we want to create a genuinely usefully internally scaffolded and referenced presentation… well that takes real work.
Do most academic staff consider these issues of internal structure to their content? Or are they so used to deal with a linear information exchange model that they just don’t think about it. Who can blame them? How do we change that. How do we move from the ‘Sage on the Stage’ approach to the ‘content author/facilitator’ model on an institutional basis.
Working this week with a variety of practical tools to develop learning content and thinking seriously about how they are structured, internally referenced, and where the opportunities for scaffolding professional development within them might be. This seems easiest at first glance with the Frontpage eXe editing tool which creates reasonable XHTML code and has a variety of expert options including IMS/SCORM packages that work fine in Moodle at least. However, it raises some really interesting questions about ‘how’, in practice, most academic staff actually build the materials they use in their teaching. Here I’ve been dealing with content written in word and passed to an administrative member of staff who has ‘transferred’ it into eXe. There are clear issues with awful Mso code being imported which is tiresome to get rid of.
More interesting is perhaps the mismatch or disjuncture in the authoring process for Word than for the delivery environment. We may NOT want academic staff authoring content direct into the VLE, but we need them close enough to the delivery context to understand the issues of sequencing, pause, reflection and action. The argument might be for the development of a more structured ‘template’ for each authoring environment, and indeed the professional conversation with authoring teams around the development of a template would in itself prove valuable. My own development of the these MS-Word-> eXe materials for one specific undergraduate course makes me think there must be a better way. Just need more time to think about what it might be.
I’m re-engaging with Second Life. Why? Well partly I like torturing myself in a slightly masochistic sense by visiting all these mammoth University Campus islands with their beautifully designed (empty) lecture theatres and marvel at the idea that so many bright people could have so spectacularly missed the point. But I also feel that I should be giving Vision FLux (yes, that’s my SL name) a little bit more of a run. I fancy Vision is getting somewhat wide around the waist and needs a little more exercise. I have been in SL on and off since 2006 and I still don’t think I’ve quite come to terms with that identity. Needs work.
Had an interesting meeting with staff at SouthPacificPress on the 14th. They produce some really interesting materials to support literacy development in a classroom context called CSI (Comprehension Strategies Instruction), blending PD for staff with learner resource. The ‘interactive’ dimension is relatively limited but not inappropriate given that it is all teacher-led. It was interesting to see that proprietary interactive software being used to protect IPR. It made me think about the effectiveness of teaching literacy and writing and the idea that one can separate the two. As I left I couldn’t help thinking about the improvements in literacy through creative writing workshops using 'itinerant' teachers ('resting' authors mostly) in the 'Valencia 826' project.
It made me go back and watch again the inspirational clip on TED.COM of its originator Dave Eggers: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/dave_eggers_makes_his_ted_prize_wish_once_upon_a_school.html
It was a very interesting conversation. To come from last weeks focus on OER to be talking about the needs and concerns of publishers, investing a lot in resource development, was very thought provoking.
It’s always difficult to remember where a good idea comes from ! Two years ago, Kevin Burden and I, along with Theo Kuechel, began to conceptualise what became the DiAL-e Framework of ‘learning designs’ (www.dial-e.net). It was an iterative process of design classifications from 6, then 7 to 9 and finally 10 designs or categories of learner experiences.
Two of these were further divided into different iterations of the design. In London on the 8th/9th April, Kevin and I moved from coffee shop to the Institute of Education to coffee shop describing the process to each other as we remembered it. One wishes one had twittered and blogged then to have captured some of that process. Essentially we were considering a process. We were determined not to illustrate the NewsFilm archive with subject based exemplars back in 2007 and instead developed a framework, a window frame, for looking at a variety of facets, learning objects, archive materials, web 2.0 technologies, even staff assumptions about technology use. We have descriptions, and exemplars of different learning engagement techniques for different learning contexts. At workshops (ASCILITE07, ED-MEDIA08) these were well received and commented on.
Now we are beginning to take them out to everyone, not just the educational technologists and academic developers. And so we have agreed to populate the dial-e.net space with examples which can be ‘backwards engineered’ in a variety of simple accessible forms, slideware such as PowerPoint and HTML editors such as eXe. By the time we get to the European LAMS & Learning design Conference in July09 and EDUCAUSE in Nov09 we would hope to have provided significant access to the DiAL-e designs and see evidence of them being used.
We keep asking ourselves what other people mean by reusability, but seeing people download PPT files, edit them, deliver them and share them again would satisfy my definition !