All entries for Wednesday 06 April 2005

April 06, 2005

Some basic requirements for a system to support the student academic process

Follow-up to Argument for shifting emphasis of e–learning development work from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

My next conjecture will be that we can define an efficient and succesful independent student academic process. This concerns how students recieve, use, test, extend and create models – domain specific subject content, domain specific meta-models of modelling procedures, generic meta-models of academic processes, and meta-models of how those processes relate to the individual's personal development and plans.

  1. A student gathers experiences from a range of sources (learning inputs) into a single location, even though the experiences may not be simply structured or understood (the significance of the experiences may not even be obvious),
  2. In some cases, the student leaves the experiences relatively un-processed until some later date (just get them into a 'bucket' from which they can easily be retrieved and processed);
  3. Regular processing (or alternatively incubation) of the recorded experiences is encouraged and supported;
  4. The student processes the experiences with reference to a model received from an authoritative source or developed personally – (they have to be able to choose the appropriate model);
  5. The student’s understanding of the model is tested, assessed, and modified in relation to the experiences;
  6. The model itself is tested, assessed, and modified in relation to the experiences;
  7. The student can connect a set of models together based on experience;
  8. The student can seek or develop new models to fill the gaps where necessary;
  9. The student can consider the same and related experiences and models as recorded and processed by others.

These activities themselves are recorded in the process of carrying them out, such that the student can reflect upon the effectiveness and appropriateness of the recording and processing activities, and aim to improve them.

But most importantly, all of this must take place in a sandbox or dmz, away from assessment, away from judgement.

Argument for shifting emphasis of e–learning development work

Writing about web page

This is first potentially controversial argument that I will present as part of the Shock of the Old conference.

1. There is increased pressure on students to be successful (degree costs), so they are less prepared to take risks with uncertain study methods – currently this is much more obvious with international students;
2. Students often ask for definitive knowledge transfer (lecture notes) – a low risk solution; sometimes, they resort to plagiarism;
3. But top-level higher education is supposed to be about the student learning how to construct their own answers, with a creative research-based methodology;
4. And furthermore, it deals with complex and cutting-edge knowledge that can be difficult to summarize definitively, and which changes often;
5. Academics will not be able to, and may not want to, do much more work to extend their teaching if that involves the development of online learning activities that attempt to definitively capture their teaching.

Implications: a move away from lecturer/content focussed e-learning development. With more emphasis placed upon technologies that support the student’s own processes.

6. So we tell the students that they must be research-oriented, independent and creative learners;
7. But they are rarely equipped with such skills from school (A-level mentality), and are only taught them implicitly in the undergraduate (and graduate) curriculum;
8. Students are increasingly end-product oriented, do not understand the importance of the process that leads them to the end-product;
9. Hence this must be countered by teaching the best possible and demonstrably effective study, research, thinking and writing skills;
10. In a way that interests, engages and excites the students;
11. Matched with the best available technology to support those activities;
12. In fact the provision of new technology may help to make these skills more attractive to the students, if we can create good enough technologies that really engage them.

Blogs – some key characteristics (for Shock of the Old conference)

Writing about web page

As part of my presentation on academic blogging at the Shock of the Old conference in Oxford, I am listing some of the key characteristics of 'the blog phenomena'. The aim of this is to show that blogs have a useful role to play, but one that is quite different to any other e-learning technology. Here's the key points.

  • A blog is a personal website, it has an ‘owner’;
  • But it is much more – the extension of the owners mind and life onto the web – journaling;
  • An extension of their personal identity;
  • But also a way of trying out different identities;
  • A sandbox or demilitarized zone;
  • A place for reporting experiences;
  • A place for making sense of experiences, or not as is sometimes the case;
  • A place for just recording experience (a “bucket”);
  • A place for defining what is important;
  • A place for combining disparate experiences;
  • A place for expressing ideas and opinions about the world;
  • A place for testing out theories;
  • Develops ideas and themes over time;
  • A way of developing writing and communication skills;
  • Not necessarily serious or authoritative;
  • Sometimes quite scurrilous, close to the edge of the acceptable;
  • Dynamic and changing;
  • Snapshots of points in time;
  • Ephemeral (but archived);
  • Public and private;
  • Networking – a means for advertising oneself and seeking like-minded friends;
  • A place for developing or criticising each other’s ideas;
  • Democratic;
  • A simple but powerful tool that anyone can master.

As such, it is a powerful and personal tool for web publishing. Its cultural impact has been significant. We suspect that its impact on academia has also been great, although with few large-scale institutional blogging systems, that’s hard to demonstrate. Much of its impact is on “informal learning”. But we do know that the blog is becoming an increasingly ubiquitous technology (moblogging). And as WiFi access and portable technologies extend their range, this ubiquity is likely to increase dramatically.