Monthly Archives: April 2013

Feeling Overwhelmed or Not Keeping Up?

A few people I have spoken to about the ocTEL course are feeling a bit overwhelmed and behind already, (me included). I think there are a few things worth remembering:

  1. Everyone will engage differently. Don’t compare yourself with some of the more prolific bloggers or contributors. Some people will just read the materials and listen in to some of the webinars, and that is totally fine, they will still learn a great deal. Others will not blog at all but may part in the discussion in the forums or on Twitter, – that is ok too. Some people will do a lot one week and nothing the next: still absolutely fine. There are no strict rules with MOOCs, no right or wrong ways to engage and no one will chase you up.
  2. No one can engage with everything. Not even the course leaders and tutors. It is impossible. Do what you can, when you can. Some engagement is great. Don’t feel guilty about not doing everything.
  3. If you miss a week for any reason or don’t do much one week, don’t worry, just move on. If you wait until you catch-up to move on, you never will. You can always revisit the earlier materials later or after the course has finished. If you move on when the next batch of resources come out you will keep up with the discussions etc.
  4. Don’t give up even if you have done nothing or very little yet, it is not too late to join in. Perhaps do the ‘if you only do one thing this week’ in the sections you haven’t engaged with yet then move on.

Online Learning Readiness

I completed all the questionnaires, just because I am a bit of a geek and like taking questionnaires :). Luckily they confirmed I was ready to take an online course, (phew seen as I am signed up for this course!). I did think they were useful tools in helping potential online students consider what they were about to take on, but also raised a couple of issues:

Firstly that it is important to manage expectation of students and this is not limited to online courses. We are focusing this on online courses as the course is about TEL, and because online courses are probably new to some people, so we have to manage their expectations. However each course, no matter what the delivery format should have its expectations clear in terms of how long it will take; the delivery format; what the tutor responsibilities are: what the student responsibilities are; how much self-directed study the students will be expected to do; whether group work and collaborative work are involved, and so on. This will make it much easier for a potential student to decide if a course is for them or not and will prevent wasting everyone’s time of a student enrolling on something that is clearly unsuitable.

I think the questionnaires did not make clear the importance of some of the issues. For example if you lack access to a pc with internet connection, that pretty much rules you out of doing an online course. However if you answered no to being able to attach a file to an email – that could be shown to you very quickly and should not act as a deterrent to participating. Some of the skills the students could develop as they participate. I am sure that not everyone will have had have the skills to participate in a MOOC at the start of this course, but it does not mean they won’t be successful in developing them during participation.

Finally on procrastination and time management/self organisation. Who isn’t guilty of procrastination from time to time, especially when you are using social networking tools to help support you take a course? In addition who could claim to have perfect time management and self-organisation? Often taking part in a course like this does drop down the priority list, especially when it is voluntary and not an official part of our day-jobs. Again these skills can be developed in time. Motivation is an important aspect to consider, as if you are highly motivated, you will find time to participate and develop the skills you need to succeed.

The Teaching Machine, Socratic Method and Social Constructivism

The Teaching Machine was learning by reinforcement by of right/wrong. It used small steps to build up knowledge about something. It had the advantages of self-paced, individualised learning but could not test higher levels of thinking and did not involve collaboration, discussion or other social aspects. It had the advantage of learning independently and privately, so not exposing to weaker students. The disadvantage is that it assumes there is one right answer to questions, so is limited to its applicability to certain disciplines. The learning also must have been very linear, so does not cater for different approaches to learning.

The Socratic method was about drawing out knowledge rather than cramming it in, which differed from the teaching machine, which was definitely about cramming information into the students. The Socratic method is about questioning and thinking not just reproducing answers, which presumably how the teaching machine worked, as the technology could not have been very sophisticated at that time. The Socratic method is about learning socially through dialogue where as no discussion or social activity took place using the teaching machine. The Socratic method may not suit all students though as those less confident would not feel good about their ideas being pulled apart or questioned. They would feel very exposed. It would also not work well with topics that were totally new to students, as they would have no experience on which to draw or build on.

Social constructivism put the emphasis on the social aspects of learning, so learning with others via dialogue and collaboration, and also on creating things to assist the learning process. The teaching machine does not do either of these things as the learning was very individual, and students work in the same room but no collaboration appears to take place. In addition the students are not using what they have learnt to apply to other contexts or learning higher order skills of critique and evaluation.

In summary the teaching machine probably offered an improvement to education at the time, so rather than learning all together by reciting times-tables etc, the teaching machine offered the students a more individualised learning experience, allowed them to work at their own pace, and I am sure was a novelty at the time, so learning perhaps was more fun than students were used to. The reward of getting something right and moving on is similarly to the badge system which is popular at the moment. Some students who were perhaps slower to learn and not confident would have preferred the teaching machine to the Socratic method, even though questioning techniques can be very effective in some contexts to achieve higher order skills. The teaching machine however does not fit very well under the social constructivist way of learning, as there was not social activity and the students were not really constructing anything new based on the knowledge that they have learnt

Week 1 – Do Mitra’s and Mazur’s methods transfer to other contexts?

Week 1 – For the first task this week, I have chosen Sugata Mitra’s keynote, in fact I think I may have been at that presentation, I have heard him speak and he is a very engaging and inspiring presenter. I think what he did in his work with children worked extremely well, and demonstrated a natural curiosity and willingness to learn in children. I wonder though if this is transferable to HE and even more pertinent to my role as Academic Developer, with professional adults? I run short training courses, usually about TEL. I don’t have regular classes with my participants, just a couple of hours, and I can’t really give them preparatory or follow-up work. So would Mitra’s methods work here? If I asked academic staff to huddle round a pc in groups of 4 to find out about the pedagogic affordances of blogs and/or wikis, would it have the same response? And how would they respond to being asked to do that? Also what has stopped them looking this up before if they are curious about it? Although we really try to approach our courses from a pedagogical perspective, we do find that staff really want the ‘how’ not the ‘why’. Similar with Mazur’s peer instruction, if I used that method with academic staff on a short training course, would that work? My guess is that it wouldn’t go down well. Has anyone tried these methods in short training course contexts, particularly with academic staff? Have they worked? I would be very interested in hearing other’s experience on this.

Week 1 – and already playing catch up!!

Well it is week 1 and already I feel I am playing catch up. I was on holiday last week, so missed out on the introductory stuff, and am having enough trouble catching up with my normal work, so I am struggling to engage with the amount of material and resources for week 1. I imagine many of you feel the same, as it can be very daunting starting a new course, making new friends (not easy with 800+ participants and not meeting face-to-face), and engaging perhaps in new ways and using new communication methods.

I have taken part in a couple of MOOCs before, so have some idea what to expect, however, it is still difficult to try and set time aside and accept that you are not going read/engage with everything, and that is ok. The more you do engage, the more you will get out of it, BUT no one has the time to read all the discussion posts, blogs, resources etc, so you have to accept that fact. The best thing is to find a strategy that you know you can stick to.

  1. Decide how you are going to engage – many have set up blogs and some use Twitter, others may just contribute to the discussion forums. Decide what you want to do and set up the accounts if necessary.
  2. Decide when you are going to engage – again not easy, as this type of self-directed professional development often falls to become lower priority to other work. See when you can fit it in – it may be evenings, it may be an hour each morning, or if you are lucky and dedicated day/morning/afternoon each week. Put it in your diary/calendar and stick to it. Treat it like a face-to-face course that you have signed up for and keep that time free and use it for that purpose. Go somewhere else if necessary away from distractions.
  3. Decide how much time you realistically have to engage – and make sure you adapt your expectations accordingly. Accept the limitations, so if you only have an hour a week, you are not going to have time to read loads of blogs etc, you may only have time to do one thing and tweet or discuss that one item. Don’t be put off by the amount of possible work you could do on this. No one will manage all of it all of the time.
  4. Accept you won’t have enough time to engage with even a fraction of the content that is around. That is perfectly fine and normal. Someone doing this full time would still not be able to do that. See what interests you and learn something and discuss with others.
  5. If you miss a week or don’t have time to engage much, move on when then next materials come out – don’t try and catch up later as it is very unlikely to happen – unless you have a week booked off to dedicate to it. You are likely to fall even further behind and then give up.
  6. There is no right or wrong way to engage with a MOOC and no one will be chasing you up if you don’t engage.
  7. Try and find some others you can network with – via Twitter and blog posts. Many will be feeling the same as you, and feeling equally daunted and overwhelmed.
  8. Don’t give up and good luck!