The Sun and the North Wind

the_north_wind_and_the_sun_-_wind_-_project_gutenberg_etext_19994

janwillemsen www.flickr.com under CC licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As Bates (2016) put it: “Using technology can give you possibilities to rethink your teaching”.

Yes, it does. And I have.

First of all: Seeing all the available open resources made me understand that it is much easier than I anticipated to make students find, analyze and apply information on their own. And it actually helped me mentally “responsibilize” them to collect material, allocating them more liberty in choices and exploration. Exploring the possibilities with “case”-scenarios will most probably be a part of my future teacher practice. In fact, I already formulated one for using in an ongoing course, although I did not get to use it, because of time constraints.

Secondly: I am more aware of including digital perspective from the start and in a more natural manner. I find the TPACK-model extremely useful in reflecting this mind-set (Mirza &Koehler, 2006).

Thirdly: Technology has a supreme advantage when it comes to being able to share your own reflection, a group performance and also see what others have contributed. This is the most evident usage I see before me, and I already started to think about the implementation in the upcoming course.

If I was to extract one theory that had the most impact on me I must say communities of practice (Wenger, 2010), it has sharpened my set of arguments for collaborative methods. Although I think it should be used with caution in order not to eat up all available time in a course. It is indeed time consuming, and prioritizing what is best dealt with in the group respectively individually is crucial. Teaching somebody else facilitates deep learning, having unstructured problems promotes seeking and selection skills, and collaboration makes us better at sharing and communicating, and all these together form the basis of a sustainable and continuous development – but neither of them are fast process. I see it as a bit of a paradox to promote collaboration and self-leadership as the methods when the goal is fast and efficient learning. What can be taken away? Or how do we deal with the frustration of students – if they feel that they don’t have time to read all they want to, investigating what they are interested in, if they feel instead that they are suspended in their progress. It was unquestionably one of the most repeated comments in the evaluation of the ONL-course as well – the participants’ desire to reflect and really discuss in depth was not fully met.

It becomes critical to borrow the concept of educational affordance here (Kirschner, 2002) : the relationship between the properties of an educational intervention and the characteristics of the learner that enable certain kinds of learning to take place – it shapes the possibilities for learners; how learners perceive these possibilities, and the extent to which they can be realized.

Hence, it is not only about what the teacher intend that the student shall be able to do in the chosen design and environment – it is perhaps more imperative what the student perceive that he or she can do. So it is not only about designing the smartest and most optimized ways and places to learn – it is to make the student see it too.

I am still slightly provoked by the, in my opinion quite exaggerated differences between the new world and the old. Weller (2014) being the refreshing exception! Regardless the ever changing context during the past millenials the human brain has remained more or less the same. And more or less the same things facilitate learning. If there is one thing I lacked during the course it would have been some connection to function of the brain like working memory, the need of repetitions, etc

 

 

However, am I more of a resident than a visitor now (White, 2011)? I am not sure. Besides the blogging, I would describe myself a conscious visitor with a more up-to-date net-conduct than before.

Yet, I will always be tremendously grateful for taking this course – I have a whole new set of words and concepts that color a world that I only sensed the corners of before. I better understand my own mission, which is to train teachers to become the best they can be at creating learning experiences for students.

In that process I think that they have to be allowed to feel confident – to feel like they too have a value. It is a fine thread to balance on introducing “new” perspectives and still acknowledging the background of that individual teacher. In order to avoid a culture shock, I believe we have to focus on the similarities – what we can agree on – and as McLouchlan&Lee (2008) suggest, accord time for talking; rising of awareness, and discussions about pedagogic approaches. The risk is ending up in the unflattering position of being the “north wind” and all you manage to do is to make them zip up (Aesop 620-564 BC).

 

 

Who is in control?

I am not part of the Net-geners or Gen-Xers (Maclougher and Lee, 2008), I am definitely not a digital native, I am not capable of operating at a twitch speed, multitask, visualize while communicating in multiple modalities. Sometimes reading these descriptions make me feel that my brain has a “best before” date imprinted on it. And that this date was yesterday.

Do not get me wrong – I am not against development, I am not even a fan of static comfortness, but sometimes I think that the differences of “the new world” compared to the old is somewhat exaggerated. At least in terms of pedagogy.

Sure, it has been helpful to read Gilly Salmons five staged idea of how helping students onboard in an online environment (even though it is maybe questionable when exactly the transition happens) – I will undeniably dedicate more time to purposed online socializing and make first task very easy, perhaps even turn it into a “get-to-know-eachother”- challenge. And if I were to take on teaching at an online course I would definitely read Bates’ in depth. After his summary overview I will bring with me not to assume that online learning automaticly is time-saving for teachers. Quality online learning is not comparable to a MOOC (which is more like educational television) but highly depending on digitally skilled and confident subject experts. Online learning is moreover more suitable for students already high in self-discipline – or you might have to dedicate time to teach that too. Also important that the students feel that the teachers follows their work. Some kind of supervision is indeed interpreted as care.

In the summary of things to consider in online course design, Bates (2016) counts: A clear timetable of work based on a well structured organization of the curriculum, manageable study workload, appropriate for student conditions for learning, regular instructor communication and presence, a social environment that contributes to the knowledge and experience of other students, a skilled teacher or instructor and other motivated learners to provide mutual support and encouragement. For my part, I have a hard time seeing what would be the difference in face2face learning design. Same with the ADDIE-model: an easy-to follow structure, that emphasis the need for adapting to audience and take into consideration the time for the teacher to also train him or herself in the implementation. Not one single thing would be inappropriate in a face2face learning environment.

Instead I struggle with the same issues in both settings; the challenge of combining the two seemingly impossible friends: the control from the student and control from the teacher. How am I going to allow self-direction and learner control without depriving the student of structure and scaffolding?

There are forces that push us towards the instructor control and others that speaks for student control: Pedagogy 2.0, in which student autonomy suggests partnership and not leadership between teacher and student, and where allowing student personalization, participation and productivity are guidelines for all teaching designs, is part of the latter. In the other end there is the LMS where instructor control is emphasized. This past few months I got more and more aware of the more invisible structure and control that is embedded in LMS, a colleague of mine Karin calls it pre-figuration (Bolldén, 2015), but there is an option to take control of the environment and re-figurate it. Another solution is just to leave the LMS taking care of the things that it does best: handling the registration-, storing demands on a governmental authority. For the rest; collaboration, interaction and creativity – we do best in creating these opportunities outside of the LMS (Watson, 2014)

My recent experience of working in PBL group – guidance, leadership and structure proved to be essential to move the task forward, even (or maybe especially) when collaborating. Without a set goal and somebody keeping eye at it at all time, and making us all see it – it became hard to work up that community uniting around a shared reality (Wenger, 2010), we tended to hast into a final product of more or less unimportant quality. It really showed the importance of individuals being motivated for the group’s sake and not for an individual purpose. For that the group needed structure and organization.

Connectivism (Siemens, 2005) in some sort summarises the qualities required for thriving – or perhaps just surviving – in the digital era: Effective learners are those who can cope with complexity, contradictions and large quantities of information who seek out various sources of knowledge and who can create and sustain learning communities and networks (Siemens, 2005). It becomes quite obvious then, that you cannot teach somebody that independent mastery – it would be completely contradictory to foster a self-directed person by controlling the whole process towards it. That has to be learnt. Not taught.

However, complexity, contradictions, large quantities of information, impossible to overlook, would according to Karasek&Theorell (1990), correspond to a high level of stress: especially together with little or lacking social support. Stress in mild portions can create driving force but in mass it leads to conditions not very favorable for learning, harming both motivation and learning capacity (Selye, 1978). This seemingly emphasizes instructor role: teachers must scaffold and support: the student must feel control and support in order not to be overwhelmed by stress and thus losing motivation and learning ability. Probably this is what is behind Salmon’s (2015) guidelines for fist and second stage – however the transition into the more independent learner is delicate – what if the scaffolding, mild challenge and high support in the beginning cement the student into passiveness? How would you determine the right level of chaos that the individual learner could handle in each moment of the learning process?

The deeper problem here is that too much of instructor control actually can harm the motivation and initiative of the student – hindering him or her in their development. Deci, (1972) and Kohn (1993) were early in stating the potential harm of external rewards/control on intrinsic motivation. Klingberg (2016) suggest both in his own research and Fryer et al (2010) that incentives, especially when directed at the end product can harm intrinsic motivation. However, using it on process-related features might prevent or at least milder that effect, for example time on task or the number of times solving type problem. During topic 2, both Brindley, Walti, Blaschke (2009) and Capdeferro et al (2012) suggested awarding participation rather than production in group which is in line with the above.

 

If not receiving any clear answers during this topic, at least I got some sort of assent from McLoughlin & Lee (2008) and Anderson (2008) for example, this latter mentioned the potential problems with a teacher being too much guide-on–the-side – it is a bit nice to know that this apparently is “the thing” to struggle with.

My only personal answer for the time being is to try to instill these counter weigh to stress within the individual: capacity to take control (to which a good portion of confidence is needed – that is another issue) and to bond with others in order to both give and receive support. How do these fit into the 21st century skills?

 

Sources without hyperlink:

Deci (1972) Deci, Edward L. 1972. “The Effects of Contingent and Noncontingent Rewards and Controls on Intrinsic Motivation.” Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 8: 217-229.

Karasek R, Theorell T (1990) Healthy work: Stress, productivity, and the Reconstruction of working life. New York: Basic books

Kohn, A. (1993) Punished by Rewards. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. [53]

Seyle, H. (1975) Stress without distress.Vie médicale au Canada français, Vol 4(8), Aug 1975, 964-968.

Emotions and thoughts

What a thought-inspiring content this Topic!

As I professionally strongly identify with the teacher I was struck by the possible implications that these collaborative matters have on the teacher role. Yes, of course I should think about my own learning networks, even though I always relied on my naturally (and overly active) curiosity in forming these. As a consequence, I am much more worried about spending too much time caught up in listening and reading about others views and stories. I can only refer to the reading of blogs in this course – it can quickly bite off a whole afternoon!

There were two particularly intriguing areas: 1. The role of emotion in learning, 2. Good connections and individual motivation within a group. I will go into them one at a time:

The webinar with professor Cleveland-Innes brought up the placement of emotions, vis-à-vis the rest of the “social, cognitive and teaching presence” which are the three conditions needed for deep and meaningful learning to occur. Either handling emotion is part of the social presence, or it is a separate category of its own. Cleveland-Innes reclined towards the latter meaning that the implication then must be an acknowledgement that emotions are at play in learning and that teachers should be trained in dealing with emotions in learning, how to encourage to safely express emotions for example. The questionnaires that we filled out during the webinar showed proof of these emotional categories ex: “Emotion is expressed”, “to express emotion is accepted by members”, “I feel comfortable expressing emotions”, ”the instructors acknowledge emotions expressed by students”, ”Participants respond emotionally to ideas and activities”, ”the teacher demonstrates emotions in online presentations..:”. Hopefully this collected data will help to move the thinking even forward in this area. I cannot help but relating to brain constitution where only about 5% is made out of the higher cognitive skills in the cortex, the area that deals with logic and rational thinking – the rest is made up out of more primitive reactions, automatic behavior and instincts and of course emotions, if the proportions are anywhere near that when it comes to logic and emotion in learning it would indeed be a big mistake not to take them into consideration. Anthonio Damasio, a neuroscientist at the university of California, definitely agree in his book “Decartes’ error: emotion, reason and the human brain” (2005) where he argues that emotions play a key roles in decision-making, not to mention Kahneman (2011), who won the Nobel price showing, among other things, to what extent we use emotional heuristics in thinking processes.

The second most captive subject this topic is the balance between enhancing safe climate so that individual dare expressing the real opinion and the too cosy atmosphere where participants go to great length in order to preserve these good relations – also over finding a good answer. Researchers in team work like Wheelan (2010 revised 2013) would argue that having differences of opinion is the most important thing in order to make collaboration work – so a group of friends would necessarily not cooperate well, too much of agreements and too little of critical thinking. In the conference “The power of disorder to transform your lives”, Economist Tim Harford talked about how uneasiness, distraction and unplanned events actually can be what create the highest creativity and best solutions. Having a group of friends trying to solve murder puzzles actually had a much smaller chance of a successful outcome than when strangers were working together. How is that compatible with Brindley, Blaschke and Walti (2009), vouching for a period of sole “getting-to-know” and building relationship before starting to work together? And is it really a good thing to let learners choose groups themselves as suggested by Capdeferro& Romero (2012)? Would that not lead to friends staying together? Among other things that could also cement the expert roles of participants, impeding the group to develop (ibid).

Could the explanation to these apparent contradictions be the goal/purpose that you have in focus? Individuals are more prone to strive for their own personal purpose, and just using the group to attain it (cf Siemens, 2005 first two stages), which would make them more oriented towards the course goal whereas a group of friend would (also) have other aims about being together than the mere completion of an assignment. The interesting question is then what would happen if the product of collaboration is lacking assessments? Would that further deviate the attention of the individual away from the purpose of the group assignment? Drawing on strictly personal experience, I find myself contenting with less production, being less “pushy” in this ONL-collaboration than I usually have been when formal judgment was being placed on the end project. I take more the role of an observer than actively driving. I am not that devastated of posting an end-product that is not “perfect”. Is that good or bad? Is it individual accountability that leads to more learning? I do not know. It is different, that I know. And I do reflect more on the process. Maybe it comes down to the simple but yet so complicated question – what learning are we talking about?

So when a group is not functioning optimally maybe it is better described in Wenger’s (2010) terms: missing common artifacts; a shared language, mutual norms and concepts, and the ability to see the value of the group and yourself as part of that group? Anderson (2008) would more stress that maybe the introductory presentations were too superficial and that the teacher is too much of a guide-on-the-side, either not managing discourse in a satisfactory way or ducking for the direct instructions. Brindley, Blaschke &Walti (2009) thinks that it could just be unexperience: skills in planning and negotiation statements about participation.

Hence, collaboration is not an easy task. I still do feel quite lost on how to design activities in a group that guarantee level of positive interdependence (Capdeferro & Romerro, 2012). The role of the teacher as the one asking question seems to be at least as hard as having all the answers.

Nevertheless, as compared to the elephant attack in last topic I feel quite enthusiastic – and more confident yet with Anderson (2010 p 360) quote: “an excellent e-teacher is an excellent teacher”. You do not need to be a technical expert either as long as you can have some self-efficacy; a sense of competence and comfort and not ending up in severe panic when something is not working as usual. Of course this conclusion would be the result of some serious selective perception on my part, not to mention a good evidence of how emotions guide learning 😉

  • Anderson, T. (2008). Teaching in an online learning context. In The theory and practice of online learning (pp. 343-395). Athabasca university press. Available here.
  • Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3). Available here
  • Capdeferro, N. & Romero, M. (2012). Are online learners frustrated with collaborative learning experiences?. The International review of research in open and distance learning, 13(2), 26-44. Available here.
  • Damasio, A (2005) Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Putnam Publishing, Penguine edition
  • Hartford, T. (2016) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbEMic2RjX8&t=1633s
  • Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow (2012 in Swedish) (Volante förlag[6]
  • Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice (pp. 179-198). Springer London. Available here.
  • Wheelan, S. (2013) How to create successful teams

Topic 2 Openness

How open are you? Truly open? Alastair asked. How much do you share?

I am not. I do not. I realize that after this topic. It is not a very gratifying position especially not after David Whiley (2014) made the flattering metaphor of the self-focused three-year-old. However, it is quite overwhelming discovering all that is out there and more than once it feels like you have been overrun by a herd of elephants. Elephants that all of them got the concepts of openness.

At least I know how to license things that I want to share and I know how not to be illegal when using pictures in my presentations (Thanks to the guide on Creative Commons Licenses https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YkbeycRa2A). But I must admit that I seriously considered becoming a photographer just for the sake of not having to make references to others. Trying it a few times now, I am not always sure I put the right link to it, but at least I acknowledge the source. That is a step already. As well as knowing what OER and MOOCS stand for. I am deeply grateful to the introducing quotation to chapter 4 in “the Battle for open”: To understand the world at all, sometimes you could only focus on a tiny bit of it (Donna Tartt) Weller, M. (2014,). I think that one picked me up after the elephant-attack…

Actually, the book is my preferred reading during these weeks: it was a fresh breeze of balance in a somewhat extreme message during this topic 2, Veronika in my PBL group referred to it as the openness-gospel (https://frkekstrom.wordpress.com/2016/10/21/different-aspects-of-openess/). It addressed the difficulties going open and the reluctance from educators to adopt OER’s arising from difficulty to find suitable resources, the time taken to adapt them and their context (Wiley’s reusability paradox). 70% do think it is important but only 56% publish and 5% under CC license. But the barriers to sharing content has lowered considerably. This was part of chapter 7 that I did not have time to read yet.

Ever since I first heard about the open resources I was wondering about the financing, the hours of work that lie behind the end-product, and I understand now that it is not always about creating new learning objects and course design but primarily about making open what already exist – but still remains the question about content accuracy and keeping resources up-to-date? In the chapter they refer to as sustainability. Most often a non profit organisation or such initially makes a donation, then there are three ways:

  • The MIT model: OER’s created and released by dedicated centralized paid project team
  • The USU model: OER are created by a hybrid of centralized team and decentralized staff (each new course is scrubbed, formated and made context independent by a central team, cost covered by requirement value of open material, student go on to sign up for formal course.
  • The Rice model: decentralized model around a community of contributors.

Not to forget in the equation is the Universities’ interest in marketing themselves, creating brand awareness and attracting students and researchers. So there are still commercial interests – A number of companies use OER’s as support or core product to for example adapt to national standards, offer LMS and API to intergrate with, collaborate with teachers to create OER for teachers, or like OpenClass from Pearson Education where they use OER to promote their own platform. In this way they can tie users in paid for services at a later date. Or try to establish a monopoly. My concern is that blurred boundaries between commercial interest and open interest might be a great hinder if one of the main purposes of openness is to enhance democracy and that nonprofit organization just do not have the economical mean to compete with marketing budgets of educational companies.

But there are some elements that are really convincing:

  • The comparison between the revolution of word press and the internet in speeding up and making information accessible to “the masses” and how other previously privileged actors feel the loss of control and make attempts to prevent the process. Just like copyright laws do today and the church did in the 15th century (Whiley, 2014).
  • I also acknowledge the fact that there are more creativity and possibilities in interacting via the open web. LMS to fulfill our official requirement of documentation and legal processes but in combination with the open web seems to be the golden solution (Watson, 2014) Learning management system or the open web? Cofa Videos,
  • It does seem a bit useless reinventing the wheel over and over again in all these introductory courses in Higher Education. It is going to be interesting to see more of collaborations between universities, this ONL is a great example!
  • In relation to this something very interesting happens to the role of the teacher – first with the access of all the online information and in a plural world where knowledge moves very fast forward – it became something else than being “the knowledgeable” and now with the access to learning resources, the teacher become something else than “creator of content”. Alastair Creelman put it quite well in the Padlet preceding our webinar: “Isn’t your value as a teacher your ability to teach, guide, mentor and inspire rather than just creating content that in most cases already exists? It also seems to have an impact on course design. In the EdTech Conference in Stockholm, 2016 (http://www.edtechsweden.se/) they talked about that if we are to educate more people with more knowledge and in less time we have to “Target the dollars”: really weigh what should be face2face activities”. Most of the speakers agreed on that these activities are those that develop empathy, curiosity and innovative ability – these can not for the moment be replaced by digital tools or robots.

 

As for the moment I am happy if I can detox from openness for a while and focus on these very human aspects and in my very close surrounding. Maybe just knocking on the door to a colleague for a cup of coffee, and not even bringing the phone to the cafeteria 😉

focusing on a tiny bit of the world!

 

Watson, (2014) Learning management system or the open web? Cofa Videos,

Whiley, D. (2010) Open education and the future, Ted Talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rb0syrgsH6M

Weller, M. (2014). Battle for Open: How openness won and why it doesn’t feel like victory. London: Ubiquity Press.