The Outside the Square project project is now finished for 2004. Ultralab Southâ€™s role was primarily to constructed a bespoke Blogsite using Drupal Open Source Software. This allows for a high degree of customisation enabling the Blogsite to also serve the function of a project website. Each registered user is given their own account with the ability to readily upload images and text. In addition, each posting can be commented on by other people enabling online conversations to take place. A â€˜centralâ€™ Blog account was used for the project leader to communicate information about the project.
Our specific aims were:
offer the opportunity for OTS participants to independently publish on the www with little technical knowledge using a web browser.
build and brand a project website
offer the facility for the project leader to independently publish project related material
support the OTS project leader as a â€˜sounding boardâ€™
The â€˜statisticalâ€™ outcomes were over 100 registered user accounts with approximately 80 OTS participants introduced to the idea of Blogging and trained in the use of the Drupal OSS software. Of these, approximately 10% used the site regularly.
Although much was achieved in terms of the online element of the project, thus far only the surface of the potential opportunities has been scratched. Much more could be done by way of supporting the aims of the OTS project in promoting entrepreneurial activities amongst young adults and school children. Some of the ideas not yet develop are listed below.
Drupal Open Source Software proved to be a robust platform that was relatively easy to customise to meet the ongoing development needs of the project.
still significant barriers of access to the internet for some students both at school and at other times
20-30 minute training sessions for the Blogsite were not long enough for users to remember the site or the processes for accessing the site. To what extent is this related to their being enough purpose?
Closer integration between the f2f components and the online element would enhance the participants understanding of where the Blogsite fits in the overall OTS experience.
Most participants use Blogs as a form of direct communication, much like leaving a note for others to read and reply to. There were occasional instances of participants Blogging about events.
Entrepreneurs as â€˜hotseatâ€™ guests be as a means of enabling access to the project over a wide geographical area.
Use of the Blogsite for participants to disseminate their entrepreneurial projects
explore the possibility of competitions to stimulate interest run through the Blogsite
I have been musing how to explain what I think is the relationship between the tools we use and the user. The diagram above is a first attempt at showing this. I am thinking that as individuals we are plotted along the user continuum, but this is not a fixed position as it depends largely on a combination of our experience and the particular context for wanting to use the technology. For example, although I have used various online technologies for a number of years, I am at times a â€˜simple userâ€™ when there is a weak link between the activity and my desire to be involved. In this instance, it might be that an appropriate technology as a mail list that I sign up for that forwards a message every month or so. Clearly, it is unlike in this instance that I will be bothered to come to grips with a fully blown Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). On the other hand, an Ultraversity researcher has a lot invested in their degree as it is a big commitment and they are far more likely to be prepared to learn how to use a VLE because of this.
I think this is where some of the large scale professional communities for teachers have gone wrong in that there was an assumption that everyone would be willing to become a sophisticated user and this just isnâ€™t so. So what is the way forward for such groups, well I would suggest it is an acceptance that wee need to use both simple tools and those that are feature rich, but allow the users to chose. For example, a hotseat type discussion on an open Blog could spread the reach of such events well beyond the â€˜typicalâ€™ user group of enthusiasts. Or a mail-list on topics that perhaps only come to life on an annual basis for a couple of weeks. And a fully blown VLE for accredited courses and programmes where the pull is strong and users are prepared to invest the time and effort to become sophisticated users.
It might be an idea before planning any event to do some user scenarios and think will likely participants be prepared to be sophisticated users or not. If the answer is not, then which of the tools
I have been reflecting for some time now on the matter of ephemeral vs enduring comments and what the implications are for the online â€˜teacherâ€™. Clearly, in a f2f context much is said that is not meant, or at least the intended meaning is misinterpreted. By contrast in a f2f context, any misunderstandings are subject too the opportunity for immediate negotiation of meaning through feedback, questioning, dialogue, etc. In an online world negotiation of meaning is a qualitatively different process and there is far more scope for misunderstandings, breakdowns in communication, etc., as individuals are left to â€˜ponderâ€™ alone with fewer points of reference to help them establish a balanced point of view. This is well recognised and we attempt to mitigate it by the use of the â€˜cardinal ruleâ€™ for online communities of always assuming good intent.
For the online teacher, this is a very exposing environment as their every word is available to be analysed in a way that would not be possible with ephemeral f2f conversations. One could argue that in knowing this the online teachers should take the greatest of care to compose their every â€˜utteranceâ€™, but I would suggest that this both unsustainable from a workload point of view and perhaps more importantly detrimental to the type discourse we are trying to promote. That is discourse characterised by the modelling of critically reflective practice, creativity, risk taking, and, for some, a senses of humour! All this is done with the intention of moving learning towards the â€˜delightfulâ€™ end of the experience continuum.
This is a very uneven field on which online teachers play with their students, as their every â€˜movementâ€™ can be dissected and analysed and â€˜played backâ€™ out of context. Clearly, the studentsâ€™ utterances are also there for analysis by fellow students and online teachers alike. In the case of the online teacher, however, their professional approach should be supported in a community of colleagues to help them establish strong reference points about intent, meaning, and appropriate responses. The overriding aim of this being to help the student towards their chosen learning goals in a way that recognises a student centred approach to developing a critically reflective learner.
So is this a dangerous and professionally demanding territory for online teachers? I think the answer has to be yes, but one that is worth pursuing!
Many will have seen John Stephenson’s online paradigm (2001) that illustrates the importance of alignment of expectations between learners and teaching approaches. I wanted to take this idea a bit further and consider the importance of technology and teaching philosophy.
I would argue that teaching philosophy is largely developed from ones values and beliefs manifest itself in the ‘teachers’ pedagogical approach. Pedagogical theory can be learned, but it is much more problematic for it to transcend into ones core beliefs and values which are the most important factor in governing our actions. I know this is complex and am reminded of Hay McBeer core drivers which are argued to be at the root of what we do, but that is not the focus of this Blog.
Values and beliefs inform the individuals teaching philosophy, but equally a Virtual Learning Environment has a teaching philosophy derived from its programmers, designers, and company philosophy including its sales team! This is important as how can the student expect a coherent learning experience without alignment. What sort of mixed message is sent out if the software has a social constructivist philosophy and the teachers a didactic ‘empty vessel’ approach? And of course there are other dimensions here such as the organisations philosophy and the individual programmes philosophy.
The diagram above attempts illustrate the importance of philosophies drawing on an ecological metaphor. The rainforest being the rich learning ecosystem where social constructivist philosophies of the software, teachers, and expectations of the learners are aligned. This is opposed the didactic software and teaching philosophy that acts to ‘dessertify’ any student expectation that is anything other than to be the passive receiver of information. Clearly, it is more likely that a mixed set of philosophies and expectations will be found and this manifests itself as either a free range farm with diversity of crops intermixed with weeds and bugs, to the monoculture of a apparently healthy crop but devoid of variety and kept â€˜orderlyâ€™ by a tightly controlled regime of pesticides and herbicides.
The point my diagram is trying to illustrate is that alignment of expectations is dependent on the alignment of multiple philosophies that combine to give the learner experience. If any one of these are at odds there will be a greater or lesser degree of discordance, but lets not discount technology, as it is potentially a bulwark against other deficient philosophies.
Version 2 of the diagram in response to Jonny’s comment.
Alison Rossett presented at the e-Agenda Summit, cutting to the real issues with wit and humour. Potentially a good hotseat guest for the Ultraversity workplace degree! She has recently edited a book called The ASTD e-learning handbook and although I have only skimmed it thus far, I am sure there will be much interesting stuff in it.
Alison offered three ways to â€œhold themâ€ linked to learning objects or assets. What she was talking about was engaging students at the outset of an online course or module and enthusing them sufficiently so that they stay the course. What I liked about her ideas was that they were simple â€˜rules of thumbâ€™ that any programme designer could work to. These were:
1. Clear alignment of assets to purpose with assets that are:
of high value
address â€˜top-of-the-mind issuesâ€™
show students what they know
2. Learn something valuable at the start â€“ show the gap in students knowledge and then bridge it in an accessible way
3. Guide choices â€“ students like to make choices but will get it wrong
I related this to Knowles (1984) and his model for adult learning which pulls together the ideas of self-direction and learning from experience, but also adds the notion of life and task, or a problem-centered orientation to learning as opposed to a subject-matter orientation.