Monday, 30 November 2009

Motivation, Self-efficacy and Training

I've been reflecting recently on motivation for educators to use Learning Technologies. It's a topic that should be close to the heart of any learning technologist because it defines our success or lack of success. In higher education, for various reasons already discussed in this blog, we have an LMS content dumping situation. Self-efficacy is closely linked to this. Wikipedia describes it as:

"It is a belief that one has the capabilities to execute the courses of actions required to manage prospective situations."

Apart from being difficult to say, why is this important? It's important because it's behind a lot of the dismissive, ill-informed, sweeping statement we were about learning technologies. It's easy to dismiss something you don't understand. This is why my mantra is to educate the educators. The best way to do this at the moment is to talk in terms of Web 2.0 because the concept and values behind Web 2.0 are a good way of getting the right message across about learning technologies in general.

But why should we expect the educators to go out and learn these things? This just isn't going to happen surely. Well we need to make it as easy as we possibly can. At the moment, I'm trying to get some Web 2.0 blended learning short courses off the ground with my fingers in various pies. I'm convinced this is the right way to go. A few years ago, I was involved in a project which sought to educate the educators in personal ICT skills. We got UK government funding in London and it was best training I've ever been involved in. Why was it good? There was a clear gap in the market; a clear need; and lots of eureka moments where understanding was gained by the bucketload and motivation to use ICT was switched on like a light switch. Web 2.0 training would be more conceptual but still hands-on. It is astounding to me that we are not currently doing this - everywhere. I just hope I can get some people to see the light. Wish me luck.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Don't Tell me how to Teach!

Ok, this has never actually been said to me, but it's implicit in a lot of my conversations and is a major barrier to the adoption of Learning Technologies in education. So why would they be thinking this? And what business is it of mine to poke my nose into their teaching? The simplest answer to this is that to adopt anything new you have to incorporate it into the learning design. You have to think holistically about how you teach and fit it in. This is true of any tool/method/environment. I wouldn't be doing my job properly if I didn't make this clear.

So what's the problem? It's because they don't want to go through a redesign process. A process that I would find natural and necessary. Underlying both is the natural human defense against outside influence into their course/lesson - What's wrong with what I'm doing and "don't tell me how to teach". For some, in the lazy teaching club, they teach by a bog-standard content dumping, didactic method. So here we have an added barrier. I like to think this isn't widespread but I'm sure there is no study which measures this. For others and in our Learning Technology context, there's an issue of lack of confidence/skills/understanding or what Learning Technologies have to offer. This is definitely widespread and I don't need any research to tell me that. Wrap bits of all these issues up and you get a pretty tricky situation.

And the standard result in this scenario? Add-ons. Adding on file repositories (most common), adding on a discussion forum or sometimes adding on something like audio files (often mistaken called podcasts) to give the illusion of e-learning wizardry. But what's important is that there is no threat to the existing course design, even if there hasn't really been any real design process in the first place.

So whatever you do Learning Technologists out there - DON'T TELL ME HOW TO TEACH!"

Monday, 9 November 2009

Have belief in Learning Technologies

One of the questions I've been asking myself recently is Why am I in Learning Technology? Did I fall into it and just run with it? Is it simply a job that I don't really believe in or care about? I tell myself and others that it's because I believe Learning Technologies provide something positive for education. Not just for themselves but positive in the ways of learning that they bring to the attention of education, make visible and demonstrate are viable and sometimes better than the didactic malaise education finds itself in. One of my main learning points (amongst many) recently has been how it's simply impossible to "prove" anything to do with Learning Technologies - or indeed anything to do with learning. You can point to a study that give a certain finding, but there's always a counter study or a context that leaves it open to question.

So how do I know that a particular Learning Technology is positive for education? Simply put, I don't. But I believe it to be true. The evidence and the experience I have leads me to this conclusion. I think it helps if you believe in what you're selling and certainly I couldn't function properly if I didn't. Also, maybe proving learning benefits is the wrong tack. Is it more about a vocational or workplace imperative? Or it is more about teaching learners how to learn that's important? It's probably all of these things.

What's important is that I have conviction in the virtue of my role. Also, I don't see it as a bad thing if I go too far in this conviction. In my context, there really isn't enough positive energy with Learning Technologies. Someone needs to provide it, if only to get people thinking.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Personal Cyberinfrastructure

I read the article A Personal Cyberinfrastructure with interest. Gardner Campbell pulls no punches when he advocates for personal cyberinfrastrucure. He says:

"Suppose that when students matriculate, they are assigned their own web servers — not 1GB folders in the institution's web space but honest-to-goodness virtualized web servers of the kind available for $7.99 a month from a variety of hosting services."

The reasoning is:

"In building that personal cyberinfrastructure, students not only would acquire crucial technical skills for their digital lives but also would engage in work that provides richly teachable moments ranging from multimodal writing to information science, knowledge management, bibliographic instruction, and social networking. Fascinating and important innovations would emerge as students are able to shape their own cognition, learning, expression, and reflection in a digital age, in a digital medium. Students would frame, curate, share, and direct their own "engagement streams" throughout the learning environment."

There's so much here it's difficult to digest it all. However, the principle seems sound. Give the student real ownership and there can be real manifestation of personalised learning - a subject I reflected on in Personal Learning Environments - Concept not Tool. This is the kind of personal choice I was talking about but with the stability that education institutions crave. He continues:

"This vision goes beyond the "personal learning environment" in that it asks students to think about the web at the level of the server, with the tools and affordances that such an environment prompts and provides... These personal cyberinfrastructures will be visible, fractal-like, in the institutional cyberinfrastructures, and the network effects that arise recursively within that relationship will allow new learning and new connections to emerge as a natural part of individual and collaborative efforts."

This post is more quotation than reflection from me but I wanted to capture the essence of his ideas. The obvious question to arise from this is - are we ready for such a scenario? Clearly, it's no and I shudder at the idea of trying to sell this to the UK higher education world. However, I stiill love to be involved in an example of this nonetheless.

I might as well finish with some for quotation from this article. This time concerning the current LMS/VLE world:

"Higher education, which should be in the business of thinking the unthinkable, stood in line and bought its own version of the digital facelift. At the turn of the century, higher education looked in the mirror and, seeing its portals, its easy-to-use LMSs, and its "digital campuses," admired itself as sleek, youthful, attractive. But the mirror lied."

I include this to illustrate a particular frustration of mine. We think we are fully Web 2.0ed up, we think we are fully e-learning compliant. The truth is we are not. It's open to debate whether we should be or not (I say "yes") but don't think you've captured and are practising what it's all about when all you are doing is using VLEs as file repositories with token discussion boards! The 'we' here is UK Higher Education by the way. But I think you could extend it all education with confidence.