In a presentation yesterday for the Learning Analytics and Knowledge open online class, Gardner Campbell argued that we are engaging in a factory model of student education, rather than one that reflects the complexity inherent in actual learning. In my favorite section, he uses analogies such as a daily pill box and cows feeding at a trough to convey his points.
Campbell went on to discuss the ways in which the tools of learning analytics we use (rubrics, student learning outcomes, objectives) reflect and sustain this industrial model, by establishing pre-set goals and tracking “achievement”. These methods cannot track learning, which is much more complex.
In addition to being, as Gardner is, just wonderful, I think this is good logical ammunition against the belief that we are actually assessing learning with our “learning management systems” and other tools designed to organize, manage and measure. It’s important to understand that our measurement systems reflect a linear, simplified model when we engage in the assessment of student work. It also goes to the heart of measuring our own effectiveness as teachers.
If learning is complex, messy, riddled with failures that lead to successes, then to assess it using methods that are simple, linear, and concrete is rather bizarre.
[Gardner's full talk as a Collaborate recording is here]
I am going over the mid-year surveys from our Pedagogy First! SMOOC (Small-to-medium open online class), and looking for patterns. It was a Google spreadsheet survey, so the summary isn’t very user-friendly, but here it is because it has pretty pie charts [pdf]. 42 people filled it out.
An overview of what’s up:
93% believe the class so far has been a positive learning experience. This is very high!
In terms of objectives, 62% are taking the class to improve teaching skills, and 21% to increase their knowledge of online tools for teaching.
In terms of goals, 62% intend to earn a POT online teaching certificate, while 24% are following along but intend to post only occasionally.
About the certificate, 38% are earning it to fulfill their own expectations, and 24% to advance their employment options. This is despite the fact that the certificate is an informal badge, issued by the volunteer Program for Online Teaching faculty, not an accredited institution of any kind. 36% are not going for the certificate.
So far, 29% have fulfilled the entire syllabus, and 17% plan to make up missed work.
31% started off well but personal or professional conflicts meant they stopped participating. This is of the 42 answering the survey, but the original number of participants was about 90, so most people have dropped. This was expected given the attrition in other MOOCs.
In terms of community, about a fifth feel strongly connected, and a fifth feel only partly connected. More interestingly, 38% say they feel only partly connected and that’s fine – we have a number of independent learners.
The sticky post we use for each week at the top of the blog is helpful to 76% of those surveyed. 88% felt the weekly email was helpful. So it may be that doing both is a good idea.
57% participated to some extent in the Facebook group, but 36% didn’t by choice. I know that several participants are leery of Facebook because of their horrid privacy policies, but given the 38% that don’t want more community connections, 57% is pretty high!
Although 48% are happy with the colleague connections, 24% want more emphasis on commenting on each other’s blogs. This is interesting, since everyone has been encouraged to do this, and doing so is up to the participants. 21% want a Google group or more formal place for discussion (only 3 people want to use Facebook for this). If we set something up, of course, the risk is fewer blog comments, so….
Mentors have been very or somewhat helpful to 53% of participants, but 21% didn’t get help and didn’t ask for it, and 26% didn’t know who their mentor was. We might want to put out a list so that mentors feel more responsible and participants know who to contact. We relied on mentors to contact their 4 or 5 mentees, but there may have been a communication gap.
45% see online teaching as a mode of delivery, which is probably the most basic definition. 24% see it as a separate discipline. Others didn’t choose either, or believed they were combined. Only 14% saw it as a subset of teaching in general.
74% claim to have gained confidence in selecting tools for online teaching. This is excellent.
81% feel ready to build a class around their own pedagogy instead of being led solely by the technologies they’re using. Also excellent!
Concerning class design, 60% like it the way it is, with assigned readings/viewings, required posts, and participants blogging in their own space. Comments indicate participants want more about designing discussion, building community, and creating assessments, with an emphasis on reflection. 12% (five participants) wanted less work overall.
Participants have enjoyed blogging, reading the Ko and Rossen textbook, trying lots of tools, and interacting with a community. Concerns mostly revolved around participants not having the time they hoped they’d have to participate more fully, and some felt there was just too much, especially too many tools to try. Since one of the things they most enjoyed was trying the tools, and one of the biggest concerns was too many tools, these may cancel each other out.
Seven participants (17%) indicated they would have liked less tool exploration and more emphasis on the reading in the first semester. Although this isn’t very many articulating this, I saw evidence that this was a problem in other ways, including frustration with tools in the first several weeks. This was exacerbated by people needing help and time setting up their own blog. We may need to provide more time for that in the first few weeks.
Here’s my new acronym: FLCP. It stands for Faculty-Led Community of Practice.
I am working my way through the implications of Etienne Wenger’s work on communities of practice, mostly trying to decide whether the Program for Online Teaching‘s open, online Certificate Class is one, or should be one, or could be the start of one, or isn’t one at all.
As I did this, I began to consider that what makes our class different is that POT itself, our own group that facilitates the class, is led by faculty. Now, I love educational technologists, instructional designers, and people with masters degrees in the technology-oriented areas of education. But these positions are new compared to college faculty (which go back to the Middle Ages). Both are hired by institutions, to be sure. But there are some major differences that I think justify why communities of practice, particularly those relating to online teaching and the use of internet technologies for education, should be led by faculty.
The first and most important is that faculty-led communities can provide a focus on individual pedagogy instead of institutional goals, procedures, and culture. Often IDs and ed techs answer to the computer department heads, or deans of technology. They must keep institutional goals, enterprise systems, and political issues in mind. This can make individual pedagogy a secondary issue. The emphasis is often on enacting college policies (fulfilling transfer requirements,or student learning outcomes) rather than developing an instructor’s own approach. And often these possible approaches can be trapped due to institutional decisions to limit pedagogy through the support of a particular LMS or campus-developed system. I can’t think of a single educational technologist working at a college who has the power to make decisions about which technologies the institution supports. They, and instructional designers, tend to be caught in between the decisions of higher ups who want to invest in enterprise systems and make everyone use them, and the faculty trying to find their way.
Since centralized IT and educational administrative systems tend to focus on standardized systems, the institutional solution to unprepared faculty tends to be an emphasis on “training”. In this case the word is improperly used to define preparation for teaching online. “Training” is designed to bring everyone in the group to the same place, such as a level of skill for using a piece of software — training everyone to use the features of a learning management system would be a primary example. “Preparation” does not carry that connotation of homogeneity. “Education”, which would be even better, might suggest individual goals as the foundation of the work.
So instead of “best practices” (now often the domain of “experts), we could focus on “our practices”, those that best match the instructor’s strengths with the technological possibilities.
Faculty-led projects can also break down hierarchy. If the core group includes adjunct faculty, then barriers are broken down between full-time and part-time faculty. When it comes to teaching with internet technology (or just teaching in general), both groups have exactly the same issues. Folks connected to administration and technical services have to consider the groups differently (one clearly gets more support than the other), but a faculty group doesn’t.
In addition, if faculty are able to lead such a community, it says something in response to a novice’s concerns about being overwhelmed, having too many students, too much work, too much to do. Working with the technology is what educational technologists, administrators, and instructional designers do all day as their regular job. When they try to lead faculty in making changes, there is a feeling that, sure, those guys can do this stuff all the time, because it’s all they do. If a faculty member (or several of them) have made time for this, it must be crucial somehow to our main job, teaching.
Another benefit is that faculty-led communities of practice can act separately from formal evaluation processes, program reviews, curriculum development, etc. They can also work across the disciplines, apart from discipline-specific and department politics, including turf wars and disputes over standards.
I’ve been reading portions of Palloff’s and Pratt’s The Excellent Online Instructor, and at the end of a section they say that if you don’t have a formal process for getting online faculty together, you can make it yourself by hosting brown-bag lunches or hosting a synchronous meeting online. Although this is true (in some ways that’s how POT began) this puts faculty leadership in a backup position, when it should be the main idea. Faculty groups shouldn’t be playing shortstop to what technologists hit — they should be pitching.
But of course there are a couple of caveats. In George Otte’s article on faculty development and blended learning, he warns against “Shock and Awe”, having highly experienced and competent online faculty held up as a model to emulate. He says people admire such faculty (they are shocked by how much time it must have taken and awed by the result), but they think they are exceptional and don’t copy them. He claims that community-building is primary, and suggests an emphasis on hybrid courses as a good middle ground to encourage faculty to build dedication to teaching online.
Whether it emphasizes the hybrid model or one that’s fully online, a community of practice formed and led by faculty should be the place where new faculty are welcomed into a culture that puts teaching first. In this way, they can develop their own online pedagogy in a supportive environment.
Otte, G. (2005). Using blended learning to drive faculty development (and vice versa). In J. Bourne and J. Moore (Ed.), Elements of Quality Online Education, Volume 6 in the Sloan-C Series (pp. 71-83).
Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2011). The Excellent Online Instructor: Strategies for Professional Development. Jossey-Bass, An Imprint of Wiley.
Wenger, E. (2006). Communities of practice – a brief introduction. Retrieved from http://www.ewenger.com/theory/communities_of_practice_intro.htm.
A study by Pearson and Babson Research, published in April 2011, declares that “over 90% of all faculty are using social media in courses they’re teaching or for their professional careers outside class” in the Executive Summary, so I looked closely at the study. I’m spending a lot of time in the appendix. I am not at all interested in personal use, only professional and use with students.
My concern is that the study proclaims massive use of “social media” by faculty. It seems to imply that college faculty are actively participating in social media. I’m looking closer and it doesn’t seem to be true.
I think the problem is the word “using”. 61% of faculty surveyed have “used” online video. This could just mean they’ve shown a YouTube video in class now and again. Only 21% of faculty “posted” online video, and I wonder whether some of these were the videos included in publisher’s packets, such as those provided by Pearson — am I being too cynical here? The statistics for how valuable faculty think these sites are could all be about presentation, not anything social at all.
They have defined social media by site (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter) rather than by use (creating slideshows, posting original video, participating in a discussion). The statistics for Figure 15 seem to me the most telling: the numbers are very, very low for using any of these sites to have students post anything.
So to me the “social” part of social media use, particularly in the classroom, is extremely low, and indicates a reluctance of faculty to use social media for anything except presentation.
Is this a case of a study making false conclusions? or is it just advertising? or am I being way too picky?
I am currently doing some research for the EDUI 6706 class I’m taking at Cal State East Bay, and it involves finding lots of articles. I normally print these out, but that’s seeming excessively wasteful (though convenient for transport).
I had searched previously for a solution to stashing pdf’s with my own annotations (many articles download as pdf). I already use Diigo for stashing and annotating web pages, but it won’t do pdfs. The Google/Diigo workaround I tried in July basically sucked, and the Evernote solution was too time consuming and, frankly, inelegant. But in a comment to that Evernote post, Ron Houtman recommended Crocodoc. (Another colleague of mine, Robert Kelley, had recommended it for annotating a document collaboratively, so somehow it had gotten in my head that’s what it was for.)
So in total desperation after looking at a stack of manually highlighted paper packets and a mishmash of conveniently annotated research bookmarks in Diigo, I tried Crocodoc. It has its own annotation system, of course, but that’s OK. Here’s what I do.
|I find the article I want, and it downloads in pdf. I then upload it to Crocodoc, changing the title so I know what it is (research articles often download with helpful file names like 2892586.pdf).
|Then I click on it. But instead of using Crocodoc’s annotation tools, I use my Diigolet and bookmark it. This bookmarks the crocodoc version of the pdf file. I then use Diigo’s tools to annotate.
|When I’m done, the highlighted passages show up conveniently in Diigo as my annotations, where I can copy and paste into my work.
As you can see, though, the only problem is the size of the annotated text in Diigo. If you use Diigo’s annotation tool, it comes out super big. If you use Crocodoc’s tool, it comes out normal size. Crocodoc’s tool is dicier, though — it doesn’t always hold the highlight in Diigo.
But still, now all the research stuff is in one place. Huzzah!
I have begun to think it is dangerous to consider the digital, the online, the technological, as separate from the whole.
Partly this thought is a result of attending Martin Weller’s presentation this morning for the Change MOOC, where he presented a wonderful discussion of Digital Scholarship. But my question was whether the attention given to digital scholarship as its own issue doesn’t undermine the effort to have it become mainstream.
This goes beyond the “no significant difference” argument that comes up periodically for online teaching, although for me it started there. At our college, online teaching came about as a “modality” or “mode of delivery”, because it was 1998 and we were trying to offer it as an option for students. We taught ourselves how to teach online, all before learning management systems, best practices, or student learning outcomes. And most of us involved said it was just teaching, doing what we do but adapting it for a different “classroom”. I’m not sure I ever saw the difference between “online education” and “education”, or my “online U.S. history class” and my “U.S. history class”.
It’s not that I don’t acknowledge differences between the relationships, work tasks, and communication we engage in online and those we engage in face-to-face. But I also acknowledge differences between relationships, work tasks, and communication in various face-to-face settings, and it has always been that way. If we say “online community” instead of just “community”, we imply a separate reality that may or may not be the case. Rick Schwier’s presentation in Alec Couros’ EC&I831 last night noted that there are many ways that communities form in online environments, and of course there are many ways that communities form in-person also. Schwier noted that some of us use multiple online personalities, reflecting the in-person reality that you don’t talk the same way to your priest as you do to your coach as you do to your mom as you do to your college president.
A class is a class to me, whether it’s taught under a tree, or in a circle, or over the internet, or by hand-written snail mail.
I’m going to argue for completely ignoring the fact that things are “digital” or “online”. In terms of scholarship (it’s own heavily-laden word), continuing to fight for the acceptance of “digital scholarship” perpetuates the idea that it is somehow different from “regular scholarship”, that is is not as real. We shouldn’t focus only on the vetting of articles, the false scarcity of information and the tyranny of for-profit journals, but on behaving as if it’s just scholarship. The same standards (peer review, for example) should apply if you’re going to say it’s real, or scientific, or important, but whether it’s online for free or in a bound pay-walled journal is irrelevant in terms of its value. It’s either good research and useful to me, or it’s crappy research regardless of format.
This is why I am against the idea of having a “dean of online”, a “coordinator of online education”, or anything else that segregates the digital aspects of education into their own sphere. If we do that, we continue to emphasize its differences. While this may be an advantage up to a point (getting funding for online projects, justifying masters programs in educational technology, paying government employees to create standards and rules for accessibility), it also provides ammunition for those who are resistant to technology and resistant to change. It packages the “technology-enhanced” and the “online” and the “distance ed” into something that is easier to dismiss and de-fund. Such packaging can also discourage innovation by making “online education” a specialization beyond the understanding of ordinary faculty, something that requires strict management by administrators. And that packaging can be literally packaged, by selling “online courses” created by “teams” at for-profit institutions, or “course cartridges” in Blackboard, available for those too controlled or too timid to create their own classes.
The distinction thus gets in the way of professional development, when good faculty feel they are entering a new and scary world instead of just extending something they already do skillfully — teach.
So I’m declaring myself against “digital scholarship”, “online community”, “distance education”, and anything else that applies a special adjective to something wonderful we do as humans but happen to do using a computer.
And no, that doesn’t mean my Facebook “friends” are my “real friends”.