This is a discussion looking at what I believe are the things e-learning champions do. I have 6 listed with an explanation or each added.
We try to change behaviour rather than amass kit
We want to see the application of technology in good teaching and learning
We make sure technology always expands options and methods not narrows or controls them
We help leaders and managers foster the natural evolution of technology in education
We are central to the debate about the shape of the college of the future
We champion the capture by learners of informal and contextualised learning
We help learners manage more of their learning and teachers to come to terms with it
Managing the 'shock of the new'
We try to change behaviour rather than amass kit In the early days of ILT measurements were made in terms of ratio of PCs to users. The inference was the more you had the better you were doing. But that ‘use’ has diversified to such an extent that learners can have unique learning paths now, based on the way they choose to use technology to accommodate it. So having technology, ours and theirs, is only a starting point of this journey not the end. Excellent facilities that aren’t used of no value at all. Today this includes making use of the technology the learner brings to their education. We are seeing the hosting of technology moving away from a complete college provision. This doesn’t stop with the learners. A tutor with a lap-top and mobile broadband is, apart from MIS and e-registers totally independent of college systems and the need to log in to college to work. Take a minute to consider the profound effect that will have an the working day of tutors who are still paid on contact hours (i.e. inputs not outputs)
E-learning enthusiasts ask themselves what is good teaching and learning. Their ideas include the application or accommodation of technology in answering them. Perhaps the easiest to agree with. Without making the connection to pedagogy we deal only with the abstract and the disconnected properties of various bits of technology. We have to be able to answer the ‘so what’ questions when working with teachers. Our expertise lies not in knowing what technology is available but how it might be deployed based on a sound theoretical construct of goof teaching. It is based on an understanding of users that can be described as confident in their discovery and use of technology. In this respect we have a connection to the notion of e-maturity or confident explorers.
We make sure technology always expands options and methods not narrows or controls them. I think this is our biggest battle because many see the value of technology is the notion that what can work for one can be repeated for a whole cohort or even population. However it makes fatal flaws in failing to see the unique or simply peculiar nature of individuals. It runs contrary to the idea of personalisation or personalised experience in the utility of technology. All the best technology goes where the user leads rather than constrains the argument that centrality, repetition and uniformity is very beguiling. Another way of putting this is to think about the divergent pull of technology that centralises and attempts uniformity of behaviour plus technology that is free, decentralised and open to creative development. There is still a relentless march in the application of ‘behaviour certain’ technology. Uniform software merit but it is vital we adopt the right property of the right circumstance. With control some issues such as the elimination of wasteful work, the certainty of content and behaviour. Indeed there are many instances where huge central systems have been disastrous as they attempt to control or accommodate the individual niceties of all eventualities. I believe e-learning needs to be sceptical about huge central systems and should encourage technology, that is aimed at the individual, and utterly accommodates what the individual wishes to do.
We help leaders and managers foster the natural evolution of technology in education Managers don’t have time to be experts at e-learning as well as everything else. But to have a manager who understand the value and supports is an enormous help. That is because the best practice in e-learning occurs naturally, sometimes by chance or accident in everyday teaching and learning often brought into college by the learners themselves who are ahead of the game. Leaders have not been well served by the LSCs and Ofsted Inspectorate who have given far too little attention to the impact of technology in education. Firstly this is brought about not grasping of the comprehensive value of technology in enhancing lifestyles for all, learners and staff. Technology is still too often pigeon holed as ‘new stuff to watch’ rather than driving the world we already live in. I don’t really innovate. I just try to wake the college up to ways of working that are already out there. Our research at Thanet has shown constantly that e-learning is valued for its life-style factors and not because it does a better job of teaching and at being a tutor. Crucially it is that ability to support lifestyle that allows learning not to be lost in the mass of other things going on in busy lives. I have noticed change recently in this respect with Inspectors. I think the work being done by BECTA to bring Inspectors up to speed on what is possible to be a very significant factor in helping us.
We are central to the debate about the shape of the college of the future This is based on three premises:
Colleges are still designed and organised on the properties of paper
Tutors can leave college and set up their own learning group quite successfully because they can replace offices and paper with Laptops and Starbucks.
College Managers still see modern colleges as doing the same thing but in modern design buildings.
We are still over wedded to paper because paper is the historical method of creating storing, sharing, synthesising and presenting information. We have offices to store it. Secretaries and PAs in large part organise paper information for people whose need for paper exceeds their ability to control it. Staff rooms have members who are there because their need to communicate with others in it is greater than the ability of paper to support it. Departments exist on the same basis and it is why we don’t work on project bases but around functions. It is why Microsoft called Office office so we could all start our journey away from paper from a position of comfort towards technology. But we haven’t really achieved it yet. We see PCs as doing the work of paper but more so. We still design forms on screens (listen to that language). We lay them out with gaps to write in on screen. Desks and filing cupboards are the products of it as are shelves, trays, shredders and paper clips. We still see crowded desks and dishevelled piles of paper as signs of being busy rather than the architecture of the lost. But it doesn’t end there. Tutors are waking up to the increasing independence they can find in the use of a laptop, a mobile broadband connection and a cup of Coffee. A group of tutors from a College Section could make a viable business plan to run courses independently of the college. They may of course rent library space on a numbers license! So we should be talking to managers about the new importance of keeping a viable core of expertise in a college and buying skills and outputs rather than qualifications and inputs. My point is we are still building colleges with too many offices, walls cupboards, shelves, closed away areas and perhaps the biggest sin of all; making spaces whose purpose can’t change easily to accommodate these changes. Colleges must look to what gives them a unique selling point and to me that is the Library, and the collective consciousness of abilities and skills available, specialist physical work spaces and general meeting points and all of this at the disposal of learners at a central point with good transport connections and signposting. Add to that the social and collective learning capability offered in the classrooms and refectory/bar and you have your modern college. Most of all it’s the people that make it.
We champion the capture by learners of informal and contextualised learning This is perhaps the big one and the one least discussed about the power of e-learning and I have left it to last for that reason. By tacit learning I mean the ability to capture and reflect on the knowledge and understanding that comes as a reward of study that either was not expected or not at lease to the depth achieved but relevant to the individual learner. It describes the unique understanding we gain from placing learning in the context of our lives. It is the learning that goes on beyond the overt requirements of the course. This learning may or may not already occur but now we are talking about the viability of its capture in one of the many forms of the e-portfolio and the development of the digital identity. From it flows extra self-belief and a true sense of control over one’s own learning journey. It helps education develop more ‘rounded people’ and not just a qualification. From it flows the ability to decide ‘what next’. It gives a deeper understanding of who we are and what we want to do which have to be the ultimate goals of education. In short it takes us away from simply training into the wider uplands of life wide education. Technology supports this through personalised learning technologies.
We help learners manage more of their learning and teachers to come to terms with it This is help only because it seems learners are doing this more and more and learning technologies makes this realistic. Greater access to a personal plan that is written with teachers, setting own targets, deciding how to submit assessment. Collaborating with classmates instead of with the teacher is so much easier now. Learning modules are studied rather than whole courses, WBL is often defined by the needs of an employer and it is all supported by increased distance learning. Learners will continue to take charge of their own journey, negotiating and using what they want from learning. Here are the themes that underlie it:
The accommodation of technology that is hosted by the learner and not the college. Access to information that requires guidance, not the authority of the central font of knowledge.
The vast library we call the Internet and our ability to be in it rather than just drawing from it.
Presenting what we know in new and personalised ways.
Developing our independence in learning, developing ourselves. Leaving behind in the Mass education model.
Geoff Rebbeck - April 2009
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