24 September, 2008

Locus of Control


This article from 'Inside Higher Ed' discusses an issue pertinent to the debate around Locus of Control in Blended Learning; a consideration we have begun to address within a number of CPD courses in Edge Hill's Faculty of Health.

The issue of Locus of Control is often avoided (or even frowned upon), but perhaps the debate is becoming more pertinent in an age where HEIs compete for every last student. The debate basically suggests a shift in Locus of Control in blended learning settings, from a Tutor-controlled blend, to a Learner-controlled blend - creating/enforcing/allowing a greater sense of ownership for learning (on the learner's part). Traditionally, it is the academic who determines what parts of a course must be accessed face-to-face, and what 'extension activities' can be through e-learning means, and so the amounts of choice is minimal.

e-Learning promised flexibility. Is this really flexible?

Being involved in any such debate and seeing the different viewpoints is interesting;

Academic managers are certainly in the 'For' side, due to the obvious benefits of recruiting wider audiences, which basically translates to 'more money'!
Then we have the Faculty based champions of e-learning, who genuinely seek to use technology to enhance learning and teaching, and see the possibilities afforded by the developments of Web 2.0, and consequently e-learning 2.0 (yes you all know who you are!).
From a CPD perspective, Employers also sit in the 'For' crowd. Nursing trusts 'send' employees on CPD courses, which translates into time away from wards, which means less man (or woman)-power on the ground. By shifting the locus of control, such learners can access content from a work PC (if by chance they are hooked up with a decent connection, and of course, a firewall that doesn't block everything and anything (is that asking too much?)).

Many people on the ground (not all, but many academics) are shouting for the 'against' side, as they simply do not have the time or technical expertise to create engaging and stimulating content that warrants online access (in opposition to the face-to-face session). Similarly, the 'againsters' (?) believe their students are not technically capable to access materials in such a mode (i.e. too old) or educationally immature (i.e. too young). The notion of educational maturity is a debate which stretches beyond this post, but nonetheless applies equally to the academic as it does to the learner. Some also believe that online learning cannot make up for the interaction within classrooms (see the comment in the article from Dr J, Asssitant Director, Student Services at Florida Gulf Coast University, at 9:41 am EDT on September 23, 2008).) I must say that these viewpoints are becoming more of a minority, and are likely unfamiliar with e-learning theory (with little experience therein).

Andy Guess' article from 'Inside Higher Ed' highlights the willingness, and perhaps educational maturity of many learners to take more responsibility and ownership without having to travel to classes. Afterall, much of contemporary education subscribes to Social Constructivist theories whereby such ownership is a clear objective, and where learners are provided opportunity to find, select, critique, share, and create knowledge, opposed to traditional rote learning 'chalk and talk' approaches. The capabilities for this through use of the Internet and Web 2.0 are endless.

In my opinion, this is the future of learning and teaching, and the worries of many academics (many of which I share) can be tackled through consideration of different conditions to, for example, create and harness a larger Community of Practice that could ever be possible in face-to-face environments.

So, shifting the Locus of Control onto the learner... Possible? (un)Desirable? Over to you...

12 September, 2008

Moving Back off the Web: From Virtual Reality to Alternate Reality

A lot has been said over the years regarding using games/Online Games to aid the learning of complex topics and skills. For example using Civilization III to help children develop an understanding of historial development of civilisations, or using Lord of the Rings online to aid understanding of narrative and it's development in different media.

Jane McGonigal spoke at the New Yorker conference about alternate reality/pervasive games, which can use the connecting power of the web to create Massively Multiplayer (Offline) Games. These are in some ways similar to role playing simulations that I've seen used in the past, but the emphasis is taken off role play - you play yourself in an imagined alternate reality. Looking at the example she spoke of, the game World Without Oil, it is difficult not to be impressed by the potential educational value.

In World Without Oil, instead of players playing an online game set in a virtual environment, they changed their own lives for 32 days, as they would have to if there was an oil shortage. This could be done without being based online but the fact it was, brought together 1800 people who were interested in doing this, created synergy. For example there are the videos that people made to develop this alternate reality, blogs where they shared experiences and ideas, and even personal interaction where people worked together to modify cars to run on biofuel.

Where would it be appropriate to get our students involved in things like this? Is there scholarly value in them? Do they have a place in Higher Education?


09 September, 2008

'Connectivism and Connective Knowledge' Open Online Course

The new Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Open Online course run by George Siemens and Stephen Downes started yesterday at the Univeristy of Manitoba. It is a 12-week course that "will explore the concepts of connectivism and connective knowledge and explore their application as a framework for theories of teaching and learning."

It is particularly interesting because it is an open course that anyone can take part in. Only those who are wanting credit need to pay fees. It also uses a wide variety of online services to enable communication. Matthias Melcher has created a diagram to try and show how some of the tools and services link together and the course Pageflakes page brings together all the RSS feeds related to the course. The university's Wiki is probably the best place to get an overview.

It'll be interesting to see what happens, but at the moment I think open courses like this can bring benefits to the paying students as well as those who just take part. There are lots of readings and learning materials, but there is also real value is in the conversations surrounding them. An increase in the number of people in the debate can, in my experience, help undertanding by making more connections between ideas and bringing diverse ways of looking at things. For an example of the numbers that are at least thinking about getting involved, there are currently about 250 people in the course Facebook group.

05 September, 2008

ALT-C 2008 - Rethinking the Digital Divide

The ALT-C Conference takes place over the next week. If like me, you find it difficult to get away to conferences at this time of year, you can still get involved in the three keynote sessions which are being 'broadcast' using Elluminate Live.

See details on the ALT Conference Weblog, but basically:

-Tuesday 9th Sept 08- 9:50-11:00 BST - Hans Rosling talks about world development.
-Wednesday 10th Sept 08- 14:00 -15:00 BST- Itiel Dror looks more deeply into what learning is and how that might change the way learning materials are created.
-Thursday 11th Sept 08- 12:10-13:10 BST - David Cavallo looks at learning environments and the OLPC.

Visit the Elluminate support pages to make sure your web browser will work with the site. Then go to the conference Elluminate pages at the relevant time to listen to a session, and interact with others who are listening. Elluminate Live is more than just a content delivery tool as it allows audience communication, so it might be an interesting experience if you've not used anything like this before.