Teaching in a Digital Age

Teaching in a Digital Age

Guidelines for designing teaching and learning

A.W. (Tony) Bates

Tony Bates Associates Ltd

Vancouver BC

Contents

1

Scenario A: A university professor addresses change

Overheard in a coffee shop near campus:

Hey, Frank, you don’t look too happy.

Yeah, I’m mad as hell. Our Dean called a meeting yesterday of all faculty to discuss the university’s new academic plan, and what it means for all the academic departments in the Faculty. I knew there had been meetings earlier in the year, a few of which I’d attended, but it seemed to be the same old waffle about building a university fit for a new age, and revolutionizing the way we teach. But those discussions didn’t seem to affect the courses I’m teaching – it was clear early on that there was no threat to the department being closed down. If anything, it looked like my classes would be getting even bigger, with the usual statements about having to do more with less. My research is going well, and there was no talk this time round about having to take on an increased teaching load. At that point, I’d switched off: I’d been through all this many times before.

But as soon as the dean started yesterday, I sensed trouble. He started talking about the need for the department to be more ‘flexible’ in its teaching. What the hell does that mean – yoga exercises at the beginning of each lecture? Then he went on to talk about ‘defining clear learning outcomes’ and ‘personalizing learning.’ Well, that’s stupid. Anyone knows that you have to internalize what you learn or it doesn’t happen.  And my courses are changing all the time – if I set outcomes even at the  beginning of a course, they’ll probably be different by the time we get to the end.

But then the real kicker, when I knew things were going to be difficult. ‘We want to have at least 50 per cent of all classes taught in a blended or hybrid manner within the next five years.’ OK, I guess I could handle that – I’ve been using the LMS to back up my lectures already, but when he said that means offering the same content across different courses, and getting rid of most lectures, I really started to worry. He started rambling on about needing to serve all kinds of learners from high school entrants to lifelong learners, and for us all to teach in teams, with the senior faculty member as a teaching consultant. Now if he thinks I’m going to let some of the other idiots in this department decide what I’m going to teach, he’s out of his mind. The scary part is that I think the Dean really believes all this claptrap.

But when I really started to panic is when he said we would all have to start taking courses on how to teach. Now I get pretty good student ratings for my lectures – they just love my jokes – and I’m NOT having anyone telling me how to teach my subject. I’m one of the top people in my area of research in this country, and what the hell does the administration know about how to teach it? And when am I going to find the time, anyway, to take courses? I’m already working flat out. Why don’t they just leave us alone, and trust us to get on with the job we’re paid to do?’

If any of that rings a bell, this is the book for you.

For my comments on the scenario, click on the podcast below

For my comments on the scenario, click on the podcast below


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i. Why this book?

Teachers, instructors and faculty are facing unprecedented change, with often larger classes, more diverse students, demands from government and employers who want more accountability and the development of graduates who are workforce ready, and above all, we are all having to cope with ever changing technology. To handle change of this nature, teachers and instructors need a base of theory and knowledge that will provide a solid foundation for their teaching, no matter what changes or pressures they face.

Although the book contains many practical examples, it is more than a cookbook on how to teach. It addresses the following questions:

In summary, the book examines the underlying principles that guide effective teaching in an age when everyone, and in particular the students we are teaching, are using technology.  A framework and a set of guidelines are suggested for making decisions about your teaching, while understanding that every subject is different, and every teacher and instructor has something unique and special to bring to their teaching.

In the end, though, the book isn’t really about teachers and instructors, although you are the target group. It’s about you helping your students to develop the knowledge and skills they will need in a digital age: not so much digital skills, but the thinking and knowledge that will bring them success. For that to happen, though, your students need you to be on top of your game. This book is your coach.

ii. The audience for the book

The audience I am reaching out for are primarily college and university instructors anxious to improve their teaching or facing major challenges in the classroom, such as very large numbers of students or rapidly changing curricula, and also to many school teachers, particularly in secondary or high schools anxious to ensure their students are ready for either post-secondary education or a rapidly changing and highly uncertain job market. In particular the book is aimed at teachers and instructors anxious to make the best use of technology for teaching.

I draw many of my examples from post-secondary education, but many of the principles will also apply to teachers in the school or k-12 sector, although, as a former elementary/primary school teacher, I am well aware that schools have far fewer resources and less technology support than colleges or universities.

Throughout this book, I have struggled with the term ‘instructor’, because I argue that we need to move from a transmission model of education (‘instruction’) to the facilitation of learning (‘teaching’), even or especially in post-secondary education. However, the term ‘instructor’ is often used to distinguish between post-secondary and school or k-12 systems, with ‘teachers’ being used for the latter, so throughout the book, I’ve tended to use both terms almost inter-changeably. However, my hope is that we will all eventually become teachers rather than instructors.

Lastly, although technology is a core focus of this book, I am not advocating ripping up the current human-based educational system and replacing it with a highly computerised model of teaching. I believe that although there is a great need for substantial reform, there are many enduring qualities of a well funded and publicly supported education system based on well trained and highly qualified teachers that will be hard if not impossible to replace by technology. The focus here is in making technology work for both learners and teachers.

iii. Why an ‘open’ textbook?

Although I retain the copyright through a Creative Commons CC BY license, this book is ‘open’ in all five ways described in Chapter 10:

There is only one restriction on all five activities, and that is that you acknowledge me as the source (unless I am quoting someone else, or using someone else’s material, of course). Full attribution is particularly important as an example for your students, who need to acknowledge their sources! Also, if you do find the material in this book useful, I would appreciate your sending me a e-mail to tony.bates@ubc.ca with any feedback about how you are using the content, and how the book could be improved, but this is just a request, so I can improve the book and track how it is being used.

This book has been published as I wrote it, a chapter at a time. I published the first draft of most sections in my blog, Online Learning and Distance Education Resources, to get feedback. This book is published as an open textbook for many reasons, but the main one being that I see open publishing as the future for education. In a way, it is a proof of concept. I could not have done this without excellent support from BC campus, which at the time of writing is leading a major open textbook project for the provincial government of British Columbia in Canada, and without additional support from Contact North, Ontario.

iv. Independent reviews of the book

Shortly after publication of the first full draft of the book, I requested three independent experts in the field to review the book. The process that was followed, and the full, unedited reviews, can be seen in Appendix 4.

v. Different ways to use the book

If you have found your way to this book web site, you can read it off the screen at any time and anywhere. Just bookmark the home page (http://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/) then click on any chapter heading or any section in the content list.

The book will download in epub, pdf, and mobi versions, so you can print out or download the whole book if you wish, for straightforward reading. In general, it is best to read the book online direct from this web site, if you can, as when it exports to different versions, sometimes the illustrations get moved around to fit the page or screen layout. Also reading on the small screen of a mobile phone may be somewhat frustrating as the graphics will be very small. Reading on tablets should not be a problem, except the graphics may not always fit as intended.

The book can also be downloaded in xHTML, Pressbooks XML, or WordPress XML from the home page, so you can edit or adapt the book or parts of the book for your own use.

The book is written on the assumption (based on research) that most reading will be done in chunks of one hour or less, so each section of a chapter can be completed in one hour at the maximum (some sections will be much shorter).

Many of the sections will have suggested activities, which mainly require you to reflect on how what you have read relates to your own work or context. These activities will usually take no more than 30 minutes each. If you want to share your thoughts with others reading the book, use the comment box at the end of each section. This will also give feedback to me and other readers doing the activities as to how you approached it. Sharing your responses to the activity in the comment box will also give me a chance to respond to your comments.

Each chapter begins with a set of learning goals for the chapter, the topics covered, a list of activities for the chapter, and the key takeaways or main points made. To access this, just click the chapter heading (e.g. Chapter 1: Fundamental Change in Education). [Note that text in red indicates a live link/url – just click on it to activate it. This doesn’t always show clearly on screens under certain conditions so run your cursor – or finger on mobile devices – over the text to see where the links are.] The arrows at each side of the page will take you either to the previous page or the next page.

There are many different ways this book could be used. Here are some suggestions:

This book – as indeed are open textbooks in general – is a work in progress, so keep checking back to see what new features are being added over time. As new developments occur, I will try to ensure that they are incorporated so that the book stays up to date (also you can follow my blog at tonybates.ca). I intend to add podcasts giving my personal spin on each chapter, a full index will be developed to supplement the search facility, and I will be looking to make changes based on feedback from readers.

vi. An overview of the content

Chapter 1 Fundamental change in Education

This sets the stage for the rest of the book. Chapter 1 looks at the key changes that are forcing teachers and instructors to reconsider their goals and methods of teaching, In particular it identifies the key knowledge and skills that students need in a digital age, and how technology is changing everything, including the context in which we teach.

Chapters 2-5: Epistemology and teaching methods

These chapters address the more theoretical and methodological aspects of teaching and learning in a digital age. Chapter 2 covers different views on the nature of knowledge and how these understandings of knowledge influence theories of learning and methods of teaching. Chapters 3 and 4 analyse the strengths and weaknesses of different methods of teaching ranging from solely campus-based through blended to fully online. Chapter 5 looks at the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs. These chapters form a theoretical foundation for what follows.

Chapters 6-8: Media and technology

The focus in these three chapters is on how to choose and use different media and technologies in teaching, with a particular focus on the unique pedagogical characteristics of different media. Chapter 8 ends with a set of criteria and a model for making decisions about different media and technologies for teaching.

Chapters 9-10: Modes of delivery and open education

Chapter 9 addresses the question of how to determine what mode of delivery should be used: campus-based; blended or fully online. Chapter 10 examines the potentially disruptive implications of recent developments in open content, open publishing, open data and open research. This chapter above all is a messenger of the radical changes to come to education.

Chapter 11 and Appendix 1: Ensuring quality in teaching in a digital age

These take two different but complementary approaches to the issue of ensuring high quality teaching in a digital age. Chapter 11 suggests nine pragmatic steps for designing and delivering quality teaching in a highly digital teaching context. Appendix 1 looks at all the necessary components of a high quality learning environment.

Chapter 12: Institutional support

This chapter very briefly examines the policy and operational support needed from schools, colleges and universities to ensure relevant and high quality teaching in a digital age.

Scenarios

There are ten ‘what if’ scenarios scattered throughout the book. These are semi-fictional, semi-, because in almost every case, the scenario is based on an actual example. However, I have sometimes combined one or more cases, or extended or broadened the original case. The purpose of the scenarios is to stimulate imagination and thinking about both our current ‘blocks’ or barriers to change, and the real and exciting possibilities of teaching in the future.

Other features

Each chapter ends with a set of key ‘takeaways’ from the chapter, and a complete set of references. There is also a comprehensive bibliography that collects together all the references from the chapters. Most chapter sections end with an activity.

There are also several appendices providing more detailed information to support each chapter, and some sample answers to the questions posed in the activities.

For my comments on the scenario, click on the podcast below

For my comments on the structure of the book, click on the podcast below

vii. Acknowledgments and thanks

This book could not have been done without tremendous support from a number of people and institutions. First of all, I am truly indebted to BC campus. BCcampus hosts the site and has allowed me to use their own version of Pressbooks. In particular Clint Lalonde, assisted by Brad Payne, and with the support of Mary Burgess, has provided wonderful help and support. I was completely new to the technology of open publishing, and Clint and Brad held my hand through all my struggles. I could not have done this without them.

Open textbooks may be free to end users but they do not become a reality without professional technical support. As part of its mandate to support innovation in education and learning, Contact North | Contact Nord, Ontario’s Distance Education & Training Network, provided essential support and help with instructional design/editing, graphics, copyright clearance and is assisting with marketing and promotion.  Contact North | Contact Nord has also made it possible to  make the textbook available in French.

I also received unexpected but very welcome assistance from Leonora Zefi and her instructional design team at the Digital Education Strategies, The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University, Toronto, who volunteered to read the drafts of each chapter and provided incredibly valuable feedback. Katherine McManus provided instructional design and copy editing advice, and Elise Gowen did all the dirty work in checking copyright and getting permissions.

I also want to acknowledge the huge influence of my colleagues from the Open University, the Open Learning Agency, and the University of British Columbia, who did much of the research and innovation from which I have drawn. Throughout my career, I have been immensely supported by two overlapping communities of practice: distance educators; and educational technologists/instructional designers. This is really their book; I’m merely a spokesperson for all their ideas and work. I just hope I have represented their knowledge accurately and clearly.

Lastly, there was all the valuable feedback I received from my blog readers.  I published the first draft of most sections of the book in my blog as I wrote them. Instead of a peer review team of two or three, I had a review team of many hundreds – indeed thousands – of readers of my blog. The advice I received from everyone was really helpful and much appreciated. However, I didn’t always follow all the advice I got, and I take full responsibility for any errors or misjudgements you may come across.

viii. Over to you

The great thing about an open textbook is that is is a dynamic, living project. Changes can be made immediately. I would really like to hear from you, either by e-mail to tony.bates@ubc.ca, or in the comment boxes following each section. Constructive criticisms and feedback will be very welcome, and I hope to be able to respond to any comments you may make as your read the book.

Above all, I hope you find this book interesting and helpful and that it inspires you and/or your colleagues to develop the knowledge and skills our students need in this challenging age.

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About the author


Tony smiling left

I graduated from the University of Sheffield, U.K, with a B.A. (Hons.) in psychology in 1962, obtained a post-graduate certificate in education from Goldsmiths College, the University of London, and a Ph.D. in educational administration from the Institute of Education, the University of London.

On leaving university, I taught a class of 42 children aged between 8 and 11 in a small rural school, then went on to teach students with special needs in a large urban secondary (high) school in England. I was then recruited to work on a government research project looking at the administration of very large high schools.

When this contract ended in 1969, I was appointed the 20th member of staff at the newly created Open University in the United Kingdom, where I spent 20 years, ending as a Professor of Educational Media Research, primarily evaluating first the learning effectiveness of the television and radio programs made for the OU by the BBC, then other new media as they became adopted by the Open University. During that period, I was also a course author/instructor on several courses on social science and technology

At the end of 1989, I emigrated to Canada, where I worked for five years as Executive Director of Strategic Planning at the Open Learning Agency in British Columbia. I left to become Director of Distance Education and Technology at the University of British Columbia, where I designed, developed and taught their first online courses and then helped initiate the first fully online degree programs at UBC. In 2003, I took mandatory retirement from UBC and set up my own consultancy company specialising in advising universities, colleges and government agencies on strategies for online and blended learning. I have worked with more than 50 universities and colleges, and several governmental agencies, in Canada, the USA, and Europe, and undertaken other contracts worldwide with the World Bank, UNESCO and the OECD.

I decided to retire from paid work in 2014 in order to write this book. I am also the author of 11 other books on educational technology, online and distance learning, some of which have been translated into French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Arabic and Serbo-Croat.

I have also been awarded honorary degrees by the Open University of Portugal, the Open University of Catalonia, the Open University of Hong Kong, Athabasca University, and Laurentian University.

I have a private pilot’s licence, and have flown across Canada and back in a Cessna 172, and I play golf badly but regularly.

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Other books by the author

Bates, T. and Robinson, J. (eds.) (1977) Evaluating Educational Television and Radio Milton Keynes UK: The Open University Press

Bates, A.W. (ed.) (1984) The Role of Technology in Distance Education London: Croom Helm (reprinted in 2015 by Routledge)

Bates, A. (1984) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation London: Constable

Bates, A.W. (ed.) (1990) Media and Technology in European Distance Education Heerlen, Netherlands: The European Association of Distance Teaching Universities

Bates, A.W. (1995) Technology, Open Learning and Distance Education London: Routledge

Bates, A.W. (2000) Managing Technological Change: Strategies for College and University Teachers San Francisco: Jossey Bass

Epper, R. and Bates, A.W. (2001) Teaching Faculty How to Use Technology: Best Practices from Leading Institutions Westport CT: American Council on Education

Bates, A.W. (2002) National Strategies for E-Learning Paris: International Institute for Educational Planning

Bates, A.W. and Poole, G. (2003) Effective Teaching with Technology in Higher Education San Francisco: Jossey Bass

Bates, A.W. (2005) Technology, e-Learning and Distance Education New York: Routledge

Bates, A.W. and Sangrà, A. (2011) Managing Technology in Higher Education: Strategies for Transforming Teaching and Learning San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

 

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Updates and revisions

An open textbook is a dynamic project. New developments, such as relevant new publications, can be added, urls go dead and new ones have to be found, and reader feedback in the form of comments to sections of the book get added almost on a daily basis.

Here I will keep track of changes, using 15 April, 2015, when the book was first made available in its ‘final’ form, as the baseline.

1. 19 April 2015: Podcast for Scenario A added

2.    3 May 2015: Podcasts added to Chapter 1 on the book’s structure and on skills development, and the order of Sections 3 and 4 of Chapter 1 reversed, following reader feedback.

3. 16 August 2015: Podcasts added to Chapter 2 on why this chapter is important and on the relationship between epistemology, learning theories and teaching methods added.

4. 17 August 2015: Podcast added to Chapter 3 on why a chapter on campus-based teaching methods was needed.

5. 23 August 2015: Podcasts added to Chapter 4, on the relationship between quality, modes of delivery, teaching methods and design and on some of the issues raised in this chapter. Also some editing of the text to clarify the distinction between teaching methods and design models.

6. 6 October 2015: Podcasts added to Chapter 5, on why there’s a whole chapter on MOOCs, and on a vision for MOOCs in the future.

7. 6 October 2015: Podcast added to Chapter 6, on the unique contribution of these chapters to media selection and use

8. 17 May 2016: Culture and learning environments added as Appendix 1, Section A.9. Former Section A.9 now A.10.

I

Chapter 1: Fundamental Change in Education

The purpose of this chapter

When you have read this chapter you should be able to:

  • describe and discuss some of the structural social and economic changes that are affecting education in a digital age
  • describe and discuss some of the key skills that are needed in a digital age
  • identify and discuss some of the ways technology is leading to changes in teaching and learning
  • discuss the extent to which contemporary developments require changes in how we teach and how students learn

What is covered in this chapter

In this chapter, I will be discussing the pressures that are mounting on post-secondary institutions to change, particularly with regard to the way they deliver one of their core activities, teaching. I will be arguing that although our institutions will need to change if they are to survive, it is important to maintain and strengthen their core values. Thus it’s not a question of throwing out everything and starting afresh, but managing that change in such a way that the core values are protected.

In particular, this chapter covers the following topics:

Also in this chapter you will find the following activities:

Key Takeaways from the Chapter

  • Teaching methods need to be used that help to develop and transfer specific skills that serve both the purposes of knowledge development and dissemination, while at the same time preparing graduates for work in a knowledge-based society
  • As student numbers have increased, teaching has regressed for a variety of reasons to a greater focus on information transmission and less focus on questioning, exploration of ideas, presentation of alternative viewpoints, and the development of critical or original thinking. Yet these are the very skills needed by students in a knowledge-based society.
  • The wide diversity of the student body is a major challenge for institutions. This requires more focus on teaching methods that provide support for learners, more individualization of learning, and more flexible delivery.
  • Online learning is a continuum; every instructor and every institution now needs to decide: where on this continuum of teaching should a particular course or program be?
  • As more academic content becomes openly and freely available, students will look increasingly to their local institutions for support with their learning, rather than for the delivery of content. This puts a greater focus on teaching skills and less on subject expertise.
  • Faculty and instructors need a strong framework for assessing the value of different technologies, new or existing, and for deciding how or when these technologies make sense for them (and/or their students) to use.

 

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1.1 Structural changes in the economy: the growth of a knowledge society

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Figure 1.1.1 Learning in a digital age Image: © CC Duncan Campbell, 2012

Figure 1.1.1 Learning in a digital age
Image: © CC Duncan Campbell, 2012

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1.1.1 The digital age

In a digital age, we are surrounded, indeed, immersed, in technology. Furthermore, the rate of technological change shows no sign of slowing down. Technology is leading to massive changes in the economy, in the way we communicate and relate to each other, and increasingly in the way we learn. Yet our educational institutions were built largely for another age, based around an industrial rather than a digital era.

Thus teachers and instructors are faced with a massive challenge of change. How can we ensure that we are developing the kinds of graduates from our courses and programs that are fit for an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous future? What should we continue to protect in our teaching methods (and institutions), and what needs to change?

To answer these questions, this book:

In this chapter I set out some of the main developments that are forcing a reconsideration of how we should be teaching.

1.1.2 The changing nature of work

Of the many challenges that institutions face, one is in essence a good one, and that is increased demand, particularly for post-secondary education. Figure 1.1.2 below represents the extent to which knowledge has become an increasingly important element of economic development, and above all in job creation.

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Figure 1.1: The knowledge component in the workforce

Figure 1.1.2: The knowledge component in the workforce

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The figure is symbolic rather than literal. The pale blue circles representing the whole work force in each employment sector may be larger or smaller, depending on the country, as too will be the proportion of knowledge workers in that industry, but at least in developed countries and also increasingly in economically emerging countries, the knowledge component is growing rapidly: more brains and less brawn are required (see OECD, 2013a). Economically, competitive advantage goes increasingly to those companies and industries that can leverage gains in knowledge (OECD, 2013b). Indeed, knowledge workers often create their own jobs, starting up companies to provide new services or products that did not exist before they graduated.

From a teaching perspective the biggest impact is likely to be on technical and vocational instructors and students, where the knowledge component of formerly mainly manual skills is expanding rapidly. Particularly in the trades areas, plumbers, welders, electricians, car mechanics and other trade-related workers are needing to be problem-solvers, IT specialists and increasingly self-employed business people, as well as having the manual skills associated with their profession.

Another consequence of the growth in knowledge-based work is the need for more people with higher levels of education than previously, resulting in a demand for more highly qualified workers at a university level. However, even at a university level, the type of knowledge and skills required of graduates is also changing.

1.1.3 Knowledge-based workers

There are certain common features of knowledge-based workers in a digital age:

It can be seen then that it is difficult to predict with any accuracy what many graduates will actually be doing ten or so years after graduation, except in very broad terms. Even in areas where there are clear professional tracks, such as medicine, nursing or engineering, the knowledge base and even the working conditions are likely to undergo rapid change and transformation over that period of time. However, we shall see in Section 1.2 that it is possible to predict many of the skills they will need to survive and prosper in such an environment.

This is good news for the higher education sector overall as the knowledge and skill levels needed in the workforce increases. It has resulted in a major expansion of higher education to meet the demand for knowledge-based work and higher levels of skill. The province of Ontario in Canada for instance already has a participation rate of almost 60 per cent of high school leavers going on to some form of post-secondary education, and the provincial government wants to increase that participation rate to 70 per cent, partly to offset the loss of more traditional manufacturing jobs in the province (Ontario, 2012). This means more students for universities and colleges.

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Figure 1.1.4 A video game designer

Figure 1.1.3 A video animator: a typical knowledge worker. Photograph: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press, 2007.

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Activity 1.1 Thinking about skills

1. What kind of jobs are graduates in your subject discipline likely to get? Can you describe the kinds of skills they are likely to need in such a job? To what extent has the knowledge and skills component of such work changed over the last 20 years?

2. Look at the family members and friends outside your academic or educational field. What kind of knowledge and skills do they need now that they didn’t need when they were at school or college – or even 20 years ago in the same work area? (You may need to ask them this!)

References

OECD (2013a) OECD Skills Outlook: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills Paris: OECD

OECD (2013b) Competition Policy and Knowledge-Based Capital Paris: OECD

Ontario (2012) Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge Toronto ON: Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities 

 

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1.2 The skills needed in a digital age

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Figure 1.2.1 Using social media for communication is an essential skill for a digital age

Figure 1.2.1 Using social media for communication is an essential skill for a digital age

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Knowledge involves two strongly inter-linked but different components: content and skills. Content includes facts, ideas, principles, evidence, and descriptions of processes or procedures. Most instructors, at least in universities, are well trained in content and have a deep understanding of the subject areas in which they are teaching. Expertise in skills development though is another matter. The issue here is not so much that instructors do not help students develop skills – they do – but whether these intellectual skills match the needs of knowledge-based workers, and whether enough emphasis is given to skills development within the curriculum.

The skills required in a knowledge society include the following (adapted from Conference Board of Canada, 2014):

We know a lot from research about skills and skill development (see, for instance, Fischer, 1980Fallow and Steven, 2000):

The teaching implications of the distinction between content and skills will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 2. The key point here is that content and skills are tightly related and as much attention needs to be given to skills development as to content acquisition to ensure that learners graduate with the necessary knowledge and skills for a digital age.

For my comments on the scenario, click on the podcast below

For my comments on why skills development is so important in a digital age, click on the podcast below

Activity 1.2 What skills are you developing in your students?

1. Write down a list of skills you would expect students to develop as a result of studying your courses.

2. Compare these skills to the ones listed above. How well do they match?

3. What do you do as an instructor that enables students to practice or develop the skills you have identified?

References

The Conference Board of Canada (2014) Employability Skills 2000+ Ottawa ON: Conference Board of Canada

Fallow, S. and Stevens, C. (2000) Integrating Key Skills in Higher Education: Employability, Transferable Skills and Learning for Life London UK/Sterling VA: Kogan Page/Stylus

Fischer, K.W. (1980) A Theory of Cognitive Development: The Control and Construction of Hierarchies of Skills Psychological Review, Vol. 84, No. 6

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1.3 Should education be tied directly to the labour market?

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Figure 1.4.1 Knowledge workers Image: Phil Whitehouse, 2009. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/philliecasablanca/3344142642/.

Figure 1.3.1 Knowledge workers
Image: Phil Whitehouse, 2009. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/philliecasablanca/3344142642/.

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However, there is a real danger in tying university, college and schools programs too closely to immediate labour market needs. Labour market demand can shift very rapidly, and in particular, in a knowledge-based society, it is impossible to judge what kinds of work, business or trades will emerge in the future. For instance, who would have predicted 20 years ago that one of the largest companies in the world in terms of stock market valuation would emerge from finding ways to rank the hottest girls on campus (which is how Facebook started)?

The focus on the skills needed in a digital age raises questions about the purpose of universities in particular, but also schools and two year community colleges to some extent. Is their purpose to provide ready-skilled employees for the work-force? Certainly the rapid expansion in higher education is largely driven by government, employers and parents wanting a work-force that is employable, competitive and if possible affluent. Indeed, preparing professional workers has always been one role for universities, which have a long tradition of training for the church, law and much later, government administration.

Secondly, focusing on the skills required for a knowledge-based society (often referred to as 21st century skills) merely reinforces the kind of learning, especially the development of intellectual skills, for which universities have taken great pride in the past. Indeed in this kind of labour market, it is critical to serve the learning needs of the individual rather than specific companies or employment sectors. To survive in the current labour market, learners need to be flexible and adaptable, and should be able to work just as much for themselves as for corporations that increasingly have a very short operational life. The challenge then is not re-purposing education, but making sure it meets that purpose more effectively.

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1.4 Change and continuity

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Figure i. Harvard University

Figure 1.4 Harvard University

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In the age of constant connectedness and social media, it’s time for the monolithic, millennium-old, ivy-covered walls to undergo a phase change into something much lighter, more permeable, and fluid.

Anya Kamenetz, 2010

Although this book is aimed at teachers and instructors in schools and colleges as well as universities, I want to look particularly at how the digital age is impacting on universities. There is a widely held belief – even among those who have benefited from fine degrees at prestigious universities – that universities are out of touch, that academic freedom is really about protecting professors in a comfortable career that doesn’t require them to change, and that the entire organization of the academy is better left to its medieval past: in other words, universities are an artifact of the past and something new needs to replace them.

Nevertheless, there are very good reasons why universities have been around for more than 800 years, and are likely to remain relevant well into the future. Universities are deliberately designed to resist external pressure. They have seen kings and popes, governments and business corporations, come and go, without any of these external forces fundamentally changing the nature of the institution. Universities pride themselves on their independence, their freedom, and their contribution to society. So let’s start by looking, very briefly, at these core values, because any change that really threatens these core values is likely to be strongly resisted from professors and instructors within the institution.

Universities are fundamentally about the creation, evaluation, maintenance and dissemination of knowledge.  This role in society is even more important today than in the past. For universities to perform that role adequately, though, certain conditions are necessary. First they need a good deal of autonomy. The potential value of new knowledge in particular is difficult to predict in advance. Universities provide society with a safe way of gambling on the future, by encouraging innovative research and development that may have no immediate apparent short-term benefits, or may lead to nowhere, without incurring major commercial or social loss. Another critical role is the ability to challenge the assumptions or positions of powerful agencies outside the university, such as government or industry, when these seem to be in conflict with evidence or ethical principles or the general good of society.

Perhaps even more importantly, there are certain principles that distinguish academic knowledge from everyday knowledge, such as rules of logic and reasoning, the ability to move between the abstract and the concrete, ideas supported by empirical evidence or external validation (see for instance, Laurillard, 2001). We expect our universities to operate at a higher level of thinking than we as individuals or corporations can do in our everyday lives.

One of the core values that has helped to sustain universities is academic freedom. Academics who ask awkward questions, who challenge the status quo, who provide evidence that contradicts statements made by government or corporations, are protected from dismissal or punishment within the institution for expressing such views. Academic freedom is an essential condition within a free society. However, it also means that academics are free to choose what they study, and more importantly for this book, how best to communicate that knowledge. University teaching then is bound up with this notion of academic freedom and autonomy, even though some of the conditions that protect that autonomy, such as tenure or a job for life, are increasingly under pressure.

I make this point for one reason and one reason alone. If universities are to change to meet changing external pressures, this change must come from within the organization, and in particular from the professors and instructors themselves. It is the faculty that must see the need for change, and be willing to make those changes themselves. If government or society as a whole tries to enforce changes from outside, especially in a way that challenges the core values of a university such as academic freedom, there is a grave risk that the very thing that makes universities a unique and valuable component of society will be destroyed, thus making them less rather than more valuable to society as a whole. However, this book will provide many reasons why it is also in the best interests of not only learners but instructors themselves to make changes, in terms of managing workload and attracting extra resources to support teaching.

Schools and two-year colleges are in a somewhat different position. It is easier (although not that easy) to impose change from above or through forces from outside the institution, such as government. However, as the literature on change management clearly indicates (see, for instance, Weiner, 2009), change occurs more consistently and more deeply when those undergoing change understand the need for it and have a desire to change. Thus in many ways, schools, two year colleges and universities face the same challenge: how to change while preserving the integrity of the institution and what it stands for.

Activity 1.4 Change and continuity

You may want to discuss these questions with other readers or compare your response to others. If so, use the comment box below to add your comments to the general discussion.

1. Do you think that universities are irrelevant today? If not, what alternatives are there for developing learners with the knowledge and skills needed in a digital age?

2. What are your views on the core values of a university. How do they differ from the ones outlined here?

3. Do you think schools, colleges and/or universities need to change they way they teach? If so, why, and in what way? How could this best be done without interfering with academic freedom or other core values of educational institutions?

Please use the comment box below to share your responses.

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions but you may want to return to your answers after reading the whole chapter.

References

Kamenetz, A. (2010) DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education White River Junction VT: Chelsea Green

Laurillard, D. (2001) Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies New York/London: Routledge

Weiner, B. (2009) A theory of organizational readiness for change Implementation Science, Vol. 4, No. 67

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1.5 The impact of expansion on teaching methods

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Figure 12.4 Class size will influence the capacity for developing the knowledge and sills needed in a digital age

Figure 1.5 More students has resulted in bigger lecture classes

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Governments in different provinces, states and countries have varied in their response to the need for more highly educated people. Some (as in Canada) have increased state funding to post-secondary education institutions to an extent that matches or even exceeds the increase in student numbers. Others (particularly in the USA, Australia and England and Wales) have relied mainly on steep cuts in direct state funding for operating budgets, combined with massive increases in tuition fees.

Whatever the government strategy, in every university and college I visit, I am told instructors have more students to teach, class sizes are getting larger, and  as a result, more and more classes are just lectures with little interaction. Indeed, statistics support this argument. According to Usher (2013), the overall full-time faculty:full time student ratio in Canadian universities increased from 1:18 in 1995 to 1:22 by 2011, despite a 40 per cent increase in per student funding (after inflation). In fact, a 1:22 ratio means much larger class sizes, because in universities full-time faculty spend only a notional 40 per cent of their time on teaching, and students may take up to 10 different courses a year. The fact is that especially in first and second year classes, class sizes are extremely high. For instance, one Introductory Psychology class in a mid-sized Canadian university has one full-time professor responsible for over 3,000 students.

Tuition fees though are very visible, so many institutions or government jurisdictions have tried to control increases in tuition fees, despite cuts in operating grants, resulting in increased full time instructor:student ratios. Also, as a result of higher tuition fees and increased student debt to finance university and college education, students and parents are becoming more demanding, more like customers than scholars in an academic community. Poor teaching in particular is both visible and less and less acceptable to students paying high tuition fees.

The general complaint from faculty is that government or the institutional administration has not increased funding for faculty in proportion to the increase in student numbers. In fact, the situation is much more complicated than that. Most institutions that have expanded in terms of student numbers have handled the expansion through a number of strategies:

All of these strategies tend to have a negative impact on quality, if the methods of teaching otherwise remain unchanged.

Contract instructors are cheaper to employ than full time professors but they do not usually have the same roles such as choice of curriculum and reading materials as tenured faculty, and although often well qualified academically, the relatively temporary nature of their employment means that their experience and knowledge of students are lost when their contracts end. However, of all the strategies, this is likely to have the least negative impact on quality. Unfortunately though it is also the most expensive for institutions.

Teaching assistants may be no more than a couple of years ahead in their studies than the students they are teaching, they are often poorly trained or supervised with regard to teaching, and sometimes, if they are foreign students (as is often the case), their English language skills are poor, making them sometimes difficult to understand. They tend to be used to instruct parallel sections of the same course, so that students studying the same course may have widely different levels of instruction. Employing and paying teaching assistants can be directly linked to the way that post-graduate research is being funded by government agencies.

The increase in class size has tended to result in much more time being devoted to lectures and less time to small group work. Lectures are in fact a very economical way of increasing class size (provided that the lecture halls are large enough to accommodate the extra students). The marginal cost of adding an extra student to a lecture is small, since all students are receiving the same instruction. However, as numbers increase, faculty resort to more quantitative and less flexible forms of assessment, such as multiple-choice questions and automated assessment. Perhaps more importantly, student interaction with faculty decreases rapidly as numbers increase, and  the nature of the interaction tends to flow between the instructor and an individual students rather than between students interacting as a group. Research (Bligh, 2000) has shown that in lectures with 100 or more students, less than ten students will ask questions or provide comments over the course of a semester. The result is that lectures tend to focus more heavily on the transmission of information as class size increases, rather than on exploration, clarification or discussion (see Chapter 4, Section 2 for a more detailed analysis of the effectiveness of lectures).

Increasing faculty teaching load (more courses to be taught) is the least common of the four strategies, partly because of faculty resistance, sometimes manifesting itself in collective agreement negotiations. Where increased faculty teaching load does occur, quality again is likely to suffer, as faculty put in less preparation time per class and less time for office hours, and resort to quicker and easier methods of assessment. This inevitably results in larger classes if full-time faculty are teaching less but doing more research. However, increased research funding results in more post-graduate students, who can supplement their income as teaching assistants. As a result there has been a major expansion in the use of teaching assistants for delivering lectures. However, in many Canadian universities, full-time faculty teaching load has been going down (Usher, 2013), leading to even larger class sizes per full-time instructor.

In other employment sectors, increased demand does not necessarily result in increased cost if that sector can be more productive. Thus government is increasingly looking for ways to make higher education institutions more productive: more and better students for the same cost or less (see Ontario, 2012). Up to now, this pressure has been met by institutions over a fairly long period of time by gradually increasing class size, and using lower cost labour, such as teaching assistants, but there becomes a point fairly quickly where quality suffers unless changes are made to the underlying processes, by which I mean the way that teaching is designed and delivered.

Another side effect of this gradual increase in class size without changes in teaching methods is that faculty and instructors end up having to work harder. In essence they are processing more students, and without changing the ways they do things, this inevitably results in more work. Faculty usually react negatively to the concept of productivity, seeing it as industrializing the educational process, but before rejecting the concept it is worth considering the idea of getting better results without working as hard but more smartly. Could we change teaching to make it more productive so that both students and instructors benefit?

References

Bligh, D. (2000) What’s the Use of Lectures? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Ontario (2012) Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge Toronto ON: Provincial Government of Ontario

Usher, A. (2013) Financing Canadian Universities: A Self-Inflicted Wound (Part 5) Higher Education Strategy Associates, September 13

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1.6 Changing students, changing markets for higher education

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Figure 1.6.1 More diverse students Image: © greatinternational students.blogspot.com, 2013

Figure 1.6.1 More diverse students
Image: © greatinternational students.blogspot.com, 2013

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1.6.1 Greater diversity of students

Probably nothing has changed more in higher education over the last 50 years than the students themselves. In ‘the good old days’, when less than a third of students from high schools went on to higher education, most came from families who themselves had been to university or college. They usually came from wealthy or at least financially secure backgrounds. Universities in particular could be highly selective, taking students with the best academic records, and thus those most likely to succeed. Class sizes were smaller and faculty had more time to teach and less pressure to do research. Expertise in teaching, while important, was not as essential then as now; good students were in an environment where they were likely to succeed, even if the prof was not the best lecturer in the world. This ‘traditional’ model still holds true for most elite private universities such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Oxford and Cambridge, and for a number of smaller liberal arts colleges. But for the majority of publicly funded universities and two year community colleges in most developed countries, this is no longer the case (if it ever was).

In Canada, with 28 per cent of high school graduates going on to university and another 20 per cent going to two year community colleges, the student base has become much more diverse (AUCC, 2011). As state jurisdictions push institutions to participation rates of around 70 per cent going on to some form of post-secondary education (Ontario, 2011), institutions must reach out to previously underserved groups, such as ethnic minorities (particularly Afro-American and Latinos in the USA), new immigrants (in most developed countries), aboriginal students in Canada, and students with English as a second language. Governments are also pushing universities to take more international students, who can be charged full tuition fees or more, which in turn adds to the cultural and language mix. In other words, post-secondary institutions are expected to represent the same kind of socio-economic and cultural diversity as in society at large, rather than being institutions reserved for an elite minority.

We shall also see that in many developed countries, university and college students are older than they used to be and are no longer full-time students dedicated only to lots of study and some fun (or vice versa). The increasing cost of tuition fees and living expenses forces many students now to take part-time work, which inevitably conflicts with regular classroom schedules, even if the students are formally classified as full-time students. As a result students are taking longer to graduate. In the USA, the average completion time for a four year bachelors degree is now seven years (Lumina Foundation, 2014).

1.6.2 The lifelong learning market

The Council of Ontario Universities (2012) has noted that students NOT coming direct from high school now constitute 24% of all new admissions, and enrolments from this sector are increasing faster than those from students coming direct from high schools. Perhaps more significantly, many graduates are returning later in their careers to take further courses or programs, in order to keep up in their ever-changing knowledge domain. Many of these students are working full-time, have families and are fitting their studies around their other commitments.

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Figure 1.6 Lifelong learners are an increasingly important market Image: © Evolllution.com, 2013

Figure 1.6.2 Lifelong learners are an increasingly important market for higher education
Image: © Evolllution.com, 2013

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Yet it is economically critical to encourage and support such students, who need to remain competitive in a knowledge-based society. especially as with falling birthrates and longer lives, in some jurisdictions lifelong learners, students who have already graduated but are coming back for more study, will soon exceed the number of students coming directly from high school. Thus at the University of British Columbia in Canada, the mean age of all its graduates students is now 31, and more than one third of all students are over 24 years old. There is also an increase in students transferring from two year colleges to universities – and vice versa. For instance, in Canada, the British Columbia Institute of Technology estimates that now more than half of its new enrolments each year already have a university degree.

1.6.3 Digital natives

Another factor that makes students somewhat different today is their immersion in and facility with digital technology, and in particular social media: instant messaging, Twitter, video games, Facebook, and a whole host of applications (apps) that run on a variety of mobile devices such as iPads and mobile phones. Such students are constantly ‘on’. Most students come to university or college immersed in social media, and much of their life evolves around such media. Some commentators such as Mark Prensky (2001) argue that digital natives think and learn fundamentally differently as a result of their immersion in digital media. They expect to use social media in all other aspects of their life. Why should their learning experience be different? We shall explore this further in Chapter 8, Section 2.

1.6.4 From elitism to success

Many older faculty still pine for the good old days when they were students. Even in the 1960s, when the Robbins’ Commission recommended an expansion of universities in Britain, the Vice-Chancellors of the existing universities moaned ‘More means worse.’ However, for public universities, the Socratic ideal of a professor sharing their knowledge with a small group of devoted students under the linden tree no longer exists, except perhaps at graduate level, and is unlikely ever to return to public post-secondary institutions (except perhaps in Britain, where the Cameron government seems to be dialling back the clock to the 1950s). The massification of higher education has, to the alarm of traditionalists, opened up the academy to the great unwashed. However, we have seen that this is being done as much for economic reasons as for social mobility.

The implications of these changes in the student body for university and college teaching are profound. At one time, German math professors used to pride themselves that only five to ten per cent of their students would succeed in their exams. The difficulty level was so high that only the very best passed. A tiny completion rate showed how rigorous their teaching was. It was the students’ responsibility, not the professors’, to reach the level required. That may still be the goal for top level research students, but we have seen that today universities and colleges have a somewhat different purpose, and that is to ensure, as far as possible, that as many students as possible leave university appropriately qualified for life in a knowledge-based society. We can’t afford to throw away the lives of 95 per cent of students, either ethically or economically. In any case, governments are increasingly using completion rates and degrees awarded as key performance indicators that influence funding.

It is a major challenge for institutions and teachers to enable as many students as possible to succeed, given the wide diversity of the student body. More focus on teaching methods that lead to student success, more individualization of learning, and more flexible delivery are all needed to meet the challenge of an increasingly diverse student body. These developments put much more responsibility on the shoulders of teachers and instructors (as well as students), and require a much higher level of skill in teaching.

Fortunately, over the last 100 years there has been a great deal of research into how people learn, and a lot of research into teaching methods that lead to student success. Unfortunately, that research is not known or applied by the vast majority of university and college instructors, who still rely mainly on teaching methods that were perhaps appropriate when there were small classes and elite students, but are no longer appropriate today (see, for instance, Christensen Hughes and Mighty, 2010). Thus a different approach to teaching, and a better use of technology to help instructors increase their effectiveness across a diverse student body, are now needed.

Activity 1.6 Dealing with diversity

1. What changes if any have you noticed in the students you are teaching? How does this differ from my analysis?

2. Whose responsibility is it to ensure students succeed? To what extent does the diversity of students place more responsibility on teachers and instructors?

3. Do you agree that ‘More means worse’? If you do, what alternatives would you suggest for higher education? How would this be paid for?

4. Does your country/state have the balance right between academic and vocational education? Do we put too much emphasis on universities and not enough on technical or vocational colleges?

References

AUCC (2011) Trends in Higher Education: Volume 1-Enrolment Ottawa ON: Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada

Christensen Hughes, J. and Mighty, J. (2010) Taking Stock: Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Montreal and  Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press

Council of Ontario Universities (2012) Increased numbers of students heading to Ontario universities Toronto ON: COU 

Lumina Foundation (2014) A Stronger Nation through Higher Education Indianapolis IN: The Lumina Foundation for Education, Inc.

Prensky, M. (2001) ‘Digital natives, Digital Immigrants’ On the Horizon Vol. 9, No. 5

Robbins, L. (1963) Higher Education Report London: Committee on Higher Education, HMSO

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1.7 From the periphery to the center: how technology is changing the way we teach

We shall see in Chapter 6, Section 2 that technology has always played an important role in teaching from time immemorial, but until recently, it has remained more on the periphery of education. Technology has been used mainly to support regular classroom teaching, or operated in the form of distance education, for a minority of students or in specialized departments (often in continuing education or extension). However, in the last ten to fifteen years, technology has been increasingly influencing the core teaching activities of even universities. Some of the ways technology is moving from the periphery to the centre can be seen from the following trends.

1.7.1. Fully online learning

Credit-based online learning is now becoming a major and central activity of most academic departments in universities, colleges and to some extent even in school/k-12 education. Enrolments in fully online courses (i.e. distance education courses) now constitute between a quarter and a third of all post-secondary enrolments in the USA (Allen and Seaman, 2014). Online learning enrolments have been increasing by between 10-20 per cent per annum for the last 15 years or so in North America, compared with an increase in campus-based enrolments of around 2-3 per cent per annum. There are now at least seven million students in the USA taking at least one fully online course, with almost one million online course enrolments in just the California Community College System (Johnson and Mejia, 2014). Fully online learning then is now a key component of many school and post-secondary education systems.

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Figure 1.7 The growth of online learning in the USA
Figure 1.7.1 The growth of online learning in the USAPrint

1.7.2. Blended and hybrid learning

As more instructors have become involved in online learning, they have realised that much that has traditionally been done in class can be done equally well or better online (a theme that will be explored more in Chapter 9). As a result, instructors have been gradually introducing more online study elements into their classroom teaching. So learning management systems may be used to store lecture notes in the form of slides or PDFs, links to online readings may be provided, or online forums for discussion may be established. Thus online learning is gradually blended with face-to-face teaching, but without changing the basic classroom teaching model. Here online learning is being used as a supplement to traditional teaching. Although there is no standard or commonly agreed definitions in this area, I will use the term ‘blended learning’ for this use of technology.

More recently, though, lecture capture has resulted in instructors realising that if the lecture is recorded, students could view this in their own time, and then the classroom time could be used for more interactive sessions. This model has become known as the ‘flipped classroom’.

Some institutions are now developing plans to move a substantial part of their teaching into more blended or flexible modes. For instance the University of Ottawa is planning to have at least 25 per cent of its courses blended or hybrid within five years (University of Ottawa, 2013). The University of British Columbia is planning to redesign most of its first and second year large lecture classes into hybrid classes (Farrar, 2014).

The implications of both fully online and blended learning will be discussed more fully in Chapter 9.

1.7.3. Open learning

Another increasingly important development linked to online learning is the move to more open education. Over the last 10 years there have been developments in open learning that are beginning to impact directly on conventional institutions. The most immediate is open textbooks – such as what you are reading now. Open textbooks are digital textbooks that can be downloaded in a digital format by students (or instructors) for free, thus saving students considerable money on textbooks. For instance, in Canada, the three provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan have agreed to collaborate on the production and distribution of peer-reviewed open textbooks for the 40 high-enrolment subject areas in their university and community college programs.

Open educational resources (OER) are another recent development in open education. These are digital educational materials freely available over the Internet that can be downloaded by instructors (or students) without charge, and if necessary adapted or amended, under a Creative Commons license that provides protections for the creators of the material. Probably the best known source of OER is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology OpenCourseWare project. With individual professors’ permission, MIT has made available for free downloading over the Internet video lectures recorded with lecture capture as well as supporting materials such as slides.

The implications of developments in open learning will also be discussed in Chapter 10.

1.7.4. MOOCs

One of the main developments in online learning has been the rapid growth of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). In 2008,  the University of Manitoba in Canada offered the first MOOC with just over 2,000 enrolments, which linked webinar presentations and/or blog posts by experts to participants’ blogs and tweets. The courses were open to anyone and had no formal assessment. In 2012, two Stanford University professors launched a lecture-capture based MOOC on artificial intelligence, attracting more than 100,000 students, and since then MOOCs have expanded rapidly around the world.

Although the format of MOOCs can vary, in general they have the following characteristics:

However, MOOCs are merely the latest example of the rapid evolution of technology, the over-enthusiasm of early adopters, and the need for careful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of new technologies for teaching. At the time of writing, the future of MOOCs is difficult to forecast. They will certainly evolve over time, and will probably find some kind of niche in the higher education market.

MOOCs will be discussed more fully in Chapter 5.

1.7.5 Managing the changing landscape of education

These rapid developments in educational technologies mean that faculty and instructors need a strong framework for assessing the value of different technologies, new or existing, and for deciding how or when these technologies make sense for them and their students to use. Blended and online learning, social media and open learning are all developments that are critical for effective teaching in a digital age.

References

Allen, I. and Seaman, J. (2014) Grade Change: Tracking Online Learning in the United States Wellesley MA: Babson College/Sloan Foundation

Farrar, D. (2014) Flexible Learning: September 2014 Update Flexible Learning, University of British Columbia

Johnson, H. and Mejia, M. (2014) Online learning and student outcomes in California’s community colleges San Francisco CA: Public Policy Institute of California

University of Ottawa (2013)  Report of the e-Learning Working Group Ottawa ON: University of Ottawa

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1.8 Navigating new developments in technology and online learning

Instructors in both universities and colleges now face the following challenges:

However, in general, teachers and instructors in post-secondary education have little or no training in teaching, pedagogy or the research on learning. Even many school teachers lack adequate training to deal with rapidly changing technologies. We wouldn’t expect pilots to fly a modern jet without any training, yet that is exactly what we are expecting of our teachers and instructors.

This book then aims to provide a framework for making decisions about how to teach, and how best to use technology, in ways that are true to the core values of universities, colleges, and schools, while building on the large amount of research into learning and teaching, and into the use of technology for teaching, that has been done over the last 50 years or so.

The next chapter deals with the most important question of all: how do you want to teach in a digital age?

Activity 1.8 Main conclusions from Chapter 1

Use the comment box to write down at least five conclusions you would draw from this chapter, in addition to the key takeaways below.

Click here to compare your answers with mine.

Key Takeaways

  1. Teaching methods need to be used that help to develop and transfer specific skills that serve both the purposes of knowledge development and dissemination, while at the same time preparing graduates for work in a knowledge-based society.
  2. As student numbers have increased, teaching has regressed for a variety of reasons to a greater focus on information transmission and less focus on questioning, exploration of ideas, presentation of alternative viewpoints, and the development of critical or original thinking. Yet these are the very skills needed by students in a knowledge-based society.
  3. The wide diversity of the student body is a major challenge for institutions. This requires more focus on teaching methods that provide support for learners, more individualization of learning, and more flexible delivery.
  4. Online learning is a continuum; every instructor and every institution now needs to decide: where on this continuum of teaching should a particular course or program be?
  5. As more academic content becomes openly and freely available, students will look increasingly to their local institutions for support with their learning, rather than for the delivery of content. This puts a greater focus on teaching skills and less on subject expertise.
  6. Faculty and instructors need a strong framework for assessing the value of different technologies, new or existing, and for deciding how or when these technologies make sense for them (and/or their students) to use.

II

Chapter 2: The nature of knowledge and the implications for teaching

Purpose of the chapter

This chapter discusses the relationship between our views on the nature of knowledge and the way we decide to teach.

After reading this chapter you should be able to:

  • recognize your own epistemological/philosophical position that determines the way you are currently teaching;
  • reflect on the similarities or differences between academic and everyday knowledge;
  • decide whether technology changes the nature of knowledge, and consider the implications for teaching;
  • describe in broad terms the main theories of learning and discuss their implications for teaching;
  • identify different levels and types of learning and decide which is most appropriate for your subject area/students;
  • integrate these ideas into a personal strategy or philosophy for the teaching of your subject;
  • decide on whether or not to change your overall approach to teaching in the light of the issues raised in this chapter.

What is covered in this chapter

In this chapter, I will be discussing different beliefs about the nature of knowledge, and how that influences teaching and learning.

In particular, this chapter covers the following topics:

Also in this chapter you will find the following activities:

Key Takeaways

1. Teaching is a highly complex occupation, which needs to adapt to a great deal of variety in context, subject matter and learners. It does not lend itself to broad generalizations. Nevertheless it is possible to provide guidelines or principles based on best practices, theory and research, that must then be adapted or modified to local conditions.

2. Our underlying beliefs and values, usually shared by other experts in a subject domain, shape our approach to teaching. These underlying beliefs and values are often implicit and are often not directly shared with our students, even though they are seen as essential components of becoming an ‘expert’ in a particular subject domain.

3. Different theories of learning reflect different views on the nature of knowledge.

4. Every teacher starts from some epistemological or theoretical position, even if it is not explicit, or even if the teacher is not fully aware of their beliefs.

5. With the possible exception of connectivism, there is some form of empirical evidence to support each of the theories of learning outlined here. The difference then is as much about values and beliefs about knowledge as it is about the effectiveness of each theory.

6. It is argued that academic knowledge is different from other forms of knowledge, and is even more relevant today in a digital age.

7. However, academic knowledge is not the only kind of knowledge that is important in today’s society, and as teachers we have to be aware of other forms of knowledge and their potential importance to our students, and make sure that we are providing the full range of contents and skills needed for students in a digital age.

 

 

9

Scenario C: A pre-dinner party discussion

List of characters.

Peter to Stephen. I think Caroline’s arrived. Now I know you’ve not met Caroline before, but for goodness sake, do try to be polite and sociable this time. The last time you were here, you hardly said a word.

Stephen. Well, nobody said anything that interested me. It was all about books and art. You know I’m not interested in that sort of thing.

Peter: Well, just try. Here she is. Caroline – lovely to see you again. Come and sit down. This is Stephen, my brother. I don’t think you’ve met, although I’ve told you about him – he’s a professor of mechanical engineering at the local university. But first, what would you like to drink?

Caroline. Hi, Stephen. No, I don’t think we have met. Nice to meet you. Peter, I’ll have a glass of white wine, please.

Peter. While you’re introducing yourselves, I’ll go and get the drinks and give Ruth a hand in the kitchen.

Stephen. Peter says you’re a writer. What do you write about?

Caroline (laughing). Well, you do like to get straight to the point, don’t you? It’s a bit difficult to answer your question. It depends on what I’m interested in at the time.

Stephen. And what are you interested in at the moment?

Caroline. I’m thinking about how someone would react to the loss of someone they love due to the action of someone else they also love deeply. It was prompted by an item on the news of how a father accidentally killed his two year old daughter by running her over when he was backing the car out of the garage. His wife had just let the girl out to play in the front garden and didn’t know her husband was getting the car out.

Stephen. God, that’s awful. I wonder why the hell he didn’t have a rear view video camera installed.

Caroline. Well, the horrible thing about it is that it could happen to anyone. That’s why I want to write something around such everyday tragedies.

Stephen. But how can you possibly write about something like that if you haven’t experienced that kind of thing yourself? Or have you?

Caroline. No, thank goodness. Well, I guess that’s the art of a writer – the ability to embed yourself in other people’s worlds, and to anticipate their feelings, emotions and consequent actions.

Stephen. But wouldn’t you need a degree in psychology or experience as a grief counsellor to do that in that situation?

Caroline. Well, I might talk to people who’ve undergone similar kinds of family tragedies, to see what kind of people they are afterwards, but basically it’s about understanding how I might react in such a situation and projecting that and modifying that according to the kind of characters I’m interested in.

Stephen. But how do you know it would be true, that people really would react the way you think they would?

Caroline. Well, what is ‘truth’ in a situation like that? Different people are likely to act differently. That’s what I want to explore in the novel. The husband reacts one way, the wife another, and then there’s the interaction between the two, and all those round them. I’m particularly interested in whether they could actually grow and become better people, or whether they disintegrate and destroy each other.

Stephen. But how can you not know that before you start?

Caroline. Well, that’s the point, really. I don’t. I want the characters to grow in my imagination, and the outcome will inevitably be determined by that.

Stephen. But if you don’t know the truth, how those two people actually responded to that tragedy, how can you help them or others like them?

Caroline. But I’m a novelist, not a therapist. I’m not attempting to help anyone in such an awful situation. I’m trying to understand the general human condition, and to do that, I have to start with myself, what I know and feel, and project that into another context.

Stephen. But that’s nonsense. How can you possibly understand the human condition just by looking inwards at yourself, and making up a fictional situation, that probably has nothing to do with what actually happened?

Caroline (sighs). Stephen, you’re a typical bloody scientist, with no imagination.

Peter (arriving with the drinks). Well, how are you two getting along?

Obviously at this point, not very well. The problem is that they have different world views on truth and how it can be reached. They start from very different views about what constitutes knowledge, how knowledge is acquired, and how it is validated. As always, the ancient Greeks had a word for thinking about the nature of knowledge: epistemology. We shall see that this is an important driver of how we teach.

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2.1 Art, theory, research, and best practices in teaching

 

For my comments on why this chapter is important for the rest of the book, please click on the podcast below

For my comments on why this chapter is important for the rest of the book, please click on the podcast below

All teaching is a mix of art and science. It is an art because any teacher or instructor is faced with numerous and constantly changing variables, which require rapid judgement and decision-making. Good teachers usually have a passion for teaching so the emotional as well as the cognitive side is important. In many cases, it’s also about personal relationships, the extent to which an instructor can empathise with students or appreciate their difficulties in learning, and the extent to which the instructor can communicate effectively.

There is also a science of teaching, based on theory and research. We shall see in fact there are many, often conflicting theories, driven primarily by epistemological differences about the nature of knowledge, and by different value systems. Then over the last 100 years there has been a great deal of empirical research into how students learn, and effective teaching methods, which at its best is driven by a strong, explicit theoretical base, and at its worse by mindless data-collection (rankings, anyone?).

As well as research-based practices, there are what are known as best practices, based on teachers’ experience of teaching. While in many cases these have been validated by research or are driven by theories of learning, this is not always the case. As a result, what some people see as best practices are not always universally shared by others, even if best practices are seen in general as current accepted wisdom. Lectures are a good example. In Chapter 3, Section 3, strong evidence is provided that lectures have many limitations, yet many instructors still believe that this is the most appropriate way to teach their subject.

However, even the most extensively trained teachers don’t always make good teachers if they don’t have the talent and emotional connection with learners, and untrained teachers (which covers virtually all university instructors), sometimes succeed, even with little experience, because they have a knack or in-born talent. However, although such instructors are often held up as the triumph of art over science in teaching, they are in practice very rare. Many of these untutored, brilliant instructors have learned rapidly on the job by trial and error, with the inevitable casualties along the way.

For all these reasons, there is no one best way to teach that will fit all circumstances, which is why arguments over ‘modern’ or ‘traditional’ approaches to teaching reading or math, for example, are often so sterile. Good teachers usually have an arsenal of tools, methods and approaches that they can draw on, depending on the circumstances. Also teachers and instructors will differ over what constitutes good teaching, depending on their understandings of what knowledge is, what matters most in learning, and their priorities in terms of desirable learning outcomes.

Nevertheless, these apparent contradictions do not mean that we cannot develop guidelines and techniques to improve the quality of teaching, or that we have no principles or evidence on which to base decisions about teaching, even in a rapidly changing digital age. The aim of this book is to provide such guidelines, while recognizing that one size will not fit all, and that every teacher or instructor will need to select and adapt the suggestions in this book to their own unique context. For this approach to work, though, we need to explore some fundamental issues about teaching and learning, some of which are rarely addressed in everyday discussions about education. The first and probably most important is epistemology.

Activity 2.1: What do you think makes a good teacher?

1. Write down, in order of priority, what you consider to be the three most important characteristics of a good teacher.

2. When you’ve done that, go to the comment section, add your contribution under the heading 2.1, then compare your answers with those of others who have done this. You can also compare it with my answer in the comment section.

3. Add your explanation of why your answer differs from others (and mine!).

 

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2.2 Epistemology and theories of learning

2.2.1 What is epistemology?

In the dinner party scenario, Stephen and Caroline had quite different beliefs about the nature of knowledge. The issue here is not who was right, but that we all have implicit beliefs about the nature of knowledge, what constitutes truth, how that truth is best validated, and, from a teaching perspective, how best to help people to acquire that knowledge. The basis of that belief will vary, depending on the subject matter, and, in some areas, such as social sciences, even within a common domain of knowledge. It will become clear that our choice of teaching approaches and even the use of technology are absolutely dependent on beliefs and assumptions we have about the nature of knowledge, about the requirements of our subject discipline, and about how we think students learn. We will also see that there are some common, shared beliefs about academic knowledge that transcend disciplinary boundaries, but which separate academic knowledge from general, ‘every day’ knowledge.

The way we teach in higher education will be driven primarily by our beliefs or even more importantly, by the commonly agreed consensus within an academic discipline about what constitutes valid knowledge in the subject area. The nature of knowledge centres on the question of how we know what we know. What makes us believe that something is ‘true’? Questions of this kind are epistemological in nature. Hofer and Pintrich (1997) state:

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and justification of knowledge.’

The famous argument at the British Association in 1860 between Thomas Huxley and the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, over the origin of species is a classic example of the clash between beliefs about the foundations of knowledge. Wilberforce argued that Man was created by God; Huxley argued that Man evolved through natural selection. Bishop Wilberforce believed he was right because ‘true’ knowledge was determined through faith and interpretation of holy scripture; Professor Huxley believed he was right because ‘true’ knowledge was derived through empirical science and rational skepticism.

An important part of higher education is aimed at developing students’ understanding, within a particular discipline, of the criteria and values that underpin academic study of that discipline, and these include questions of what constitutes valid knowledge in that subject area. For many experts in a particular field, these assumptions are often so strong and embedded that the experts may not even be openly conscious of them unless challenged. But for novices, such as students, it often takes a great deal of time to understand fully the underlying value systems that drive choice of content and methods of teaching.

Our epistemological position therefore has direct practical consequences for how we teach.

2.2.2 Epistemology and theories of learning

Most teachers in the school/k-12 sector will be familiar with the main theories of learning, but because instructors in post-secondary education are hired primarily for their subject experience, or research or vocational skills, it is essential to introduce and discuss, if only briefly, these main theories. In practice, even without formal training or knowledge of different theories of learning, all teachers and instructors will approach teaching within one of these main theoretical approaches, whether or not they are aware of the educational jargon surrounding these approaches. Also, as online learning, technology-based teaching, and informal digital networks of learners have evolved, new theories of learning are emerging.

With a knowledge of alternative theoretical approaches, teachers and instructors are in a better position to make choices about how to approach their teaching in ways that will best fit the perceived needs of their students, within the very many different learning contexts that teachers and instructors face. This is particularly important when addressing many of the requirements of learners in a digital age that are set out in Chapter 1. Furthermore, the choice of or preference for one particular theoretical approach will have major implications for the way that technology is used to support teaching.

In fact, there is a huge amount of literature on theories of learning, and I am aware that the treatment here is cursory, to say the least. Those who would prefer a more detailed introduction to theories of learning could, for an obscene price, purchase Schunk (2011), or for a more reasonable price Harasim (2012). The aim of my book though is not to be comprehensive in terms of in-depth coverage of all learning theories, but to provide a basis on which to suggest and evaluate different ways of teaching to meet the diverse needs of learners in a digital age.

In the following sections I examine four of the most common theories of learning, and the underlying epistemologies that drive them.

References

Harasim, L. (2012) Learning Theory and Online Technologies New York/London: Routledge

Hofer, B. and Pintrich, P. (1997) ‘The development of epistemological theories: beliefs about knowledge and knowing and their relation to learning’ Review of Educational Research Vol. 67, No. 1, pp. 88-140

Schunk, D. (2011) Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective Boston MA: Allyn and Bacon

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2.3 Objectivism and behaviourism

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Figure 2.3.1 The solar system: an objective fact? Image: © International Astronomical Union/Wikipedia

Figure 2.3.1 The solar system: an objective fact?
Image: © International Astronomical Union/Wikipedia

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2.3.1 The objectivist epistemology

Objectivists believe that there exists an objective and reliable set of facts, principles and theories that either have been discovered and delineated or will be over the course of time. This position is linked to the belief that truth exists outside the human mind, or independently of what an individual may or may not believe. Thus the laws of physics are constant, although our knowledge of them may evolve as we discover the ‘truth’ out there.

2.3.2 Objectivist approaches to teaching

A teacher operating from a primarily objectivist view is more likely to believe that a course must present a body of knowledge to be learned. This may consist of facts, formulas, terminology, principles, theories and the like.

The effective transmission of this body of knowledge becomes of central importance. Lectures and textbooks must be authoritative, informative, organized, and clear. The student’s responsibility is accurately to comprehend, reproduce and add to the knowledge handed down to him or her, within the guiding epistemological framework of the discipline, based on empirical evidence and the testing of hypotheses. Course assignments and exams would require students to find ‘right answers’ and justify them. Original or creative thinking must still operate within the standards of an objectivist approach – in other words, new knowledge development must meet the rigorous standards of empirical testing within agreed theoretical frameworks.

An ‘objectivist’ teacher has to be very much in control of what and how students learn, choosing what is important to learn, the sequence, the learning activities, and how learners are to be assessed.

2.3.3 Behaviourism

Although initially developed in the 1920s, behaviourism still dominates approaches to teaching and learning in many places, particularly in the USA. Behaviourist psychology is an attempt to model the study of human behaviour on the methods of the physical sciences, and therefore concentrates attention on those aspects of behaviour that are capable of direct observation and measurement. At the heart of behaviourism is the idea that certain behavioural responses become associated in a mechanistic and invariant way with specific stimuli. Thus a certain stimulus will evoke a particular response. At its simplest, it may be a purely physiological reflex action, like the contraction of an iris in the eye when stimulated by bright light.

However, most human behaviour is more complex. Nevertheless behaviourists have demonstrated in labs that it is possible to reinforce through reward or punishment the association between any particular stimulus or event and a particular behavioural response. The bond formed between a stimulus and response will depend on the existence of an appropriate means of reinforcement at the time of association between stimulus and response.  This depends on random behaviour (trial and error) being appropriately reinforced as it occurs.

This is essentially the concept of operant conditioning, a principle most clearly developed by Skinner (1968). He showed that pigeons could be trained in quite complex behaviour by rewarding particular, desired responses that might initially occur at random, with appropriate stimuli, such as the provision of food pellets. He also found that a chain of responses could be developed, without the need for intervening stimuli to be present, thus linking an initially remote stimulus with a more complex behaviour. Furthermore, inappropriate or previously learned behaviour could be extinguished by withdrawing reinforcement. Reinforcement in humans can be quite simple, such as immediate feedback for an activity or getting a correct answer to a multiple-choice test.

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Figure 2.3.3 YouTube video/film of B.F. Skinner demonstrating his teaching machine, 1954 Click on image to see video

Figure 2.3.3 YouTube video/film of B.F. Skinner demonstrating his teaching machine, 1954
Click on image to see video

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You can see a fascinating five minute film of B.F. Skinner describing his teaching machine in a 1954 film captured on YouTube, either by clicking on the picture above or at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTH3ob1IRFo

Underlying a behaviourist approach to teaching is the belief that learning is governed by invariant principles, and these principles are independent of conscious control on the part of the learner. Behaviourists attempt to maintain a high degree of objectivity in the way they view human activity, and they generally reject reference to unmeasurable states, such as feelings, attitudes, and consciousness. Human behaviour is above all seen as predictable and controllable. Behaviourism thus stems from a strongly objectivist epistemological position.

Skinner’s theory of learning provides the underlying theoretical basis for the development of teaching machines, measurable learning objectives, computer-assisted instruction, and multiple choice tests. Behaviourism’s influence is still strong in corporate and military training, and in some areas of science, engineering, and medical training. It can be of particular value for rote learning of facts or standard procedures such as multiplication tables, for dealing with children or adults with limited cognitive ability due to brain disorders, or for compliance with industrial or business standards or processes that are invariant and do not require individual judgement.

Behaviourism, with its emphasis on rewards and punishment as drivers of learning, and on pre-defined and measurable outcomes, is the basis of populist conceptions of learning among many parents, politicians, and, it should be noted, computer scientists interested in automating learning. It is not surprising then that there has also been a tendency until recently to see technology, and in particular computer-aided instruction, as being closely associated with behaviourist approaches to learning, although we shall see in Chapter 5, Section 4 that computers do not necessarily have to be used in a behaviourist way.

Lastly, although behaviourism is an ‘objectivist’ approach to teaching, it is not the only way of teaching ‘objectively’. For instance, problem-based learning can still take a highly objective approach to knowledge and learning.

Activity 2.3 Defining the limits of behaviourism

1. What areas of knowledge do you think would be best ‘taught’ or learned through a behaviourist approach?

2. What areas of knowledge do you think would NOT be appropriately taught through a behaviourist approach?

3. What are your reasons?

References

Skinner, B. (1968) The Technology of Teaching, 1968. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts

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2.4 Cognitivism

2.4.1 What is cognitivism?

An obvious criticism of behaviourism is that it treats humans as a black box, where inputs into the black box, and outputs from the black box, are known and measurable, but what goes on inside the black box is ignored or not considered of interest. However, humans have the ability for conscious thought, decision-making, emotions, and the ability to express ideas through social discourse, all of which are highly significant for learning. Thus we will likely get a better understanding of learning if we try to find out what goes on inside the black box.

Cognitivists therefore have focused on identifying mental processes – internal and conscious representations of the world – that they consider are essential for human learning. Fontana (1981) summarises the cognitive approach to learning as follows:

The cognitive approach … holds that if we are to understand learning we cannot confine ourselves to observable behaviour, but must also concern ourselves with the learner’s ability mentally to re-organize his psychological field (i.e. his inner world of concepts, memories, etc.) in response to experience. This latter approach therefore lays stress not only on the environment, but upon the way in which the individual interprets and tries to make sense of the environment. It sees the individual not as the somewhat mechanical product of his environment, but as an active agent in the learning process, deliberately trying to process and categorize the stream of information fed into him by the external world.’ (p. 148)

Thus the search for rules, principles or relationships in processing new information, and the search for meaning and consistency in reconciling new information with previous knowledge, are key concepts in cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychology is concerned with identifying and describing mental processes that affect learning, thinking and behaviour, and the conditions that influence those mental processes.

2.4.2 Cognitivist learning theory

The most widely used theories of cognitivism in education are based on Bloom’s taxonomies of learning objectives (Bloom et al., 1956), which are related to the development of different kinds of learning skills, or ways of learning. Bloom and his colleagues claimed that there are three important domains of learning:

Cognitivism focuses on the ‘thinking’ domain. In more recent years, Anderson and Krathwol (2000) have slightly modified Bloom et al.’s original taxonomy, adding ‘creating’ new knowledge:

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Figure 2.3.3 Cognitive domain Image: © Atherton J S (2013) CC-NC-ND

Figure 2.4.1 Cognitive domain
Image: © Atherton J S (2013) CC-NC-ND

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Bloom et al. also argued that there is a hierarchy of learning, meaning that learners need to progress through each of the levels, from remembering through to evaluating/creating. As psychologists delve deeper into each of these cognitive activities to understand the underlying mental processes, it becomes an increasingly reductionist exercise (see Figure 2.4.2 below).

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© Agile Development Blog, accessed 23 July 2014

Figure 2.4.2  © Faizel Mohidin, UsingMindMaps, 2011.

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2.5.3 Applications of cognitivist learning theory

Cognitive approaches to learning, with a focus on comprehension, abstraction, analysis, synthesis, generalization, evaluation, decision-making, problem-solving and creative thinking, seem to fit much better with higher education than behaviourism, but even in school/k-12 education, a cognitivist approach would mean for instance focusing on teaching learners how to learn, on developing stronger or new mental processes for future learning, and on developing deeper and constantly changing understanding of concepts and ideas.

Cognitive approaches to learning cover a very wide range. At the objectivist end, cognitivists consider basic mental processes to be genetic or hard-wired, but can be programmed or modified by external factors, such as new experiences. Early cognitivists in particular were interested in the concept of mind as computer, and more recently brain research has led to a search for linking cognition to the development and reinforcement of neural networks in the brain.

In terms of practice, this concept of mind as computer has led to several technology-based developments in teaching, including:

Cognitivists have increased our understanding of how humans process and make sense of new information, how we access, interpret, integrate, process, organize and manage knowledge, and have given us a better understanding of the conditions that affect learners’ mental states.

Activity 2.4 Defining the limits of cognitivism

1. What areas of knowledge do you think would be best ‘taught’ or learned through a cognitivist approach?

2. What areas of knowledge do you think would NOT be appropriately taught through a cognitivist approach?

3. What are your reasons?

 

References

Anderson, L. and Krathwohl, D. (eds.) (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives New York: Longman

Atherton J. S. (2013) Learning and Teaching; Bloom’s taxonomy, retrieved 18 March 2015

Bloom, B. S.; Engelhart, M. D.; Furst, E. J.; Hill, W. H.; Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Company

Fontana, D. (1981) Psychology for Teachers London: Macmillan/British Psychological Society

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2.5 Constructivism

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Figure 2.6 Project work is one form of constructivist learning Image: © Jim Olive, Environmental Protection Agency/Wikipedia, 1972

Figure 2.5 Project work is one form of constructivist learning
Image: © Jim Olive, Environmental Protection Agency/Wikipedia, 1972

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2.5.1 What is constructivism?

Both behaviourist and some elements of cognitive theories of learning are deterministic, in the sense that behaviour and learning are believed to be rule-based and operate under predictable and constant conditions over which the individual learner has no or little control. However, constructivists emphasise the importance of consciousness, free will and social influences on learning. Carl Rogers (1969) stated that:

‘every individual exists in a continually changing world of experience in which he is the center.’

The external world is interpreted within the context of that private world. The belief that humans are essentially active, free and strive for meaning in personal terms has been around for a long time, and is an essential component of constructivism.

Constructivists believe that knowledge is essentially subjective in nature, constructed from our perceptions and mutually agreed upon conventions. According to this view, we construct new knowledge rather than simply acquire it via memorization or through transmission from those who know to those who don’t know. Constructivists believe that meaning or understanding is achieved by assimilating information, relating it to our existing knowledge, and cognitively processing it (in other words, thinking or reflecting on new information). Social constructivists believe that this process works best through discussion and social interaction, allowing us to test and challenge our own understandings with those of others. For a constructivist, even physical laws exist because they have been constructed by people from evidence, observation, and deductive or intuitive thinking, and, most importantly, because certain communities of people (in this example, scientists) have mutually agreed what constitutes valid knowledge.

Constructivists argue that individuals consciously strive for meaning to make sense of their environment in terms of past experience and their present state. It is an attempt to create order in their minds out of disorder, to resolve incongruities, and to reconcile external realities with prior experience. The means by which this is done are complex and multi-faceted, from personal reflection, seeking new information, to testing ideas through social contact with others. Problems are resolved, and incongruities sorted out, through strategies such as seeking relationships between what was known and what is new, identifying similarities and differences, and testing hypotheses or assumptions. Reality is always tentative and dynamic.

One consequence of constructivist theory is that each individual is unique, because the interaction of their different experiences, and their search for personal meaning, results in each person being different from anyone else. Thus behaviour is not predictable or deterministic, at least not at the individual level (which is a key distinguishing feature from cognitivism, which seeks general rules of thinking that apply to all humans). The key point here is that for constructivists, learning is seen as essentially a social process, requiring communication between learner, teacher and others. This social process cannot effectively be replaced by technology, although technology may facilitate it.

2.5.2 Constructivist approaches to teaching

For many educators, the social context of learning is critical. Ideas are tested not just on the teacher, but with fellow students, friends and colleagues. Furthermore, knowledge is mainly acquired through social processes or institutions that are socially constructed: schools, universities, and increasingly these days, online communities. Thus what is taken to be ‘valued’ knowledge is also socially constructed.

Constructivists believe that learning is a constantly dynamic process. Understanding of concepts or principles develops and becomes deeper over time. For instance, as a very young child, we understand the concept of heat through touch. As we get older we realise that it can be quantified, such as minus 20 centigrade being very cold (unless you live in Manitoba, where -20C would be considered normal). As we study science, we begin to understand heat differently, for instance, as a form of energy transfer, then as a form of energy associated with the motion of atoms or molecules. Each ‘new’ component needs to be integrated with prior understandings and also integrated with other related concepts, including other components of molecular physics and chemistry.

Thus ‘constructivist’ teachers place a strong emphasis on learners developing personal meaning through reflection, analysis and the gradual building of layers or depths of knowledge through conscious and ongoing mental processing. Reflection, seminars, discussion forums, small group work, and projects are key methods used to support constructivist learning in campus-based teaching (discussed in more detail in Chapter 3), and online collaborative learning, and communities of practice are important constructivist methods in online learning (Chapter 4).

Although problem-solving can be approached in an objectivist way, by pre-determining a set of steps or processes to go through pre-determined by ‘experts’, it can also be approached in a constructivist manner. The level of teacher guidance can vary in a constructivist approach to problem-solving, from none at all, to providing some guidelines on how to solve the problem, to directing students to possible sources of information that may be relevant to solving that problem, to getting students to brainstorm particular solutions. Students will probably work in groups, help each other and compare solutions to the problem. There may not be considered one ‘correct’ solution to the problem, but the group may consider some solutions better than others, depending on the agreed criteria of success for solving the problem.

It can be seen that there can be ‘degrees’ of constructivism, since in practice the teacher may well act as first among equals, and help direct the process so that ‘suitable’ outcomes are achieved. The fundamental difference is that students have to work towards constructing their own meaning, testing it against ‘reality’, and further constructing meaning as a result.

Constructivists also approach technology for teaching differently from behaviourists. From a constructivist perspective, brains have more plasticity, adaptability and complexity than current computer software programs. Other uniquely human factors, such as emotion, motivation, free will, values, and a wider range of senses, make human learning very different from the way computers operate. Following this reasoning, education would be much better served if computer scientists tried to make software to support learning more reflective of the way human learning operates, rather than trying to fit human learning into the current restrictions of behaviourist computer programming. This will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 5, Section 4.

Although constructivist approaches can be and have been applied to all fields of knowledge, they are more commonly found in approaches to teaching in the humanities, social sciences, education, and other less quantitative subject areas.

Activity 2.5 Defining the limits of constructivism

1. What areas of knowledge do you think would be best ‘taught’ or learned through a constructivist approach?

2. What areas of knowledge do you think would NOT be appropriately taught through a constructivist approach?

3. What are your reasons?

References

Rogers, C. (1969) Freedom to Learn Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Co.

There are many books on constructivism but some of the best are the original works of some of the early educators and researchers, in particular:

Piaget, J. and Inhelder, B., (1958) The Growth of Logical Thinking from Childhood to Adolescence New York: Basic Books, 1958

Searle, J. (1996) The construction of social reality. New York: Simon & Shuster

Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press

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2.6 Connectivism

2.6.1 What is connectivism?

Another epistemological position, connectivism, has emerged in recent years that is particularly relevant to a digital society. Connectivism is still being refined and developed, and it is currently highly controversial, with many critics.

In connectivism it is the collective connections between all the ‘nodes’ in a network that result in new forms of knowledge. According to Siemens (2004), knowledge is created beyond the level of individual human participants, and is constantly shifting and changing. Knowledge in networks is not controlled or created by any formal organization, although organizations can and should ‘plug in’ to this world of constant information flow, and draw meaning from it. Knowledge in connectivism is a chaotic, shifting phenomenon as nodes come and go and as information flows across networks that themselves are inter-connected with myriad other networks.

The significance of connectivism is that its proponents argue that the Internet changes the essential nature of knowledge. ‘The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe,’ to quote Siemens again.

Downes (2007) makes a clear distinction between constructivism and connectivism:

‘In connectivism, a phrase like “constructing meaning” makes no sense. Connections form naturally, through a process of association, and are not “constructed” through some sort of intentional action. …Hence, in connectivism, there is no real concept of transferring knowledge, making knowledge, or building knowledge. Rather, the activities we undertake when we conduct practices in order to learn are more like growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways.’

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Figure 2.6.1: A map of connectivism, Image: © pkab.wordpress.com

Figure 2.6.1: A map of connectivism Image: © pkab.wordpress.com. Click and drag for a larger image.

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2.6.2 Connectivism and learning

For Siemens (2004), it is the connections and the way information flows that result in knowledge existing beyond the individual. Learning becomes the ability to tap into significant flows of information, and to follow those flows that are significant. He argues that:

‘Connectivism presents a model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity….Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database).’ 

Siemens (2004) identifies the principles of connectivism as follows:

Downes (2007) states that:

‘at its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks….[Connectivism] implies a pedagogy that:

(a) seeks to describe ‘successful’ networks (as identified by their properties, which I have characterized as diversity, autonomy, openness, and connectivity) and

(b) seeks to describe the practices that lead to such networks, both in the individual and in society – which I have characterized as modelling and demonstration (on the part of a teacher) – and practice and reflection (on the part of a learner).

2.6.3 Applications of connectivism to teaching and learning

Siemens, Downes and Cormier constructed the first massive open online course (MOOC), Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2011, partly to explain and partly to model a connectivist approach to learning.

Connectivists such as Siemens and Downes tend to be somewhat vague about the role of teachers or instructors, as the focus of connectivism is more on individual participants, networks and the flow of information and the new forms of knowledge that result. The main purpose of a teacher appears to be to provide the initial learning environment and context that brings learners together, and  to help learners construct their own personal learning environments that enable them to connect to ‘successful’ networks, with the assumption that learning will automatically occur as a result, through exposure to the flow of information and the individual’s autonomous reflection on its meaning. There is no need for formal institutions to support this kind of learning, especially since such learning often depends heavily on social media readily available to all participants.

There are numerous criticisms of the connectivist approach to teaching and learning (see Chapter 6, Section 4). Some of these criticisms may be overcome as practice improves, as new tools for assessment, and for organizing co-operative and collaborative work with massive numbers, are developed, and as more experience is gained. More importantly, connectivism is really the first theoretical attempt to radically re-examine the implications for learning of the Internet and the explosion of new communications technologies.

Activity 2.6 Defining the limits of connectivism

1. What areas of knowledge do you think would be best ‘taught’ or learned through a connectivist approach?

2. What areas of knowledge do you think would NOT be appropriately taught through a connectivist approach?

3. What are your reasons?

You might like to come back to your answer after you have read Chapter 6 on MOOCs.

References and further reading

AlDahdouh, A., Osório, A., Caires, S. (2015) Understanding knowledge network, learning and connectivism, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, Vol. 12, No.10

Downes, S. (2007) What connectivism is Half An Hour, February 3

Downes, S. (2014) The MOOC of One, Stephen’s Web, March 10

Siemens, G. (2004) Connectivism: a theory for the digital age’ eLearningSpace, December 12.

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2.7 Is the nature of knowledge changing?

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Figure 2.8 academic knowledge is a second-order form of knowledge that seeks abstractions and generalizations based on reasoning and evidence Image: © Wallpoper/Wikipedia

Figure 2.7 Academic knowledge is a second-order form of knowledge that seeks abstractions and generalizations based on reasoning and evidence
Image: © Wallpoper/Wikipedia

2.7.1 Knowledge and technology

Before moving on to the more pragmatic elements of teaching in a digital age, it is necessary to address the question of whether the development of digital technologies has actually changed the nature of knowledge, because if that is the case, then this will influence strongly what needs to be taught as well as how it will be taught.

Connectivists such as Siemens and Downes argue that the Internet has changed the nature of knowledge. They argue that ‘important’ or ‘valid’ knowledge now is different from prior forms of knowledge, particularly academic knowledge. Downes (2007) has argued that new technologies allow for the de-institutionalisation of learning. Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired Magazine and now CEO of Ted Talks, has argued (2008) that massive meta-data correlations can replace ‘traditional’ scientific approaches to creating new knowledge:

Google’s founding philosophy is that we don’t know why this page is better than that one: If the statistics of incoming links say it is, that’s good enough. No semantic or causal analysis is required. …This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.

The big target here isn’t advertising, though. It’s science. The scientific method is built around testable hypotheses. These models, for the most part, are systems visualized in the minds of scientists. The models are then tested, and experiments confirm or falsify theoretical models of how the world works. This is the way science has worked for hundreds of years. Scientists are trained to recognize that correlation is not causation, that no conclusions should be drawn simply on the basis of correlation between X and Y (it could just be a coincidence). Instead, you must understand the underlying mechanisms that connect the two. Once you have a model, you can connect the data sets with confidence. Data without a model is just noise. But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete.’

(It should be noted this was written before derivative-based investments caused financial markets to collapse, mainly because those using them didn’t understand the underlying logic that created the data.)

Jane Gilbert’s book, ‘Catching the Knowledge Wave’ (2005), directly addresses the assumption that the nature of knowledge is changing. Drawing on publications by Manuel Castells (2000) and Jean-François Lyotard (1984), she writes (p. 35):

‘Castells says that…knowledge is not an object but a series of networks and flows…the new knowledge is a process not a product…it is produced not in the minds of individuals but in the interactions between people…..

According to Lyotard, the traditional idea that acquiring knowledge trains the mind would become obsolete, as would the idea of knowledge as a set of universal truths. Instead, there will be many truths, many knowledges and many forms of reason. As a result… the boundaries between traditional disciplines are dissolving, traditional methods of representing knowledge (books, academic papers, and so on) are becoming less important, and the role of traditional academics or experts are undergoing major change.’

Back in the 1960s Marshal McLuhan argued that the medium is the message; the way information is represented and transmitted is changed and so is our focus and understanding as information moves between and within different media. If information and knowledge are now represented and more significantly now flow differently, how does that affect educational processes such as teaching and learning?

One way knowledge is certainly changing is in the way it is represented. It should be remembered that Socrates criticised writing because it could not lead to ‘true’ knowledge which came only from verbal dialogue and oratory. Writing however is important because it provides a permanent record of knowledge. The printing press was important because it enabled the written word to spread to many more people. As a consequence, scholars could challenge and better interpret, through reflection, what others had written, and more accurately and carefully argue their own positions. Many scholars believe that one consequence of the development of mass printing was the Renaissance and the age of enlightenment, and modern academia consequently came to depend very heavily on the print medium.

Now we have other ways to record and transmit knowledge that can be studied and reflected upon, such as video, audio, animations, and graphics, and the Internet does expand enormously the speed and range by which these representations of knowledge can be transmitted. We shall also see in Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 that that media are not neutral, but represent meaning in different ways.

2.7.2 Knowledge as a commodity

All the above authors agree that the ‘new’ knowledge in the knowledge society is about the commercialisation or commodification of knowledge: ‘it is defined not through what it is, but through what it can do.’ (Gilbert, p.35). ‘The capacity to own, buy and sell knowledge has contributed, in major ways, to the development of the new, knowledge-based societies.’ (p.39)

In a knowledge-based society, particular emphasis is placed on the utility of knowledge for commercial purposes. As a result there is more emphasis on certain types of immediately practical knowledge over longer term research, for instance, but because of the strong relationship between pure and applied knowledge, this is probably a mistake, even in terms of economic development.

The issue is not so much the nature of knowledge, but how students or learners come to acquire that knowledge and learn how it can be used. As I argued in Chapter 1, this requires more emphasis on developing and learning skills of how best to apply knowledge, rather than a focus on merely teaching content. Also it will be argued later in the book that students have many more sources of information besides the teacher or instructor and that a key educational issue is the management of vast amounts of knowledge. Since knowledge is dynamic, expanding and constantly changing, learners need to develop the skills and learn to use the tools that will enable them to continue to learn.

But does this mean that knowledge itself is now different? I will argue that in a digital age, some aspects of knowledge do change considerably, but others do not, at least in essence. In particular, I argue that academic knowledge, in terms of its values and goals, does not and should not change a great deal, but the way it is represented and applied will and should change.

2.7.3 The nature of academic knowledge

Academic knowledge is a specific form of knowledge that has characteristics that differentiate it from other kinds of knowledge, and particularly from knowledge or beliefs based solely on direct personal experience. In summary, academic knowledge is a second-order form of knowledge that seeks abstractions and generalizations based on reasoning and evidence.

Fundamental components of academic knowledge are

Transparency means that the source of the knowledge can be traced and verified. Codification means that the knowledge can be consistently represented in some form (words, symbols, video) that enables interpretation by someone other than the originator. Knowledge can be reproduced or have multiple copies. Lastly, knowledge must be in a form such that it can be communicated and challenged by others.

Laurillard (2001) recognizes the importance of relating the student’s direct experience of the world to an understanding of academic concepts and processes, but she argues that teaching at a university level must go beyond direct experience to reflection, analysis and explanations of those direct experiences. Because every academic discipline has a specific set of conventions and assumptions about the nature of knowledge within its discipline, students in higher education need to change the perspectives of their everyday experience to match those of the subject domain.

As a result, Laurillard argues that university teaching is ‘essentially a rhetorical activity, persuading students to change the way they experience the world’ (p.28). Laurillard then goes on to make the point that because academic knowledge has this second-order character, it relies heavily on symbolic representation, such as language, mathematical symbols, ‘or any symbol system that can represent a description of the world, and requires interpretation’ (p.27) to enable this mediation to take place.

If academic knowledge requires mediation, then this has major significance for the use of technology. Language (i.e. reading and speaking) is only one channel for mediating knowledge. Media such as video, audio, and computing can also provide teachers with alternative channels of mediation.

Laurillard’s reflections on the nature of academic knowledge are a counter-balance to the view that students can automatically construct knowledge through argument and discussion with their peers, or self-directed study, or the wisdom of the crowd. For academic knowledge, the role of the teacher is to help students understand not just the facts or concepts in a subject discipline, but the rules and conventions for acquiring and validating knowledge within that subject discipline. Academic knowledge shares common values or criteria, making academic knowledge itself a particular epistemological approach.

2.7.4 Academic versus applied knowledge

In a knowledge-based society, knowledge that leads to innovation and commercial activity is now recognised as critical to economic development. Again, there is a tendency to argue that this kind of knowledge – ‘commercial’ knowledge – is different from academic knowledge. I would argue that sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

I have no argument with the point of view that knowledge is the driver of most modern economies, and that this represents a major shift from the ‘old’ industrial economy, where natural resources (coal, oil, iron), machinery and cheap manual labour were the predominant drivers. I do though challenge the idea that the nature of knowledge has undergone radical changes.

The difficulty I have with the broad generalisations about the changing nature of knowledge is that there have always been different kinds of knowledge. One of my first jobs was in a brewery in the East End of London in 1959. I was one of several students hired during our summer vacation. One of my fellow student workers was a brilliant mathematician. Every lunch hour the regular brewery workers played cards (three card brag) for what seemed to us large sums of money, but they would never let us play with them. My student friend was desperate to get a game, and eventually, on our last week, they let him in. They promptly won all his wages. He knew the numbers and the odds, but there was still a lot of non-academic knowledge he didn’t know about playing cards for money, especially against a group of friends playing together rather than against each other. Gilbert’s point is that academic knowledge has always been more highly valued in education than ‘everyday’ knowledge. However, in the ‘real’ world, all kinds of knowledge are valued, depending on the context. Thus while beliefs about what constitutes ‘important’ knowledge may be changing, this does not mean that the nature of academic knowledge is changing.

Gilbert argues that in a knowledge society, there has been a shift in valuing applied knowledge over academic knowledge in the broader society, but this has not been recognised or accepted in education (and particularly the school system). She sees academic knowledge as associated with narrow disciplines such as mathematics and philosophy, whereas applied knowledge is knowing how to do things, and hence by definition tends to be multi-disciplinary. Gilbert argues (p. 159-160) that academic knowledge is:

‘authoritative, objective, and universal knowledge. It is abstract, rigorous, timeless – and difficult. It is knowledge that goes beyond the here and now knowledge of everyday experience to a higher plane of understanding…..In contrast, applied knowledge is practical knowledge that is produced by putting academic knowledge into practice. It is gained through experience, by trying things out until they work in real-world situations.’

Other kinds of knowledge that don’t fit the definition of academic knowledge are those kinds built on experience, traditional crafts, trail-and-error, and quality improvement through continuous minor change built on front-line worker experience – not to mention how to win at three card brag.

I agree that academic knowledge is different from everyday knowledge, but I challenge the view that academic knowledge is ‘pure’, not applied. It is too narrow a definition, because it thus excludes all the professional schools and disciplines, such as engineering, medicine, law, business, education that ‘apply’ academic knowledge. These are just as accepted and ‘valued’ parts of universities and colleges as the ‘pure’ disciplines of humanities and science, and their activities meet all the criteria for academic knowledge set out by Gilbert.

Making a distinction between academic and applied knowledge misses the real point about the kind of education needed in a knowledge society and a digital age. It is not just knowledge – both pure and applied – that is important, but also digital literacy, skills associated with lifelong learning, and attitudes/ethics and social behaviour.

Knowledge is not just ‘stuff’, or fixed content, but it is dynamic. Knowledge is also not just ‘flow’. Content or ‘stuff’ does matter as well as the discussions or interpretations we have about content. Where does the ‘stuff’ come from that ebbs and flows over the discussions on the internet? It may not originate or end in the heads of individuals, but it certainly flows though them, where it is interpreted and transformed. Knowledge may be dynamic and changing, but at some point each person does settle, if only for a brief time, on what they think knowledge to be, even if over time that knowledge changes, develops or becomes more deeply understood. Thus ‘stuff’ or content does matter, though knowing (a) how to acquire content and (b) what to do with content we have acquired, is even more important.

Thus it is not sufficient just to teach academic content (applied or not). It is equally important also to enable students to develop the ability to know how to find, analyse, organise and apply information/content within their professional and personal activities, to take responsibility for their own learning, and to be flexible and adaptable in developing new knowledge and skills. All this is needed because of the explosion in the quantity of knowledge in any professional field that makes it impossible to memorise or even be aware of all the developments that are happening in the field, and the need to keep up-to-date within the field after graduating.

To do this learners must have access to appropriate and relevant content, know how to find it, and must have opportunities to apply and practice what they have learned. Thus learning has to be a combination of content, skills and attitudes, and increasingly this needs to apply to all areas of study. This does not mean that there is no room to search for universal truths, or fundamental laws or principles, but this needs to be embedded within a broader learning environment. This should include the ability to use digital technologies as an integral part of their learning, but tied to appropriate content and skills within their area of study.

Also, the importance of non-academic knowledge in the growth of knowledge-based industries should not be ignored. These other forms of knowledge have proved just as valuable. For instance it is important within a company to manage the every-day knowledge of employees through better internal communication, encouraging external networking, and rewards for collaboration and participation in improving products and services.

2.7.5 The relevance of academic knowledge in the knowledge society

An over-emphasis on the functionality of knowledge will result in ‘academic knowledge’ being implicitly seen as irrelevant to the knowledge society. However, it has been the explosion in academic knowledge that has formed the basis of the knowledge society. It was academic development in sciences, medicine and engineering that led to the development of the Internet, biotechnology, digital financial services, computer software and telecommunication, etc. Indeed, it is no co-incidence that those countries most advanced in knowledge-based industries were those that have the highest participation rates in university education.

Thus while academic knowledge is not ‘pure’ or timeless or objectively ‘true’, it is the principles or values that drive academic knowledge that are important. Although it often falls short, the goal of academic studies is to reach for deep understanding, general principles, empirically-based theories, timelessness, etc., even if knowledge is dynamic, changing and constantly evolving. Academic knowledge is not perfect, but does have value because of the standards it requires. Nor have academic knowledge or methods  run out of steam. There is evidence all around us: academic knowledge is generating new drug treatments, new understandings of climate change, better technology, and certainly new knowledge generation.

Indeed, more than ever, we need to sustain the elements of academic knowledge, such as rigour, abstraction, evidence-based generalisation, empirical evidence, rationalism and academic independence. It is these elements of education that have enabled the rapid economic growth both in the industrial and the knowledge societies. The difference now is that these elements alone are not enough; they need to be combined with new approaches to teaching and learning.

2.7.6 Academic knowledge and other forms of knowledge

As mentioned earlier, there are many other forms of knowledge that are useful or valued besides academic knowledge. There is increasing emphasis from government and business on the development of vocational or trades skills. Teachers or instructors are responsible for developing these areas of knowledge as well. In particular, skills that require manual dexterity, performance skills in music or drama, production skills in entertainment, skills in sport or sports management, are all examples of forms of knowledge that have not traditionally been considered ‘academic’.

However, one feature of a digital society is that increasingly these vocational skills are now requiring a much higher proportion of academic knowledge or intellectual and conceptual knowledge as well as performance skills. For example higher levels of ability in math and/or science are now demanded of many trades and professions such as network engineers, power engineers, auto mechanics, nurses and other health professionals. The ‘knowledge’ component of their work has increased over recent years.

The nature of the job is also changing. For instance, auto mechanics are now increasingly focused on diagnosis and problem-solving as the value component of vehicles becomes increasingly digitally based and components are replaced rather than repaired. Nurse practitioners now are undertaking areas of work previously done by doctors or medical specialists. Many workers now also need strong inter-personal skills, especially if they are in front-line contact with the public. At the same time, as we saw in Chapter 1, more traditionally academic areas are needing to focus more on skills development, so the somewhat artificial boundaries between pure and applied knowledge are beginning to break down.

In summary, a majority of jobs now require both academic and skills-based knowledge. Academic and skills-based knowledge also need to be integrated and contextualised. As a result, the demands on those responsible for teaching and instruction have increased, but above all, these new demands of teachers in a digital age mean that their own skills level needs to be increased to cope with these demands.

Activity 2.7 Epistemology and academic knowledge

Use the comment box, with the title 2.7, to answer the following:

1. Can you state the epistemological position that drives your teaching? (State your subject discipline). Does it fit with any of the epistemological positions described in this chapter? How does that work out in practice in terms of what you do?

2. Can you justify the role of ‘teacher’ in a digital society where individuals can find all they need on the Internet and from friends or even strangers? How do you think that the role of the teacher might, could or should change as a result of the development of a digital society? Or are there ‘constants’ that will remain?

3. Briefly define the subject area or speciality in which you are teaching. Do you agree that academic knowledge is different from everyday knowledge? If so, to what extent is academic knowledge important for your learners? Is its importance growing or diminishing? Why? If it is diminishing, what is it being replaced with – or what should replace it?

References

Anderson, C. (2008) The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete Wired Magazine, 16.07

Castells, M. (2000) The Rise of the Network Society Oxford: Blackwell

Downes, S. (2007) What connectivism is Half An Hour, February 3

Gilbert, J. (2005) Catching the Knowledge Wave: the Knowledge Society and the Future of Education Wellington, NZ: New Zealand Council for Educational Research 

Laurillard, D. (2001) Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies New York/London: Routledge

Lyotard, J-F, (1984) The Post-Modern Condition: A Report on Knowledge Manchester: Manchester University Press

Surowiecki, J. (2004) The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations New York: Random House

See also:

Rugg, G. (2014) Education versus training, academic knowledge versus craft skills: Some useful concepts Hyde and Rugg, February 23

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2.8 Summary

I have chosen just a few epistemological approaches that influence teaching and learning, but I could have chosen many others. Theologies reflect another epistemological approach based on faith. Elements of scholasticism can still be found in elite universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, particularly in their tutorial system.

It can be seen then that there are different epistemologies that influence teaching today. Furthermore, much to the consternation and confusion of many students, teachers themselves will have different epistemological positions, not just across different disciplines, but sometimes within the same discipline. For instance, subject areas such as psychology and economics may contain different epistemological foundations in different parts of the curriculum: statistics is validated differently from Freudian analysis or behavioural factors that influence investor behaviour. Epistemological positions are rarely explicitly discussed with students, are not always consistent even within a subject discipline, and are not mutually exclusive. For instance a teacher may deliberately choose to use a more objectivist approach with novice students, then move to a more constructivist approach when the students have learned the basic facts and concepts within a topic through an objectivist approach. Even within the same lesson, the teacher may shift epistemological positions, often causing confusion for students.

At this point, I’m not taking sides (although I do favour in general a more constructivist philosophy). Arguments can be made for or against any of these epistemological positions. However, we need to be aware that knowledge and consequently teaching is not a pure, objective concept, but driven by different values and beliefs about the nature of knowledge.

Arguments are also being made today that academic knowledge is now redundant and is being or will be replaced by networked learning or more applied learning. I have made the case though that there are strong reasons to sustain and further develop academic knowledge, but with a focus as much on the development of skills as on learning content.

Different theories of learning reflect different positions on the nature of knowledge. With the possible exception of connectivism, there is some form of empirical evidence to support each of the theories of learning outlined in this chapter. However, while the theories suggest different ways in which all people learn, they do not automatically tell teachers or instructors how to teach. Indeed, theories of behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism were all developed outside of education, in experimental labs, psychology, neuroscience, and psychotherapy. Educators have had to work out how to move from the theoretical position to the practical one of applying these theories within an educational experience. In other words, they have had to develop teaching methods that build on such learning theories.

For my personal comments on the relationship between epistemologies, theories of learning and teaching methods, please click on the podcast below

For my personal comments on the relationship between epistemologies, theories of learning and teaching methods, please click on the podcast below

The next chapter examines a range of teaching methods that have been developed, their epistemological roots, and their implications for teaching in a digital age.

Key Takeaways

1. Teaching is a highly complex occupation, which needs to adapt to a great deal of variety in context, subject matter and learners. It does not lend itself to broad generalizations. Nevertheless it is possible to provide guidelines or principles based on best practices, theory and research, that must then be adapted or modified to local conditions.

2. Our underlying beliefs and values, usually shared by other experts in a subject domain, shape our approach to teaching. These underlying beliefs and values are often implicit and are often not directly shared with our students, even though they are seen as essential components of becoming an ‘expert’ in a particular subject domain.

3. It is argued that academic knowledge is different from other forms of knowledge, and is even more relevant today in a digital age.

4. However, academic knowledge is not the only kind of knowledge that is important in today’s society, and as teachers we have to be aware of other forms of knowledge and their potential importance to our students, and make sure that we are providing the full range of contents and skills needed for students in a digital age.

Activity 2.9 Choosing a theory of learning

Entwistle (2010) states:

There are some important questions to ask when considering how much weight to place on evidence or how valuable a theory will be for pedagogy. For example:

  • Is the theory derived from data or observations in an educational context?
  • Is the theory presented in language that is readily intelligible to teachers?
  • Can the aspects identified as affecting learning be readily changed [by the teacher]?
  • Does the theory have direct implications for teaching and learning [in the particular context in which you are working]?
  • How realistic and practical are the suggestions?
  • Will the theory spark off new ideas about teaching?

It is not sufficient for a pedagogical theory simply to explain how people learn; it also has to provide clear implications about how to improve the quality and efficiency of learning.

Using Entwistle’s criteria and your own knowledge and experience of teaching, use the comment function at the end of this chapter to answer the questions below and then compare your answers with answers from other readers.

1. Which theory of learning do you like best, and why? State what main subject you are teaching.

2. Does your preferred way of teaching match any of these theoretical approaches? Write down some of the activities you do when teaching that ‘fit’ with this theory. Can you think of other possible activities you now could use within this theoretical framework for teaching?

3. Does your teaching generally combine different theories – sometimes behaviourist, sometimes cognitive, etc.? If so, what are the reasons or contexts for taking one specific approach rather than another?

4. How useful are these theories in terms of teaching practice? In your view, are they just jargon or useless theorising, or ‘labelling’ of commonly understood practice, or do they provide strong guidelines for how you should teach?

5. How do you think new digital technologies, such as social media, affect these theories? Do new technologies make these theories redundant? Does connectivism replace other theories or merely add another way of looking at teaching and learning?

Reference

Entwistle, N. (2010) ‘Taking Stock: An Overview of Research Findings’ in Christensen Hughes, J. and Mighty, J. (eds.) Taking Stock: Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Montreal and  Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press

For more on the relationship between epistemologies, learning theories and methods of teaching, see:

Bates, T. (2015) Thinking about theory and practice, Open Learning and Distance Education Resources, July 29

III

Chapter 3: Methods of teaching: campus-focused

Purpose of the chapter

This chapter discusses a range of teaching methods commonly used that are focused on a campus-based learning environment.

When you have read this chapter you should be able to:

  • describe several different methods of teaching used in campus-based teaching;
  • discuss the general strengths and weaknesses of each approach;
  • identify the extent to which each approach meets the needs of learners in a digital age;
  • choose an appropriate teaching method (or mix of methods) for your teaching context.

What is covered in this chapter

Five perspectives on teaching are examined and related to epistemologies and theories of learning, with a particular emphasis on their relevance to a digital age. In particular this chapter covers the following topics:

Also in this chapter you will find the following activities:

Key Takeaways

Most instructors will mix and match different methods, depending on the needs of both the subject matter and the needs of their students at a particular time. There are though some core conclusions to be drawn from this comparative review of different approaches to teaching.

  1. No single method is likely to meet all the requirements teachers face in a digital age.
  2. Nevertheless, some forms of teaching fit better with the development of the skills needed in a digital age. In particular, methods that focus on conceptual development, such as dialogue and discussion, and knowledge management, rather than information transmission, and experiential learning in real-world contexts, are more likely to develop the high level conceptual skills required in a digital age.
  3. It is not just conceptual skills though that are needed. It is the combination of conceptual, practical, personal and social skills in highly complex situations that are needed. This again means combining a variety of teaching methods.
  4. Nearly all of these teaching methods are media or technology independent. In other words, they can be used in classrooms or online. What matters from a learning perspective is not so much the choice of technology as the efficacy and expertise in appropriately choosing and using the teaching method.
  5. Nevertheless, we shall see in the next chapter that new technologies offer new possibilities for teaching, including offering more practice or time on task, reaching out to new target groups, and increasing the productivity of both teachers and the system as a whole.

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Scenario D: A stats lecturer fights the system

Clive (looking carefully at his partner, Jean): So what went wrong at work today?

Jean: So you noticed – nice.

Clive: Now don’t take it out on me. How could I have avoided the slamming of the door, the shouting at the cat, and the almost instant demand for a large glass of wine – which incidentally is sitting on your desk?

Jean (grabbing the wine). Well, today was the last straw. I got the results of the student end-of-term evaluation of my new class I’ve been teaching.

Clive: Bad, eh?

Jean: Well, first the rankings are odd: about 30 per cent As, about 5 per cent Bs, 15 per cent Cs, 15 per cent D’s and 35 per cent E’s – NOT a normal curve of distribution! They either loved me or hated me, but the average – which is all Harvey, the stupid head of department, looks at – came out as a D, which means any chance of a promotion next year just went straight out the window. I’m now going to have to explain myself to that old buffoon who last taught a class when slate tablets were the latest technology.

Clive: I’m not going to say I told you so, but…..

Jean: DON’T go there. I know I’m bloody mad to have stopped lecturing and tried to engage the students more.  I could kill that faculty development guy who persuaded me to change how I teach. I didn’t mind all the extra work, not even the continual fighting with the guy from Facilities who kept telling me to put all the tables and chairs back properly – he was just a jerk – and I loved the actual teaching, which was stimulating and deeply satisfying, but what really finished me was when the department wouldn’t change the exam. I’ve been trying to get the kids to question what is meant by a sample, discuss alternative ways of looking at significance, solve problems, and then they go and give the poor kids multiple-choice questions that just assessed their memory of statistical techniques and formulae. No wonder most of the students were mad at me.

Clive: But you’ve always claimed that the students enjoyed your new way of teaching.

Jean: Well, I was fooled by them. From the student comments on the evaluation, it seemed that about a third of them really did like the lessons and some even said it opened up their eyes to what statistics is all about, but apparently what the rest wanted was just a crib sheet they could use to answer the exam questions.

Clive: So what are you going to do now?

Jean: I honestly don’t know. I know what I’m doing is right, now I’ve been through all the changes. Those kids won’t have crib sheets when they start work, they will have to interpret data, and when they get into advanced level science and engineering courses they won’t be able to use statistics properly if I just teach to the exam. They will know a bit about statistics but not how to do it properly.

Clive: So you’ll have to get the department to agree to changing the exam.

Jean: Yeah, good luck with that, because everyone else will have to change how they teach if we do that.

Clive: But I thought the whole reason for you changing your teaching was that the university was worried it wasn’t producing graduates with the right kind of skills and knowledge needed today.

Jean: You’re right, but the problem is Harvey won’t support me – he’s old school down to his socks and underpants and thinks that what I am doing is just trendy – and without his support there’s no way the rest of the department is going to change.

Clive: OK, so just relax for now and have a glass of wine and we’ll go out somewhere nice for dinner. That will help clear my mind of the thought of Harvey in his socks and underpants. Then you can hear about my day.

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3.1 Five perspectives on teaching

For my personal comments on why I wrote this chapter on campus-based teaching methods, please click on the podcast below

For my personal comments on why I wrote this chapter on campus-based teaching methods, please click on the podcast below

The first thing to be said about teaching methods is that there is no law or rule that says teaching methods are driven by theories of learning. Especially in post-secondary education, most instructors would be surprised if their teaching was labelled as behaviourist or constructivist. On the other hand, it would be less than accurate to call such teaching ‘theory-free’. We have seen how views about the nature of knowledge are likely to impact on preferred teaching methods. But it would be unwise to press this too hard. A great deal of teaching, at least at a post-secondary level, is based on an apprenticeship model of copying the same methods used by one’s own teachers, then gradually refining them from experience, without a great deal of attention being paid to theories of how students actually learn.

Dan Pratt (1998) studied 253 teachers of adults, across five different countries, and identified ‘five qualitatively different perspectives on teaching,… presenting each perspective as a legitimate view of teaching‘:

  • transmission: effective delivery of content (an objectivist approach)
  • apprenticeship: modelling ways of being (learning by doing under supervision)
  • developmental: cultivating ways of thinking (constructivist/cognitivist)
  • nurturing: facilitating self-efficacy (a fundamental tenet of connectivist MOOCs)
  • social reform: seeking a better society.

It can be seen that each of these perspectives relates to theories of learning to some extent, and they help to drive methods of teaching. So in practical terms, I will start by looking at some common methods of teaching, and assessing their appropriateness for developing the knowledge and skills outlined in Chapter 1.

I will organise these various methods of teaching into two chapters. The first chapter will discuss design models that derive from more traditional school or campus-based teaching, and the second chapter will be focused on design models that make more use of Internet technologies, although we shall see in Chapter 10 that these distinctions are already beginning to break down.

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3.2 The origins of the classroom design model

Our institutions are a reflection of the times in which they were created. Francis Fukuyama, in his monumental writing on political development and political decay (2011, 2014), points out that institutions that provide essential functions within a state often become so fixed over time in their original structures that they fail to adapt and adjust to changes in the external environment. We need therefore to examine in particular the roots of our modern educational systems, because teaching and learning in the present day is still strongly influenced by institutional structures developed many years ago. Thus, we need to examine the extent to which our traditional campus-based models of teaching remain fit for a digital age.

The large urban school, college or university, organized by age stratification, learners meeting in groups, and regulated units of time, was an excellent fit for an industrial society. In effect, we still have a predominantly factory model of educational design, which in large part remains our default design model even today.

Some design models are so embedded in tradition and convention that we are often like fish in water – we just accept that this is the environment in which we have to live and breath. The classroom model is a very good example of this. In a classroom based model, learners are organised in classes that meet on a regular basis at the same place at certain times of the day for a given length of time over a given period (a term or semester).

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Figure 3.2 Miss Bowls's class in an unidentified girls' school Date: circa 1905 Image: Southall Board, Flickr

Figure 3.2 Miss Bowls’s class in an unidentified girls’ school, England Date: circa 1905
Image: Southall Board, Flickr

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This is a design decision that was taken more than 150 years ago. It was embedded in the social, economic and political context of the 19th century. This context included:

However, over the span of 150 years, our society has slowly changed. Many of these factors or conditions no longer exist, while others persist, but often in a less dominant way than in the past. Thus we still have factories and large industries, but we also have many more small companies, greater social and geographical mobility, and above all a massive development of new technologies that allow both work and education to be organized in different ways.

This is not to say that the classroom design model is inflexible. Teachers for many years have used a wide variety of teaching approaches within this overall institutional framework. But in particular, the way in which our institutions are structured strongly affects the way we teach. We need to examine which of the methods built around a classroom model are still appropriate in today’s society, and, more of a challenge, whether we could build new or modified institutional structures that would better meet the needs of today.

References

Fukuyama, F. (2011) The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution New York: Farrar Strauss and Giroux

Fukuyama, F. (2014) Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy New York: Farrar Strauss and Giroux

 

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3.3 Transmissive lectures: learning by listening

One of the most traditional forms of classroom teaching is the lecture.

3.3.1 Definition

[Lectures] are more or less continuous expositions by a speaker who wants the audience to learn something.’

Bligh, 2000

This specific definition is important as it excludes contexts where a lecture is deliberately designed to be interrupted by questions or discussion between instructors and students. This form of more interactive lecturing will be discussed in the next section (Chapter 3, Section 4).

3.3.2 The origins of the lecture

Transmissive lectures can be traced back as far as ancient Greek and Roman times, and certainly from at least the start of the European university, in the 13th century. The term ‘lecture’ comes from the Latin, meaning a reading. In the 13th century, most books were extremely rare. They were painstakingly handcrafted and illustrated by monks, often from fragments or collections of earlier and exceedingly rare and valuable scrolls from ancient Greek or Roman times, or were translated from Arabic sources, since much documentation was destroyed in Europe during the Dark Ages following the fall of the Roman empire. As a result, a university would often have only one copy of a book, and it may have been the only copy available in the world. The library and its collection therefore became critical to the reputation of a university, and professors had to borrow the only text from the library and literally read from it to the students, who dutifully wrote down their own version of the lecture.

Lectures themselves belong to an even longer oral tradition of learning, where knowledge is passed on by word of mouth from one generation to the next. In such contexts, accuracy and authority (or power in controlling access to knowledge) are critical for ‘accepted’ knowledge to be successfully transmitted. Thus accurate memory, repetition and a reference to authoritative sources become exceedingly important in terms of validating the information transmitted. The great sagas of the ancient Greeks and, much later, of the Vikings, are examples of the power of oral transmission of knowledge, continued even today through the myths and legends of many indigenous communities.

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Figure 3.1.1 A medieval lecture Artist: Laurentius de Voltolina; Liber ethicorum des Henricus de Alemannia; Kupferstichkabinett SMPK, Berlin/Staatliche Museen Preussiischer Kulturbesitz, Min. 1233

Figure 3.3.2 A medieval lecture
Artist: Laurentius de Voltolina;
Liber ethicorum des Henricus de Alemannia; Kupferstichkabinett SMPK, Berlin/Staatliche Museen Preussiischer Kulturbesitz, Min. 1233

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This illustration from a thirteenth-century manuscript shows Henry of Germany delivering a lecture to university students in Bologna, Italy, in 1233. What is striking is how similar the whole context is to lectures today, with students taking notes, some talking at the back, and one clearly asleep. Certainly, if Rip Van Winkle awoke in a modern lecture theatre after 800 years of sleeping, he would know exactly where he was and what was happening.

Nevertheless, the lecture format has been questioned for many years. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) over 200 years ago said of lectures:

People have nowadays…got a strange opinion that everything should be taught by lectures. Now, I cannot see that lectures can do as much good as reading the books from which the lectures are taken…Lectures were once useful, but now, when all can read, and books are so numerous, lectures are unnecessary.’

Boswell, 1791

What is remarkable is that even after the invention of the printing press, radio, television, and the Internet, the transmissive lecture, characterised by the authoritative instructor talking to a group of students, still remains the dominant methodology for teaching in many institutions, even in a digital age, where information is available at a click of a button. It could be argued that anything that has lasted this long must have something going for it. On the other hand, we need to question whether the transmissive lecture is still the most appropriate means of teaching, given all the changes that have taken place in recent years, and in particular given the kinds of knowledge and skills needed in a digital age.

3.3.3 What does research tell us about the effectiveness of lectures?

Whatever you may think of Samuel Johnson’s opinion, there has indeed been a great deal of research into the effectiveness of lectures, going back to the 1960s, and continued through until today. The most authoritative analysis of the research on the effectiveness of lectures remains Bligh’s (2000). He summarized a wide range of meta-analyses and studies of the effectiveness of lectures compared with other teaching methods and found consistent results:

Bligh also examined research on student attention, on memorizing, and on motivation, and concluded (p.56):

We see evidence… once again to suppose that lectures should not be longer than twenty to thirty minutes – at least without techniques to vary stimulation.

These research studies have shown that in order to understand, analyze, apply, and commit information to long-term memory, the learner must actively engage with the material. In order for a lecture to be effective, it must include activities that compel the student to mentally manipulate the information. Many lecturers of course do this, by stopping and asking for comments or questions throughout the lecture – but many do not.

Again, although these findings have been available for a long time, and You Tube videos now last approximately eight minutes and TED talks 20 minutes at a maximum, teaching in many educational institutions is still organized around a standard 50 minute lecture session or longer, with, if students are lucky, a few minutes at the end for questions or discussion.

There are two important conclusions from the research:

3.3.4 Does new technology make lectures more relevant?

Over the years, institutions have made massive investments in adding technologies to support lecturing. Powerpoint presentations, multiple projectors and screens, clickers for recording student responses, even ‘back-chat’ channels on Twitter, enabling students to comment on a lecture – or more often, the lecturer – in real time (surely the worse form of torture for a speaker), have all been tried. Students have been asked to bring tablets or lap-tops to class, and universities in particular have invested millions of dollars in state of the art lecture theatres. Nevertheless, all this is just lipstick on a pig. The essence of a lecture remains the transmission of information, all of which is now readily and, in most cases, freely available in other media and in more learner-friendly formats.

I worked in a college where in one program all students had to bring laptops to class. At least in these classes, there were some activities to do related to the lecture that required the students to use the laptops during class time. However, in most classes this took less than 25 per cent of the lesson time. Most of the other time, students were talked at, and as a result used their laptops for other, mainly non-academic activities, especially playing online poker.

Faculty often complain about students use of technology such as mobile phones or tablets, for ‘non-relevant’ multitasking in class, but this misses the point. If most students have mobile phones or laptops, why are they still having physically to come to a lecture hall? Why can’t they get a podcast or a video of the lecture? Second, if they are coming, why are the lecturers not requiring them to use their mobile phones, tablets, or laptops for study purposes, such as finding sources? Why not break the students into small groups and get them to do some online research then come back with group answers to share with the rest of the class? If lectures are to be offered, the aim should be to make the lecture engaging in its own right, so the students are not distracted by their online activity.

3.3.5 Is there then no role for lectures in a digital age?

Lectures though still have their uses. One example is an inaugural lecture I attended for a newly appointed research professor. In this lecture, the professor summarised all the research he and his team had done, resulting in treatments for several cancers and other diseases. This was a public lecture, so he had to satisfy not only other leading researchers in the area, but also a lay public with often no science background. He did this by using excellent visuals and analogies. The lecture was followed by a small wine and cheese reception for the audience.

The lecture worked for several reasons:

McKeachie and Svinicki (2006, p. 58) believe that lecturing is best used for:

The last point is important. Faculty often argue that the real value of a lecture is to provide a model for students of how the faculty member, as an expert, approaches a topic or problem. Thus the important point of the lecture is not the transmission of content (facts, principles, ideas), which the students could get from just reading, but an expert way of thinking about the topic. The trouble with this argument for lectures is three-fold:

Perhaps more importantly, looking at McKeachie and Svinicki’s suggestions, would it not be better for the students, rather than the lecturer, to be doing these activities in a digital age?

So, yes, there are a few occasions when lectures work very well. But in a digital age they should not be the default model for regular teaching. There are much better ways to teach that will result in better learning over the length of a course or program.

3.3.6 Why are lectures still the main form of educational delivery?

Given all of the above, some explanation needs to be offered for the persistence of the lecture into the 21st century. Here are some suggestions:

3.3.7 Is there a future for lectures in a digital age?

That depends on how far into the future one wants to look. Given the inertia in the system, lectures are likely still to predominate for another ten years, but after that, in most institutions, courses based on three lectures a week over 13 weeks will have disappeared. There are several reasons for this:

This does not mean that lectures will disappear altogether, but they will be special events, and probably multi-media, synchronously and asynchronously delivered. Special events might include:

Lectures will provide a chance for instructors to make themselves known, to impart their interests and enthusiasm, and to motivate learners, but this will be just one, relatively small, but important component of a much broader learning experience for students.

For a different and informed perspective on the role and future of lectures, see Christine Gross-Loh, 2016

Activity 3.3 The future of lectures

1. Do you agree that lectures are dead – or soon will be?

2. Look at the skills needed in a digital age described in Chapter 1. Which of these skills could lectures help develop? Would they need to be redesigned or modified to do this and if so, how?

Write down your answers in the comment section at the end of this chapter.

References

Bates, A. (1985) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation London: Constables

Bligh, D. (2000) What’s the Use of Lectures? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Boswell, J. (1791), The Life of Samuel Johnson, New York: Penguin Classics (edited by Hibbert, C., 1986)

Gross-Loh, C. (2016) Should colleges really eliminate the college lecture? The Atlantic, 14 July

McKeachie, W. and Svinicki, M. (2006) McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research and Theory for College and University Teachers Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin

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3.4 Interactive lectures, seminars, and tutorials: learning by talking

3.4.1 The theoretical and research basis for dialogue and discussion

Researchers have identified a distinction, often intuitively recognised by instructors, between meaningful and rote learning (Asubel, 1978). Meaningful learning involves the learner going beyond memorization and surface comprehension of facts, ideas or principles, to a deeper understanding of what those facts, ideas or principles mean to them. Marton and Saljö, who have conducted a number of studies that examined how university students actually go about their learning, make the distinction between deep and surface approaches to learning (see, for instance, Marton and Saljö, 1997). Students who adopt a deep approach to learning tend to have a prior intrinsic interest in the subject. Their motivation is to learn because they want to know more about a topic. Students with a surface approach to learning are more instrumental. Their interest is primarily driven by the need to get a pass grade or qualification.

Subsequent research (e.g. Entwistle and Peterson, 2004) showed that as well as students’ initial motivation for study, a variety of other factors also influence students’ approaches to learning. In particular, surface approaches to learning are more commonly found when there is a focus on:

On the other hand, deeper approaches to learning are found when there is a focus on:

Laurillard (2001) and Harasim (2010), have emphasised that academic knowledge requires students to move constantly from the concrete to the abstract and back again, and to build or construct knowledge based on academic criteria such as logic, evidence and argument. This in turn requires a strong teacher presence within a dialectical environment, in which argument and discussion within the rules and criteria of the subject discipline are encouraged and developed by the instructor or teacher. Laurillard calls this a rhetorical exercise, an attempt to get learners to think about the world differently. Conversation and discussion are critical if this is to be achieved.

Constructivists believe that knowledge is mainly acquired through social processes which are necessary to move students beyond surface learning to deeper levels of understanding. Connectivist approaches to learning also place heavy emphasis on networking learners, with all participants learning through interaction and discussion between each other, driven both by their individual interests and the extent to which these interests connect to the interests of other participants. The very large numbers participating means that there is a high probability of converging interests for all participants, although those interests may vary considerably over the whole group.

The combination of theory and research here suggests the need for frequent interaction between students, and between teacher and students, for the kinds of learning needed in a digital age. This interaction usually takes the form of semi-structured discussion. I will now examine how this kind of learning has traditionally been facilitated by educators.

3.4.2 Seminars and tutorials

Definitions:

seminar is a group meeting (either face-to-face or online) where a number of students participate at least as actively as the teacher, although the teacher may be responsible for the design of the group experience, such as choosing topics and assigning tasks to individual students.

tutorial is either a one-on-one session between a teacher and a student, or a very small group (three or four) of students and an instructor, where the learners are at least as active in discussion and presentation of ideas as the teacher.

Seminars can range from six or more students, up to 30 students in the same group. Because the general perception is that seminars work best when numbers are relatively small, they tend to be found more at graduate level or the last year of undergraduate programs.

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Socrates and his student: Johann Friedrich Greuter, 1590: (San Francisco, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts 

Figure 3.3.2 Socrates and his students: Painter: Johann Friedrich Greuter, 1590: (San Francisco, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts)

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Seminars and tutorials again have a very long history, going back at least to the time of Socrates and Aristotle. Both were tutors to the aristocracy of ancient Athens. Aristotle was the private tutor to Alexander the Great when Alexander was young.  Socrates was the tutor of Plato, the philosopher, although Socrates denied he was a teacher, rebelling against the idea common at that time in ancient Greece that ‘a teacher was a vessel that poured its contents into the cup of the student’. Instead, according to Plato, Socrates used dialogue and questioning ‘to help others recognize on their own what is real, true, and good.’ (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.) Thus it can be seen that seminars and tutorials reflect a strongly constructivist approach to learning and teaching.

The format can vary a great deal. One common format, especially at graduate level, although similar practices can be found at the school/k-12 level, is for the teacher to set advance work for a selected number of students, and then have the selected students present their work to the whole group, for discussion, criticism and suggestions for improvement. Although there may be time for only two or three student presentations in each seminar, over a whole semester every student gets their turn. Another format is to ask all the students in a group to do some specified advanced reading or study, then for the teacher to introduce questions for general discussion within the seminar that requires students to draw on their earlier work.

Tutorials are a particular kind of seminar that are identified with Ivy League universities, and in particular Oxford or Cambridge. There may be as few as two students and a professor in a tutorial and the meeting often follows closely the Socratic method of the student presenting his or her findings and the professor rigorously questioning every assumption made by the student – and also drawing in the other student to the discussion.

Both these forms of dialogical learning can be found not only in classroom contexts, but also online. Online discussion will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 5, Section 4. However, in general, the pedagogical similarities between online and face-to-face discussions are much greater than the differences.

3.4.3 Are seminars a practical method in a massive education system?

For many faculty, the ideal teaching environment is Socrates sitting under the linden tree, with three or four dedicated and interested students. Unfortunately, the reality of mass higher education makes this impossible for all but the most elite and expensive institutions.

However, seminars for 25-30 students are not unrealistic, even in public undergraduate education. More importantly, they enable the kind of teaching and learning that are most likely to facilitate the types of skills needed from our students in a digital age. Seminars are flexible enough to be offered in class or online, depending on the needs of the students. They are probably best used when students have done individual work before the seminar. Of upmost importance, though, is the ability of teachers to teach successfully in this manner, which requires different skills from transmissive lecturing.

Although expansion of student numbers in higher education is part of the problem, it’s not the whole problem. Other factors, such as senior professors teaching less, and focusing mainly on graduate students, lead to larger classes at undergraduate level that use transmissive lecturing. And if more senior or experienced instructors switched from transmissive lectures, and instead required students to find and analyse content for themselves, this would free up more time for them to spend on seminar-type teaching.

So it as much an organizational issue, a matter of choice and priorities, as an economic issue. The more we can move towards a seminar approach to teaching and learning and away from large, transmissive lectures, the better, if we are to develop students with the skills needed in a digital age.

Activity 3.4 Developing conceptual learning

1. What kind of teacher interventions in group discussions can you suggest that could help learners develop deep, conceptual learning?

2. How could you reorganise a lecture class of 200 or more students to develop group work and the development of conceptual learning?

Write down your responses in the comment section at the end of this chapter.

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3.5 Apprenticeship: learning by doing (1)

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Figure 2.6 BMW Group UK Apprentice Recruitment, 2013 Image: © Motoring Insight, 2013

Figure 3.5.1 BMW Group UK Apprentice Recruitment, 2013
Image: © Motoring Insight, 2013

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3.5.1 The importance of apprenticeship as a teaching method

Learning by doing is one of Pratt’s five teaching approaches. Bloom and his colleagues designated psycho-motor skills as the third domain of learning back in 1956. Learning by doing is particularly common in teaching motor skills, such as learning to ride a bike or play a sport, but examples can also be found in higher education, such as teaching practice, medical internships, and laboratory studies.

In fact, there are several different approaches or terms within this broad heading, such as experiential learning, co-operative learning, adventure learning and apprenticeship. I will use the term ‘experiential learning’ as a broad umbrella term to cover this wide variety of approaches to learning by doing.

Apprenticeship is a particular way of enabling students to learn by doing. It is often associated with vocational training where a more experienced tradesman or journeyman models behaviour, the apprentice attempts to follow the the model, and the journeyman provides feedback. However, apprenticeship is the most common method used to train post-secondary education instructors in teaching (at least implicitly), so there is a wide range of applications for an apprenticeship approach to teaching.

Because a form of apprenticeship is the often implicit, default model also for university teaching, and in particular for pre-service training of university instructors, apprenticeship will be discussed separately from other forms of experiential learning, although it is really just one, very commonly used, version.

3.5.2 Key features of apprenticeship

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Figure 3.5.3.2 An apprentice being supervised Image: © BBC, 2014

Figure 3.5.3.2 An apprentice being supervised
Image: © BBC, 2014

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It is useful to remember that apprenticeship is not an invisible phenomenon. It has key elements: a particular way of viewing learning, specific roles and strategies for teachers and learners, and clear stages of development, whether for traditional or cognitive apprenticeship. But mostly it’s important to remember that in this perspective, one cannot learn from afar. Instead, one learns amid the engagement of participating in the authentic, dynamic and unique swirl of genuine practice.

Pratt and Johnson, 1998

Schön (1983) argues that apprenticeship operates in ‘situations of practice that…are frequently ill-defined and problematic, and characterized by vagueness, uncertainty and disorder‘. Learning in apprenticeship is not just about learning to do (active learning), but also requires an understanding of the contexts in which the learning will be applied. In addition there is a social and cultural element to the learning, understanding and embedding the accepted practices, customs and values of experts in the field.

Pratt and Johnson (1998) identify the characteristics of a master practitioner, whom they define as ‘a person who has acquired a thorough knowledge of and/or is especially skilled in a particular area of practice‘. Master practitioners:

  1. possess great amounts of knowledge in their area of expertise, and are able to apply that knowledge in difficult practice settings;
  2. have well-organized, readily accessible schemas (cognitive maps) which facilitate the acquisition of new information;
  3. have well-developed repertoires of strategies for acquiring new knowledge, integrating and organizing their schemas, and applying their knowledge and skills in a variety of contexts….;
  4. …are motivated to learn as part of the process of developing their identities in their communities of practice. They are not motivated to learn simply to reach some external performance goal or reward;
  5. frequently display tacit knowledge in the form of:
    • spontaneous action and judgements;
    • being unaware of having learned to do these things;
    • being unable or having difficulty in describing the knowing which their actions reveal.

Pratt and Johnson further distinguish two different but related forms of apprenticeship: traditional and cognitive. A traditional apprenticeship experience, based on developing a motor or manual skill, involves learning a procedure and gradually developing mastery, during which the master and learner go through several stages.

3.5.3 University apprenticeship

An intellectual or cognitive apprenticeship model is somewhat different because this form of learning is less easily observable than learning motor or manual skills. Pratt and Johnson argue that in this context, master and learner must say what they are thinking during applications of knowledge and skills, and must make explicit the context in which the knowledge is being developed, because context is so critical to the way knowledge is developed and applied.

Pratt and Johnson suggest five stages for cognitive and intellectual modelling (p. 99):

  1. modelling by the master and development of a mental model/schema by the learner;
  2.  learner approximates replication of the model with master providing support and feedback (scaffolding/ coaching);
  3. learner widens the range of application of the model, with less support from master;
  4. self-directed learning within the specified limits acceptable to the profession;
  5. generalizing: learner and master discuss how well the model might work or would have to be adapted in a range of other possible contexts.

Pratt and Johnson provide a concrete example of how this apprenticeship model might work for a novice university professor (pp. 100-101). They argue that for cognitive apprenticeship it is important to create a forum or set of opportunities for:

articulate discussion and authentic participation in the realities of practice from within the practice, not from just one single point of view. Only from such active involvement, and layered and cumulative experience does the novice move towards mastery.

The main challenge of the apprenticeship model in a university setting is that it is not usually applied in a systematic matter. The hope that young or new university teachers will have automatically learned how to teach just by observing their own professors teach leaves far too much to chance.

3.5.4 Apprenticeship in online learning environments

The apprenticeship model of teaching can work in both face-to-face and online contexts, but if there is an online component, it usually works best in a hybrid format. One reason why some institutions are moving more material online in apprenticeship programs is because the cognitive learning element in many trades and professions has rapidly increased, as trades have required more academic learning, such as increased ability in mathematics, electrical engineering and electronics. This ‘academic’ component of apprenticeship can usually be handled just as well online, and enables apprentices to study this component when they are not working, thus saving employers’ time as well.

For instance, Vancouver Community College in Canada offers a 13 week semester course for car body repair apprentices that delivers 10 weeks of the program online for unqualified workers across the province who are already working in the industry. VCC uses online learning for the theoretical part of the program, plus a large number of simply produced video clips of practices and procedures in car body repairs. Because all the students are apprentices already working under supervision of a master journeyman, they can practice some of the video procedures in the workplace under supervision. The last three weeks of the program requires students to come to the college for specific hands-on training. They are tested, and those that have already acquired the skills are sent back to work, so the instructor can focus on those that need the skills most.

The partnership with industry that enables the college to work with ‘master’ tradespeople in the workplace is critical for this semi-distance program, and is particularly useful where there are severe skills shortages, helping to bring unskilled workers up to the level of full craftspeople.

3.5.5 Strengths and weaknesses

The main advantages of an apprenticeship model of teaching can be summarised as follows:

On the other hand, there are some serious limitations with an apprenticeship approach, particularly in preparing for university teaching:

Nevertheless, the apprenticeship model, when applied thoroughly and systematically, is a very useful model for teaching in highly complex, real-world contexts.

Activity 3.5 Applying apprenticeship to university teaching

1. Do you agree that learning to teach in a university depends heavily on an apprenticeship model? In what ways does it resemble apprenticeship and in what ways does it differ? In what ways could it be improved?

2. Do you agree or disagree that some elements of apprenticeship could be done just as well online as in class? if so, what would that be?

3. If you teach apprentices, do you think this section adequately describes the apprenticeship model of teaching? If not, what is missing?

References

Pratt, D. and Johnson, J. (1998) ‘The Apprenticeship Perspective: Modelling Ways of Being’ in Pratt, D. (ed.) Five Perspectives on Teaching in Adult and Higher Education Malabar FL: Krieger Publishing Company

Schön, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action New York: Basic Books

 

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3.6 Experiential learning: learning by doing (2)

In fact, there are a number of different approaches or terms within this broad heading, such as experiential learning, co-operative learning, adventure learning and apprenticeship.  I will use the term ‘experiential learning’ as a broad umbrella term to cover this wide variety of approaches to learning by doing.

 3.6.1. What is experiential learning?

There are many different theorists in this area, such as John Dewey (1938) and more recently David Kolb (1984).

Simon Fraser University defines experiential learning as:

the strategic, active engagement of students in opportunities to learn through doing, and reflection on those activities, which empowers them to apply their theoretical knowledge to practical endeavours in a multitude of settings inside and outside of the classroom.” 

There is a wide range of design models that aim to embed learning within real world contexts, including:

The focus here is on some of the main ways in which experiential learning can be designed and delivered, with particular respect to the use of technology, and in ways that help develop the knowledge and skills needed in a digital age. (For a more detailed analysis of experiential learning, see Moon, 2004).

3.6.2 Core design principles

Experiential learning focuses on learners reflecting on their experience of doing something, so as to gain conceptual insight as well as practical expertise. Kolb’s experiential learning model suggest four stages in this process:

Experiential learning is a major form of teaching at the University of Waterloo. Its web site lists the conditions needed to ensure that experiential learning is effective, as identified by the Association for Experiential Education.

Ryerson University in Toronto is another institution with extensive use of experiential learning, and also has an extensive web site on the topic, also directed at instructors. The next section examines different ways in which these principles have been applied.

 3.6.3 Experiential design models

There are many different design models for experiential learning, but they also have many features in common.

 3.6.3.1 Laboratory, workshop or studio work

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Figure 3.5.3 Concordia University wood shop

Figure 3.6.3.1 Concordia University wood shop

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Today, we take almost for granted that laboratory classes are an essential part of teaching science and engineering. Workshops and studios are considered critical for many forms of trades training or the development of creative arts. Labs, workshops and studios serve a number of important functions or goals, which include:

An important pedagogical value of laboratory classes is that they enable students to move from the concrete (observing phenomena) to the abstract (understanding the principles or theories that are derived from the observation of phenomena). Another is that the laboratory introduces students to a critical cultural aspect of science and engineering, that all ideas need to be tested in a rigorous and particular manner for them to be considered ‘true’.

One major criticism of traditional educational labs or workshops is that they are limited in the kinds of equipment and experiences that scientists, engineers and trades people need today. As scientific, engineering and trades equipment becomes more sophisticated and expensive, it becomes increasingly difficult to provide students in schools especially but increasingly now in colleges and universities direct access to such equipment. Furthermore traditional teaching labs or workshops are capital and labour intensive and hence do not scale easily, a critical disadvantage in rapidly expanding educational opportunities.

Because laboratory work is such an accepted part of science teaching, it is worth remembering that teaching science through laboratory work is in historical terms a fairly recent development. In the 1860s neither Oxford nor Cambridge University were willing to teach empirical science. Thomas Huxley therefore developed a program at the Royal School of Mines (a constituent college of what is now Imperial College, of the University of London) to teach school-teachers how to teach science, including how to design laboratories for teaching experimental science to school children, a method that is still the most commonly used today, both in schools and universities.

At the same time, scientific and engineering progress since the nineteenth century has resulted in other forms of scientific testing and validation that take place outside at least the kind of ‘wet labs’ so common in schools and universities. Examples are nuclear accelerators, nanotechnology, quantum mechanics and space exploration. Often the only way to observe or record phenomena in such contexts is remotely or digitally. It is also important to be clear about the objectives of lab, workshop and studio work. There may now be other, more practical, more economic, or more powerful ways of achieving these objectives through the use of new technology, such as remote labs, simulations, and experiential learning. These will be examined in more detail later in this book.

3.6.3.2 Problem-based learning

The earliest form of systematised problem-based learning (PBL) was developed in 1969 by Howard Barrows and colleagues in the School of Medicine at McMaster University in Canada, from where it has spread to many other universities, colleges and schools. This approach is increasingly used in subject domains where the knowledge base is rapidly expanding and where it is impossible for students to master all the knowledge in the domain within a limited period of study. Working in groups, students identify what they already know, what they need to know, and how and where to access new information that may lead to resolution of the problem. The role of the instructor (usually called a tutor in classic PBL) is critical in facilitating and guiding the learning process. 

Usually PBL follows a strongly systematised approach to solving problems, although the detailed steps and sequence tend to vary to some extent, depending on the subject domain. The following is a typical example:

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Figure 3.5.3.3 (derived from Gijeselaers, 1995)

Figure 3.6.3.2 (derived from Gijeselaers, 1995)

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Traditionally, the first five steps would be done in a small face-to-face class tutorial of 20-25 students, with the sixth step requiring either individual or small group (four or five students) private study, with a the seventh step being accomplished in a full group meeting with the tutor. However, this approach also lends itself to blended learning in particular, where the research solution is done mainly online, although some instructors have managed the whole process online, using a combination of synchronous web conferencing and asynchronous online discussion.

Developing a complete problem-based learning curriculum is challenging, as problems must be carefully chosen, increasing in complexity and difficulty over the course of study, and problems must be chosen so as to cover all the required components of the curriculum. Students often find the problem-based learning approach challenging, particularly in the early stages, where their foundational knowledge base may not be sufficient to solve some of the problems. (The term ‘cognitive overload’ has been used to describe this situation.) Others argue that lectures provide a quicker and more condensed way to cover the same topics. Assessment also has to be carefully designed, especially if a final exam carries heavy weight in grading, to ensure that problem-solving skills as well as content coverage are measured.

However, research (see for instance, Strobel and van Barneveld, 2009) has found that problem-based learning is better for long-term retention of material and developing ‘replicable’ skills, as well as for improving students’ attitudes towards learning. There are now many variations on the ‘pure’ PBL approach, with problems being set after initial content has been covered in more traditional ways, such as lectures or prior reading, for instance.

3.6.3.3 Case-based learning

With case-based teaching, students develop skills in analytical thinking and reflective judgment by reading and discussing complex, real-life scenarios.

University of Michigan Centre for Research on Teaching and Learning

Case-based learning is sometimes considered a variation of PBL, while others see it as a design model in its own right. As with PBL, case-based learning uses a guided inquiry method, but usually requires the students to have a degree of prior knowledge that can assist in analysing the case. There is usually more flexibility in the approach to case-based learning compared to PBL. Case-based learning is particularly popular in business education, law schools and clinical practice in medicine, but can be used in many other subject domains.

Herreid (2004) provides eleven basic rules for case-based learning.

  1. Tells a story.
  2. Focuses on an interest-arousing issue.
  3. Set in the past five years
  4. Creates empathy with the central characters.
  5. Includes direct quotations from the characters.
  6. Relevant to the reader.
  7. Must have pedagogic utility.
  8. Conflict provoking.
  9. Decision forcing.
  10. Has generality.
  11. Is short.

Using examples from clinical practice in medicine, Irby (1994) recommends five steps in case-based learning:

Case-based learning can be particularly valuable for dealing with complex, interdisciplinary topics or issues which have no obvious ‘right or wrong’ solutions, or where learners need to evaluate and decide on competing, alternative explanations. Case-based learning can also work well in both blended and fully online environments. Marcus, Taylor and Ellis (2004) used the following design model for a case-based blended learning project in veterinary science:

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Figure 6. Blended learning sequence involving online learning resources , Marcus, Taylor and Ellis, 2004

Figure 3.6.3.3 Blended learning sequence involving online learning resources, Marcus, Taylor and Ellis, 2004

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Other configurations are of course also possible, depending on the requirements of the subject.

3.6.3.4 Project-based learning

Project-based learning is similar to case-based learning, but tends to be longer and broader in scope, and with even more student autonomy/responsibility in the sense of choosing sub-topics, organising their work, and deciding on what methods to use to conduct the project. Projects are usually based around real world problems, which give students a sense of responsibility and ownership in their learning activities.

Once again, there are several best practices or guidelines for successful project work. For instance, Larmer and Mergendoller (2010) argue that every good project should meet two criteria:

The main danger with project-based learning is that the project can take on a life of its own, with not only students but the instructor losing focus on the key, essential learning objectives, or important content areas may not get covered. Thus project-based learning needs careful design and monitoring by the instructor.

3.6.3.5 Inquiry-based learning

Inquiry-based learning (IBL) is similar to project-based learning, but the role of the teacher/instructor is somewhat different. In project-based learning, the instructor decides the ‘driving question’ and plays a more active role in guiding the students through the process. In inquiry-based learning, the learner explores a theme and chooses a topic for research, develops a plan of research and comes to conclusions, although an instructor is usually available to provide help and guidance when needed.

Banchi and Bell (2008) suggest that there are different levels of inquiry, and students need to begin at the first level and work through the other levels to get to ‘true’ or ‘open’ inquiry as follows:

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Figure 3.5.3.5 Inquiry-based learning, adapted from Banchi and Bell (2008)

Figure 3.6.3.5 Levels of inquiry-based learning, from Banchi and Bell (2008)

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It can be seen that the fourth level of inquiry describes the graduate thesis process, although proponents of inquiry-based learning have advocated its value at all levels of education.

3.6.4 Experiential learning in online learning environments

Advocates of experiential learning are often highly critical of online learning, because, they argue, it is impossible to embed learning in real world examples. However, this is an oversimplification, and there are contexts in which online learning can be used very effectively to support or develop experiential learning, in all its variations:

Indeed, there are circumstances where it is impractical, too dangerous, or too expensive to use real world experiential learning. Online learning can be used to simulate real conditions and to reduce the time to master a skill. Flight simulators have long been used to train commercial pilots, enabling trainee pilots to spend less time mastering fundamentals on real aircraft. Commercial flight simulators are still extremely expensive to build and operate, but in recent years the costs of creating realistic simulations has dropped dramatically.

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Figure 3.5.3.5 Virtual world border crossing, Loyalist College, Ontario

Figure 3.6.4 Virtual world border crossing, Loyalist College, Ontario

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Instructors at Loyalist College have created a ‘virtual’ fully functioning border crossing and a virtual car in Second Life to train Canadian Border Services Agents. Each student takes on the role of an agent, with his/her avatar interviewing the avatars of the travellers wishing to enter Canada. All communication is done by voice communications in Second Life, with the people playing the travellers in a separate room from the students. Each student interviews three or four travellers and the entire class observes the interactions and discusses the situations and the responses. A secondary site for auto searches features a virtual car that can be completely dismantled so students learn all possible places where contraband may be concealed. This learning is then reinforced with a visit to the auto shop at Loyalist College and the search of an actual car. The students in the customs and immigration track are assessed on their interviewing techniques as part of their final grades. Students participating in the first year of the Second Life border simulation achieved a grade standing that was 28 per cent higher than the previous class who did not utilize a virtual world. The next class, using Second Life, scored a further 9 per cent higher. More details can be found here.

Staff in the Emergency Management Division at the Justice Institute of British Columbia have developed a simulation tool called Praxis that helps to bring critical incidents to life by introducing real-world simulations into training and exercise programs. Because participants can access Praxis via the web, it provides the flexibility to deliver immersive, interactive and scenario-based training exercises anytime, anywhere. A typical emergency might be a major fire in a warehouse containing dangerous chemicals. ‘Trainee’ first responders, who will include fire, police and paramedical personnel, as well as city engineers and local government officials, are ‘alerted’ on their mobile phones or tablets, and have to respond in real time to a fast developing scenario, ‘managed’ by a skilled facilitator, following procedures previously taught and also available on their mobile equipment. The whole process is recorded and followed later by a face-to-face debriefing session.

Once again, design models are not in most cases dependent on any particular medium. The pedagogy transfers easily across different delivery methods. Learning by doing is an important method for developing many of the skills needed in a digital age.

3.6.5 Strengths and weaknesses of experiential learning models

How one evaluates experiential learning designs depends partly on one’s epistemological position. Constructivists strongly support experiential learning models, whereas those with a strong objectivist position are usually highly skeptical of the effectiveness of this approach. Nevertheless, problem-based learning in particular has proved to be very popular in many institutions teaching science or medicine, and project-based learning is used across many subject domains and levels of education. There is evidence that experiential learning, when properly designed, is highly engaging for students and leads to better long-term memory. Proponents also claim that it leads to deeper understanding, and develops skills for a digital age such as problem-solving, critical thinking, improved communications skills, and knowledge management. In particular, it enables learners to manage better highly complex situations that cross disciplinary boundaries, and subject domains where the boundaries of knowledge are difficult to manage.

Critics though such as Kirschner, Sweller and Clark (2006) argue that instruction in experiential learning is often ‘unguided’, and pointed to several ‘meta-analyses’ of the effectiveness of problem-based learning that indicated no difference in problem-solving abilities, lower basic science exam scores, longer study hours for PBL students, and that PBL is more costly. They conclude:

In so far as there is any evidence from controlled studies, it almost uniformly supports direct, strong instructional guidance rather than constructivist-based minimal guidance during the instruction of novice to intermediate learners. Even with students with considerable prior knowledge, strong guidance when learning is most often found to be equally effective as unguided approaches.

Certainly, experiential learning approaches require considerable re-structuring of teaching and a great deal of detailed planning if the curriculum is to be fully covered. It usually means extensive re-training of faculty, and careful orientation and preparation of students. I would also agree with Kirschner et al. that just giving students tasks to do in real world situations without guidance and support is likely to be ineffective.

However, many forms of experiential learning can and do have strong guidance from instructors, and one has to be very careful when comparing matched groups that the tests of knowledge include measurement of the skills that are claimed to be developed by experiential learning, and are not just based on the same assessments as for traditional methods, which often have a heavy bias towards memorisation and comprehension.

On balance then, I would support the use of experiential learning for developing the knowledge and skills needed in a digital age, but as always, it needs to be done well, following best practices associated with the design models.

Activity 3.6 Assessing experiential design models

1. If you have experiences with experiential learning, what worked well and what didn’t?

2. Are the differences between problem-based learning, case-based learning, project-based learning and inquiry-based learning significant, or are they really just minor variations on the same design model?

3. Do you have a preference for any one of the models? If so, why?

4. Do you agree that experiential learning can be done just as well online as in classrooms or in the field? If not, what is the ‘uniqueness’ of doing it face-to-face that cannot be replicated online? Can you give an example?

5. Kirschner, Sweller and Clark’s paper is a powerful condemnation of PBL. Read it in full, then decide whether or not you share their conclusion, and if not, why not.

If you wish to share any of the outcomes of this activity, please use the comment box below, for possible feedback.

References

Banchi, H., and Bell, R. (2008). The Many Levels of Inquiry Science and Children, Vol. 46, No. 2

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience & Education. New York, NY: Kappa Delta Pi

Gijselaers, W., (1995) ‘Perspectives on problem-based learning’ in Gijselaers, W, Tempelaar, D, Keizer, P, Blommaert, J, Bernard, E & Kapser, H (eds) Educational Innovation in Economics and Business Administration: The Case of Problem-Based Learning. Dordrecht, Kluwer.

Herreid, C. F. (2007). Start with a story: The case study method of teaching college science. Arlington VA: NSTA Press.

Irby, D. (1994) Three exemplary models of case-based teaching Academic Medicine, Vol. 69, No. 12

Kirshner, P., Sweller, J. amd Clark, R. (2006) Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching Educational Psychologist, Vo. 41, No.2

Kolb. D. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall

Larmer, J. and Mergendoller, J. (2010) Seven essentials for project-based learning Educational Leadership, Vol. 68, No. 1

Marcus, G. Taylor, R. and Ellis, R. (2004) Implications for the design of online case-based learning activities based on the student blended learning experience: Perth, Australia: Proceedings of the ACSCILITE conference, 2004

Moon, J.A. (2004) A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning: Theory and Practice New York: Routledge

Strobel, J. , & van Barneveld, A. (2009). When is PBL More Effective? A Meta-synthesis of Meta-analyses Comparing PBL to Conventional Classrooms. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, Vol. 3, No. 1

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3.7 The nurturing and social reform models of teaching: learning by feeling

In this section I will briefly discuss the last two of Pratt’s five teaching perspectives, nurturing and social reform.

3.7.1 The nurturing perspective

A nurturing perspective on teaching can best be understood in terms of the role of a parent. Pratt (1998) states:

We expect ‘successful’ parents to understand and empathize with their child; and that they will provide kind, compassionate, and loving guidance through content areas of utmost difficulty….The nurturing educator works with other issues…in different contexts and different age groups, but the underlying attributes and concerns remain the same. Learners’ efficacy and self-esteem issues become the ultimate criteria against which learning success is measured, rather than performance-related mastery of a content body.

There is a strong emphasis on the teacher focusing on the interests of the learner, on empathizing with how the learner approaches learning, of listening carefully to what the learner is saying and thinking when learning, and providing appropriate, supportive responses in the form of ‘consensual validation of experience‘. This perspective is driven partly by the observation that people learn autonomously from a very early age, so the trick is to create an environment for the learner that encourages rather than inhibits their ‘natural’ tendency to learn, and directs it into appropriate learning tasks, decided by an analysis of the learner’s needs.

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Figure 3.6.1 Empire State College's mentoring model reflects a nurturing perspective

Figure 3.7.1 Empire State College’s mentoring model reflects a nurturing perspective

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Empire State College in the State University of New York system operates an adult education mentoring system that reflects very closely the nurturing perspective,

3.7.2 The social reform perspective

Pratt (1998, p. 173) states:

Teachers holding a social reform perspective are most interested in creating a better society and view their teaching as contributing to that end. Their perspective is unique in that it is based upon an explicitly stated ideal or set of principles linked to a vision of a better social order. Social reformers do not teach in one single way, nor do they hold distinctive views about knowledge in general…these factors all depend on the particular ideal that inspires their actions.’

This then in some ways is less a theory of teaching as an epistemological position, that society needs change, and the social reformer knows how to bring about this change.

3.7.3 History, and relevance for connectivism

These two perspectives on teaching again have a long history, with echoes of:

The reason why the nurturing and social reform perspectives on teaching are important is because they reflect many of the assumptions or beliefs around connectivism. Indeed, as early as 1971, Illich made this remarkable statement for the use of advanced technology to support “learning webs”:

The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he sought a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who had inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity.’

Well, those conditions certainly exist today. Learners do not necessarily need to go through institutional gateways to access information or knowledge, which is increasing available and accessible through the Internet. MOOCs help to identify those common interests and connectivist MOOCs in particular aim to provide the networks of common interests and the environment for self-directed learning. The digital age provides the technology infrastructure and support needed for this kind of learning.

3.7.4 The roles of learners and teachers

Of all the perspectives on teaching these two are the most learner-centred. They are based on an overwhelmingly optimistic view of human nature, that people will seek out and learn what they need, and will find the necessary support from caring, dedicated educators and from others with similar interests and concerns, and that individuals have the capacity and ability to identify and follow through with their own educational needs. It is also a more radical view of education, because it seeks to escape the political and controlling aspects of state or private education.

Within each of these two perspectives, there are differences of view about the centrality of teachers for successful learning. For Pratt, the teacher plays a central role in nurturing learning; for others such as Illich or Freire, professionally trained teachers are more likely to be the servant of the state than of the individual learner. For those supporting these perspectives on teaching, volunteer mentors or social groups organised around certain ideals or social goals provide the necessary support for learners.

3.7.5 Strengths and weaknesses of these two approaches

There are, as always, a number of drawbacks to these two perspectives on teaching:

Nevertheless, there are aspects of both perspectives that have significance for a digital age:

Activity 3.7 Nurturing, social reform and connectivism

1. Do you have experience of teaching in one or both of these ways? If so, do you agree with the analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each component?

2. Do you think that connectivism is a modern reflection of either of these models of teaching – or is connectivism a distinct and unique method of teaching in itself? If so, what distinguishes it as a teaching method from all the other methods I have covered?

Write down your responses in the comment section at the end of this chapter.

References

Freire, P. (2004). Pedagogy of Indignation. Boulder CO: Paradigm

Illich, I. (1971) Deschooling Society, (accessed 6 August, 2014)

Knowles, M. (1984) Andragogy in Action. Applying modern principles of adult education, San Francisco: Jossey Bass

Pratt, D. (1998) Five Perspectives on Teaching in Adult and Higher Education Malabar FL: Krieger Publishing Company

Rousseau, J.-J. (1762) Émile, ou de l’Éducation  (Trans. Allan Bloom. New York: Basic Books, 1979)

Tan, C.-M. (2012) Search Inside Yourself New York: Harper Collins

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3.8 Main conclusions

3.8.1 Relating epistemology, learning theories and teaching methods

3.8.1.1 Pragmatism trumps ideology in teaching

Although there is often a direct relationship between a method of teaching, a learning theory and an epistemological position, this is by no means always the case. It is tempting to try to put together a table and neatly fit each teaching method into a particular learning theory, and each theory into a particular epistemology, but unfortunately education is not as tidy as computer science, so it would be misleading to try to do a direct ontological classification. For instance a transmissive lecture might be structured so as to further a cognitivist rather than a behaviourist approach to learning, or a lecture session may combine several elements, such as transmission of information, learning by doing, and discussion.

Purists may argue that it is logically inconsistent for a teacher to use methods that cross epistemological boundaries (and it may certainly be confusing for students) but teaching is essentially a pragmatic profession and teachers will do what it takes to get the job done. If students need to learn facts, principles, standard procedures or ways of doing things, before they can start an informed discussion about their meaning, or before they can start solving problems, then a teacher may well consider behaviourist methods to lay this foundation before moving to more constructivist approaches later in a course or program.

3.8.1.2 Teaching methods are not determined by technology

Secondly technology applications such as MOOCs or video recorded lectures may replicate exactly a particular teaching method or approach to learning used in the classroom. In many ways methods of teaching, theories of learning and epistemologies are independent of a particular technology or medium of delivery, although we shall see in Chapters 8, 9 and 10 that technologies can be used to transform teaching, and a particular technology will in some cases further one method of teaching more easily than other methods, depending on the characteristics or ‘affordances’ of that technology.

Thus, teachers who are aware of not only a wide array of teaching methods, but also of learning theories and their epistemological foundation will be in a far better position to make appropriate decisions about how to teach in a particular context. Also, as we shall see, having this kind of understanding will also facilitate an appropriate choice of technology for a particular learning task or context.

3.8.2 Relating teaching methods to the knowledge and skills needed in a digital age

The main purpose of this chapter has been to enable you as a teacher to identify the classroom teaching methods that are most likely to support the development of the knowledge and skills that students or learners will need in a digital age. We still have a way to go before we have all the information and tools needed to make this decision, but we can at least have a stab at it from here, while recognising that such decisions will depend on a wide variety of factors, such as the nature of the learners and their prior knowledge and experience, the demands of particular subject areas, the institutional context in which teachers and learners find themselves, and the likely employment context for learners.

First, we can identify a number of different types of skills needed:

We can also identify that in terms of content, we need teaching methods that enable students to manage information or knowledge, rather than methods that merely transmit information to students.

There are several key points for a teacher or instructor to note:

In a digital age, just choosing a particular teaching method such as seminars or apprenticeship is not going to be sufficient. It is unlikely that one method, such as transmissive lectures, or seminars, will provide a rich enough learning environment for a full range of skills to be developed within the subject area. It is necessary to provide a rich learning environment for students to develop such skills that includes contextual relevance, and opportunities for practice, discussion and feedback. As a result, we are likely to combine different methods of teaching.

Secondly, this chapter has focused mainly on classroom or campus-based approaches to teaching. In the next chapter a range of teaching methods that incorporate online/digital technologies will be examined. So it would be foolish at this stage to say that any single method, such as seminars, or apprenticeship, or nurturing, is the best method for developing the knowledge and skills needed in a digital age. At the same time, the limitations of transmissive lectures, especially if they are used as the main method for teaching, are becoming more apparent.

Key Takeaways

This list of classroom or campus-based teaching methods is not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive. The aim is to show that there many different ways to teach, and all are in some ways legitimate in certain circumstances. Most instructors will mix and match different methods, depending on the needs of both the subject matter and the needs of their students at a particular time. There are though some core conclusions to be drawn from this comparative review of different approaches to teaching.

  1. No single method is likely to meet all the requirements teachers face in a digital age.
  2. Nevertheless, some forms of teaching fit better with the development of the skills needed in a digital age. In particular, methods that focus on conceptual development, such as dialogue and discussion, knowledge management (rather than information transmission), and experiential learning in real-world contexts, are all methods more likely to develop the high level conceptual skills required in a digital age.
  3. It is not just conceptual skills though that are needed. It is the combination of conceptual, practical, personal and social skills in highly complex situations that are needed. This again means combining a variety of teaching methods.
  4. Nearly all of these teaching methods are media or technology independent. In other words, they can be used in classrooms or online. What matters from a learning perspective is not so much the choice of technology as the efficacy and expertise in appropriately choosing and using the teaching method.
  5. Nevertheless, we shall see in the next chapter that new technologies offer new possibilities for teaching, including offering more practice or time on task, reaching out to new target groups, and increasing the productivity of both teachers and the system as a whole.

 

 

IV

Chapter 4: Methods of teaching with an online focus

Purpose of the chapter

At the end of this chapter you should be able to:

  1. Describe key approaches to the design of online teaching and learning.
  2. Analyse each model in terms of its value for teaching in a digital age.
  3. Decide which model or combination of models will fit best with your own teaching.
  4. Use the model as a basis for designing your own teaching.

What is covered in this chapter

Also in this chapter you will find the following activities:

Key Takeaways

1. Traditional classroom teaching, and especially transmissive lectures, were designed for another age. Although lectures have served us well, we are now in a different age that requires different methods.

2. The key shift is towards greater emphasis on skills, particularly knowledge management, and less on memorising content. We need design models for teaching and learning that lead to the development of the skills needed in a digital age.

3. There is no one ‘best’ design model for all circumstances. The choice of design model needs to take account of the context in which it will be applied, but nevertheless, some design models are better than others for developing the knowledge and skills needed in a digital age. For the contexts with which I’m most associated, online collaborative learning, experiential learning and agile design best meet my criteria.

4. Design models in general are not dependent on a particular mode of delivery; they can operate in most cases as well online as in class.

5. In an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, we need design models for teaching that are light and nimble.

 

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Scenario E: Developing historical thinking

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Figure 5 F An artifact used by students in their history of Beijing, 1964-2014 Image: © zonaeuropa.com

Figure 4 E An artifact used by students in their history of Beijing, 1964-2014
Image: © zonaeuropa.com

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Ralph Goodyear is a professor of history in a public research university in the central United States. He has a class of 72 undergraduate students taking HIST 305, ‘Historiography’. For the first three weeks of the course, Goodyear had recorded a series of short 15 minute video lectures that covered the following topics/content:

  • the various sources used by historians (e.g. earlier writings, empirical records including registries of birth, marriage and death, eye witness accounts, artifacts such as paintings, photographs, and physical evidence such as ruins);
  • the themes around which historical analysis tend to be written;
  • some of the techniques used by historians, such as narrative, analysis and interpretation;
  • three different positions or theories about history (objectivist, marxist, post modernist).

Students downloaded the videos according to a schedule suggested by Goodyear. Students attended two one hour classes a week, where specific topics covered in the videos were discussed. Students also had an online discussion forum in the course space on the university’s learning management system, where Goodyear had posted similar topics for discussion. Students were expected to make at least one substantive contribution to each online topic for which they received a mark that went towards their final grade. Students also had to read a major textbook on historiography over this three week period.

In the fourth week, he divided the class into twelve groups of six, and asked each group to research the history of any city outside the United States over the last 50 years or so. They could use whatever sources they could find, including online sources such as newspaper reports, images, research publications, and so on, as well as the university’s own library collection. In writing their report, they had to do the following:

  • pick a particular theme that covered the 50 years and write a narrative based around the theme;
  • identify the sources they finally used in their report, and discuss why they selected some sources and dismissed others;
  • compare their approach to the three positions covered in the lectures;
  • post their report in the form of an online e-portfolio in the course space on the university’s learning management system.

They had five weeks to do this.

The last three weeks of the course were devoted to presentations by each of the groups, with comments, discussion and questions, both in class and online (the in class presentations were recorded and made available online). At the end of the course, students assigned grades to each of the other groups’ work. Goodyear took these student gradings into consideration, but reserved the right to adjust the grades, with an explanation of why he did the adjustment. Goodyear also gave each student an individual grade, based on both their group’s grade, and their personal contribution to the online and class discussions.

Goodyear commented that he was surprised and delighted at the quality of the students’ work. He said: ‘What I liked was that the students weren’t learning about history; they were doing it.’

Based on an actual case, but with some embellishments.

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4.1 Online learning and teaching methods

For my personal comments on some of the issues raised in this chapter, please click on the podcast below, which discusses the relationship between quality, modes of delivery, teaching methods and design.

For my personal comments on some of the issues raised in this chapter, please click on the podcast below, which discusses the relationship between quality, modes of delivery, teaching methods and design.

Online learning is increasingly influencing both classroom/campus-based teaching but more importantly it is leading to new models or designs for teaching and learning.

When commercial movies were first produced, they were basically a transfer of previous music hall and vaudeville acts to the movie screen. Then along came D.W. Griffith’s ‘Birth of a Nation’, which transformed the design of movies, by introducing techniques that were unique to cinema at the time, such as panoramic long shots, panning shots, realistic battle scenes, and what are now known as special effects.

A similar development has taken place with online learning. Initially, there were two separate influences: designs from classroom teaching; and designs inherited from print-based or multimedia distance education. Over time, though, new designs that fully exploit the unique characteristics of online learning are beginning to emerge.

What we do when we move teaching online is to change the learning environment. Thus, I am beginning to move from talking about teaching methods (which can be the same both in class and online) to design models, where the teaching method is deliberately adapted to the learning environment.

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4.2 Old wine in new bottles: classroom-type online learning

We start with classroom teaching methods that have been moved into a technological format with little change to the overall design principles. I will argue that these are essentially old designs in new bottles.

4.2.1 Classes using lecture capture

This technology, which automatically records a classroom lecture, was originally designed to enhance the classroom model by making lectures available for repeat viewings online at any time for students regularly attending classes – in other words, a form of homework or revision.

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MIT OpenCourseware Lecture

Figure 4.2.1. An MIT classroom lecture recorded and made available through MIT’s OpenCourseWare. Click on image to see the lecture.

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Flipped classrooms, which pre-record a lecture for students to watch on their own, followed by discussion in class, are an attempt to exploit more fully this potential, but the biggest impact has been the use of lecture capture for ‘instructionist’ massive open online courses (xMOOCs), such as those offered by Coursera, Udacity and edX. However, even this type of MOOC is really a basic classroom design model. The main difference with a MOOC is that the classroom is open to anyone (but then in principle so are many university lectures), and MOOCs are available to unlimited numbers at a distance. These are important differences, but the design of the teaching has not changed markedly, although increasingly lectures are recorded in smaller chunks, partly as a result of research on MOOCs.

4.2.2 Courses using learning management systems

Learning management systems (LMSs) are software that enable instructors and students to log in and work within a password protected online learning environment. Most learning management systems, such as Blackboard, Desire2Learn and Moodle, are in fact used to replicate a classroom design model. They have weekly units or modules, the instructor selects and presents the material to all students in the class at the same time, a large class enrolment can be organized into smaller sections with their own instructors, there are opportunities for (online) discussion, students work through the materials at roughly the same pace, and assessment is by end-of-course tests or essays.

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Figure 6.2 A screenshot of the University of british Columbia's LMS, Blackboard Connect

Figure 4.2.1 A screenshot of the University of British Columbia’s LMS, Blackboard Connect

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The main design differences are that the content is primarily text based rather than oral (although increasingly video and audio are now integrated into LMSs), the online discussion is mainly asynchronous rather than synchronous, and the course content is available at any time from anywhere with an Internet connection. These are important differences from a physical classroom, and skilled teachers and instructors can modify or adapt LMSs to meet different teaching or learning requirements (as they can in physical classrooms), but the basic organizing framework of the LMS remains the same as for a physical classroom.

Nevertheless, the LMS is still an advance over online designs that merely put lectures on the Internet as pre-recorded videos, or load up pdf copies of Powerpoint lecture notes, as is still the case unfortunately in many online programs. There is also enough flexibility in the design of learning management systems for them to be used in ways that break away from the traditional classroom model, which is important, as good online design should take account of the special requirements of online learners, so the design needs to be different from that of a classroom model.

4.2.3 The limitations of the classroom design model for online learning

Old wine can still be good wine, whether the bottle is new or not. What matters is whether classroom design meets the changing needs of a digital age. However, just adding technology to the mix, or delivering the same design online, does not automatically result in meeting changing needs.

It is important then to look at the design that makes the most of the educational affordances of new technologies, because unless the design changes significantly to take full advantage of the potential of the technology, the outcome is likely to be inferior to that of the physical classroom model which it is attempting to imitate. Thus even if the new technology, such as lecture capture and computer-based multiple-choice questions organised in a MOOC, result in helping more students memorise better or learn more content, for example, this may not be sufficient to meet the higher level skills needed in a digital age.

The second danger of just adding new technology to the classroom design is that we may just be increasing cost, both in terms of technology and the time of instructors, without changing outcomes.

The most important reason though is that students studying online are in a different learning environment or context than students learning in a classroom, and the design needs to take account of this. This will be discussed more fully in the rest of the book.

Education is no exception to the phenomenon of new technologies being used at first merely to reproduce earlier design models before they find their unique potential. However, changes to the basic design model are needed if the demands of a digital age and the full potential of new technology are to be exploited in education.

Activity 4.2 Moving the classroom model online

1. Do you agree that the classroom design model is a product of the 19th century and needs to changed for teaching in a digital age? Or is there still enough flexibility in the classroom model for our times?

2. Do you agree that courses using LMSs are basically a classroom model delivered online, or are they a unique design model in themselves. If so, what makes them unique?

3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of breaking up a 50 minute lecture into say five 10 minute chunks for recording? Would you call this a significant design change – if so, what makes it significant?

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4.3 The ADDIE model

The other original influence on the design of online teaching has come from military training and distance education.

4.3.1 What is ADDIE?

There have been many books written about the ADDIE model (see for instance, Morrison, 2010; Dick and Carey, 2004). ADDIE stands for:

Analyse

Design

Develop

Implement

Evaluate

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Figure 4.3.1 The ADDIE model. This is an interactive infographic. To see more detail on each of the five stages, click on each stage in the graphic © Flexible Learning Australia, 2014

Figure 4.3.1 The ADDIE model.
This is an interactive infographic. To see more detail on each of the five stages, click on each stage in the graphic
© Flexible Learning Australia, 2014

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4.3.2 Where is ADDIE used?

This is a design model used by many professional instructional designers for technology-based teaching. ADDIE has been almost a standard for professionally developed, high quality distance education programs, whether print-based or online. It is also heavily used in corporate e-learning and training. There are many variations on this model (my favourite is ‘PADDIE’, where planning and/or preparation are added at the start). The model is mainly applied on an iterative basis, with evaluation leading to re-analysis and further design and development modifications. One reason for the widespread use of the ADDIE model is that it is extremely valuable for large and complex teaching designs. ADDIE’s roots go back to the Second World War and derive from system design, which was developed to manage the hugely complex Normandy landings.

Many open universities, such as the U.K. Open University and the OU of the Netherlands, Athabasca University and Thompson Rivers Open University in Canada, have and still do make heavy use of ADDIE to manage the design of complex multi-media distance education courses. When the U.K. OU opened in 1971 with an initial intake of 20,000, it used radio, television, specially designed printed modules, text books, reproduced research articles in the form of selected readings that were mailed to students, and regional study groups, with teams of often 20 academics, media producers and technology support staff developing courses, and with delivery and learner support provided by an army of regional tutors and senior counsellors. Creating and delivering its first courses within two years of receiving its charter would have been impossible without a systematic instructional design, and in 2014, with over 200,000 students, the OU was still using a strong instructional design model.

Although ADDIE and instructional design in general originated in the USA, the U.K. Open University’s success in developing high quality learning materials influenced many more institutions that were offering distance education on a much smaller scale to adopt the ADDIE model, if in a more modest way, typically with a single instructor working with an instructional designer. As distance education courses became increasingly developed as online courses, the ADDIE model continued, and is now being used by instructional designers in many institutions for the re-design of large lecture classes, hybrid learning, and for fully online courses.

4.4.3 What are the benefits of ADDIE?

One reason it has been so successful is that it is heavily associated with good quality design, with clear learning objectives, carefully structured content, controlled workloads for faculty and students, integrated media, relevant student activities, and assessment strongly tied to desired learning outcomes. Although these good design principles can be applied with or without the ADDIE model, ADDIE is a model that allows these design principles to be identified and implemented on a systematic and thorough basis. It is also a very useful management tool, allowing for the design and development of large numbers of courses to a standard high quality.

4.4.5 What are the limitations of ADDIE?

The ADDIE approach can be used with any size of teaching project, but works best with large and complex projects. Applied to courses with small student numbers and a deliberately simple or traditional classroom design, it becomes expensive and possibly redundant, although there is nothing to stop an individual teacher following this strategy when designing and delivering a course.

A second criticism is that the ADDIE model is what might be called ‘front-end loaded’ in that it focuses heavily on content design and development, but does not pay as much attention to the interaction between instructors and students during course delivery. Thus it has been criticised by constructivists for not paying enough attention to learner-instructor interaction, and for privileging more behaviourist approaches to teaching.

Another criticism is that while the five stages are reasonably well described in most descriptions of the model, the model does not provide guidance on how to make decisions within that framework. For instance, it does not provide guidelines or procedures for deciding how to choose between different technologies, or what assessment strategies to use. Instructors have to go beyond the ADDIE framework to make these decisions.

The over-enthusiastic application of the ADDIE model can and has resulted in overly complex design stages, with many different categories of workers (faculty, instructional designers, editors, web designers) and consequently a strong division of labour, resulting in courses taking up to two years from initial approval to actual delivery. The more complex the design and management infrastructure, the more opportunities there are for cost over-runs and very expensive programming.

My main criticism though is that the model is too inflexible for the digital age. How does a teacher respond to rapidly developing new content, new technologies or apps being launched on a daily basis, to a constantly changing student base? Although the ADDIE model has served us well in the past, and provides a good foundation for designing teaching and learning, it can be too pre-determined, linear and inflexible to handle more volatile learning contexts. I will discuss more flexible models for design in Section 4.7.

Activity 4.3 Using the ADDIE model

1. Take a course you are currently offering. How many of the stages of the ADDIE model did you go through? If you missed out on some of the stages, do you think the course would have been better if you had included these stages? Given the amount of work needed to work through each of the stages, do you think the results would be worth the effort?

2. If you are thinking of designing a new course, use the Flexible Learning Australia infographic to work through the four steps of analysis they recommend (it is probably best to log in to the infographic directly). Was this helpful? If so, you might want to continue with the other recommended steps.

3. If you have previously used the ADDIE model, are you happy with it? Do you agree with my criticisms? Is it flexible enough for the context in which you are working?

If you wish to share any of the outcomes of this activity, please use the comment box below, for possible feedback.

References

Dick, W., and Carey, L. (2004). The Systematic Design of Instruction. Allyn & Bacon; 6 edition Allyn & Bacon

Morrison, Gary R. (2010) Designing Effective Instruction, 6th Edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons 

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4.4 Online collaborative learning

4.4.1 What is online collaborative learning?

The concurrence of both constructivist approaches to learning and the development of the Internet has led to the development of a particular form of constructivist teaching, originally called computer-mediated communication (CMC), or networked learning, but which has been developed into what Harasim (2012) now calls online collaborative learning theory (OCL). She describes OCL as follows (p. 90):

OCL theory provides a model of learning in which students are encouraged and supported to work together to create knowledge: to invent, to explore ways to innovate, and, by so doing, to seek the conceptual knowledge needed to solve problems rather than recite what they think is the right answer. While OCL theory does encourage the learner to be active and engaged, this is not considered to be sufficient for learning or knowledge construction……In the OCL theory, the teacher plays a key role not as a fellow-learner, but as the link to the knowledge community, or state of the art in that discipline. Learning is defined as conceptual change and is key to building knowledge. Learning activity needs to be informed and guided by the norms of the discipline and a discourse process that emphasises conceptual learning and builds knowledge.

OCL builds on and integrates theories of cognitive development that focus on conversational learning (Pask, 1975), conditions for deep learning (Marton and Saljø, 1997; Entwistle, 2000), development of academic knowledge (Laurillard, 2001), and knowledge construction (Scardamalia and Bereiter, 2006).

From the very early days of online learning, some instructors have focused heavily on the communication affordances of the Internet (see for instance, Hiltz and Turoff, 1978). They have based their teaching on the concept of knowledge construction, the gradual building of knowledge mainly through asynchronous online discussion among students and between students and an instructor.

Online discussion forums go back to the 1970s, but really took off as a result of a combination of the invention of the WorldWide Web in the 1990s, high speed Internet access, and the development of learning management systems, most of which now include an area for online discussions. These online discussion forums have some differences though with classroom seminars:

4.4.2 Core design principles of OCL

Harasim emphasises the importance of three key phases of knowledge construction through discourse:

This results in what Harasim calls a Final Position, although in reality the position is never final because for a learner, once started, the process of generating, organising and converging on ideas continues at an ever deeper or more advanced level. The role of the teacher or instructor in this process is seen as critical, not only in facilitating the process and providing appropriate resources and learner activities that encourage this kind of learning, but also, as a representative of a knowledge community or subject domain, in ensuring that the core concepts, practices, standards and principles of the subject domain are fully integrated into the learning cycle.

Harasim provides the following diagram to capture this process:

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Figure 4.3.2: Harasim's pedagogy of group discussion (from Harasim, 2012, p. 95)

Figure 4.4.2: Harasim’s pedagogy of group discussion (from Harasim, 2012, p. 95, with permission)

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Another important factor is that in the OCL model, discussion forums are not an addition or supplement to core teaching materials, such as textbooks, recorded lectures, or text in an LMS, but are the core component of the teaching. Textbooks, readings and other resources are chosen to support the discussion, not the other way round. This is a key design principle, and explains why often instructors or tutors complain, in more ‘traditional’ online courses, that students don’t participate in discussions. Often this is because where online discussions are secondary to more didactic teaching, or are not deliberately designed and managed to lead to knowledge construction, students see the discussions as optional or extra work, because they have no direct impact on grades or assessment. It is also a reason why awarding grades for participation in discussion forums misses the point. It is not the extrinsic activity that counts, but the intrinsic value of the discussion, that matters (see, for instance, Brindley, Walti and Blashke, 2009). Thus although instructors using an OCL approach may use learning management systems for convenience, they are used differently from courses where traditional didactic teaching is moved online.

4.4.3 Community of Inquiry

The Community of Inquiry Model (CoI) is somewhat similar to the OCW model. As defined by Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000)

An educational community of inquiry is a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding.

Garrison, Anderson and Archer argue that there are three essential elements of a community of inquiry:

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Image: © Marguerite Koole, 2013

Figure 4.4.4: Community of Inquiry Image: © Terry Anderson/Marguerite Koole, 2013

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However, CoI is more of a theory than a model, since it does not indicate what activities or conditions are needed to create these three ‘presences’. The two models (OCW and CoI) are also more complementary rather than competing.

4.4.5 Developing meaningful online discussion

Since the publication of the original CoI paper in 2000, there have been a number of studies that have identified the importance of these ‘presences’ within especially online learning (click here for a wide selection). Although there has been a wide range of researchers and educators engaged in the area of online collaborative learning and communities of inquiry, there is a high degree of convergence and agreement about successful strategies and design principles. For academic and conceptual development, discussions need to be well organized by the teacher, and the teacher needs to provide the necessary support to enable the development of ideas and the construction of new knowledge for the students.

Partly as a result of this research, and partly as the result of experienced online instructors who have not necessarily been influenced by either the OCW or the Community of Inquiry literature, several other design principles have been associated with successful (online) discussion, such as:

These issues are discussed in more depth by Salmon (2000); Bates and Poole (2003); and Paloff and Pratt (2005; 2007).

4.4.6 Cultural and epistemological issues

Students come to the educational experience with different expectations and backgrounds. As a result there are often major cultural differences in students with regard to participating in discussion-based collaborative learning that in the end reflect deep differences with regard to traditions of learning and teaching. Thus teachers need to be aware that there are likely to be students in any class who may be struggling with language, cultural or epistemological issues, but in online classes, where students can come from anywhere, this is a particularly important issue.

In many countries, there is a strong tradition of the authoritarian role of the teacher and the transmission of information from the teacher to the student. In some cultures, it would be considered disrespectful to challenge or criticize the views of teachers or even other students. In an authoritarian, teacher-based culture, the views of other students may be considered irrelevant or unimportant. Other cultures have a strong oral tradition, or one based on story-telling, rather than on direct instruction.

Online environments then can present real challenges to students when a constructivist approach to the design of online learning activities is adopted. This may mean taking specific steps to help students who are unfamiliar with a constructivist approach to learning, such as sending drafts to the instructor by e-mail for approval before posting a ‘class’ contribution. For a fuller discussion of cross-cultural issues in online learning, see Jung and Gunawardena (2014) and the journal Distance Education, Vol. 22, No. 1 (2001), the whole edition of which is devoted to papers on this topic.

4.4.7 Strengths and weaknesses of online collaborative learning

This approach to the use of technology for teaching is very different from the more objectivist approaches found in computer-assisted learning, teaching machines, and artificial intelligence applications to education, which primarily aim to use computing to replace at least some of the activities traditionally done by human teachers. With online collaborative learning, the aim is not to replace the teacher, but to use the technology primarily to increase and improve communication between teacher and learners, with a particular approach to the development of learning based on knowledge construction assisted and developed through social discourse. This social discourse furthermore is not random, but managed in such a way as to ‘scaffold’ learning:

Thus there are two main strengths of this model:

There are though some limitations:

4.4.8 Summary

Many of the strengths and challenges of collaborative learning apply both in face-to-face or online learning contexts. It could be argued that there is no or little difference between online collaborative learning and well-conducted traditional classroom, discussion-based teaching. Once again, we see that the mode of delivery is less important than the design model, which can work well in both contexts. Indeed, it is possible to conduct either model synchronously or asynchronously, at a distance or face-to-face.

However, there is enough evidence that collaborative learning can be done just as well online, which is important, given the need for more flexible models of delivery to meet the needs of a more diverse student body in a digital age. Also, the necessary conditions for success in teaching this way are now well known, even though they are not always universally applied.

Activity 4.4: Evaluating online collaborative learning models

1. Can you see the differences between ‘Open Collaborative Learning’ (OCL) and ‘Communities of Inquiry’? Or are they really the same model with different names?

2. Do you agree that either of these models can be applied just as successfully online or face-to-face?

3. Do you see other strengths or weaknesses with these models?

4. Is this common sense dressed up as theory?

5. Does it make sense to apply either of these models to courses in the quantitative sciences such as physics or engineering? If so, under what conditions?

References

Bates, A. and Poole, G. (2003) Effective Teaching with Technology in Higher Education: Foundations for Success San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Brindley, J., Walti, C. and Blashke, L. (2009) Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Vol. 10, No. 3

Entwistle, N. (2000) Promoting deep learning through teaching and assessment: conceptual frameworks and educational contexts Leicester UK: TLRP Conference

Garrison, R., Anderson, A. and Archer, W. (2000) Critical Inquiry in a Text-based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education The Internet and Higher Education, Vol. 2, No. 3

Harasim, L. (2012) Learning Theory and Online Technologies New York/London: Routledge

Hiltz, R. and Turoff, M. (1978) The Network Nation: Human Communication via Computer Reading MA: Addison-Wesley

Jung, I. and Gunawardena, C. (eds.) (2014) Culture and Online Learning: Global Perspectives and Research Sterling VA: Stylus

Laurillard, D. (2001) Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies New York/London: Routledge

Marton, F. and Saljö, R. (1997) Approaches to learning, in Marton, F., Hounsell, D. and Entwistle, N. (eds.) The experience of learning: Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press (out of press, but available online)

Paloff, R. and Pratt, K. (2005) Collaborating Online: Learning Together in Community San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Paloff, R. and Pratt, K. (2007) Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Pask, G. (1975) Conversation, Cognition and Learning Amsterdam/London: Elsevier (out of press, but available online)

Salmon, G. (2000) e-Moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online London: Taylor and Francis

Scardamalia, M. and Bereiter, C. (2006) Knowledge Building:  Theory, pedagogy and technology in Sawyer, K. (ed.) Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences New York: cambridge University Press

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4.5 Competency-based learning

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e-Commerce business course competencies, Capella University

Figure 4.5.1 e-Commerce business course competencies, Capella University

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4.5.1 What is competency-based learning?

Competency-based learning begins by identifying specific competencies or skills, and enables learners to develop mastery of each competency or skill at their own pace, usually working with a mentor. Learners can develop just the competencies or skills they feel they need (for which increasingly they may receive a ‘badge’ or some form of validated recognition), or can combine a whole set of competencies into a full qualification, such as a certificate, diploma or increasingly a full degree.

Learners work individually, usually online, rather than in cohorts. If learners can demonstrate that they already have mastery of a particular competency or skill, through a test or some form of prior learning assessment, they may be allowed to move to the next level of competency without having to repeat a prescribed course of study for the prior competency. Competency-based learning attempts to break away from the regularly scheduled classroom model, where students study the same subject matter at the same speed in a cohort of fellow students.

The value of competency-based learning for developing practical or vocational skills or competencies is more obvious, but increasingly competency-based learning is being used for education requiring more abstract or academic skills development, sometimes combined with other cohort-based courses or programs.

4.5.2 Who uses competency-based learning?

The Western Governors University in the USA, with nearly 40,000 students, has pioneered competency-based learning, but, with the more recent support of the Federal Department of Education, competency-based learning is expanding rapidly in the USA. Other institutions making extensive use of competency-based learning are Southern New Hampshire University through its College for America, designed specifically for working adults and their employers, Northern Arizona University, and Capella University.

Competency-based learning is particularly appropriate for adult learners with life experience who may have developed competencies or skills without formal education or training, for those who started school or college and dropped out and wish to return to formal study, but want their earlier learning to be recognized, or for those learners wanting to develop specific skills but not wanting a full program of studies. Competency-based learning can be delivered through a campus program, but it is increasingly delivered fully online, because many students taking such programs are already working or seeking work.

4.5.3 Designing competency-based learning

There are various approaches, but the Western Governors’ model illustrates many of the key steps.

4.5.3.1 Defining competencies

A feature of most competency-based programs is a partnership between employers and educators in identifying the competencies required, at least at a high level. Some of the skills outlined in Chapter 1, such as problem-solving or critical thinking, may be considered high-level, but competency-based learning tries to break down abstract or vague goals into specific, measurable competencies.

For instance, at Western Governors University (WGU), for each degree, a high-level set of competencies is defined by the University Council, and then a working team of contracted subject matter experts takes the ten or so high level competencies for a particular qualification and breaks them down into about 30 more specific competencies, around which are built online courses to develop mastery of each competency. Competencies are based upon what graduates are supposed to know in the workplace and as professionals in a chosen career. Assessments are designed specifically to assess the mastery of each competency; thus students receive either a pass/no pass following assessment. A degree is awarded when all 30 specified competencies are successfully achieved.

Defining competencies that meet the needs of students and employers in ways that are progressive (in that one competency builds on earlier competencies and leads to more advanced competencies) and coherent (in that the sum of all the competencies produces a graduate with all the knowledge and skills required within a business or profession) is perhaps the most important and most difficult part of competency-based learning.

4.5.3.2 Course and program design

At WGU, courses are created by in-house subject matter experts selecting existing online curriculum from third parties and/or resources such as e-textbooks through contracts with publishers. Increasingly open educational resources are used. WGU does not use a learning management system but a specially designed portal for each course. E-textbooks are offered to students without extra cost to the student, through contracts between WGU and the publishers. Courses are pre-determined for the student with no electives. Students are admitted on a monthly basis and work their way through each competency at their own pace.

Students who already possess competencies may accelerate through their program in two ways: transferring in credits from a previous associate degree in appropriate areas (e.g. general education, writing); or by taking exams when they feel they are ready.

4.5.3.3 Learner support

Again this varies from institution to institution. WGU currently employs approximately 750 faculty who act as mentors. There are two kinds of mentors: ‘student’ mentors and ‘course’ mentors. Student mentors, who have qualifications within the subject domain, usually at a masters level, are in at least bi-weekly telephone contact with their students, depending on the needs of the student in working through their courses, and are the main contact for students. A student mentor is responsible for roughly 85 students. Students start with a mentor from their first day and stay with their mentor until graduation. Student mentors assist students in determining and maintaining an appropriate pace of study and step in with help when students are struggling.

Course mentors are more highly qualified, usually with a doctorate, and provide extra support for students when needed. Course mentors will be available to between 200-400 students at a time, depending on the subject requirement.

Students may contact either student or course mentors at any time (unlimited access) and mentors are expected to deal with student calls within one business day. Mentors are full-time but work flexible hours, usually from home. Mentors are reasonably well paid, and receive extensive training in mentoring.

4.5.3.4 Assessment

WGU uses written papers, portfolios, projects, observed student performance and computer-marked assignments as appropriate, with detailed rubrics. Assessments are submitted online and if they require human evaluation, qualified graders (subject matter experts trained by WGU in assessment) are randomly assigned to mark work on a pass/fail basis. If students fail, the graders provide feedback on the areas where competency was not demonstrated. Students may resubmit if necessary.

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Remote proctoring of exams

Figure 4.5.3: Remote proctoring of exams: students have two cameras installed in their room

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Students will take both formative (pre-assessment) and summative (proctored) exams. WGU is increasingly using online proctoring, enabling students to take an exam at home under video supervision, using facial recognition technology to ensure that the registered student is taking the exam. In areas such as teaching and health, student performance or practice is  assessed in situ by professionals (teachers, nurses).

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Example transcript from Northern Ariziona University

Figure 4.5.4 Example transcript from Northern Arizona University

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4.5.4 Strengths and weaknesses

Proponents have identified a number of strengths in the competency-based learning approach:

Consequently, institutions such as WGU, the University of Southern New Hampshire, and Northern Arizona University, using a competency-based approach, at least as part of their operations, have seen annual enrolment growth in the range of 30-40 per cent per annum.

Its main weakness is that it works well with some learning environments and less well with others. In particular:

4.5.5 In conclusion

Competency-based learning is a relatively new approach to learning design which is proving increasingly popular with employers and suits certain kinds of learners such as adults seeking to re-skill or searching for mid-level jobs requiring relatively easily identifiable skills. It does not suit though all kinds of learners and may be limited in developing the higher level, more abstract knowledge and skills requiring creativity, high-level problem-solving and decision-making and critical thinking.

Activity 4.5 Thinking about competency-based education?

1. What factors are likely to influence you to adopt a competency-based approach to teaching? Could you describe a scenario where you could use this approach effectively?

2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of students studying individually, rather than in a cohort? What skills are they likely to miss out on through individual study?

3. Is competency-based learning something an individual instructor should contemplate? What institutional support would be necessary to make this approach work?

Further reading

At the time of writing, there is comparatively little literature and even less research on competency-based learning compared with most other teaching approaches. It is also an area that has recently evolved from earlier, more training-focused approaches to competency. I have therefore limited myself to more recent publications. The following publications are recommended for those who would like to pursue this area further:

Book, P. (2014) All Hands on Deck: Ten Lessons from Early Adopters of Competency-based Education Boulder CO: WCET

Cañado, P. and Luisa, M. (eds.) (2013) Competency-based Language Teaching in Higher Education New York: Springer

Garrett, R. and Lurie, H. (2016) Deconstructing CBE: An Assessment of Institutional Activity, Goals and Challenges in Higher Education Boston MA: Ellucian/Eduventures

Rothwell, W. and Graber, J. (2010) Competency-Based Training Basics Alexandria VA: ADST

Weise, M. (2014) Got Skills? Why Online Competency-Based Education Is the Disruptive Innovation for Higher Education EDUCAUSE Review, November 10

The Southern Regional Educational Board in the USA has a comprehensive Competency-based Learning Bibliography

 

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4.6 Communities of practice

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Bank of America's Vital Voices progam links women executives of small and medium sized enterprises Image: © Belfast Telegraph, 2014

Figure 4.6.1 Bank of America’s Vital Voices program links women executives of small and medium sized enterprises from around the world
Image: © Belfast Telegraph, 2014

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4.6.1 The theories behind communities of practice

The design of teaching often integrates different theories of learning. Communities of practice are one of the ways in which experiential learning, social constructivism, and connectivism can be combined, illustrating the limitations of trying to rigidly classify learning theories. Practice tends to be more complex.

4.6.2 What are communities of practice?

Definition:

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

Wenger, 2014

The basic premise behind communities of practice is simple: we all learn in everyday life from the communities in which we find ourselves. Communities of practice are everywhere. Nearly everyone belongs to some community of practice, whether it is through our working colleagues or associates, our profession or trade, or our leisure interests, such as a book club. Wenger (2000) argues that a community of practice is different from a community of interest or a geographical community in that it involves a shared practice: ways of doing things that are shared to some significant extent among members.

Wenger argues that there are three crucial characteristics of a community of practice:

Wenger (2000) has argued that although individuals learn through participation in a community of practice, more important is the generation of newer or deeper levels of knowledge through the sum of the group activity. If the community of practice is centered around business processes, for instance, this can be of considerable benefit to an organization. Smith (2003) notes that:

…communities of practice affect performance..[This] is important in part because of their potential to overcome the inherent problems of a slow-moving traditional hierarchy in a fast-moving virtual economy. Communities also appear to be an effective way for organizations to handle unstructured problems and to share knowledge outside of the traditional structural boundaries. In addition, the community concept is acknowledged to be a means of developing and maintaining long-term organizational memory.

Brown and Duguid (2000) describe a community of practice developed around the Xerox customer service representatives who repaired the machines in the field. The Xerox reps began exchanging tips and tricks over informal meetings at breakfast or lunch and eventually Xerox saw the value of these interactions and created the Eureka project to allow these interactions to be shared across the global network of representatives. The Eureka database has been estimated to have saved the corporation $100 million. Companies such as Google and Apple are encouraging communities of practice through the sharing of knowledge across their many specialist staff.

Technology provides a wide range of tools that can support communities of practice, as indicated by Wenger (2010) in the diagram below:

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Figure 4.6.2 Communities of practice Image: Wenger, 2010

Figure 4.6.2 Tools that support communities of practice
Image: Wenger, 2014

4.6.3 Designing effective communities of practice

Most communities of practice have no formal design and tend to be self-organising systems. They have a natural life cycle, and come to an end when they no longer serve the needs of the community. However, there is now a body of theory and research that has identified actions that can help sustain and improve the effectiveness of communities of practice.

Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002) have identified seven key design principles for creating effective and self-sustaining communities of practice, related specifically to the management of the community, although the ultimate success of a community of practice will be determined by the activities of the members of the community themselves. Designers of a community of practice need to:

4.6.3.1 Design for evolution

Ensure that the community can evolve and shift in focus to meet the interests of the participants without moving too far from the common domain of interest.

4.6.3.2 Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives

Encourage the introduction and discussion of new perspectives that come or are brought in from outside the community of practice.

4.6.3.3 Encourage and accept different levels of participation

from the ‘core’ (most active members), from those who participate regularly but do not take a leading role in active contributions, and from those (likely the majority) who are on the periphery of the community but may become more active participants if the activities or discussions start to engage them more fully.

4.6.3.4 Develop both public and private community spaces

Communities of practice are strengthened if they encourage individual or group activities that are more personal or private as well as the more public general discussions; for instance, individuals may decide to blog about their activities, or a small group in an online community that live or work close together may also decide to meet informally on a face-to-face basis.

4.6.3.5 Focus on value

Attempts should be made explicitly to identify, through feedback and discussion, the contributions that the community most values.

4.6.3.6 Combine familiarity and excitement

by focusing both on shared, common concerns and perspectives, but also by introducing radical or challenging perspectives for discussion or action.

4.6.3.7 Create a rhythm for the community

There needs to be a regular schedule of activities or focal points that bring participants together on a regular basis, within the constraints of participants’ time and interests.

Subsequent research has identified a number of critical factors that influence the effectiveness of participants in communities of practice, These include being:

EDUCAUSE has developed a step-by-step guide for designing and cultivating communities of practice in higher education (Cambridge, Kaplan and Suter, 2005).

Lastly, research on other related sectors, such as collaborative learning or MOOCs, can inform the design and development of communities of practice. For instance, communities of practice need to balance between structure and chaos: too much structure and many participants are likely to feel constrained in what they need to discuss; too little structure and participants can quickly lose interest or become overwhelmed.

Many of the other findings about group and online behaviour, such as the need to respect others, observing online etiquette, and preventing certain individuals from dominating the discussion, are all likely to apply. However, because many communities of practice are by definition self-regulating, establishing rules of conduct and even more so enforcing them is really a responsibility of the participants themselves.

4.6.4 Learning through communities of practice in a digital age

Communities of practice are a powerful manifestation of informal learning. They generally evolve naturally to address commonly shared interests and problems. By their nature, they tend to exist outside formal educational organisations. Participants are not usually looking for formal qualifications, but to address issues in their life and to be better at what they do. Furthermore, communities of practice are not dependent on any particular medium; participants may meet face-to-face socially or at work, or they can participate in online or virtual communities of practice.

It should be noted that communities of practice can be very effective in a digital world, where the working context is volatile, complex, uncertain and ambiguous. A large part of the lifelong learning market will become occupied by communities of practice and self-learning, through collaborative learning, sharing of knowledge and experience, and crowd-sourcing new ideas and development. Such informal learning provision will be particularly valuable for non-governmental or charitable organizations, such as the Red Cross, Greenpeace or UNICEF, or local government, looking for ways to engage communities in their areas of operation.

These communities of learners will be open and free, and hence will provide a competitive alternative to the high priced lifelong learning programs being offered by research universities. This will put pressure on universities and colleges to provide more flexible arrangements for recognition of informal learning, in order to hold on to their current monopoly of post-secondary accreditation.

One of the significant developments in recent years has been the use of massive open online courses (MOOCs) for developing online communities of practice. MOOCs are discussed in more detail in Chapter 6, but it is worth discussing here the connection between MOOCs and communities of practice. The more instructionist xMOOCs are not really developed as communities of practice, because they use mainly a transmissive pedagogy, from experts to those considered less expert.

In comparison, connectivist MOOCs are an ideal way to bring together specialists scattered around the world to focus on a common interest or domain. Connectivist MOOCs are much closer to being virtual communities of practice, in that they put much more emphasis on sharing knowledge between more or less equal participants. However, current connectivist MOOCs do not always incorporate what research indicates are best practices for developing communities of practice, and those wanting to establish a virtual community of practice at the moment need some kind of MOOC provider to get them started and give them access to the necessary MOOC software.

Although communities of practice are likely to become more rather than less important in a digital age, it is probably a mistake to think of them as a replacement for traditional forms of education. There is no single, ‘right’ approach to the design of teaching. Different groups have different needs. Communities of practice are more of an alternative for certain kinds of learners, such as lifelong learners, and are likely to work best when participants already have some domain knowledge and can contribute personally and in a constructive manner – which suggests the need for at least some form of prior general education or training for those participating in effective communities of practice.

In conclusion, it is clear is that in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, and given the openness of the Internet, the social media tools now available, and the need for sharing of knowledge on a global scale, virtual communities of practice will become even more common and important. Smart educators and trainers will look to see how they can harness the strength of this design model, particularly for lifelong learning. However, merely lumping together large numbers of people with a common interest is unlikely to lead to effective learning.  Attention needs to be paid to those design principles that lead to effective communities of practice.

Activity 4.6 Making communities of practice work

1. Can you identify a community of practice to which you belong? Is it successful and does it meet the key design principles outlined above?

2. Could you think of a way to develop a community of practice that would support your work as a teacher?

3. Is there anything special you would need to do to make an online community of practice succeed that would not be necessary in a face-to-face community?

References

Brown, J. and Duguid, P. (2000) Balancing act: How to capture knowledge without killing it Harvard Business Review.

Cambridge, D., Kaplan, S. and Suter, V. (2005) Community of Practice Design Guide Louisville  CO: EDUCAUSE

Smith, M. K. (2003) ‘Communities of practice’, the encyclopedia of informal education, accessed 26 September, 2014

Wenger, E. (2000) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press

Wenger, E. (2014) Communities of practice: a brief introduction, accessed 26 September, 2014

Wenger, E, McDermott, R., and Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating Communities of Practice (Hardcover). Harvard Business Press; 1 edition.

Update and further reading

Wenger, E., Trayner, B. and de Laat, M. (2011)Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework Heerlen NL: The Open University of the Netherlands

This document presents a conceptual foundation for promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks. By value creation we mean the value of the learning enabled by community involvement and networking.

For an interesting critique of this paper, see:

Dingyloudi, F. and Strijbos, J. (2015) Examining value creation in a community of learning practice: Methodological reflections on story-telling and story-reading Seminar.net, Vol. 11, No.3

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Scenario F: ETEC 522: Ventures in e-Learning

Mike: Hey, George, come and sit down and tell Allison and Rav about that weird course you’re taking from UBC.

George: Hi, you two. Yeah, it’s a great course, very different from any other I’ve taken.

Rav.: What’s it about?

George: It’s how to go about starting up a technology company.

Allison: But I thought you were doing a masters in education.

George: Yeah, I am. This course is looking at how new technologies can be used in education and how to build a business around one of these technologies.

Mike: Really, George? So what about all your socialist principles, the importance of public education, and all that? Are you giving up and going to become a fat capitalist?

George: No, it’s not like that. What the course is really making me do is think about how we could be using technology better in school or college.

Mike: And how to make a profit out of it, by the sound of it.

Rav.: Shut up, Mike – I’m curious, George, since I’m doing a real business program. You’re going to learn how to set up a business in 13 weeks? Gimme a break.

George: It’s more about becoming an entrepreneur – someone who takes risks and tries something different.

Mike.: With someone else’s money.

George: Do you really want to know about this course, or are you just wanting to give me a hard time?

Allison: Yes, shut up, Mike. Have you chosen a technology yet, George?

George: Almost. We spend most of the course researching and analysing emerging technologies that could have an application in education. We have to find a technology, research it then come up with a plan of how it could be used in education, and how a business could be built around it. But I think the real aim is to get us to think about how technology could improve or change teaching or learning..

Rav.: So what’s the technology you’ve chosen?

George: You’re jumping too far ahead, Rav. We go through two boot camps, one on analysing the edtech marketplace, and one on entrepreneurship: what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Why are you laughing, Mike?

Mike: I just can’t see you in combat uniform, crawling through tubes under gun fire, with a book in your hand.

George: Not that kind of bootcamp. This course is totally online. Our instructor points us in the direction of a few technologies to get us started, but because there’s more stuff coming out all the time, we’re encouraged to make our own choices about what to research. And we all help each other. I must have looked at more than 50 products or services so far, and we all share our analyses. I’m down to possibly three at the moment, but I’m going to have to make my mind up soon, as I have to do a YouTube elevator pitch for my grade.

Rav.: A what?

George: If you look at most of these products, there’s a short YouTube video that pitches the business. I’ve got to make the case for whatever technology I choose in just under eight minutes. That’s going to be 25% of my grade.

Allison: Wow, that’s tough.

George: Well, we all help each other. We have to do a preliminary recording, then everyone pitches in to critique it. Then we have a few days to send in our final version.

Allison: What else do you get grades for?

George: I got 25% of my marks for an assignment that analysed a particular product called Dybuster which is used to help learners with dyslexia. I looked mainly at its educational strengths and weaknesses, and its likely commercial viability. For my second assignment, also worth 25%, we had to build an application of a particular product or service, in my case a module of teaching using a particular product. There were four of us altogether working as  a team to do this. Our team designed a short instructional module that showed a chemical reaction, using an off-the-shelf online simulation tool that is free for people to use. I’ll get my last 25% from analysing my own contribution to discussions and activities.

Rav.: What, you give yourself the grade?

George: No, I have to collect my best contributions together in a sort of portfolio, then send them in to the instructor, who then gives the grade based on the quality of the contributions.

Allison: But what I don’t understand is: what’s the curriculum? What text books do you have to read? What do you have to know?

George: Well, there are the two boot camps, but really, we the students, set the curriculum. Our instructor asks us for our first week’s work to look at a range of emerging technologies that might be relevant for education, then we select eight which form the basis of our work groups. I’ve already learned a lot, just by searching and analysing different products over the Internet. We have to think about and justify our decisions. What kind of teaching philosophy do they imply? What criteria am I using when I support or reject a particular product? Is this a sustainable tool? (You don’t want to have to get rid of good teaching material because the company’s gone bust and doesn’t support the technology any more). What I’m really learning though is to think about technology differently. Previously I wasn’t really thinking about teaching differently. I was just trying to find a technology that made my life easier. But this course has woken me up to the real possibilities. I feel I’m in a much better position now to shake up my own school and move them into the digital age.

Allison (sighs): Well, I guess that’s the difference between an undergraduate and a graduate course. You couldn’t do this unless you already knew a lot about education, could you?

George: I’m not so sure about that, Allison. It doesn’t seem to have stopped a lot of entrepreneurs from developing tools for teaching!

Mike: George, I’m sorry. I can’t wait for you to become a rich capitalist – it’s your turn to buy the drinks.

Scenario based on a UBC graduate course for the Master in Educational Technology.

The instructors are David Vogt and David Porter, assisted by Jeff Miller, the instructional designer for the course.

 

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4.7 'Agile' Design: flexible designs for learning

4.7.1 The need for more agile design models

Adamson (2012) states:

The systems under which the world operates and the ways that individual businesses operate are vast and complex – interconnected to the point of confusion and uncertainty. The linear process of cause and effect becomes increasingly irrelevant, and it is necessary for knowledge workers to begin thinking in new ways and exploring new solutions.

In particular, knowledge workers must deal with situations and contexts that are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (what Adamson calls a VUCA environment). This certainly applies to teachers working with ever new, emerging technologies, very diverse students, and a rapidly changing external world that puts pressure on institutions to change.

If we look at course design, how does a teacher respond to rapidly developing new content, new technologies or apps being launched on a daily basis, to a constantly changing student base, to pressure to develop the knowledge and skills that are needed in a digital age? For instance, even setting prior learning outcomes is fraught in a VUCA environment, unless you set them at an abstract ‘skill’ level such as thinking flexibly, networking, and information retrieval and analysis. Students need to develop the key knowledge management skills of knowing where to find relevant information, how to assess, evaluate and appropriately apply such information. This means exposing students to less than certain knowledge and providing them with the skills, practice and feedback to assess and evaluate such knowledge, then apply that to solving real world problems.

In order to do this, learning environments need to be created that are rich and constantly changing, but which at the same time enable students to develop and practice the skills and acquire the knowledge they will need in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.

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Figure 6.16 A volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world Image: © Carol Mase, Free Management Library, 2011, used with permission

Figure 4.7.1 A volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world
Image: © Carol Mase, Free Management Library, 2011, used with permission

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4.7.2 Core features of agile design models

Describing the design features of this model is a challenge, for two reasons. First, there is no single approach to agile design. The whole point is to be adaptable to the circumstances in which it operates. Second, it is only with the development of light, easy to use technology and media in the last few years that instructors and course designers have started to break away from the standard design models, so agile designs are still emerging. However, this is a challenge that software designers have also been facing (see for instance, Larman and Vodde, 2009; Ries, 2011) and perhaps there are lessons that can be applied to educational design.

First, it is important to distinguish ‘agile’ design from rapid instructional design (Meier, 2000) or rapid prototyping, which are really both streamlined versions of the ADDIE model. Although rapid instructional design/rapid protyping enable courses or modules to be designed more quickly (especially important for corporate training), they still follow the same kind of sequential or iterative processes as in the ADDIE model, but in a more compressed form. Rapid instructional design and rapid prototyping might be considered particular kinds of agile design, but they lack some of the most important characteristics outlined below:

4.7.2.1 Light and nimble

If ADDIE is a 100-piece orchestra, with a complex score and long rehearsals, then agile design is a jazz trio who get together for a single performance then break up until the next time. Although there may be a short preparation time before the course starts, most of the decisions about what will go into the course, what tools will be used, what activities learners will do, and sometimes even how students will be assessed, are decided as the course progresses.

On the teaching side, there are usually only a few people involved in the actual design, one or sometimes two instructors and possibly an instructional designer, who nevertheless meet frequently during the offering of the course to make decisions based on feedback from learners and how learners are progressing through the course. However, many more content contributors may be invited – or spontaneously offer – to participate on a single occasion as the course progresses.

4.7.2.2 Content, learner activities, tools used and assessment vary, according to the changing environment

The content to be covered in a course is likely to be highly flexible, based more on emerging knowledge and the interests or prior experience of the learners, although the core skills that the course aims to develop are more likely to remain constant. For instance, for ETEC 522 in Scenario F, the overall objective is to develop the skills needed to be a pioneer or innovator in education, and this remains constant over each iteration of the course. However, because the technology is rapidly developing with new products, apps and services every year, the content of the course is quite different from year to year.

Also learner activities and methods of assessment are also likely to change, because students can use new tools or technology themselves for learning as they become available. Very often learners themselves seek out and organise much of the core content of the course and are free to choose what tools they use.

4.7.2.3 The design attempts to exploit the affordances of either existing or emerging technologies

Agile design aims to exploit fully the educational potential of new tools or software, which means sometimes changing at least sub-goals. This may mean developing different skills in learners from year to year, as the technology changes and allows new things to be done. The emphasis here is not so much on doing the same thing better with new technology, but striving for new and different outcomes that are more relevant in a digital world.

ETEC 522 for instance did not start with a learning management system. Instead, a web site, built in WordPress, was used as the starting point for student activities, because students as well as instructors were posting content, but in another year the content focus of the course was mainly on mobile learning, so apps and other mobile tools were strong components of the course.

4.7.2.4 Sound, pedagogical principles guide the overall design of a course – to a point

Just as most successful jazz trios work within a shared framework of melody, rhythm, and musical composition, so is agile design shaped by overarching principles of best practice. Most successful agile designs have been guided by core design principles associated with ‘good’ teaching, such as clear learning outcomes or goals, assessment linked to these goals, strong learner support, including timely and individualised feedback, active learning, collaborative learning, and regular course maintenance based on learner feedback, all within a rich learning environment (see Appendix 1). Sometimes though deliberate attempts are made to move away from an established best practice for experimental reasons, but usually on a small scale, to see if the experiment works without risking the whole course.

4.7.2.5 Experiential, open and applied learning

Usually agile course design is strongly embedded in the real, external world. Much or all the course may be open to other than registered students. For instance, much of ETEC 522, such as the final YouTube business pitches, is openly available to those interested in the topics. Sometimes this results in entrepreneurs contacting the course with suggestions for new tools or services, or just to share experience.

Another example is a course on Latin American studies from a Canadian university. This particular course had an open, student-managed wiki, where they could discuss contemporary events as they arose. This course was active at the same time that the Argentine government nationalised the Spanish oil company, Repsol. Several students posted comments critical of the government action, but after a week, a professor from a university in Argentina, who had come across the wiki by accident while searching the Internet, responded, laying out a detailed defence of the government’s policy. This was then made a formal topic for discussion within the course.

Such courses may though be only partially open. Discussion of sensitive subjects for instance may still take place behind a password controlled discussion forum, while other parts of the course may be open to all. As experience grows in this kind of design, other and perhaps clearer design principles are likely to emerge.

4.7.3 Strengths and weaknesses of flexible design models

The main advantage of agile design is that it focuses directly on preparing students for a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. It aims explicitly at helping students develop many of the specific skills they will need in a digital age, such as knowledge management, multimedia communication skills, critical thinking, innovation, and digital literacy embedded within a subject domain. Where agile design has been successfully used, students have found the design approach highly stimulating and great fun, and instructors have been invigorated and enthusiastic about teaching. Agile design enables courses to be developed and offered quickly and at much lower initial cost than ADDIE-based approaches.

However, agile design approaches are very new and have not really been much written about, never mind evaluated. There is no ‘school’ or set of agreed principles to follow, although there are similarities between the agile approach to design for learning with ‘agile’ design for computer software. Indeed it could be argued that most of the things in agile design are covered in other teaching models, such as online collaborative learning or experiential learning. Despite this, innovative instructors are beginning to develop courses in a similar way to ETEC 522 and there is a consistency in the basic design principles that give them a certain coherence and shape, even though each course or program appears on the surface to be very different (another example of agile design, but campus-based, with quite a different overall program from ETEC 522, is the Integrated Science program at McMaster University.)

Certainly agile design approaches require confident instructors willing to take a risk, and success is heavily dependent on instructors having a good background in best teaching practices and/or strong instructional design support from innovative and creative instructional designers. Because of the relative lack of experience in such design approaches the limitations are not well identified yet. For instance, this approach can work well with relatively small class sizes but how well will it scale? Successful use probably also depends on learners already having a good foundational knowledge base in the subject domain. Nevertheless I expect more agile designs for learning to grow over the coming years, because they are more likely to meet the needs of a VUCA world.

Activity 4.7 Taking risks with ‘agile’ design

1. Do you think a ‘agile’/flexible design approach will increase or undermine academic excellence? What are your reasons?

2. Would you like to try something like this in your own teaching (or are you already doing something like this)? What would be the risks and benefits in your subject area of doing this?

 References

Adamson, C. (2012) Learning in a VUCA world, Online Educa Berlin News Portal, November 13

Bertram, J. (2013) Agile Learning Design for Beginners New Palestine IN: Bottom Line Performance
Larman, C. and Vodde, B. (2009) Scaling Lean and Agile Development New York: Addison-Wesley

Meier, D. (2000). The Accelerated Learning Handbook. New York: McGraw-Hill

Rawsthorne, P. (2012) Agile Instructional Design St. John’s NF: Memorial University of Newfoundland

Ries, E. (2011) The Lean Start-Up New York: Crown Business/Random House

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4.8 Making decisions about teaching methods

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Figure 4.8 Making decisions

Figure 4.8 Making decisions about which design model to choose

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4.8.1 Choosing a model

Chapters 3 and 4 cover a range of different teaching methods and design models. There are many more that could have been included. One noticeable omission are MOOCs. However, the design models behind MOOCs require a full chapter of their own (Chapter 5.)

Your choice of teaching method and the design of the teaching within that method will depend very much on the context in which you are teaching. However, a key criterion should be the suitability of the method and/or design model for developing the knowledge and skills that learners will need in a digital age. Other critical factors will be the demands of the subject domain, characteristics of the learners you will likely be teaching, the resources available, especially in terms of supporting learners, and probably most important of all, your own views and beliefs about what constitutes ‘good teaching.’

Furthermore, the teaching methods covered in Chapters 3 and 4 by and large are not mutually exclusive. They can probably be mixed and matched to a certain degree, but there are limitations in doing this. Moreover, a consistent approach will be less confusing not only to learners, but also to you as a teacher or instructor.

So: how would you go about choosing an appropriate teaching method? I set out below in Figure 4.8.1 one way of doing this. I have chosen five criteria as headings along the top of the table:

4.8.1.1 Epistemological basis

What epistemology does this method suggest? Does the method suggest a view of knowledge as content that must be learned, does the method suggest a rigid (‘correct’) way of designing learning (objectivist)? Or does the method suggest that learning is a dynamic process and knowledge needs to be discovered and is constantly changing (constructivist)? Does the method suggest that knowledge lies in the connections and interpretations of different nodes or people on networks and that connections matter more in terms of creating and communicating knowledge than the individual nodes or people on the network (connectivist)? Or is the method epistemologically neutral, in that one could use the same method to teach from different epistemological positions?

4.8.1.2 Industrial versus digital (i.e. desired learning outcomes)

Does this method lead to the kind of learning that would prepare people for an industrial society, with standardised learning outcomes, will it help identify and select a relatively small elite for higher education or senior positions in society, does it enable learning to be easily organised into similarly performing groups of learners?

Alternativelydoes the method encourage the development of the soft skills and the effective management of knowledge needed in a digital world? Does the method enable and support the appropriate educational use of the affordances of new technologies? Does it provide the kind of educational support that learners need to succeed in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world? Does it enable and encourage learners to become global citizens?

4.8.1.3 Academic quality

Does the method lead to deep understanding and transformative learning? Does it enable students to become experts in their chosen subject domain?

4.8.1.4 Flexibility 

Does the method meet the needs of the diversity of learners today? Does it encourage open and flexible access to learning? Does it help teachers and instructors to adapt their teaching to ever changing circumstances?

Now these are my criteria, and you may well want to use different criteria (cost or your time is another important factor), but I have drawn up the table this way because it has helped me consider better where I stand on the different methods or design models. Where I think a method or design model is strong on a particular criterion, I have given it three stars, where weak, one star, and n/a for not applicable. Again, you may – no, should – rank the models differently. (See, that’s why I’m a constructivist – if I was an objectivist, I’d tell you what damned criteria to use!)

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Figure 4.8.1 Choosing design models

Figure 4.8.1 Choosing design models

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It can be seen that the only method that ranks highly on all three criteria of 21st century learning, academic quality and flexibility is online collaborative learning. Experiential learning and agile design also score highly. Transmissive lectures come out worst. This is a pretty fair reflection of my preferences. However, if you are teaching first year civil engineering to over 500 students, your criteria and rankings will almost certainly be different from mine. So please see Figure 4.8.1 as a heuristic device and not as a general recommendation.

4.8.2 Design models and the quality of teaching and learning

Lastly, the review of different methods indicate some of the key issues around quality:

There is still one major teaching method to be discussed, MOOCs, which needs their own chapter (next).

For my personal comments on some of the issues raised in this chapter, please click on the podcast below, which summarises some of the issues in the last two chapters

For my personal comments on some of the issues raised in this chapter, please click on the podcast below.

Activity 4.8 Making choices

Describe your main subject area and level. Then try to answer each of the following questions:

1. What are the main learning outcomes (at a high level) that I need to achieve in this course or program, if the students are to be properly prepared for the future?

2. What teaching method is most likely to enable me to help learners achieve these outcomes?

3. How much would I have to change what I’m doing now, and what would the course or program look like in the future? Could I write a scenario to describe how I would be teaching in the future? Or how students will be learning in my course or program?

4. What support am I likely to get from my institution, in terms of supporting my ideas, supporting change, providing resources such as training in new methods, or professional help such as instructional designers?

5. How will my students react to the changes I’m contemplating? How could I ‘sell’ it to them?

If you want to share your response(s), please use the comment box below.

Key Takeaways (Chapters 3 and 4)

1. Traditional classroom teaching, and especially transmissive lectures, were designed for another age. Although lectures have served us well, we are now in a different age that requires different methods.

2. The key shift is towards greater emphasis on skills, particularly knowledge management, and less on memorising content. We need teaching methods for teaching and learning that lead to the development of the skills needed in a digital age.

3. There is no one teaching method or ‘best’ design model for all circumstances. The choice of teaching method needs to take account of the context in which it will be applied, but nevertheless, some methods are better than others for developing the knowledge and skills needed in a digital age. For the contexts with which I’m most associated, online collaborative learning, experiential learning and agile design best meet my criteria.

4. Teaching methods in general are not dependent on a particular mode of delivery; they can operate in most cases as well online as in class.

5. In an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, we need methods of teaching that are light and nimble.

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Chapter 5: MOOCs

Purpose of the chapter

MOOCs (Massive, Open, Online Courses) are the most disruptive of all technologically-based innovations in higher education, and as a result are the most controversial.

When you have finished this chapter you should be able to:

  • understand the differences between various kinds of MOOCs, and between MOOCs and other forms of online and open learning;
  • decide on whether or not to develop your own MOOC and what kind of MOOC;
  • advise your administration on whether or not to invest in MOOCs.
For a my personal introduction to this chapter, please click on the podcast below.

For a my personal introduction to this chapter, please click on the podcast below.

What is covered in this chapter

This chapter covers the following topics:

Also in this chapter you will find the following activities:

Key Takeaways

1. MOOCs are forcing every higher education institution to think carefully both about its strategy for online teaching and its approach to open education.

2. MOOCs are not the only form of online learning nor of open educational resources. It is important to look at the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs within the overall context of online learning and open-ness.

3. There are considerable differences in the design of MOOCs, reflecting different purposes and philosophies.

4. There are currently major structural limitations in MOOCs for developing deep or transformative learning, or for developing the high level knowledge and skills needed in a digital age.

5. MOOCs are at still a relatively early stage of maturity. As their strengths and weaknesses become clearer, and as experience in improving their design grows, they are likely to occupy a significant niche within the higher education learning environment

6. MOOCs could well replace some forms of traditional teaching (such as large lecture classes). However, MOOCs are more likely to remain an important supplement or alternative to other conventional education methods. They are not on their own a solution to the high cost of higher education, although MOOCs are and will continue to be an important factor in forcing change.

7. Perhaps the greatest value of MOOCs in the future will be for providing a means for tackling large global problems through community action.

 

 

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5.1 Brief history

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Figure 5.2 Daphne Koller's TED talk, 2012

Figure 5.1.1 Daphne Koller’s TED talk, 2012

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To see this YouTube video, click on the graphic. For a response to this video, see: ‘What’s right and what’s wrong with Coursera-style MOOCs’.

The term MOOC was used for the first time in 2008 for a course offered by the Extension Division of the University of Manitoba in Canada. This non-credit course, Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CK08) was designed by George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier. It enrolled 27 on-campus students who paid a tuition fee but was also offered online for free. Much to the surprise of the instructors, 2,200 students enrolled in the free online version. Downes classified this course and others like it that followed as connectivist or cMOOCs, because of their design (Downes, 2012).

In the fall of 2011, two computer science professors from Stanford University, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, launched a MOOC on The Introduction to AI (artificial intelligence) that attracted over 160,000 enrollments, followed quickly by two other MOOCs, also in computer sciences, from Stanford instructors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller. Thrun went on to found Udacity, and Ng and Koller established Coursera. These are for-profit companies using their own specially developed software that enable massive numbers of registrations and a platform for the teaching. Udacity and Coursera formed partnerships with other leading universities where the universities pay a fee to offer their own MOOCs through these platforms. Udacity more recently has changed direction and is now focusing more on the vocational and corporate training market.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University in March 2012 developed an open source platform for MOOCs called edX, which also acts as a platform for online registration and teaching. edX has also developed partnerships with leading universities to offer MOOCs without direct charge for hosting their courses, although some may pay to become partners in edX. Other platforms for MOOCs, such as the U.K. Open University’s FutureLearn, have also been developed. Because the majority of MOOCs offered through these various platforms are based mainly on video lectures and computer-marked tests, Downes has classified these as xMOOCs, to distinguish them from the more connectivist cMOOCs.

In March, 2015 there were just over 4,000 MOOCs globally, of which just over 1,000 were from European institutions.

References

Downes, S. (2012) Massively Open Online Courses are here to stay, Stephen’s Web, July 20

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5.2 What is a MOOC?

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© Giulia Forsythe, 2012 and JISC, 2012

Figure 5.2 Making sense of MOOCs © Giulia Forsythe, 2012 and JISC, 2012

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5.2.1 MOOCS: a massive disruption?

Probably no development in teaching in recent years has been as controversial as the development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). In 2013, the writer Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times:

...nothing has more potential to enable us to reimagine higher education than the massive open online course ….For relatively little money, the U.S. could rent space in an Egyptian village, install two dozen computers and high-speed satellite Internet access, hire a local teacher as a facilitator, and invite in any Egyptian who wanted to take online courses with the best professors in the world, subtitled in Arabic…I can see a day soon where you’ll create your own college degree by taking the best online courses from the best professors from around the world ….paying only the nominal fee for the certificates of completion. It will change teaching, learning and the pathway to employment.

Many others have referred to MOOCs as a prime example of the kind of disruptive technology that Clayton Christensen (2010) has argued will change the world of education. Others have argued that MOOCs are not a big deal, just a more modern version of educational broadcasting, and do not really affect the basic fundamentals of education, and in particular do not address the type of learning needed in a digital age.

MOOCs can be seen then as either a major revolution in education or just another example of the overblown hyperbole often surrounding technology, particularly in the USA. I shall be arguing that MOOCs are a significant development, but they have severe limitations for developing the knowledge and skills needed in a digital age.

5.2.2 Key characteristics

All MOOCs have some common features, although we shall see that the term MOOC covers an increasingly wide range of designs.

5.2.2.1 Massive

In the four years following its launch in 2011, Coursera claims over 12 million sign-ups with its largest course claiming 240,000 participants. The huge numbers (in the hundred of thousands) enrolling in the earliest MOOCs are not always replicated in later MOOCs, but the numbers are still substantial. For instance, in 2013, the University of British Columbia offered several MOOCs through Coursera, with the numbers initially signing up ranging from 25,000 to 190,000 per course (Engle, 2014).

However, even more important than the actual numbers is that in principle MOOCs have infinite scalability. There is technically no limit to their final size, because the marginal cost of adding each extra participant is nil for the institutions offering MOOCs. (In practice this is not quite true, as central technology, backup and bandwidth costs increase, and as we shall see, there can be some knock-on costs for an institution offering MOOCs as numbers increase. However, the cost of each additional participant is so small, given the very large numbers, that it can be more or less ignored). The scalability of MOOCs is probably the characteristic that has attracted the most attention, especially from governments, but it should be noted that this is also a characteristic of broadcast television and radio, so it is not unique to MOOCs.

5.2.2.2 Open

There are no pre-requisites for participants other than access to a computer/mobile device and the Internet. However, broadband access is essential for xMOOCs that use video streaming, and probably desirable even for cMOOCs. Furthermore, at least for the initial MOOCs, access is free for participants, although an increasing number of MOOCs are charging a fee for assessment leading to a badge or certificate.

However, there is one significant way in which MOOCs through Coursera are not fully open (see Chapter 10 for more on what constitutes ‘open’ in education). Coursera owns the rights to the materials, so they cannot be repurposed or reused without permission, and the material may be removed from the Coursera site when the course ends. Also, Coursera decides which institutions can host MOOCs on its platform – this is not an open access for institutions. On the other hand, edX is an open source platform, so any institution that joins edX can develop their own MOOCs with their own rules regarding rights to the material. cMOOCs are generally completely open, but since individual participants of cMOOCs create a lot if not all of the material it is not always clear whether they own the rights and how long the MOOC materials will remain available.

It should also be noted that many other kinds of online material are also open and free over the Internet, often in ways that are more accessible for reuse than MOOC material (see Chapter 10).

5.2.2.3 Online

MOOCs are offered at least initially wholly online, but increasingly institutions are negotiating with the rights holders to use MOOC materials in a blended format for use on campus. In other words, the institution provides learner support for the MOOC materials through the use of campus-based instructors. For instance at San Jose State University, on-campus students used MOOC materials from Udacity courses, including lectures, readings and quizzes, and then instructors spent classroom time on small-group activities, projects and quizzes to check progress (Collins, 2013). More variations in the design of MOOCs will be discussed in more detail in Section 5.3.

Again though it should be noted that MOOCs are not unique in offering courses online. There are over 7 million students in the USA alone taking online courses for credit, as part of regular degree programs.

5.2.2.4 Courses

One characteristic that distinguishes MOOCs from most other open educational resources is that they are organized into a whole course.

However, what this actually means for participants is not exactly clear. Although many MOOCs offer certificates or badges for successful completion of a course, to date these have not been accepted for admission or for credit, even (or especially) by the institutions offering the MOOCs.

5.2.3 Summary

It can be seen that all the key characteristics of MOOCs exist in some form or other outside MOOCs. What makes MOOCs unique though is the combination of the four key characteristics, and in particular the fact that they scale massively and are open and free for participants.

References

Christensen, C. (2010) Disrupting Class, Expanded Edition: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns New York: McGraw-Hill

Collins, E. (2013) SJSU Plus Augmented Online Learning Environment Pilot Project Report San Jose CA: San Jose State University

Engle, W. (2104) UBC MOOC Pilot: Design and Delivery Vancouver BC: University of British Columbia

Friedman, T. (2013) Revolution Hits the Universities New York Times, January 26

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5.3 Variations in MOOC designs

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Figure 5.3 There are many variations of the basic MOOC designs Image: © Dairy Cattle, India, 2014© Dairy Cattle, India, 2014

Figure 5.3 There are many variations of the basic MOOC design
Image: © Dairy Cattle, India, 2014© Dairy Cattle, India, 2014

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In this section the main MOOC designs will be analysed. However, MOOCs are a relatively new phenomenon, and design models are still evolving.

5.3.1 xMOOCs

MOOCs developed initially by Stanford University professors and a little later by MIT and Harvard instructors are based primarily on a strongly behaviourist, information transmission model, the core teaching being through online recorded videos of short lectures, combined with computer automated testing, and sometimes also through the use of peer assessment. These MOOCs are offered through special cloud-based software platforms such as Coursera, Udacity and edX.

xMOOCs is a term coined by Stephen Downes (2012) for courses developed by Coursera, Udacity and edX. At the time of writing (2015) xMOOCs are by far the most common MOOC. Instructors have considerable flexibility in the design of the course, so there is considerable variation in the details, but in general xMOOCs have the following common design features:

5.3.1.1 Specially designed platform software 

xMOOCs use specially designed platform software that allows for the registration of very large numbers of participants, provides facilities for the storing and streaming on demand of digital materials, and automates assessment procedures and student performance tracking. It also allows the companies that provide the software to collect and analyse student data.

5.3.1.2 Video lectures 

xMOOCs use the standard lecture mode, but delivered online by participants downloading on demand recorded video lectures. These video lectures are normally available on a weekly basis over a period of 10-13 weeks. Initially these were often 50 minute lectures, but as a result of experience some xMOOCs now are using shorter recordings (sometimes down to 15 minutes in length) and thus there may be more video segments. As well, xMOOC courses are becoming shorter in length, some now lasting only five weeks. Various video production methods have been used, including lecture capture (recording face-to-face on-campus lectures, then storing them and streaming them on demand), full studio production, or desk-top recording by the instructor.

5.3.1.3 Computer-marked assignments 

Students complete an online test and receive immediate computerised feedback. These tests are usually offered throughout the course, and may be used just for participant feedback. Alternatively the tests may be used for determining the award of a certificate. Another option is for an end of course grade or certificate based solely on an end-of-course online test. Most xMOOC assignments are based on multiple-choice, computer-marked questions, but some MOOCs have also used text or formula boxes for participants to enter answers, such as coding in a computer science course, or mathematical formulae, and in one or two cases, short text answers, but in all cases these are computer-marked.

5.3.1.4 Peer assessment 

Some xMOOCs have experimented with assigning students randomly to small groups for peer assessment, especially for more open-ended or more evaluative assignment questions. This has often proved problematic though because of wide variations in expertise between the different members of a group, and because of the different levels of involvement in the course of different participants.

5.3.1.5 Supporting materials 

Sometimes copies of slides, supplementary audio files, urls to other resources, and online articles may be included for downloading by participants.

 5.3.1.6 A shared comment/discussion space 

These are places where participants can post questions, ask for help, or comment on the content of the course.

5.3.1.7 No, or very light, discussion moderation

The extent to which the discussion or comments are moderated varies probably more than any other feature in xMOOCs, but at its most, moderation is directed at all participants rather than to individuals. Because of the very large numbers participating and commenting, moderation of individual comments by the instructor(s) offering the MOOC is rarely possible, although there are some examples. Some instructors offer no moderation whatsoever, so participants rely on other participants to respond to questions or comments. Some instructors ‘sample’ comments and questions, and post comments in response to these. Some instructors use volunteers or paid teaching assistants to comb for or identify common areas of concern shared by a number of participants then the instructor or teaching assistants will respond. However, in most cases, participants moderate each other’s comments or questions.

5.3.1.8 Badges or certificates 

Most xMOOCs award some kind of recognition for successful completion of a course, based on a final computer-marked assessment. However, at the time of writing, MOOC badges or certificates have not been recognised for credit or admission purposes even by the institutions offering a MOOC, or even when the lectures are the same as for on-campus students. No evidence exists to date about employer acceptance of MOOC qualifications.

 5.3.1.9 Learning analytics 

Although to date there has not been a great deal of published information about the use of learning analytics in xMOOCs, the xMOOC platforms have the capacity to collect and analyse ‘big data’ about participants and their performance, enabling, at least in theory, for immediate feedback to instructors about areas where the content or design needs improving and possibly directing automated cues or hints for individuals.

xMOOCs therefore primarily use a teaching model focused on the transmission of information, with high quality content delivery, computer-marked assessment (mainly for student feedback purposes), and automation of all key transactions between participants and the learning platform. There is rarely any direct interaction between an individual participant and the instructor responsible for the course, although instructors may post general comments in response to a range of participants’ comments.

5.3.2 cMOOCs

cMOOCs, the first of which was developed by three instructors for a course at the University of Manitoba in 2008, are based on network learning, where learning develops through the connections and discussions between participants over social media. There is no standard technology platform for cMOOCs, which use a combination of webcasts, participant blogs, tweets, software that connects blogs and tweets on the same topic via hashtags, and online discussion forums. Although usually there are some experts who initiate and participate in cMOOCs, they are by and large driven by the interests and contributions of the participants. Usually there is no attempt at formal assessment.

cMOOCs have a very different educational philosophy from xMOOCs, in that cMOOCs place heavy emphasis on networking and in particular on strong content contributions from the participants themselves. Indeed, there may be no formally identified instructor, although ‘guest’ instructors may be invited to offer a web cast or a blog for the course.

5.3.2.1 Key design principles

Downes (2014) has identified four key design principles for cMOOCs:

Thus for the proponents of cMOOCs, learning results not from the transmission of information from an expert to novices, as in xMOOCs, but from the sharing and flow of knowledge between participants.

5.3.2.2 From principles to practice

Identifying how these key design features for cMOOCs are turned into practice is somewhat more difficult to pinpoint, because cMOOCs depend on an evolving set of practices. Most cMOOCs to date have in fact made some use of ‘experts’, both in the organization and promotion of the MOOC, and in providing ‘nodes’ of content around which discussion tends to revolve.  In other words, the design practices of cMOOCs are still more a work in progress than those of xMOOCs.

Nevertheless, at the moment the following are key design practices in cMOOCs:

cMOOCs therefore primarily use a networked approach to learning based on autonomous learners connecting with each other across open and connected social media and sharing knowledge through their own personal contributions. There is no pre-set curriculum and no formal teacher-student relationship, either for delivery of content or for learner support. Participants learn from the contributions of others, from the meta-level knowledge generated through the community, and from self-reflection on their own contributions, thus reflecting many of the features of communities of interest or practice.

5.3.3 Other variations

I have deliberately focused on the differences in design between xMOOCs and cMOOCs, and Mackness (2103) and Yousef et al. (2014) also emphasise similar differences in philosophy/theory between cMOOCs and xMOOCs, as well as Downes himself (2012), one of the original designers of cMOOCs.

However, it should be noted that the design of MOOCs continues to evolve, with all kinds of variations. Yousef et al. (2014) represent this graphically as follows:

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from Yousef et al., 2014

Figure 5.3.3 The range of MOOC designs, from Yousef et al., 2014, Figure 5, p.12

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In Yousef et al.’s terminology smOOcs represent small open online courses and bMOOCs represent MOOCs that are blended with on-campus teaching.

However, Chauhan (2014) offers an even wider range of  MOOC instructional models, as follows:

Hernandez et al. (2014) describe what they term an iMOOC developed by the Open University of Portugal which combines features of both xMOOCs and cMOOCs, and other features, such as collaborative group work and paced instruction, that can be found in their credit-based online courses. The MOOCs developed by the University of British Columbia and a number of other institutions use volunteers, paid academic assistants or even the instructor to moderate the online discussions and participant comments, making such MOOCs closer in design to regular for-credit online courses – except that they are open to anyone.

5.3.4 What’s going on here?

It is not surprising that over time, the design of MOOCs is evolving. There seem to be three distinct kinds of development:

It is likely that innovation in MOOC design and the way MOOCs are used will continue.

However, some of these developments also indicate a good deal of confusion around the definition and goals of MOOCs, especially regarding massiveness and open-ness. If participants from outside a university have to pay a hefty fee to participate in an otherwise ‘closed’, on-campus course, or if off-campus participants have to be selected on certain criteria before they can participate, is it really open? Is the term MOOC now being used to describe any unconventional online offering or any online continuing education course? It’s difficult to see how a SPOC for instance differs from a typical online continuing education course, except perhaps in that it uses a recorded lecture rather than a learning management system. There is a danger of having any online course ending up being described as a MOOC, when in fact there are major differences in design and philosophy.

Although each of these individual innovations, often the result of the initiative of an individual instructor, are to be welcomed in principle, the consequences need to be carefully considered in fairness to potential participants. Individual instructors designing MOOCs really need to make sure that the design is consistent in terms of educational philosophy, and be clear as to why they are opting for a MOOC rather than a conventional online course. This is particularly important if there is to be any form of formal assessment. The status of such an assessment for participants who are not formally admitted to or registered as a student in an institution needs to be clear and consistent.

There is even more confusion about mixing MOOCs with on-campus teaching. At the moment the strategy appears to be to first develop a MOOC then see how it can be adapted for on-campus teaching. However, a better strategy might be to develop a conventional, for-credit online course, in terms of design, then see how it could be scaled for open access to other participants. Another strategy might be to use open social media, such as a course wiki and student blogs, to widen access to the teaching of a formal course, rather than develop a full-blown MOOC.

Thinking through the policy implications of incorporating MOOCs or MOOC materials with on-campus teaching does not appear to be happening at the moment in most institutions experimenting with ‘blended’ MOOCs. If MOOC participants are taking exactly the same course and assessment as registered on-campus for-credit students, will the institution award the external MOOC participants who successfully complete the assessment credit for it and/or admit them to the institution? If not, why not? For an excellent discussion of these issues framed for an institution’s Board of Governors, see Green, 2013.

Thus some of these MOOC developments seem to be operating in a policy vacuum regarding open learning in general. At some point, institutions will need to develop a clearer, more consistent strategy for open learning, in terms of how it can best be provided, how it calibrates with formal learning, and how open learning can be accommodated within the fiscal constraints of the institution, and then where MOOCs, other OERs and conventional for-credit online courses might fit with the strategy. For more on this topic, see Chapter 10.

Activity 5.3: Thinking about MOOC design

1. When is a MOOC a MOOC and when is it not a MOOC? Can you identify the common features? Is MOOC still a useful term?

2. If you were to design a MOOC, who would be the target audience? What kind of MOOC would it be? What form of assessment could you use? What would make you think your MOOC was a success, after it was delivered? What criteria would you use?

3. Could you think of other ways to make one or more of your courses more open, other than creating a MOOC from scratch? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of these other methods, compared to a MOOC?

References

Chauhan, A. (2014) Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS): Emerging Trends in Assessment and Accreditation Digital Education Review, No. 25

Downes, S. (2012) Massively Open Online Courses are here to stay, Stephen’s Web, July 20

Downes, S. (2014) The MOOC of One, Valencia, Spain, March 10

Green, K. (2013) Mission, money and MOOCs Association of Governing Boards Trusteeship, No. 1, Volume 21

Hernandez, R. et al. (2014) Promoting engagement in MOOCs through social collaboration Oxford UK: Proceedings of the 8th EDEN Research Workshop

Mackness, J. (2013) cMOOCs and xMOOCs – key differences, Jenny Mackness, October 22

Yousef, A. et al. (2014) MOOCs: A Review of the State-of-the-Art Proceedings of 6th International Conference on Computer Supported Education – CSEDU 2014, Barcelona, Spain

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5.4 Strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs

In-depth analysis by standard academic criteria shows that MOOCs have more academic rigor and are a far more effective teaching methodology than in-house teaching

Benton R. Groves, Ph.D. student

My big concern with xMOOCs is their limitation, as currently designed, for developing the higher order intellectual skills needed in a digital world.

Tony Bates

5.4.1 The research on MOOCs

Because at the time of writing most MOOCs are less than four years old, there are relatively few research publications on MOOCs, although research activities are now beginning to pick up. Much of the research to date on MOOCs comes from the institutions offering MOOCs, mainly in the form of reports on enrolments, or self-evaluation by instructors. The commercial platform providers such as Coursera and Udacity have provided limited research information overall, which is a pity, because they have access to really big data sets. However, MIT and Harvard, the founding partners in edX, are conducting some research, mainly on their own courses. There is very little independent research to date on either xMOOCs or cMOOCs.

However, wherever possible, I have tried to use any research that has been done that provides insight into the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs. At the same time, we should be clear that we are discussing a phenomenon that to date has been marked largely by political, emotional and often irrational discourse, and in terms of cumulative hard evidence, we will have to wait for some time.

Lastly, it should be remembered when I am evaluating MOOCs I am applying the criteria of whether MOOCs are likely to lead to the kinds of learning needed in a digital age: in other words, do they help develop the knowledge and skills defined in Chapter 1?

5.4.2 Open and free education

MOOCs, particularly xMOOCs, deliver high quality content from some of the world’s best universities for free to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. This in itself is an amazing value proposition. In this sense, MOOCs are an incredibly valuable addition to educational provision. Who could argue against this? Certainly not me, so long as the argument for MOOCs goes no further.

However, this is not the only form of open and free education. Libraries, open textbooks and educational broadcasting are also open and free and have been for some time, even if they do not have the same power and reach as Internet-based delivery. There are also lessons we can learn from these earlier forms of open and free education that still apply to MOOCs.

The first is that these earlier forms of open and free did not replace the need for formal, credit-based education, but were used to supplement or strengthen it. In other words, MOOCs are a tool for continuing and informal education, which has high value in its own right. As we shall see though they work best when people are already reasonably well educated.

The problem comes when it is argued that because MOOCs are open and free to end-users, they will inevitably force down the cost of conventional higher education, or eliminate the need for it altogether, especially in developing countries (see the Friedman comment at the beginning of this chapter.)

There have been many attempts in the past to use educational broadcasting and satellite broadcasting in developing countries (see Bates, 1985), and they all failed substantially to increase access or reduce cost for a variety of reasons, the most important being:

Also the priority in most developing countries is not for courses from high-level Stanford University professors, but for programs for high schools. Finally, although mobile phones are widespread in Africa, they operate on very narrow bandwidths. For instance, it costs US$2 to download a typical YouTube video – equivalent to a day’s salary for many Africans. Streamed video lectures then have limited applicability.

This is not to say that MOOCs could not be valuable in developing countries, but this will mean:

Furthermore, MOOCs are not always open as in the sense of open educational resources. Coursera and Udacity for instance offer limited access to their material for re-use without permission. On other more open platforms, such as edX, individual faculty or institutions may restrict re-use of material. Lastly, many MOOCs exist for only one or two years then disappear, which limits their use as open educational resources for re-use in other courses or programs.

Finally, although MOOCs are in the main free for participants, they are not without substantial cost to MOOC providers, an issue that will be discussed in more detail in Section 5.4.8.

5.4.3 The audience that MOOCs mainly serve

In a research report from Ho et al. (2014), researchers at Harvard University and MIT found that on the first 17 MOOCs offered through edX, 66 per cent of all participants, and 74 per cent of all who obtained a certificate, have a bachelor’s degree or above, 71 per cent were male, and the average age was 26. This and other studies also found that a high proportion of participants came from outside the USA, ranging from 40-60 per cent of all participants, indicating strong interest internationally in open access to high quality university teaching.

In a study based on over 80 interviews in 62 institutions ‘active in the MOOC space’, Hollands and Tirthali (2014), researchers at Columbia University Teachers’ College, found that:

Data from MOOC platforms indicate that MOOCs are providing educational opportunities to millions of individuals across the world. However, most MOOC participants are already well-educated and employed, and only a small fraction of them fully engages with the courses. Overall, the evidence suggests that MOOCs are currently falling far short of “democratizing” education and may, for now, be doing more to increase gaps in access to education than to diminish them.

Thus MOOCs, as is common with most forms of university continuing education, cater to the better educated, older and employed sectors of society.

5.4.4 Persistence and commitment

The edX researchers (Ho et al., 2014) identified different levels of commitment as follows across 17 edX MOOCs:

Hill (2013) has identified five types of participants in Coursera courses:

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© Phil Hill, 2013

Figure 5.4.4.1 © Phil Hill, 2013

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Engle (2014) found similar patterns for the University of British Columbia MOOCs on Coursera (also replicated in other studies):

Those going on to achieve certificates usually are within the 5-10 per cent range of those that sign up and in the 10-20 per cent range for those who actively engaged with the MOOC at least once. Nevertheless, the numbers obtaining certificates are still large in absolute terms: over 43,000 across 17 courses on edX and 8,000 across four courses at UBC (between 2,000-2,500 certificates per course).

Milligan et al. (2013) found a similar pattern of commitment in cMOOCs, from interviewing a small sample of participants (29 out of 2,300 registrants) about halfway through a cMOOC:

MOOCs need to be judged for what they are, a somewhat unique – and valuable – form of non-formal education. These results are very similar to research into non-formal educational broadcasts (e.g. the History Channel). One would not expect a viewer to watch every episode of a History Channel series then take an exam at the end. Ho et al. (p.13) produced the following diagram to show the different levels of commitment to xMOOCs:

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Ho et al., 2014

Figure 5.4.4.2 Level of participation in MOOCs  © Ho et al., 2014

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Now compare that to what I wrote in 1985 about educational broadcasting in Britain (Bates, 1985):

(p.99): At the centre of the onion is a small core of fully committed students who work through the whole course, and, where available, take an end-of-course assessment or examination. Around the small core will be a rather larger layer of students who do not take any examination but do enrol with a local class or correspondence school. There may be an even larger layer of students who, as well as watching and listening, also buy the accompanying textbook, but who do not enrol in any courses. Then, by far the largest group, are those that just watch or listen to the programmes. Even within this last group, there will be considerable variations, from those who watch or listen fairly regularly, to those, again a much larger number, who watch or listen to just one programme. 

I also wrote (p.100):

A sceptic may say that the only ones who can be said to have learned effectively are the tiny minority that worked right through the course and successfully took the final assessment…A counter argument would be that broadcasting can be considered successful if it merely attracts viewers or listeners who might otherwise have shown no interest in the topic; it is the numbers exposed to the material that matter…the key issue then is whether broadcasting does attract to education those who would not otherwise have been interested, or merely provides yet another opportunity for those who are already well educated…There is a good deal of evidence that it is still the better educated in Britain and Europe that make the most use of non-formal educational broadcasting.

Exactly the same could be said about MOOCs. In a digital age where easy and open access to new knowledge is critical for those working in knowledge-based industries, MOOCs will be one valuable source or means of accessing that knowledge. The issue is though whether there are more effective ways to do this. Thus MOOCs can be considered a useful – but not really revolutionary – contribution to non-formal continuing education.

5.4.5 What do students learn in MOOCs?

This is a much more difficult question to answer, because so little of the research to date (2014) has tried to answer this question. (One reason, as we shall see in the next section, is that assessment of learning in MOOCs remains a major challenge). There are at least two kinds of study: quantitative studies that seek to quantify learning gains; and qualitative studies that describe the experience of learners within MOOCs, which indirectly provide some insight into what they have learned.

At the time of writing, the most quantitative study of learning in MOOCs has been by Colvin et al. (2014), who investigated ‘conceptual learning’ in an MIT Introductory Physics MOOC. They compared learner performance not only between different sub-categories of learners within the MOOC, such as those with no physics or math background with those such as physic teachers who had considerable prior knowledge, but also with on-campus students taking the same curriculum in a traditional campus teaching format. In essence, the study found no significant differences in learning gains between or within the two types of teaching, but it should be noted that the on-campus students were students who had failed an earlier version of the course and were retaking it.

This research is a classic example of the no significant difference in comparative studies in educational technology; other variables, such as differences in the types of students, were as important as the mode of delivery. Also, this MOOC design represents a behaviourist-cognitivist approach to learning that places heavy emphasis on correct answers to conceptual questions. It doesn’t attempt to develop the skills needed in a digital age as identified in Chapter 1.

There have been far more studies of the experience of learners within MOOCs, particularly focusing on the discussions within MOOCs (see for instance, Kop, 2011). In general (although there are exceptions), discussions are unmonitored, and it is left to participants to make connections and respond to other students comments. However, there are some strong criticisms of the effectiveness of the discussion element of MOOCs for developing the high-level conceptual analysis required for academic learning. To develop deep, conceptual learning, there is a need in most cases for intervention by a subject expert to clarify misunderstandings or misconceptions, to provide accurate feedback,  to ensure that the criteria for academic learning, such as use of evidence, clarity of argument, and so on, are being met, and to ensure the necessary input and guidance to seek deeper understanding (see Harasim, 2013).

Furthermore, the more massive the course, the more likely participants are to feel ‘overload, anxiety and a sense of loss’, if there is not some instructor intervention or structure imposed (Knox, 2014). Firmin et al. (2014) have shown that when there is some form of instructor ‘encouragement and support of student effort and engagement’, results improve for all participants in MOOCs. Without a structured role for subject experts, participants are faced with a wide variety of quality in terms of comments and feedback from other participants. There is again a great deal of research on the conditions necessary for the successful conduct of collaborative and co-operative group learning (see for instance, Dillenbourg, 1999, Lave and Wenger, 1991), and these findings certainly have not been generally applied to the management of MOOC discussions to date. 

One counter argument is that at least cMOOCs develop a new form of learning based on networking and collaboration that is essentially different from academic learning, and MOOCs are thus more appropriate to the needs of learners in a digital age. Adult participants in particular, it is claimed by Downes and Siemens, have the ability to self-manage the development of high level conceptual learning.  MOOCs are ‘demand’ driven, meeting the interests of individual students who seek out others with similar interests and the necessary expertise to support them in their learning, and for many this interest may well not include the need for deep, conceptual learning but more likely the appropriate applications of prior knowledge in new or specific contexts. MOOCs do appear to work best for those who already have a high level of education and therefore bring many of the conceptual skills developed in formal education with them when they join a MOOC, and therefore contribute to helping those who come without such prior knowledge or skills.

Over time, as more experience is gained, MOOCs are likely to incorporate and adapt some of the findings from research on smaller group work to the much larger numbers in MOOCs. For instance, some MOOCs are using ‘volunteer’ or community tutors (Dillenbourg, 2014). The US State Department has organized MOOC camps through US missions and consulates abroad to mentor MOOC participants. The camps include Fulbright scholars and embassy staff who lead discussions on content and topics for MOOC participants in countries abroad (Haynie, 2014). Some MOOC providers, such as the University of British Columbia, pay a small cohort of academic assistants to monitor and contribute to the MOOC discussion forums (Engle, 2014). Engle reported that the use of academic assistants, as well as limited but effective interventions from the instructors themselves, made the UBC MOOCs more interactive and engaging. However, paying for people to monitor and support MOOCs will of course increase the cost to providers. Consequently, MOOCs are likely to develop new automated ways to manage discussion effectively in very large groups. The University of Edinburgh is experimenting with automated ‘teacherbots’ that crawl through online discussion forums and direct predetermined comments to students identified as needing help or encouragement (Bayne, 2014). 

These results and approaches are consistent with prior research on the importance of instructor presence for successful for-credit online learning. In the meantime, though, there is much work still to be done if MOOCs are to provide the support and structure needed to ensure deep, conceptual learning where this does not already exist in students. The development of the skills needed in a digital age is likely to be an even greater challenge when dealing with massive numbers. However, we need much more research into what participants actually learn in MOOCs and under what conditions before any firm conclusions can be drawn.

5.4.6 Assessment

Assessment of the massive numbers of participants in MOOCs has proved to be a major challenge. It is a complex topic that can be dealt with only briefly here. However, Appendix 1, Section 8 provides a general analysis of different types of assessment, and Suen (2014) provides a comprehensive and balanced overview of the way assessment has been used in MOOCs to date. This section draws heavily on Suen’s paper.

5.4.6.1 Computer marked assignments

Assessment to date in MOOCs has been primarily of two kinds. The first is based on quantitative multiple-choice tests, or response boxes where formulae or ‘correct code’ can be entered and automatically checked. Usually participants are given immediate automated feedback on their answers, ranging from simple right or wrong answers to more complex responses depending on the type of response checked, but in all cases, the process is usually fully automated.

For straight testing of facts, principles, formulae, equations and other forms of conceptual learning where there are clear, correct answers, this works well. In fact, multiple choice computer marked assignments were used by the UK Open University as long ago as the 1970s, although the means to give immediate online feedback were not available then. However, this method of assessment is limited for testing deep or ‘transformative’ learning, and particularly weak for assessing the intellectual skills needed in a digital age, such as creative or original thinking.

5.4.6.2 Peer assessment

The second type of assessment that has been tried in MOOCs has been peer assessment, where participants assess each other’s work. Peer assessment is not new. It has been successfully used for formative assessment in traditional classrooms and in some online teaching for credit (Falchikov and Goldfinch, 2000; van Zundert et al., 2010). More importantly, peer assessment is seen as a powerful way to improve deep understanding and knowledge through the process of students evaluating the work of others, and at the same time, it can be useful for developing some of the skills needed in a digital age, such as critical thinking, for those participants assessing other participants.

However, a key feature of the successful use of peer assessment has been the close involvement of an instructor or teacher, in providing benchmarks, rubrics or criteria for assessment, and for monitoring and adjusting peer assessments to ensure consistency and a match with the benchmarks set by the instructor. Although an instructor can provide the benchmarks and rubrics in MOOCs, close monitoring of the multiple peer assessments is difficult if not impossible with the very large numbers of participants. As a result, MOOC participants often become incensed at being randomly assessed by other participants who may not and often do not have the knowledge or ability to give a ‘fair’ or accurate assessment of a participant’s work.

Various attempts to get round the limitations of peer assessment in MOOCs have been tried such as calibrated peer reviews, based on averaging all the peer ratings, and Bayesian post hoc stabilization (Piech at al. 2013), but although these statistical techniques reduce the error (or spread) of peer review somewhat they still do not remove the problems of systematic errors of judgement in raters due to misconceptions. This is particularly a problem where a majority of participants fail to understand key concepts in a MOOC, in which case peer assessment becomes the blind leading the blind.

5.4.6.3 Automated essay scoring

This is another area where there have been attempts to automate scoring (Balfour, 2013). Although such methods are increasingly sophisticated they are currently limited in terms of accurate assessment to measuring primarily technical writing skills, such as grammar, spelling and sentence construction. Once again they do not measure accurately essays where higher level intellectual skills are demonstrated.

5.4.6.4 Badges and certificates

Particularly in xMOOCs, participants may be awarded a certificate or a ‘badge’ for successful completion of the MOOC, based on a final test (usually computer-marked) which measures the level of learning in a course.

The American Council on Education (ACE), which represents the presidents of U.S. accredited, degree-granting institutions, recommended offering credit for five courses on the Coursera MOOC platform. However, according to the person responsible for the review process (Book, 2013):

what the ACE accreditation does is merely accredit courses from institutions that are already accredited. The review process doesn’t evaluate learning outcomes, but is a course content focused review thus obviating all the questions about effectiveness of the pedagogy in terms of learning outcomes. 

Indeed, most of the institutions offering MOOCs will not accept their own certificates for admission or credit within their own, campus-based programs. Probably nothing says more about the confidence in the quality of the assessment than this failure of MOOC providers to recognize their own teaching.

5.4.6.5 The intent behind assessment

To evaluate assessment in MOOCs requires an examination of the intent behind assessment. There are many different purposes behind assessment (see Appendix 1, Section 8). Peer assessment and immediate feedback on computer-marked tests can be extremely valuable for formative assessment, enabling participants to see what they have understood and to help develop further their understanding of key concepts. In cMOOCs, as Suen points out, learning is measured as the communication that takes place between MOOC participants, resulting in crowdsourced validation of knowledge – it’s what the sum of all the participants come to believe to be true as a result of participating in the MOOC, so formal assessment is unnecessary. However, what is learned in this way is not necessarily academically validated knowledge, which to be fair, is not the concern of cMOOC proponents.

Academic assessment is a form of currency, related not only to measuring student achievement but also affecting student mobility (for example, entrance to graduate school) and perhaps more importantly employment opportunities and promotion. From a learner’s perspective, the validity of the currency – the recognition and transferability of the qualification – is essential. To date, MOOCs have been unable to demonstrate that they are able to assess accurately the learning achievements of participants beyond comprehension and knowledge of ideas, principles and processes (recognizing that there is some value in this alone). What MOOCs have not been able to demonstrate is that they can either develop or assess deep understanding or the intellectual skills required in a digital age. Indeed, this may not be possible within the constraints of massiveness, which is their major distinguishing feature from other forms of online learning.

5.4.7 Branding

Hollands and Tirthali (2014) in their survey on institutional expectations for MOOCs, found that building and maintaining brand was the second most important reason for institutions launching MOOCs (the most important was extending reach, which can also be seen as partly a branding exercise). Institutional branding through the use of MOOCs has been helped by elite Ivy League universities such as Stanford, MIT and Harvard leading the charge, and by Coursera limiting access to its platform to only ‘top tier’ universities. This of course has led to a bandwagon effect, especially since many of the universities launching MOOCs had previously disdained to move into credit-based online learning. MOOCs provided a way for these elite institutions to jump to the head of the queue in terms of status as ‘innovators’ of online learning, even though they arrived late to the party.

It obviously makes sense for institutions to use MOOCs to bring their areas of specialist expertise to a much wider public, such as the University of Alberta offering a MOOC on dinosaurs, MIT on electronics, and Harvard on Ancient Greek Heroes. MOOCs certainly help to widen knowledge of the quality of an individual professor (who is usually delighted to reach more students in one MOOC than in a lifetime of on-campus teaching). MOOCs are also a good way to give a glimpse of the quality of courses and programs offered by an institution.

However, it is difficult to measure the real impact of MOOCs on branding. As Hollands and Tirthali put it:

While many institutions have received significant media attention as a result of their MOOC activities, isolating and measuring impact of any new initiative on brand is a difficult exercise. Most institutions are only just beginning to think about how to capture and quantify branding-related benefits.

In particular, these elite institutions do not need MOOCs to boost the number of applicants for their campus-based programs (none to date is willing to accept successful completion of a MOOC for admission to credit programs), since elite institutions have no difficulty in attracting already highly qualified students.

Furthermore, once every other institution starts offering MOOCs, the branding effect gets lost to some extent. Indeed, exposing poor quality teaching or course planning to many thousands can have a negative impact on an institution’s brand, as Georgia Institute of Technology found when one of its MOOCs crashed and burned (Jaschik, 2013). However, by and large, most MOOCs succeed in the sense of bringing an institution’s reputation in terms of knowledge and expertise to many more people than it would through any other form of teaching or publicity.

5.4.8 Costs and economies of scale

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The MOOC value proposition is that MOOCs can eliminate the variable costs of course delivery. Image: © OpenTuition.com, 2014

Figure 5.4.8 The MOOC value proposition is that MOOCs can eliminate the variable costs of course delivery. Image: © OpenTuition.com, 2014

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One main strength claimed for MOOCs is that they are free to participants. Once again we shall see this is more true in principle than in practice, because MOOC providers may charge a range of fees, especially for assessment. Furthermore, although MOOCs may be free for participants, they are not without substantial cost to the provider institutions. Also, there are large differences in the costs of xMOOCs and cMOOCs, the latter being generally much cheaper to develop, although there are still some opportunity or actual costs even for cMOOCs.

Once again, there is very little information to date on the actual costs of designing and delivering a MOOC as  there are not enough cases at the moment to draw firm conclusions about the costs of MOOCs. However we do have some data. The University of Ottawa (2013) estimated the cost of developing an xMOOC, based on figures provided to the university by Coursera, and on their own knowledge of the cost of developing online courses for credit, at around $100,000.

Engle (2014) has reported on the actual cost of five MOOCs from the University of British Columbia. (In essence, there were really four UBC MOOCs, as one was in two shorter parts.) There are two important features concerning the UBC MOOCs that do not necessarily apply to other MOOCs. First, the UBC MOOCs used a wide variety of video production methods, from full studio production to desktop recording, so development costs varied considerably, depending on the sophistication of the video production technique. Second, the UBC MOOCs made extensive use of paid academic assistants, who monitored discussions and adapted or changed course materials as a result of student feedback, so there were substantial delivery costs as well.

Appendix B of the UBC report gives a pilot total of $217,657, but this excludes academic assistance or, perhaps the most significant cost, instructor time. Academic assistance came to 25 per cent of the overall cost in the first year (excluding the cost of faculty). Working from the video production costs ($95,350) and the proportion of costs (44 per cent) devoted to video production in Figure 1 in the report, I estimate the direct cost at $216,700, or approximately $54,000 per MOOC, excluding faculty time and co-ordination support (that is, excluding program administration and overheads), but including academic assistance. However, the range of cost is almost as important. The video production costs for the MOOC which used intensive studio production were more than six times the video production costs of one of the other MOOCs.

The main cost factors or variables in credit-based online and distance learning are relatively well understood, from previous research by Rumble (2001) and Hülsmann (2003). Using similar costing methodology, I tracked and analysed the cost of an online master’s program at the University of British Columbia over a seven year period (Bates and Sangrà, 2011). This program used mainly a learning management system as the core technology, with instructors both developing the course and providing online learner support and assessment, assisted where necessary by extra adjunct faculty for handling larger class enrolments.

I found in my analysis of the costs of the UBC program that in 2003, development costs were approximately $20,000 to $25,000 per course. However, over a seven year period, course development constituted less than 15 per cent of the total cost, and occurred mainly in the first year or so of the program. Delivery costs, which included providing online learner support and student assessment, constituted more than a third of the total cost, and of course continued each year the course was offered. Thus in credit-based online learning, delivery costs tend to be more than double the development costs over the life of a program.

The main difference then between MOOCs, credit-based online teaching, and campus-based teaching is that in principle MOOCs eliminate all delivery costs, because MOOCs do not provide learner support or instructor-delivered assessment, although again in practice this is not always true.

There is also clearly a large opportunity cost involved in offering xMOOCs. By definition, the most highly valued faculty are involved in offering MOOCs. In a large research university, such faculty are likely to have, at a maximum, a teaching load of four to six courses a year. Although most instructors volunteer to do MOOCs, their time is limited. Either it means dropping one credit course for at least one semester, equivalent to 25 per cent or more of their teaching load, or xMOOC development and delivery replaces time spent doing research. Furthermore, unlike credit-based courses, which run from anywhere between five to seven years, MOOCs are often offered only once or twice.

However one looks at it, the cost of xMOOC development, without including the time of the MOOC instructor, tends to be almost double the cost of developing an online credit course using a learning management system, because of the use of video in MOOCs. If the cost of the instructor is included, xMOOC production costs come closer to three times that of a similar length online credit course, especially given the extra time faculty tend put in for such a public demonstration of their teaching in a MOOC. xMOOCs could (and some do) use cheaper production methods, such as an LMS instead of video, for content delivery, or using and re-editing video recordings of classroom lectures via lecture capture.

Without learner support or academic assistance, though, delivery costs for MOOCs are zero, and this is where the huge potential for savings exist. If the cost per participant is calculated the unit costs are very low. Even if the cost per student successfully obtaining an end of course certificate is calculated it will be many times lower than the cost of an online or campus-based successful student. If we take a MOOC costing roughly $100,000 to develop, and 5,000 participants complete the end of course certificate, the average cost per successful participant is $20. However, this assumes that the same type of knowledge and skills is being assessed for both a MOOC and for a graduate masters program; usually this not the case.

The issue then is whether MOOCs can succeed without the cost of learner support and human assessment, or more likely, whether MOOCs can substantially reduce delivery costs through automation without loss of quality in learner performance. There is no evidence to date though that they can do this in terms of higher order learning skills and ‘deep’ knowledge. To assess this kind of learning requires setting assignments that test such knowledge, and such assessments usually need human marking, which then adds to cost. We also know from prior research from successful online credit programs that active instructor online presence is a critical factor for successful online learning. Thus adequate learner support and assessment remains a major challenge for MOOCs. MOOCs then are a good way to teach certain levels of knowledge but will have major structural problems in teaching other types of knowledge. Unfortunately, it is the type of knowledge most needed in a digital world that MOOCs struggle to teach.

In terms of sustainable business models, the elite universities have been able to move into xMOOCs because of generous donations from private foundations and use of endowment funds, but these forms of funding are limited for most institutions. Coursera and Udacity have the opportunity to develop successful business models through various means, such as charging MOOC provider institutions for use of their platform, by collecting fees for badges or certificates, through the sale of participant data, through corporate sponsorship, or through direct advertising.

However, particularly for publicly funded universities or colleges, most of these sources of income are not available or permitted, so it is hard to see how they can begin to recover the cost of a substantial investment in MOOCs, even with ‘cannibalising’ MOOC material for on-campus use. Every time a MOOC is offered, this takes away resources that could be used for online credit programs. Thus institutions are faced with some hard decisions about where to invest their resources for online learning. The case for putting scarce resources into MOOCs is far from clear, unless some way can be found to give credit for successful MOOC completion.

5.4.9 Summary of strengths and weaknesses

The main points of this analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs can be summarised as follows:

5.4.9.1 Strengths

5.4.9.2 Weaknesses

Activity 5.4 Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs

1. Do you agree that MOOCs are just another form of educational broadcasting? What are your reasons?

2. Is it reasonable to compare the costs of xMOOCs to the costs of online credit courses? Are they competing for the same funds, or are they categorically different in their funding source and goals? If so, how?

3. Could you make the case that cMOOCs are a better value proposition than xMOOCs – or are they again too different to compare? 

4. MOOCs are clearly cheaper than either face-to-face or online credit courses if judged on the cost per participant successfully completing a course. Is this a fair comparison, and if not, why not?

5. Do you think institutions should give credit for students successfully completing MOOCs? If so, why, and what are the implications?

If you want to share your answers, please use the comment box below.

References

Balfour, S. P. (2013) Assessing writing in MOOCs: Automated essay scoring and calibrated peer review Research & Practice in Assessment, Vol. 8.

Bates, A. (1985) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation London: Constables

Bates, A. and Sangrà, A. (2011) Managing Technology in Higher Education San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley and Co

Bayne, S. (2014) Teaching, Research and the More-than-Human in Digital Education Oxford UK: EDEN Research Workshop (keynote: no printed record available)

Book, P. (2103) ACE as Academic Credit Reviewer–Adjustment, Accommodation, and Acceptance WCET Learn, July 25

Colvin, K. et al. (2014) Learning an Introductory Physics MOOC: All Cohorts Learn Equally, Including On-Campus Class, IRRODL, Vol. 15, No. 4

Dillenbourg, P. (ed.) (1999) Collaborative-learning: Cognitive and Computational Approaches. Oxford: Elsevier

Dillenbourg, P. (2014) MOOCs: Two Years Later, Oxford UK: EDEN Research Workshop (keynote: no printed record available)

Engle, W. (2104) UBC MOOC Pilot: Design and Delivery Vancouver BC: University of British Columbia

Falchikov, N. and Goldfinch, J. (2000) Student Peer Assessment in Higher Education: A Meta-Analysis Comparing Peer and Teacher Marks Review of Educational Research, Vol. 70, No. 3

Firmin, R. et al. (2014) Case study: using MOOCs for conventional college coursework Distance Education, Vol. 35, No. 2

Harasim, L. (2012) Learning Theory and Online Technologies New York/London: Routledge

Haynie, D. (2014). State Department hosts ‘MOOC Camp’ for online learners. US News,January 20

Hill, P. (2013) Some validation of MOOC student patterns graphic, e-Literate, August 30

Ho, A. et al. (2014) HarvardX and MITx: The First Year of Open Online Courses Fall 2012-Summer 2013 (HarvardX and MITx Working Paper No. 1), January 21 

Hollands, F. and Tirthali, D. (2014) MOOCs: Expectations and Reality New York: Columbia University Teachers’ College, Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education

Hülsmann, T. (2003) Costs without camouflage: a cost analysis of Oldenburg University’s  two graduate certificate programs offered  as part of the online Master of Distance Education (MDE): a case study, in Bernath, U. and Rubin, E., (eds.) Reflections on Teaching in an Online Program: A Case Study Oldenburg, Germany: Bibliothecks-und Informationssystem der Carl von Ossietsky Universität Oldenburg

Jaschik, S. (2013) MOOC Mess, Inside Higher Education, February 4

Knox, J. (2014) Digital culture clash: ‘massive’ education in the e-Learning and Digital Cultures Distance Education, Vol. 35, No. 2

Kop, R. (2011) The Challenges to Connectivist Learning on Open Online Networks: Learning Experiences during a Massive Open Online Course International Review of Research into Open and Distance Learning, Vol. 12, No. 3

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Milligan, C., Littlejohn, A. and Margaryan, A. (2013) Patterns of engagement in connectivist MOOCs, Merlot Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, Vol. 9, No. 2

Piech, C., Huang, J., Chen, Z., Do, C., Ng, A., & Koller, D. (2013) Tuned models of peer assessment in MOOCs. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University

Rumble, G. (2001) The costs and costing of networked learning, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, Vol. 5, No. 2

Suen, H. (2104) Peer assessment for massive open online courses (MOOCs) International Review of Research into Open and Distance Learning, Vol. 15, No. 3

University of Ottawa (2013) Report of the e-Learning Working Group Ottawa ON: The University of Ottawa

van Zundert, M., Sluijsmans, D., van Merriënboer, J. (2010). Effective peer assessment processes: Research findings and future directions. Learning and Instruction, 20, 270-279

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5.5 Political, social and economic drivers of MOOCs

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Figure 5.7 MOOC mania Image: © Park Ridge Underground, 2010

Figure 5.5 MOOC mania
Image: © Park Ridge Underground, 2010

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5.5.1 Why the fuss about MOOCs?

It can be seen from the previous section that the pros and cons of MOOCs are finely balanced. Given though the obvious questions about the value of MOOCs, and the fact that before MOOCs arrived, there had been substantial but quiet progress for over ten years in the use of online learning for undergraduate and graduate programs, you might be wondering why MOOCs have commanded so much media interest, and especially why a large number of government policy makers, economists, and computer scientists have become so ardently supportive of MOOCs, and why there has been such a strong, negative reaction, not only from many university and college instructors, who are right to  be threatened by the implications of MOOCs, but also from many professionals in online learning (see for instance, Hill, 2012; Bates, 2012Daniel, 2012Watters, 2012), who might be expected to be more supportive of MOOCs.

It needs to be recognised that the discourse around MOOCs is not usually based on a cool, rational, evidence-based analysis of the pros and cons of MOOCs, but is more likely to be driven by emotion, self-interest, fear, or ignorance of what education is actually about. Thus it is important to explore the political, social and economic factors that have driven MOOC mania.

5.5.2 Massive, free and Made in America!

This is what I will call the intrinsic reason for MOOC mania. It is not surprising that, since the first MOOC from Stanford professors Sebastian Thrun, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller each attracted over 200,000 sign-ups from around the world, since the courses were free, and since it came from professors at one of the most prestigious private universities in the USA, the American media were all over it. It was big news in its own right, however you look at it.

5.5.3 It’s the Ivy Leagues!

Until MOOCs came along, the major Ivy League universities in the USA, such as Stanford, MIT, Harvard and UC Berkeley, as well as many of the most prestigious universities in Canada, such as the University of Toronto and McGill, and elsewhere, had largely ignored online learning in any form (the exception was MIT, which made much of its teaching material available for free via the OpenCourseWare project.).

However, by 2011, online learning, in the form of for credit undergraduate and graduate courses, was making big inroads at many other, very respectable universities, such as Carnegie Mellon, Penn State, and the University of Maryland in the USA, and also in many of the top tier public universities in Canada and elsewhere, to the extent that almost one in three course enrolments in the USA were now in online courses. Furthermore, at least in Canada, the online courses were often getting good completion rates and matching on-campus courses for quality.

The Ivy League and other highly prestigious universities that had ignored online learning were beginning to look increasingly out of touch by 2011. By launching into MOOCs, these prestigious universities could jump to the head of the queue in terms of technology innovation, while at the same time protecting their selective and highly personal and high cost campus programs from direct contact with online learning. In other words, MOOCs gave these prestigious universities a safe sandbox in which to explore online learning, and the Ivy League universities gave credibility to MOOCs, and, indirectly, online learning as a whole.

5.5.4 It’s disruptive!

For years before 2011, various economists, philosophers and industrial gurus had been predicting that education was the next big area for disruptive change due to the march of new technologies (see for instance Lyotard, 1979; Tapscott (undated); Christensen, 2010).

Online learning in credit courses though was being quietly absorbed into the mainstream of university teaching, through blended learning, without any signs of major disruption, but here with MOOCs was a massive change, providing evidence to support at long last the theories of disruptive innovation in the education sector.

5.5.5 It’s Silicon Valley!

It is no coincidence that the first MOOCs were all developed by entrepreneurial computer scientists. Ng and Koller very quickly went on to create Coursera as a private, commercial company, followed shortly by Thrun, who created Udacity. Anant Agarwal, a computer scientist at MIT, went on to head up edX.

The first MOOCs were very typical of Silicon Valley start-ups: a bright idea (massive, open online courses with cloud-based, relatively simple software to handle the numbers), thrown out into the market to see how it might work, supported by more technology and ideas (in this case, learning analytics, automated marking, peer assessment) to deal with any snags or problems. Building a sustainable business model would come later, when some of the dust had settled.

As a result it is not surprising that almost all the early MOOCs completely ignored any pedagogical theory about best practices in teaching online, or any prior research on factors associated with success or failure in online learning. It is also not surprising as a result that a very low percentage of participants actually successfully complete MOOCs – there’s a lot of catching up still to do, but so far Coursera and to a lesser extent edX have continued to ignore educators and prior research in online learning. They would rather do their own research, even if it means re-inventing the wheel.

5.5.6 It’s the economy, stupid!

Of all the reasons for MOOC mania, Bill Clinton’s famous election slogan resonates the most. It should be remembered that by 2011, the consequences of the disastrous financial collapse of 2008 were working their way through the economy, and particularly were impacting on the finances of state governments in the USA.

The recession meant that states were suddenly desperately short of tax revenues, and were unable to meet the financial demands of state higher education systems. For instance, California’s community college system, the nation’s largest, suffered about $809 million in state funding cuts between 2008-2012, resulting in a shortfall of 500,000 places in its campus-based colleges (Rivera, 2012). Free MOOCs were seen as manna from heaven by the state governor, Jerry Brown (see for instance To, 2014). 

One consequence of rapid cuts to government funding was a sharp spike in tuition fees, bringing the real cost of higher education sharply into focus. Tuition fees in the USA have increased by 7 per cent per annum over the last 10 years, compared with an inflation rate of 4 per cent per annum. Here at last was a possible way to rein in the high cost of higher education.

By 2015 though the economy in the USA is picking up and revenues are flowing back into state coffers, and so the pressure for more radical solutions to the cost of higher education is beginning to ease. It will be interesting to see if MOOC mania continues as the economy grows, although the search for more cost-effective approaches to higher education is not going to disappear.

5.5.7 Don’t panic!

These are all very powerful drivers of MOOC mania, which makes it all the more important to try to be clear and cool headed about the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs. The real test is whether MOOCs can help develop the knowledge and skills that learners need in a knowledge-based society. The answer of course is yes and no.

As a low-cost supplement to formal education, they can be quite valuable, but not as a complete replacement. They can at present teach basic conceptual learning, comprehension and in a narrow range of activities, application of knowledge. They can be useful for building communities of practice, where already well educated people or people with a deep, shared passion for a topic can learn from one another, another form of continuing education.

However, certainly to date, MOOCs have not been able to demonstrate that they can lead to transformative learning, deep intellectual understanding, evaluation of complex alternatives, and evidence-based decision-making, and without greater emphasis on expert-based learner support and more qualitative forms of assessment, they probably never will, at least without substantial increases in their costs.

At the end of the day, there is a choice between throwing more resources into MOOCs and hoping that some of their fundamental flaws can be overcome without too dramatic an increase in costs, or investing in other forms of online learning and educational technology that could lead to more cost-effective learning outcomes in terms of the needs of learners in a digital age.

References

Bates, T. (2012) What’s right and what’s wrong with Coursera-style MOOCs Online Learning and Distance Education Resources, August 5

Christensen, C. (2010) Disrupting Class, Expanded Edition: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns New York: McGraw-Hill

Daniel, J. (2012) Making sense of MOOCs: Musings in a maze of myth, paradox and possibility Seoul: Korean National Open University

Hill, P. (2012) Four Barriers that MOOCs Must Overcome to Build a Sustainable Model e-Literate, July 24

Lyotard, J-J. (1979) La Condition postmoderne: rapport sur le savoir: Paris: Minuit

Rivera, C. (2012) Survey offers dire picture of California’s two-year colleges Los Angeles Times, August 28

Tapscott, D. (undated) The transformation of education dontapscott.com

To, K. (2014) UC Regents announce online course expansion, The Guardian, UC San Diego, undated, but probably February 5

Watters, A. (2012) Top 10 Ed-Tech Trends of 2012: MOOCs Hack Education, December 3

For a more light-hearted look at MOOC mania see:

North Korea Launches Two MOOCs

“What should we do about MOOCs?” – the Board of Governors discusses

NOTE: Both the two blog posts above are satirical: they are fictional!

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5.6 Why MOOCs are only part of the answer

5.6.1 The importance of context and design

I am frequently labelled as a major critic of MOOCs, which is somewhat surprising since I have been a longtime advocate of online learning. In fact I do believe MOOCs are an important development, and under certain circumstances they can be of tremendous value in education.

But as always, context is important. There is not one but many different markets and needs for education. A student leaving high school at eighteen has very different needs and will want to learn in a very different context from a 35 year old employed engineer with a family who needs some management education. Similarly a 65 year old man struggling to cope with his wife’s early onset of Alzheimer’s and desperate for help is in a totally different situation to either the high school student or the engineer. When designing educational programs, it has to be horses for courses. There is no single silver bullet or solution for every one of these various contexts.

Secondly, as with all forms of education, how MOOCs are designed matters a great deal. If they are designed inappropriately, in the sense of not developing the knowledge and skills needed by a particular learner in a particular context, then they have little or no value for that learner. However, designed differently and a MOOC may well meet that learner’s needs.

5.6.2 The potential of cMOOCs

So let me be more specific. cMOOCs have the most potential, because lifelong learning will become increasingly important, and the power of bringing a mix of already well educated and knowledgeable people from around the world to work with other committed and enthusiastic learners on common problems or areas of interest could truly revolutionise not just education, but the world in general.

However, cMOOCs at present are unable to do this, because they lack organisation and do not apply what is already known about how online groups work best. Once we learn these lessons and apply them, though, cMOOCs can be a tremendous tool for tackling some of the great challenges we face in the areas of global health, climate change, civil rights, and other ‘good civil ventures’. The beauty of cMOOCs is that they involve not just the people who have the will and the power to make changes, but every participant has the power to define and solve the problems being tackled. Scenario G that ends this chapter is an example of how cMOOCs could be used for such ‘good civil ventures.’

In Scenario G, the MOOC is not a replacement for formal education, but a rocket that needs formal education as its launch pad. Behind this MOOC are the resources of a very powerful institution, that provides the initial impetus, simple to use software, overall structure, organization and co-ordination within the MOOC, and some essential human resources for supporting the MOOC when running. At the same time, it does not have to be an educational institution. It could be a public health authority, or a broadcasting organization, or an international charity, or a consortium of organisations with a common interest. Also, of course, there is the danger that even cMOOCs could be manipulated by corporate or government  interests.

5.6.3 The limitations of xMOOCs

The real threat of xMOOCs is to the very large face-to-face lecture classes found in many universities at the undergraduate level. MOOCs are a more effective way of replacing such lectures. They are more interactive and permanent so students can go over the materials many times. I have heard MOOC instructors argue that their MOOCs are better than their classroom lectures. They put more care and effort into them.

However, we should question why we are teaching in this way on campus. Content is now freely available anywhere on the Internet – including MOOCs. What is needed is information management: how to identify the knowledge you need, how to evaluate it, how to apply it. xMOOCs do not do that. They pre-select and package the information. My big concern with xMOOCs is their limitation, as currently designed, for developing the higher order intellectual skills needed in a digital world. Unfortunately, xMOOCs are taking the least appropriate design model for developing 21st century skills from on-campus teaching, and moving this inappropriate design model online. Just because the lectures come from elite universities does not necessarily mean that learners will develop high level intellectual skills, even though the content is of the highest quality. More importantly, with MOOCs, relatively few students succeed, in terms of assessment, and those that do are tested mainly on comprehension and limited application of knowledge.

We can and have done much better in terms of skills for a digital age with other pedagogical approaches on campus, such as problem- or inquiry-based learning, and with online learning using more constructivist approaches in online credit courses, such as online collaborative learning, but these alternative methods to lectures do not scale so easily. The interaction between an expert and a novice still remains critical for developing deep understanding, transformative learning resulting in the learner seeing the world differently, and for developing high levels of evidence-based critical thinking, evaluation of complex alternatives, and high level decision-making. Computer technology to date is extremely poor at enabling this kind of learning to develop. This is why credit-based classroom and online learning still aim to have a relatively low instructor:student ratio and still need to focus a great deal on interaction between instructor and students.

However xMOOCs are valuable as a form of continuing education, or as a source of open educational materials that can be part of a broader educational offering. They can be a valuable supplement to campus-based education. They are not a replacement though for either conventional education or the current design of online credit programs. As a form of continuing education, low completion rates and the lack of formal credit is not of great significance. However, completion rates and quality assessment DO matter if MOOCs are being seen as a substitute or a replacement for formal education, even classroom lectures.

5.6.4 Undermining the public higher education system?

The real danger is that MOOCs may undermine what is admittedly an expensive public higher education system. If elite universities can deliver MOOCs for free, why do we need low quality and high cost state universities? The risk is a sharply divided two tier system, with a relatively small number of elite universities catering to the rich and privileged, and developing the knowledge and skills that will provide rich rewards, and the masses being fed MOOC-delivered courses, with state universities providing minimal and low cost learner support for such courses. This would be both a social and economic disaster, because it would fail to produce enough learners with the high-level skills that are going to be needed for good jobs in the the coming years – unless you believe that automation will remove all decently paid jobs except for a tiny elite (bring on the Hunger Games).

Content accounts for less than 15 per cent of the total cost over five years for credit-based online programs; the main costs required to ensure high quality outcomes and high rates of completion are spent on learner support, providing the learning that matters most. The kind of MOOCs being promoted by politicians and the media fail spectacularly to do this. We do need to be careful that the open education movement in general, and MOOCs in particular, are not used as a stick by those in the United States and elsewhere who are deliberately trying to undermine public education for ideological and commercial reasons. Open content, OERs and MOOCs do not automatically lead to open access to high quality credentials for everyone. In the end, a well-funded public higher education system remains the best way to assure access to higher education for the majority of the population.

Having said that, there is enormous scope for improvements within that system. MOOCs, open education and new media offer promising ways to bring about some much needed improvements. Scenario G (next) is one possible way in which MOOCs could bring about much needed social change. However, MOOCs must build on what we already know from the use of credit based online learning, from prior experience in open and distance learning, and designing courses and programs in a variety of ways appropriate to the wide range of learning needs. MOOCs can be one important part of that environment, but not a replacement for other forms of educational provision that meet different needs.

For a my personal conclusion to this chapter, please click on the podcast below.

For a my personal conclusion to this chapter, please click on the podcast below.

Activity 5: Strategising about MOOCs

You are the Vice President Academic of a middle sized research university, which is under financial pressure. The President has been asked by the Board to come forward with a strategy for innovation in teaching and learning, with the university facing a cut of approximately 5 per cent in next year’s operating budget.

One powerful Board member is pushing really hard for the university to develop MOOCs as a solution to the economic pressure..

The President has asked for a briefing paper from you for the Board on what the university’s strategy should be regarding MOOCs, and how they would fit into the overall strategy for teaching and learning. How would you respond?

If you want to share your response, please use the comment box below.

 

Key Takeaways

1. MOOCs are forcing every higher education institution to think carefully both about its strategy for online teaching and its approach to open education.

2. MOOCs are not the only form of online learning nor of open educational resources. It is important to look at the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs within the overall context of online learning and open-ness.

3. There are considerable differences in the design of MOOCs, reflecting different purposes and philosophies.

4. There are currently major structural limitations in MOOCs for developing deep or transformative learning, or for developing the high level knowledge and skills needed in a digital age.

5. MOOCs are at still a relatively early stage of maturity. As their strengths and weaknesses become clearer, and as experience in improving their design grows, they are likely to occupy a significant niche within the higher education learning environment

6. MOOCs could well replace some forms of traditional teaching (such as large lecture classes). However, MOOCs are more likely to remain an important supplement or alternative to other conventional education methods. They are not on their own a solution to the high cost of higher education, although MOOCs are and will continue to be an important factor in forcing change.

7. Perhaps the greatest value of MOOCs in the future will be for providing a means for tackling large global problems through community action.

A webinar on Teaching with Technology: Best Practices and Options

In this webinar I discuss with participants from around the world:

  • Which delivery models have been found to be most effective for teaching with technology? 
  • What are the characteristics of an effective teaching model for the digital age? 
  • What advantages are offered by new technologies for teaching and learning?

A recording of a webinar on this topic, including discussion and participants’ comments can be accessed by clicking here.

The webinar features a 25-minute presentation followed by a 20-minute question and answer session.

The webinar was organised by Contact North|Contact Nord, Ontario, and took place on 29 September, 2015.

Next

This completes the discussion about different design models for teaching and learning. The next four chapters discuss more detailed decisions around media selection and modes of delivery. But first, Scenario G, which envisions what MOOCs could look like in the future.

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Scenario G: How to cope with being old

Beth Carter Good evening, everyone. This is Beth Carter, for BBC Radio. The Open University yesterday announced that it had signed up half a million participants in what they claim is now the world’s largest online course. The OU’s MOOC is about something many of you will be familiar with – getting old, and the many challenges and opportunities that come with that.

In the studio with me is Jane Dyson, who is the course co-ordinator. Jane: at 55, and coming from a social services background, you seem to be the least likely person to be running such a massive, technology-based program. How did that happen?

Jane Dyson: (laughing). Well, it’s all my own fault! I’ve been an OU graduate for many years, and they have an online alumni forum, where they ask former students for ideas about what are the most pressing issues we see in the world, and what the OU could do to address some of these issues. I do a lot of work advising elderly people, their families and even employers these days about the many different kinds of issues that arise with aging.

The OU has many courses and online materials that deal with lots of these issues, but you have to sign up for a degree or diploma or you can just get the materials online but without any support. Also, there are just too many different issues for even the OU to cover in its formal courses. So I suggested that they should do a MOOC where all the different people involved – health care workers, social workers, care givers, family, and most important of all, old people themselves – could talk about their problems and challenges, and what services are available, what people can do for themselves and so on.

Beth Carter. So what happened then?

Jane Dyson. The OU asked me to come in to my local OU regional office, and I met with several people from the OU, and after that meeting, they asked me if I would be willing to co-ordinate such a course.

Beth Carter. Now tell me more about MOOCs. I remember they were big about 10 years ago, then they went all quiet, and we haven’t heard much about them since. So what’s made this MOOC so popular?

Jane Dyson. The problem with the earlier MOOCs was that participants just got lost in them. Many of the MOOCs were just lectures and then it was up to the participants to help each other out. There was no organization.

What the OU did was to ask those who signed up for the ‘Aging’ MOOC to fill in a very simple online questionnaire that asked for just a few details such as where they lived, whether they were professionals in aging, or family, or elderly people themselves, and then used that data to automatically allocate participants into groups, so that there was a mix of participants in each group.

Beth Carter. Why was that important?

Jane Dyson. Well, at the OU, the Institute of Educational Technology had done some research on the early MOOCs, and had identified this problem of how to get groups to work in large online classes. They worked with another research group in the OU called the KMI, who developed the software we are using that allocates participants into groups so that there is enough expertise and support in each group to help with the issues raised in the group discussions.

Beth Carter. And how does that work?

Jane Dyson. You wouldn’t believe the range of issues or problems that come up. For instance, we have family members desperate because their father or mother is suffering from dementia, but don’t know what to do to help them. We have some seniors who feel that their family are trying to force them out of their homes, while they feel they are quite capable of looking after themselves. We have social workers who feel that they are liable to get fired or even prosecuted because they can’t handle their case load. And we have some participants who are just old and lonely, and want someone to talk to.

When we put all these participants into an online discussion forum, the results are amazing. What’s really critical is getting the right mix of people in the same group, with enough expertise to provide help, and having someone in that group who knows how to moderate the discussions. We have a huge list of services available not just in Britain but in many of the other countries from which we have students. So the course is a kind of self-help, support service within a broader community of practice.

Beth Carter. Let’s talk about the international students. As I understand it, almost half the participants are from outside the U.K..

Jane Dyson. That’s right. The problems of an aging population aren’t just British. The OU is part of a very powerful network of open universities around the world. When we were talking about starting this course, the OU went to several other open universities and asked them if they were interested in participating. So we have participants from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, Japan, Canada, the USA, and many other countries, who participate in the English language version.

In Spain, though, we have a ‘mirror’ site, with materials in Spanish, Basque and Catalan, and the discussion forums are managed by the Open University of Catalonia. That brings in not only participants from Spain, but also from Latin America. We are about to develop a similar agreement with the Open University of China, which we expect will bring in another half million participants. What’s really neat is that because we have so many participants, there are always enough dual language participants to move stuff from one language discussion forum to another.

Beth Carter. So what’s next?

Jane Dyson. One of the big issues that keeps coming up in the Aging course is the issue of mental health. This of course is not just about elderly people. The Aging course has already resulted in petitions to parliament about better services for isolated elderly people, and I think we will see some positive developments on this front over the next couple of years. So I think the OU is thinking about a similar MOOC on mental health, and I’d really like to be part of that initiative.

Beth Carter. Well, thank you, Jane. Next week we will be discussing online gambling, with an addiction counsellor.

This was developed as a ‘what if?’ scenario for the U.K. Open University as part of its planning for teaching and learning in 2014.

VI

Chapter 6: Understanding technology in education

 

Purpose of this chapter

When you have completed this chapter you should:

  • be able to understand the difference between media and technologies in educational contexts;
  • be able to place different media and technologies, including new and emerging technologies, within an analytical framework.
For a my personal introduction to the next few chapters, please click on the podcast below.

For a my personal introduction to the next few chapters, please click on the podcast below.

What is covered in this chapter

Understanding the nature and role of media and technologies in education, and being able to use media and technologies appropriately, are critical to teaching well in a digital age. This is the first of three chapters that discuss media choice and use.

In this chapter, which focuses on the foundations of educational technology, you will cover the following topics

Also in this chapter you will find the following activities:

  • Activity 6.1 How do you currently make decisions about what technology to use for teaching?
  • Activity 6.2 What does history tell us?
  • Activity 6.3 Media or technology?
  • Activity 6.4 Broadcast or communicative?
  • Activity 6.5 Time and space dimensions of technology
  • Activity 6.6 How rich is your medium?
  • Activity 6.7 Analysing your current use of technology

Key Takeaways

  1. Technologies are merely tools that can be used in a variety of ways. What matters more is how technologies are applied. The same technology can be applied in different ways, even or especially in education. So in judging the value of a technology, we need to look more closely at the ways in which it is being or could be used. In essence this means focusing more on media – which represent the more holistic use of technologies – than on individual tools or technologies themselves, while still recognising that technology is an essential component of almost all media.
  2. By focusing on media rather than technologies, we can then include face-to-face teaching as a medium, enabling comparisons with more technology-based media to be made along a number of dimensions or characteristics.
  3. Recognising that in education media are usually used in combination, the six key building blocks of media are:
    1. face-to-face teaching
    2. text
    3. (still) graphics
    4. audio (including speech)
    5. video
    6. computing (including animation, simulations and virtual reality).
  4. Media differ in terms of their formats, symbols systems, and cultural values. These unique features are increasingly referred to as the affordances of media or technology. Thus different media can be used to assist learners to learn in different ways and achieve different outcomes, thus also individualising learning more.
  5. There are many dimensions along which some technologies are similar and others are different. By focusing on these dimensions, we have a basis for analysing new media and technologies, to see where they ‘fit’ within the existing landscape, and to evaluate their potential benefits or limitations for teaching and learning.
  6. There are probably other characteristics or dimensions of educational media that might also be identified, but three key characteristics or dimensions are particularly important:
    1. broadcast vs communicative
    2. synchronous (live) vs asynchronous (recorded)
    3. single vs rich media
  7. However, the identification of where a particular medium fits along any specific characteristic or dimension will depend in most cases on how that medium is designed.  At the same time, there is usually a limit to how far a technology can be forced along one of these dimensions; there is likely to be a single, ‘natural’ position on each dimension, subject to good design, in terms of exploiting the educational affordances of the medium.
  8. These characteristics or dimensions of media then need to be evaluated against the learning goals and outcomes desired, while recognising that a new educational medium or application might enable goals to be achieved that had not been previously considered possible.
  9. Over time, media have tended to become more communicative, asynchronous, and ‘rich’, thus offering teachers and learners more powerful tools for teaching and learning.
  10. The Internet is an extremely powerful medium because through a combination of tools and media it can encompass all the characteristics and dimensions of educational media.

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6.1 Choosing technologies for teaching and learning: the challenge

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Image: Tony Bates, 2014

Figure 6.1 How many technologies in this photo?

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Even an electronics engineer will be hard pressed to identify all the technologies in the photo of a not untypical home entertainment system in a North American home in 2014. The answer will depend on what you mean by technology:

The answer of course is all these, plus the systems that enable everything to be integrated. Indeed, the technologies represented in just this one photograph are too many to list. In a digital age we are immersed in technology. Education, although often a laggard in technology adoption, is nevertheless no exception today. Yet learning is also a fundamental human activity that can function quite well (some would say better) without any technological intervention. So in an age immersed in technology, what is its role in education? What are the strengths (or affordances) and what are the limitations of technology in education? When should we use technology, and which technologies should we use for what purposes?

The aim of the next chapters is to provide some frameworks or models for decision-making that are both soundly based on theory and research and are also pragmatic within the context of education.

This will not be an easy exercise. There are deep philosophical, technical and pragmatic challenges in trying to provide a model or set of models flexible but practical enough to handle the huge range of factors involved. For instance, theories and beliefs about education will influence strongly the choice and use of different technologies. On the technical side, it is becoming increasingly difficult to classify or categorize technologies, not just because they are changing so fast, but also because technologies have many different qualities and affordances that change according to the contexts in which they are used. On the pragmatic side, it would be a mistake to focus solely on the educational characteristics of technologies. There are social, organizational, cost and accessibility issues also to be considered. The selection and use of technologies for teaching and learning is driven, once again, as much by context and values and beliefs as by hard scientific evidence or rigorous theory. So there will not be one ‘best’ framework or model. On the other hand, given the rapidly escalating range of technologies, educators are open to technological determinism (MOOCs, anyone?) or the total rejection of technology for teaching, unless there are some models to guide their selection and use.

In fact, there are still some fundamental questions to be answered regarding technology for teaching, including:

These are questions that will be tackled later in the book, but if we consider a teacher facing a group of students and a curriculum to teach, or a learner seeking to develop their own learning, they need practical guidance now when they consider whether or not to use one technology or another. In this and the next chapter I will provide some models or frameworks that will enable such questions to be answered effectively and pragmatically so that the learning experience is optimized.

In the meantime let’s start with what your views are at the moment about choosing technology for teaching and learning.

Activity 6.1 How do you currently make decisions about what technology to use for teaching?

1. How do you decide at the moment about what technologies to use for teaching? Use what’s in the room? Ask the IT support people? Do you have a theory or set of principles for making such a decision?

2. Is this an easy question to answer? Why (not)?

3. How many technologies can you see in Figure 6.1? List them

Please share your answers in the comment box below. For my answer to question 3, see Feedback on Activity 6.1

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6.2 A short history of educational technology

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Figure 6.2. Charlton Heston as Moses. Are the tablets of stone an educational technology? (See Selwood, 2014, for a discussion of the possible language of the Ten Commandments) Image: Allstar/Cinetext/Paramount

Figure 6.2.1 Charlton Heston as Moses. Are the tablets of stone an educational technology? (See Selwood, 2014, for a discussion of the possible language of the Ten Commandments)
Image: Allstar/Cinetext/Paramount

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Arguments about the role of technology in education go back at least 2,500 years.  To understand better the role and influence of technology on teaching, we need a little history, because as always there are lessons to be learned from history. Paul Saettler’s ‘The Evolution of American Educational Technology‘ (1990) is one of the most extensive historical accounts, but only goes up to 1989. A lot has happened since then. Teemu Leinonen also has a good blog post on the more recent history (for a more detailed account see Leitonen, 2010). See also: The Evolution of Learning Technologies.

What I’m giving you here is the postage stamp version of ed tech history, and a personal one at that.

6.2.1 Oral communication

One of the earliest means of formal teaching was oral – though human speech – although over time, technology has been increasingly used to facilitate or ‘back-up’ oral communication. In ancient times, stories, folklore, histories and news were transmitted and maintained through oral communication, making accurate memorization a critical skill, and the oral tradition is still the case in many aboriginal cultures. For the ancient Greeks, oratory and speech were the means by which people learned and passed on learning. Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey were recitative poems, intended for public performance. To be learned, they had to be memorized by listening, not by reading, and transmitted by recitation, not by writing.

Nevertheless, by the fifth century B.C, written documents existed in considerable numbers in ancient Greece. If we believe Socrates, education has been on a downward spiral ever since. According to Plato, Socrates caught one of his students (Phaedrus) pretending to recite a speech from memory that in fact he had learned from a written version. Socrates then told Phaedrus the story of how the god Theuth offered the King of Egypt the gift of writing, which would be a ‘recipe for both memory and wisdom’. The king was not impressed. According to the king,

 it [writing] will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they will rely on what is written, creating memory not from within themselves, but by means of external symbols. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminding. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them many things without teaching them anything, you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they will know nothing. And as men filled not with wisdom but the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellow men.

Phaedrus, 274c-275, translation adapted from Manguel, 1996

I can just hear some of my former colleagues saying the same thing about social media.

Slate boards were in use in India in the 12th century AD, and blackboards/chalkboards became used in schools around the turn of the 18th century. At the end of World War Two the U.S. Army started using overhead projectors for training, and their use became common for lecturing, until being largely replaced by electronic projectors and presentational software such as Powerpoint around 1990. This may be the place to point out that most technologies used in education were not developed specifically for education but for other purposes (mainly for the military or business.)

Although the telephone dates from the late 1870s, the standard telephone system never became a major educational tool, not even in distance education, because of the high cost of analogue telephone calls for multiple users, although audio-conferencing has been used to supplement other media since the 1970s.  Video-conferencing using dedicated cable systems and dedicated conferencing rooms have been in use since the 1980s. The development of video compression technology and relatively low cost video servers in the early 2000s led to the introduction of lecture capture systems for recording and streaming classroom lectures in 2008. Webinars now are used largely for delivering lectures over the Internet.

None of these technologies though changes the oral basis of communication for teaching.

6.2.2 Written communication

The role of text or writing in education also has a long history. According to the Bible, Moses used chiseled stone to convey the ten commandments in a form of writing, probably around the 7th century BC. Even though Socrates is reported to have railed against the use of writing, written forms of communication make analytic, lengthy chains of reasoning and argument much more accessible, reproducible without distortion, and thus more open to analysis and critique than the transient nature of speech. The invention of the printing press in Europe in the 15th century was a truly disruptive technology, making written knowledge much more freely available, very much in the same way as the Internet has done today. As a result of the explosion of written documents resulting from the mechanization of printing, many more people in government and business were required to become literate and analytical, which led to a rapid expansion of formal education in Europe. There were many reasons for the development of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and the triumph of reason and science over superstition and beliefs in Europe, but the technology of printing was a key agent of change.

Improvements in transport infrastructure in the 19th century, and in particular the creation of a cheap and reliable postal system in the 1840s, led to the development of the first formal correspondence education, with the University of London offering an external degree program by correspondence from 1858. This first formal distance degree program still exists today in the form of the University of London International Program. In the 1970s, the Open University transformed the use of print for teaching through specially designed, highly illustrated printed course units that integrated learning activities with the print medium, based on advanced instructional design.

With the development of web-based learning management systems in the mid-1990s, textual communication, although digitized, became, at least for a brief time, the main communication medium for Internet-based learning, although lecture capture is now changing that.

6.2.3 Broadcasting and video

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BBC television studio and radio transmitter, Alexandra Palace, London Image: © Copyright Oxyman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Figure 6.2.3 BBC television studio and radio transmitter, Alexandra Palace, London
Image: © Copyright Oxyman and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence

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The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) began broadcasting educational radio programs for schools in the 1920s. The first adult education radio broadcast from the BBC in 1924 was a talk on Insects in Relation to Man, and in the same year, J.C. Stobart, the new Director of Education at the BBC, mused about ‘a broadcasting university’ in the journal Radio Times (Robinson, 1982). Television was first used in education in the 1960s, for schools and for general adult education (one of the six purposes in the current BBC’s Royal Charter is still ‘promoting education and learning’).

In 1969, the British government established the Open University (OU), which worked in partnership with the BBC to develop university programs open to all, using a combination originally of printed materials specially designed by OU staff, and television and radio programs made by the BBC but integrated with the courses. Although the radio programs involved mainly oral communication, the television programs did not use lectures as such, but focused more on the common formats of general television, such as documentaries, demonstration of processes, and cases/case studies (see Bates, 1985). In other words, the BBC focused on the unique ‘affordances’ of television, a topic that will be discussed in much more detail later. Over time, as new technologies such as audio- and video-cassettes were introduced, live broadcasting, especially radio, was cut back for OU programs, although there are still some general educational channels broadcasting around the world (e.g. TVOntario in Canada; PBS, the History Channel, and the Discovery Channel in the USA).

The use of television for education quickly spread around the world, being seen in the 1970s by some, particularly in international agencies such as the World Bank and UNESCO, as a panacea for education in developing countries, the hopes for which quickly faded when the realities of lack of electricity, cost, security of publicly available equipment, climate, resistance from local  teachers, and local language and cultural issues became apparent (see, for instance, Jamison and Klees, 1973). Satellite broadcasting started to become available in the 1980s, and similar hopes were expressed of delivering ‘university lectures from the world’s leading universities to the world’s starving masses’, but these hopes too quickly faded for similar reasons. However, India, which had launched its own satellite, INSAT, in 1983, used it initially for delivering locally produced educational television programs throughout the country, in several indigenous languages, using Indian-designed receivers and television sets in local community centres as well as schools (Bates, 1985). India is still using satellites for tele-education into the poorest parts of the country at the time of writing (2015).

In the 1990s the cost of creating and distributing video dropped dramatically due to digital compression and high-speed Internet access.  This reduction in the costs of recording and distributing video also led to the development of lecture capture systems. The technology allows students to view or review lectures at any time and place with an Internet connection. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) started making its recorded lectures available to the public, free of charge, via its OpenCourseWare project, in 2002.  YouTube started in 2005 and was bought by Google in 2006. YouTube is increasingly being used for short educational clips that can be downloaded and integrated into online courses. The Khan Academy started using YouTube in 2006 for recorded voice-over lectures using a digital blackboard for equations and illustrations. Apple Inc. in 2007 created iTunesU to became a portal or a site where videos and other digital materials on university teaching could be collected and downloaded free of charge by end users.

Until lecture capture arrived, learning management systems had integrated basic educational design features, but this required instructors to redesign their classroom-based teaching to fit the LMS environment. Lecture capture on the other hand required no changes to the standard lecture model, and in a sense reverted back to primarily oral communication supported by Powerpoint or even writing on a chalkboard. Thus oral communication remains as strong today in education as ever, but has been incorporated into or accommodated by new technologies.

6.2.4 Computer technologies

6.2.4.1 Computer-based learning

In essence the development of programmed learning aims to computerize teaching, by structuring information, testing learners’ knowledge, and providing immediate feedback to learners, without human intervention other than in the design of the hardware and software and the selection and loading of content and assessment questions. B.F. Skinner started experimenting with teaching machines that made use of programmed learning in 1954, based on the theory of behaviourism (see Chapter 2, Section 3). Skinner’s teaching machines were one of the first forms of computer-based learning. There has been a recent revival of programmed learning approaches as a result of MOOCs, since machine based testing scales much more easily than human-based assessment.

PLATO was a generalized computer assisted instruction system originally developed at the University of Illinois, and, by the late 1970s, comprised several thousand terminals worldwide on nearly a dozen different networked mainframe computers. PLATO was a highly successful system, lasting almost 40 years, and incorporated key on-line concepts: forums, message boards, online testing, e-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, remote screen sharing, and multi-player games.

Attempts to replicate the teaching process through artificial intelligence (AI) began in the mid-1980s, with a focus initially on teaching arithmetic. Despite large investments of research in AI for teaching over the last 30 years, the results generally have been disappointing. It has proved difficult for machines to cope with the extraordinary variety of ways in which students learn (or fail to learn.) Recent developments in cognitive science and neuroscience are being watched closely but at the time of writing the gap is still great between the basic science, and analysing or predicting specific learning behaviours from the science.

More recently we have seen the development of adaptive learning, which analyses learners’ responses then re-directs them to the most appropriate content area, based on their performance. Learning analytics, which also collects data about learner activities and relates them to other data, such as student performance, is a related development. These developments will be discussed in further detail in Section 6.7.

6.2.4.2 Computer networking

Arpanet in the U.S.A was the first network to use the Internet protocol in 1982. In the late 1970s, Murray Turoff and Roxanne Hiltz at the New Jersey Institute of Technology were experimenting with blended learning, using NJIT’s internal computer network. They combined classroom teaching with online discussion forums, and termed this ‘computer-mediated communication’ or CMC (Hiltz and Turoff, 1978). At the University of Guelph in Canada, an off-the-shelf software system called CoSy was developed in the 1980s that allowed for online threaded group discussion forums, a predecessor to today’s forums contained in learning management systems. In 1988, the Open University in the United Kingdom offered a course, DT200, that as well as the OU’s traditional media of printed texts, television programs and audio-cassettes, also included an online discussion component using CoSy. Since this course had 1,200 registered students, it was one of the earliest ‘mass’ open online courses. We see then the emerging division between the use of computers for automated or programmed learning, and the use of computer networks to enable students and instructors to communicate with each other.

The Word Wide Web was formally launched in 1991. The World Wide Web is basically an application running on the Internet that enables ‘end-users’ to create and link documents, videos or other digital media, without the need for the end-user to transcribe everything into some form of computer code. The first web browser, Mosaic, was made available in 1993. Before the Web, it required lengthy and time-consuming methods to load text, and to find material on the Internet. Several Internet search engines have been developed since 1993, with Google, created in 1999, emerging as one of the primary search engines.

6.2.4.3 Online learning environments

In 1995, the Web enabled the development of the first learning management systems (LMSs), such as WebCT (which later became Blackboard). LMSs provide an online teaching environment, where content can be loaded and organized, as well as providing ‘spaces’ for learning objectives, student activities, assignment questions, and discussion forums. The first fully online courses (for credit) started to appear in 1995, some using LMSs, others just loading text as PDFs or slides. The materials were mainly text and graphics. LMSs became the main means by which online learning was offered until lecture capture systems arrived around 2008.

By 2008, George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier in Canada were using web technology to create the first ‘connectivist’ Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), a community of practice that linked webinar presentations and/or blog posts by experts to participants’ blogs and tweets, with just over 2,000 enrollments. The courses were open to anyone and had no formal assessment. In 2012, two Stanford University professors launched a lecture-capture based MOOC on artificial intelligence, attracting more than 100,000 students, and since then MOOCs have expanded rapidly around the world.

6.2.5 Social media

Social media are really a sub-category of computer technology, but their development deserves a section of its own in the history of educational technology. Social media cover a wide range of different technologies, including blogs, wikis, You Tube videos, mobile devices such as phones and tablets, Twitter, Skype and Facebook. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein (2010) define social media as

a group of Internet-based applications that …allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content, based on interactions among people in which they create, share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.

Social media are strongly associated with young people and ‘millenials’ – in other words, many of the students in post-secondary education. At the time of writing social media are only just being integrated into formal education, and to date their main educational value has been in non-formal education, such as fostering online communities of practice, or around the edges of classroom teaching, such as ‘tweets’ during lectures or rating of instructors. It will be argued though in Chapters 8, 9 and 10 that they have much greater potential for learning.

6.2.6 A paradigm shift

It can be seen that education has adopted and adapted technology over a long period of time. There are some useful lessons to be learned from past developments in the use of technology for education, in particular that many claims made for a newly emerging technology are likely to be neither true nor new. Also new technology rarely completely replaces an older technology. Usually the old technology remains, operating within a more specialised ‘niche’, such as radio, or integrated as part of a richer technology environment, such as video in the Internet.

However, what distinguishes the digital age from all previous ages is the rapid pace of technology development and our immersion in technology-based activities in our daily lives. Thus it is fair to describe the impact of the Internet on education as a paradigm shift, at least in terms of educational technology. We are still in the process of absorbing and applying the implications. The next section attempts to pin down more closely the educational significance of different media and technologies.

Activity 6.2 What does history tell us?

1. What constitutes an educational technology? How would you classify a recorded lecture from MIT that is accessed as an open educational resource? When is a technology educational and not just a technology?

2. An early version of the Internet (Arpanet) existed long before 1990, but the combination of Internet protocols and the development of html and the World Wide Web were clearly a turning point in both telecommunications and education (at least for me). What then makes the Internet/the Web a paradigm shift? Or are they just an evolution, an orderly next step in the development of technology?

3. Is writing a technology? Is a lecture a technology? Does it matter to decide this?

4. The more sharp eyed or analytical of you may be asking questions about the categorization or definition of some of the technologies listed above (quite apart from the issue of how to deal with people as a means of communication). For instance computer-mediated communication (CMC) existed before the Internet (from 1978 in fact), but isn’t it an Internet technology? (It is now, but wasn’t then.) How do social media differ from CMC? Does it make sense to distinguish television technologies such as broadcast, cable, satellite, DVDs or video-conferencing, and is this relevant any more? If so, what distinguishes them and what do they have in common from an educational perspective?

These are some of the issues that will become clearer in the following sections.

 References

Bates, A. (1985) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation London: Constables

Hiltz, R. and Turoff, M. (1978) The Network Nation: Human Communication via Computer Reading MA: Addison-Wesley

Jamison, D. and Klees, S. (1973) The Cost of Instructional Radio and Television for Developing Countries Stanford CA: Stanford University Institute for Communication Research

Kaplan, A. and Haenlein, M. (2010), Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media, Business Horizons, Vol.  53, No. 1, pp. 59-68

Leitonen, T. (2010) Designing Learning Tools: Methodological Insights Aalto, Finland: Aalto University School of Art and Design

Manguel, A. (1996) A History of Reading London: Harper Collins

Robinson, J. (1982) Broadcasting Over the Air London: BBC

Saettler, P. (1990) The Evolution of American Educational Technology Englewood CO: Libraries Unlimited

Selwood, D. (2014) What does the Rosetta Stone tell us about the Bible? Did Moses read hieroglyphs? The Telegraph, July 15

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6.3 Media or technology?

6.3.1. Defining media and technology

Philosophers and scientists have argued about the nature of media and technologies over a very long period. The distinction is challenging because in everyday language use, we tend to use these two terms interchangeably. For instance, television is often referred to as both a medium and a technology. Is the Internet a medium or a technology? And does it matter?

I will argue that there are differences, and it does matter to distinguish between media and technology, especially if we are looking for guidelines on when and how to use them. There is a danger in looking too much at the raw technology, and not enough at the personal, social and cultural contexts in which we use technology, particularly in education. The terms ‘media’ and ‘technology’ represent different ways altogether of thinking about the choice and use of technology in teaching and learning.

6.3.1.1 Technology

There are many definitions of technology (see Wikipedia for a good discussion of this). Essentially definitions of technology range from the basic notion of tools, to systems which employ or exploit technologies. Thus

In terms of educational technology we have to consider a broad definition of technology. The technology of the Internet involves more than just a collection of tools, but a system that combines computers, telecommunications, software and rules and procedures or protocols. However, I baulk at the very broad definition of the ‘current state of humanity’s knowledge‘. Once a definition begins to encompass many different aspects of life it becomes unwieldy and ambiguous.

I tend to think of technology in education as things or tools used to support teaching and learning. Thus computers, software programs such as a learning management system, or a transmission or communications network, are all technologies. A printed book is a technology. Technology often includes a combination of tools with particular technical links that enable them to work as a technology system, such as the telephone network or the Internet.

However, for me, technologies or even technological systems do not of themselves communicate or create meaning. They just sit there until commanded to do something or until they are activated or until a person starts to interact with the technology. At this point, we start to move into media.

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Figure 6.3.1.1 Don't just sit there - DO something! Image: © Alex Dawson, Flickr, 2006

Figure 6.3.1.1 Don’t just sit there – DO something!
Image: © Alex Dawson, Flickr, 2006

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6.3.1.2 Media

Media (plural of medium) is another word that has many definitions and I will argue that it has two distinct meanings relevant for teaching and learning, both of which are different from definitions of technology.

The word ‘medium’ comes from the Latin, meaning in the middle (a median) and also that which intermediates or interprets. Media require an active act of creation of content and/or communication, and someone who receives and understands the communication, as well as the technologies that carry the medium.

Media linked to senses and ‘meaning’.

We use our senses, such as sound and sight, to interpret media. In this sense, we can consider text, graphics, audio and video as media ‘channels’, in that they intermediate ideas and images that convey meaning. Every interaction we have with media, in this sense, is an interpretation of reality, and again usually involves some form of human intervention, such as writing (for text), drawing or design for graphics, talking, scripting or recording for audio and video. Note that there are two types of intervention in media: by the ‘creator’ who constructs information, and by the ‘receiver’, who must also interpret it.

Media of course depend on technology, but technology is only one element of media. Thus we can think of the Internet as merely a technological system, or as a medium that contains unique formats and symbol systems that help convey meaning and knowledge. These formats, symbol systems and unique characteristics (e.g. the 140 character limit in Twitter) are deliberately created and need to be interpreted by both creators and end users. Furthermore, at least with the Internet, people can be at the same time both creators and interpreters of knowledge.

Computing can also be considered a medium in this context. I use the term computing, not computers, since although computing uses computers, computing involves some kind of intervention, construction and interpretation. Computing as a medium would include animations, online social networking, using a search engine, or designing and using simulations. Thus Google uses a search engine as its primary technology, but I classify Google as a medium, since it needs content and content providers, and an end user who defines the parameters of the search, in addition to the technology of computer algorithms to assist the search. Thus the creation, communication and interpretation of meaning are added features that turn a technology into a medium.

Thus in terms of representing knowledge we can think of the following media for educational purposes:

Within each of these media, there are sub-systems, such as

Furthermore, within these sub-systems there are ways of influencing communication through the use of unique symbol systems, such as story lines and use of characters in novels, composition in photography, voice modulation to create effects in audio, cutting and editing in film and television, and the design of user interfaces or web pages in computing. The study of the relationship between these different symbol systems and the interpretation of meaning is a whole field of study in itself, called semiotics.

In education we could think of classroom teaching as a medium. Technology or tools are used (e.g. chalk and blackboards, or Powerpoint and a projector) but the key component is the intervention of the teacher and the interaction with the learners in real time and in a fixed time and place. We can also then think of online teaching as a different medium, with computers, the Internet (in the sense of the communication network) and a learning management system as core technologies, but it is the interaction between teachers, learners and online resources within the unique context of the Internet that are the essential component of online learning.

From an educational perspective, it is important to understand that media are not neutral or ‘objective’ in how they convey knowledge. They can be designed or used in such a way as to influence (for good or bad) the interpretation of meaning and hence our understanding. Some knowledge therefore of how media work is essential for teaching in a digital age. In particular we need to know how best to design and apply media (rather than technology) to facilitate learning.

Over time, media have become more complex, with newer media (e.g. television) incorporating some of the components of earlier media (e.g. audio) as well as adding another medium (video). Digital media and the Internet increasingly are incorporating and integrating all previous media, such as text, audio, and video, and adding new media components, such as animation, simulation, and interactivity. When digital media incorporate many of these components they become ‘rich media’. Thus one major advantage of the Internet is that it encompasses all the representational media of text, graphics, audio, video and computing.

Media as organisations

The second meaning of media is broader and refers to the industries or significant areas of human activity that are organized around particular technologies, for instance film and movies, television, publishing, and the Internet. Within these different media are particular ways of representing, organizing and communicating knowledge.

Thus for instance within television there are different formats, such as news, documentaries, game shows, action programs, while in publishing there are novels, newspapers, comics,  biographies, and so on. Sometimes the formats overlap but even then there are symbol systems within a medium that distinguish it from other media. For instance in movies there are cuts, fades, close-ups, and other techniques that are markedly different from those in other media. All these features of media bring with them their own conventions and assist or change the way meaning is extracted or interpreted.

Lastly, there is a strong cultural context to media organisations. For instance, Schramm (1972) found that broadcasters often have a different set of professional criteria and ways of assessing ‘quality’ in an educational broadcast from those of educators (which made my job of evaluating the programs the BBC made for the Open University very interesting). Today, this professional ‘divide’ can be seen between the differences between computer scientists and educators in terms of values and beliefs with regard to the use of technology for teaching. At its crudest, it comes down to issues of control: who is in charge of using technology for teaching? Who makes the decisions about the design of a MOOC or the use of an animation?

6.3.2 The affordances of media

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Figure 6.3.2 Graphs can represent, in a different way, the same concepts as written descriptions or formulae. Understanding the same thing in different ways generally leads to deeper understanding. Image: © Open University 2013

Figure 6.3.2 Graphs can represent, in a different way, the same concepts as written descriptions or formulae. Understanding the same thing in different ways generally leads to deeper understanding.
Image: © Open University 2013

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Different media have different educational effects or affordances. If you just transfer the same teaching to a different medium, you fail to exploit the unique characteristics of that medium. Put more positively, you can do different and often better teaching by adapting it to the medium. That way students will learn more deeply and effectively. To illustrate this, let’s look at an example from early on in my career as a researcher in educational media.

In 1969, I was appointed as a research officer at the Open University in the United Kingdom. At this point the university had just received its royal charter. I was the 20th member of staff appointed. My job was simple: to research into the pilot programs being offered by the National Extension College, which was delivering low cost non-credit distance education programs in partnership with the BBC. The NEC was ‘modelling’ the kind of integrated multimedia courses, consisting of a mix of print and broadcast radio and TV, that were to be offered by the Open University when it started.

My colleague and I sent out questionnaires by mail on a weekly basis to students taking the NEC courses. The questionnaire contained both pre-coded responses, and the opportunity for open-ended comments, and asked students for their responses to the print and broadcast components of the courses. We were looking for what worked and what didn’t work in designing multimedia distance education courses.

When I started analyzing the questionnaires, I was struck particularly by the ‘open-ended’ comments in response to the television and radio broadcasts. Responses to the printed components tended to be ‘cool’: rational, calm, critical, constructive. The responses to the broadcasts were the opposite: ‘hot’, emotional, strongly supportive or strongly critical or even hostile, and rarely critically constructive. Something was going on here.

The initial discovery that different media affected students differently came very quickly, but it took longer to discover in what ways media are different, and even longer why, but here are some of the discoveries made by my colleagues and me in the Audio-Visual Media Research Group at the OU (Bates, 1985):

6.3.3 Why are these findings significant?

At the time (and for many years afterwards) researchers such as Richard Clark (1983) argued that ‘proper’, scientific research showed no significant difference between the use of different media. In particular, there were no differences between classroom teaching and other media such as television or radio or satellite. Even today, we are getting similar findings regarding online learning (e.g. Means et al., 2010).

However, this is because  the research methodology that is used by researchers for such comparative studies requires the two conditions being compared to be the same, except for the medium being used (called matched comparisons, or sometimes quasi-experimental studies). Typically, for the comparison to be scientifically rigorous, if you gave lectures in class, then you had to compare lectures on television. If you used another television format, such as a documentary, you were not comparing like with like. Since the classroom was used as the base, for comparison, you had to strip out all the affordances of television – what it could do better than a lecture – in order to compare it. Indeed Clark argued that when differences in learning were found between the two conditions, the differences were a result of using a different pedagogy in the non-classroom medium.

The critical point is that different media can be used to assist learners to learn in different ways and achieve different outcomes. In a sense, researchers such as Clark were right: the teaching methods matter, but different media can more easily support different ways of learning than others. In our example, a documentary TV program aims at developing the skills of analysis and the application or recognition of theoretical constructs, whereas a classroom lecture is more focused on getting students to understand and correctly recall the theoretical constructs. Thus requiring the television program to be judged by the same assessment methods as for the classroom lecture unfairly measures the potential value of the TV program. In this example, it may be better to use both methods: didactic teaching to teach understanding, then a documentary approach to apply that understanding. (Note that a television program could do both, but the classroom lecture could not.)

Perhaps even more important is the idea that many media are better than one. This allows learners with different preferences for learning to be accommodated, and to allow subject matter to be taught in different ways through different media, thus leading to deeper understanding or a wider range of skills in using content. On the other hand, this increases costs.

6.3.3.1 How do these findings apply to online learning?

Online learning can incorporate a range of different media: text, graphics, audio, video, animation, simulations. We need to understand better the affordances of each medium within the Internet, and use them differently but in an integrated way so as to develop deeper knowledge, and a wider range of learning outcomes and skills. The use of different media also allows for more individualization and personalization of the learning, better suiting learners with different learning styles and needs. Most of all, we should stop trying merely to move classroom teaching to other media such as MOOCs, and start designing online learning so its full potential can be exploited.

6.3.3.2 Implications for education

If we are interested in selecting appropriate technologies for teaching and learning, we should not just look at the technical features of a technology, nor even the wider technology system in which it is located, nor even the educational beliefs we bring as a classroom teacher.  We also need to examine the unique features of different media, in terms of their formats, symbols systems, and cultural values. These unique features are increasingly referred to as the affordances of media or technology.

The concept of media is much ‘softer’ and ‘richer’ than that of ‘technology’, more open to interpretation and harder to define, but ‘media’ is a useful concept, in that it can also incorporate the inclusion of face-to-face communication as a medium, and in that it recognises the fact that technology on its own does not lead to the transfer of meaning .

As new technologies are developed, and are incorporated into media systems, old formats and approaches are carried over from older to newer media. Education is no exception. New technology is ‘accommodated’ to old formats, as with clickers and lecture capture, or we try to create the classroom in virtual space, as with learning management systems. However, new formats, symbols systems and organizational structures that exploit the unique characteristics of the Internet as a medium are gradually being discovered. It is sometimes difficult to see these unique characteristics clearly at this point in time. However, e-portfolios, mobile learning, open educational resources such as animations or simulations, and self-managed learning in large, online social groups are all examples of ways in which we are gradually developing the unique ‘affordances’ of the Internet.

More significantly, it is likely to be a major mistake to use computers to replace or substitute for humans in the educational process, given the need to create and interpret meaning when using media, at least until computers have much greater facility to recognize, understand and apply semantics, value systems, and organizational features, which are all important components of ‘reading’ different media. But at the same time it is equally a mistake to rely only on the symbol systems, cultural values and organizational structures of classroom teaching as the means of judging the effectiveness or appropriateness of the Internet as an educational medium.

Thus we need a much better understanding of the strengths and limitations of different media for teaching purposes if we are successfully to select the right medium for the job. However, given the widely different contextual factors influencing learning, the task of media and technology selection becomes infinitely complex. This is why it has proved impossible to develop simple algorithms or decision trees for effective decision making in this area. Nevertheless, there are some guidelines that can be used for identifying the best use of different media within an Internet-dependent society. To develop such guidelines we need to explore in particular the unique educational affordances of text, audio, video and computing, which is the next task of this chapter.

Activity 6.3 Media or technology?

1. Do you find the distinction between media and technology helpful? If so, how would you classify the following (medium or technology):

  • newspaper
  • printing press
  • television program
  • Netflix
  • classroom
  • MOOC
  • discussion forum

2. Do you think that knowledge becomes something different when represented by different media? For instance, does an animation of a mathematical function represent something different from a written or printed equation of the same function? Which is the most ‘mathematical’: the formula or the animation?

3. What in your view makes the Internet unique from a teaching perspective, or is it just old wine in new bottles?

4. Text has publishers and newspaper corporations, audio has radio stations, and video has both television companies and YouTube. Is there a comparable organization for the Internet or is it not really a medium in the sense of publishing, radio or television?

More reading

Bates, A. (1985) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation London: Constables (out of print – try a good library)

Bates, A. (2012) Pedagogical roles for video in online learning, Online Learning and Distance Education Resources

Clark, R. (1983) ‘Reconsidering research on learning from media’ Review of Educational Research, Vol. 53, pp. 445-459

Kozma, R. (1994) ‘Will Media Influence Learning? Reframing the Debate’, Educational Technology Research and Development, Vol. 42, No. 2, pp. 7-19

Means, B. et al. (2009) Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies Washington, DC: US Department of Education (http://www.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf)

Russell, T. L. (1999) The No Significant Difference Phenomenon Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University, Office of Instructional Telecommunication

Schramm, W. (1972) Quality in Instructional Television Honolulu HA: University Press of Hawaii

If you want to go deeper into the definitions of and differences between media and technology, you might want to read any of the following:

Bates, A. (2011) Marshall McLuhan and his relevance to teaching with technology, Online learning and distance education resources, July 20 (for a list of McLuhan references as well as a discussion of his relevance)

Guhlin, M. (2011) Education Experiment Ends,Around the Corner – MGuhlin.org, September 22

LinkedIn: Media and Learning Discussion Group

Salomon, G. (1979) Interaction of Media, Cognition and Learning San Francisco: Jossey Bass

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6.4 Broadcast vs communicative media

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Figure 8.6

Figure 6.4 The teacher is the lighter-coloured symbol

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6.4.1 Key media characteristics

Understanding the characteristics or affordances of each medium or technology that influence its usefulness for education will help clarify our thinking of the possible benefits or weaknesses of each medium or technology. This will also allow us to see where technologies have common or different features.

There is a wide range of characteristics that we could look at, but I will focus on three that are particularly important for education:

We shall see that these characteristics are more dimensional than discrete states, and media or technologies will fit at different points on these dimensions, depending on the way they are designed or used.

6.4.2 Broadcast or communicative media

A major structural distinction is between ‘broadcast’ media that are primarily one-to-many and one-way, and those media that are primarily many-to-many or ‘communicative’, allowing for two-way or multiple communication connections. Communicative media include those that give equal ‘power’ of communication between multiple end users.

6.4.2.1 Broadcast media and technologies

Television, radio and print for example are primarily broadcast or one-way media, as end users or ‘recipients’ cannot change the ‘message’ (although they may interpret it differently or choose to ignore it). Note that it does not matter really what delivery technology (terrestrial broadcast, satellite, cable, DVD, Internet) is used for television, it remains a ‘broadcast’ or one-way medium. Some Internet technologies are also primarily one way. For instance, an institutional web site is primarily a one-way technology.

One advantage of broadcast media and technologies is that they ensure a common standard of learning materials for all students. This is particularly important in countries where teachers are poorly qualified or of variable quality. Also one-way broadcast media enable the organization to control and manage the information that is being transmitted, ensuring quality control over content. Broadcasting media and technologies are more likely to be favoured by those with an ‘objectivist’ approach to teaching and learning, since the ‘correct’ knowledge can be transmitted to everyone receiving the instruction. One disadvantage is that additional resources are needed to provide interaction with teachers or other learners.

6.4.2.2 Communicative media and technologies

The telephone, video-conferencing, e-mail, online discussion forums, most social media and the Internet are examples of communicative media or technologies, in that all users can communicate and interact with each other, and in theory at least have equal power in technology terms. The educational significance of communicative media is that they allow for interaction between learners and teachers, and perhaps even more significantly, between a learner and other learners, without the participants needing to be present in the same place.

6.4.2.3 Which is which?

This dimension is not a rigid one, with necessarily clear or unambiguous classifications. Increasingly, technologies are becoming more complex, and able to serve a wide range of functions. In particular the Internet is not so much a single medium as an integrating framework for many different media and technologies with different and often opposite characteristics. Furthermore, most technologies are somewhat flexible in that they can be used in different ways. However, if we stretch a technology too far, for instance trying to make a broadcast medium such as an xMOOC also more communicative, stresses are likely to occur. So I find the dimension still useful, so long as we are not dogmatic about the characteristics of individual media or technologies. This means though looking at each case separately.

Thus I see a learning management system as primarily a broadcast or one-way technology, although it has features such as discussion forums that allow for some forms of multi-way communication. However, it could be argued that the communication functions in an LMS require additional technologies, such as a discussion forum, that just happen to be plugged in to or embedded within the LMS, which is primarily a database with a cool interface. We shall see that in practice we often have to combine technologies if we want the full range of functions required in education, and this adds cost and complexity.

Web sites can vary on where they are placed on this dimension, depending on their design. For instance, an airline web site, while under the full control of the company, has interactive features that allow you to find flights, book flights, reserve seats, and hence, while you may not be able to ‘communicate’ or change the site, you can at least interact with it and to some extent personalize it. However, you cannot change the page showing the choice of flights. This is why I prefer to talk about dimensions. An airline web site that allows end user interaction is less of a broadcast medium. However it is not a ‘pure’ communicative medium either. The power is not equal between the airline and the customer, because the airline controls the site.

It should be noted too that some social media (e.g. YouTube and blogs) are also more of a broadcast than a communicative medium, whereas other social media use mainly communicative technologies with some broadcast features (for example, personal information on a Facebook page). A wiki is clearly more of a ‘communicative’ medium. Again though it needs to be emphasized that intentional intervention by teachers, designers or users of a technology can influence where on the dimension some technologies will be, although there comes a point where the characteristic is so strong that it is difficult to change significantly without introducing other technologies.

The role of the teacher or instructor also tends to be very different when using broadcast or communicative media. In broadcast media, the role of the teacher is central, in that content is chosen and often delivered by the instructor. xMOOCs are an excellent example. However, in communicative media, while the instructor’s role may still be central, as in online collaborative learning or seminars, there are learning contexts where there may be no identified ‘central’ teacher, with contributions coming from all or many members of the community, as in communities of practice or cMOOCs.

Thus it can be seen that ‘power’ is an important aspect of this dimension. What ‘power’ does the end-user or student have in controlling a particular medium or technology? If we look at this from an historical perspective, we have seen a great expansion of technologies in recent years that give increasing power to the end user. The move towards more communicative media and away from broadcast media then has profound implications for education (as for society at large).

6.4.3 Applying the dimension to educational media

We can also apply this analysis to non-technological means of communication, or ‘media’, such as classroom teaching. Lectures have broadcast characteristics, whereas a small seminar group has communicative characteristics. In Figure 6.4.3, I have placed some common technologies, classroom media and online media along the broadcast/communicative continuum.

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Figure 8.6

Figure 6.4.3  The continuum of knowledge dissemination

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When doing this exercise, it is important to note that:

Thus where a medium or technology ‘fits’ best on a continuum of broadcast vs communicative is one factor to be considered when making decisions about media or technology for teaching and learning.

Activity 6.4 Broadcast or communicative?

From the list below:

  • a learning management system
  • a blog
  • online collaborative learning
  • Twitter
  • Second Life
  • a podcast
  • an open textbook

1. Determine which is a medium and which a technology, or which could be both, and under what conditions.

2. Decide where, from your experience, each medium or technology should be placed on Figure 6.4.3.  Write down why.

3. Which were easy to categorize and which difficult?

4. How useful is this continuum in making decisions about which medium or technology to use in your teaching? What would help you to decide?

If you want to share your responses with me and other readers, thus turning this post from a broadcast to a communication, please do so by using the comment box below! My analysis can be accessed by clicking here.

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6.5 The time and space dimensions of media

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Figure 6.5.1 Audio cassettes are a recorded, asynchronous technology

Figure 6.5.1 Audio cassettes are a recorded, asynchronous technology

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Different media and technologies operate differently over space and time. These dimensions are important for both facilitating or inhibiting learning, and for limiting or enabling more flexibility for learners. There are actually two closely related dimensions here:

6.5.1 Live or recorded

These are fairly obvious in their meaning. Live media by definition are face-to-face events, such as lectures, seminars, and one-on-one face-to-face tutorials. A ‘live’ event requires everyone to be present at the same place and time as everyone else. This could be a rock concert, a sports event or a lecture. Live events, such as for instance a seminar, work well when personal relations are important, such as building trust, or for challenging attitudes or positions that are emotionally or strongly held (either by students or instructors.)  The main educational advantage of a live lecture is that it may have a strong emotive quality that inspires or encourages learners beyond the actual transmission of knowledge, or may provide an emotional ‘charge’ that may help students shift from previously held positions. Live events, by definition, are transient. They may be well remembered, but they cannot be repeated, or if they are, it will be a different experience or a different audience. Thus there is a strong qualitative or affective element about live events.

Recorded media on the other hand are permanently available to those possessing the recording, such as a video-cassette or an audio-cassette. Books and other print formats are also recorded media. The key educational significance of recorded media is that students can access the same learning material an unlimited number of times, and at times that are convenient for the learner.

Live events of course can also be recorded, but as anyone who has watched a live sports event compared to a recording of the same event knows, the experience is different, with usually a lesser emotional charge when watching a recording (especially if you already know the result). Thus one might think of ‘live’ events as ‘hot’ and recorded events as ‘cool.’ Recorded media can of course be emotionally moving, such as a good novel, but the experience is different from actually taking part in the events described.

6.5.2 Synchronous or asynchronous

Synchronous technologies require all those participating in the communication to participate together, at the same time, but not necessarily in the same place.

Thus live events are one example of synchronous media, but unlike live events, technology enables synchronous learning without everyone having to be in the same place, although everyone does have to participate in the event at the same time. A video-conference or a webinar are examples of synchronous technologies which may be broadcast ‘live’, but not with everyone in the same place. Other synchronous technologies are television or radio broadcasts. You have to be ‘there’ at the time of transmission, or you miss them. However, the ‘there’ may be somewhere different from where the teacher is.

Asynchronous technologies enable participants to access information or communicate at different points of time, usually at the time and place of choice of the participant. All recorded media are asynchronous. Books, DVDs, You Tube videos, lectures recorded through lecture capture and available for streaming on demand, and online discussion forums are all asynchronous media or technologies. Learners can log on or access these technologies at times and the place of their own choosing.

Figure 6.5.2 illustrates the main differences between media in terms of different combinations of time and place.

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Figure 6.5.2 The separation of teachers/instructors from learners by time and space

Figure 6.5.2 The separation of teachers/instructors from learners by time and space

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6.5.3 Why does this matter?

Overall there are huge educational benefits associated with asynchronous or recorded media, because the ability to access information or communicate at any time offers the learner more control and flexibility. The educational benefits have been confirmed in a number of studies. For instance, Means et al. (2010) found that students did better on blended learning because they spent more time on task, because the online materials were always available to the students.

Research at the Open University found that students much preferred to listen to radio broadcasts recorded on cassette than to the actual broadcast, even though the content and format was identical (Grundin, 1981; Bates at al., 1981). However, even greater benefits were found when the format of the audio was changed to take advantage of the control characteristics of cassettes (stop, replay). It was found that students learned more from ‘designed’ cassettes than from cassette recordings of broadcasts, especially when the cassettes were co-ordinated or integrated with visual material, such as text or graphics. This was particularly valuable, for instance, in talking students through mathematical formulae (Durbridge, 1983).

This research underlines the importance of changing design as one moves from synchronous to asynchronous technologies. Thus we can predict that although there are benefits in recording live lectures through lecture capture in terms of flexibility and access, or having readings available at any time or place, the learning benefits would be even greater if the lecture or text was redesigned for asynchronous use, with built-in activities such as tests and feedback, and points for students to stop the lecture and do some research or extra reading, then returning to the teaching.

The ability to access media asynchronously through recorded and streamed materials is one of the biggest changes in the history of teaching, but the dominant paradigm in higher education is still the live lecture or seminar. There are, as we have seen, some advantages in live media, but they need to be used more selectively to exploit their unique advantages or affordances.

6.5.4 The significance of the Internet

Broadcast/communicative and synchronous/asynchronous are two separate dimensions. By placing them in a matrix design, we can then assign different technologies to different quadrants, as in Figure 6.5.4 below. (I have included only a few – you may want to place other technologies on this diagram):

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Figure 8.9 The significance of the Internet in terms of media characteristics

Figure 6.5.4 The significance of the Internet in terms of media characteristics

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Why the Internet is so important is that it is an encompassing medium that embraces all these other media and technologies, thus offering immense possibilities for teaching and learning. This enables us, if we wish, to be very specific about how we design our teaching, so that we can exploit all the characteristics or dimensions of technology to fit almost any learning context through this one medium.

6.5.5 Conclusion

It should be noted at this stage that although I have identified some strengths and weaknesses of the four characteristics of broadcast/communicative/ synchronous/asynchronous, we still need an evaluative framework for deciding when to use or combine different technologies. This means developing criteria that will enable us to decide within specific contexts the optimum choice of technologies.

Activity 6.5 Time and space dimensions of technology

1. Does this categorization of technologies make sense to you?

2. Can you easily place other media or technologies into Figures 6.5.2 and 6.5.4? What media or technologies don’t fit? Why not?

3. Can you imagine a situation where an audio cassette might be a better choice for teaching and learning than Second Life (assuming students have access to both technologies)? And can you imagine the opposite (of where Second Life would be better than an audio-cassette)? What are the defining criteria or conditions?

References

Bates, A. (1981) ‘Some unique educational characteristics of television and some implications for teaching or learning’ Journal of Educational Television Vol. 7, No.3

Durbridge, N. (1983) Design implications of audio and video cassettes Milton Keynes: Open University Institute of Educational Technology

Grundin, H. (1981) Open University Broadcasting Times and their Impact on Students’ Viewing/Listening Milton Keynes: The Open University Institute of Educational Technology

Means, B. et al. (2009) Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies Washington, DC: US Department of Education

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6.6 Media richness

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Armando Hasudungan's Bacteria (Structure) YouTube video

Figure 6.6.1 Armando Hasudungan’s Bacteria (Structure) YouTube video (Click on image to see video)

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6.6.1 The historical development of media richness

In Section 6.2, ‘A short history of educational technology‘, the development of different media in education was outlined, beginning with oral teaching and learning, moving on to written or textual communication, then to video, and finally computing. Each of these means of communication has usually been accompanied by an increase in the richness of the medium, in terms of how many senses and interpretative abilities are needed to process information. Another way of defining the richness of media is by the symbol systems employed to communicate through the medium. Thus textual material from an early stage incorporated graphics and drawings as well as words. Television or video incorporates audio as well as still and moving images. Computing now can incorporate text, audio, video, animations, simulations, computing, and networking, all through the Internet.

6.6.2 The continuum of media richness

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Figure 6.6.2 The continuum of media richness

Figure 6.6.2 The continuum of media richness

Once again then there is a continuum in terms of media richness, as illustrated in Figure 6.6.2 above. Also once again, design of a particular medium can influence where on the continuum it would be placed. For instance in Figure 6.6.2, different forms of teaching using video are represented in blue. Ted Talks are usually mainly talking heads, a televised lecture, as are often xMOOCs (but not all). The Khan Academy uses dynamic graphics as well as voice over commentary, and Armando Hasudungan’s You Tube video on the structure of bacteria uses hand drawings as well as voice over commentary. Educational TV broadcasts are likely to use an even wider range of video techniques.

However, although the richness of video can be increased or decreased by the way it is used, video is always going to be richer in media terms than radio or textbooks. Radio is never going to be a rich medium in terms of its symbols systems, and even talking head video is richer symbolically than radio. Again, there is no normative or evaluative judgment here. Radio can be ‘rich’ in the sense of fully exploiting the characteristics or symbol systems of the medium. A well produced radio program is more likely to be educationally effective than a badly produced video. But in terms of representation of knowledge, the possibilities of radio in terms of media richness will always be less than the possibilities of video.

6.6.3 The educational value of media richness

But how rich should media be for teaching and learning? From a teaching perspective, rich media have advantages over a single medium of communication, because rich media enable the teacher to do more. For example, many activities that previously required learners to be present at a particular time and place to observe processes or procedures such as demonstrating mathematical reasoning, experiments, medical procedures, or stripping a carburetor, can now be recorded and made available to learners to view at any time. Sometimes, phenomena that are too expensive or too difficult to show in a classroom can be shown through animation, simulations, video recordings or virtual reality.

Furthermore, each learner can get the same view as all the other learners, and can view the process many times until they have mastery. Good preparation before recording can ensure that the processes are demonstrated correctly and clearly. The combination of voice over video enables learning through multiple senses. Even simple combinations, such as the use of audio over a sequence of still frames in a text, have been found more effective than learning through a single medium of communication (see for instance, Durbridge, 1984). The Khan Academy videos have exploited very effectively the power of audio combined with dynamic graphics. Computing adds another element of richness, in the ability to network learners or to respond to learner input.

From a learner’s perspective, though, some caution is needed with rich media. Two particularly important concepts are cognitive overload and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Cognitive overload results when students are presented with too much information at too complex a level or too quickly for them to properly absorb it (Sweller, 1988). Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what can be done with help. Rich media may contain a great deal of information compressed into a very short time period and its value will depend to a large extent on the learner’s level of preparation for interpreting it.

For instance, a documentary video may be valuable for demonstrating the complexity of human behaviour or complex industrial systems, but learners may need either preparation in terms of what to look for, or to identify concepts or principles that may be illustrated within the documentary. On the other hand, interpretation of rich media is a skill that can be explicitly taught through demonstration and examples (Bates and Gallagher, 1977). Although YouTube videos are limited in length to around eight minutes mainly for technical reasons, they are also more easily absorbed than a continuous video of 50 minutes. Thus again design is important for helping learners to make full educational use of rich media.

6.6.4 Simple or rich media?

It is a natural tendency when choosing media for teaching to opt for the ‘richest’ or most powerful medium. Why would I use a podcast rather than a video? There are in fact several reasons:

In general, it is tempting always to look for the simplest medium first then only opt for a more complex or richer medium if the simple medium can’t deliver the learning goals as adequately. However, consideration needs to be given to media richness as a criterion when making choices about media or technology, because rich media may enable learning goals to be achieved that would be difficult with a simple medium.

This is the last of the characteristics of media and technology that can influence decisions about teaching and learning. The next section will provide an overview and summary.

Activity 6.6 How rich is your medium?

1. Do you agree that: ‘it is a useful guideline always to look for the simplest medium first‘.

2. How important do you think the richness of medium is when making decisions about the use of media and technology?

3. Do you agree with the placement of different media on this continuum in Figure 6.6.2. If not, why not?

If you want to share your response, please use the comment box below.

References

Bates, A. and Gallagher, M. (1977) Improving the Effectiveness of Open University Television Case-Studies and Documentaries Milton Keynes: The Open University (I.E.T. Papers on Broadcasting, No. 77)

Durbridge, N. (1984) Audio cassettes, in Bates, A. (ed.) The Role of Technology in Distance Education London: Routledge (re-published in 2014)

Sweller, J. (1988) Cognitive load during problem solving: effects on learning, Cognitive Science, Vol. 12

Vygotsky, L.S. (1987). Thinking and speech, in R.W. Rieber & A.S. Carton (eds.), The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky, Volume 1: Problems of general psychology (pp. 39–285). New York: Plenum Press. (Original work published 1934.)

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6.7 Understanding the foundations of educational media

I am aware that this chapter may appear somewhat abstract and theoretical, but in any subject domain, it is important to understand the foundations that underpin practice. This applies with even more force to understanding media and technology in education, because it is such a dynamic field that changes all the time. What seem to be the major media developments this year are likely to be eclipsed by new developments in technology next year. In such a shifting sea, it is therefore necessary to look at some guiding concepts or principles that are likely to remain constant, whatever changes take place over the years.

So in summary here are my main navigation stars, the main points that I have been emphasising, throughout this chapter.

Key Takeaways

  1. Technologies are merely tools that can be used in a variety of ways. What matters more is how technologies are applied. The same technology can be applied in different ways, even or especially in education. So in judging the value of a technology, we need to look more closely at the ways in which it is being or could be used. In essence this means focusing more on media – which represent the more holistic use of technologies – than on individual tools or technologies themselves, while still recognising that technology is an essential component of almost all media.
  2. By focusing on media rather than technologies, we can then include face-to-face teaching as a medium, enabling comparisons with more technology-based media to be made along a number of dimensions or characteristics.
  3. Recognising that in education media are usually used in combination, the six key building blocks of media are:
    1. face-to-face teaching
    2. text
    3. (still) graphics
    4. audio (including speech)
    5. video
    6. computing (including animation, simulations and virtual reality)
  4. Media differ in terms of their formats, symbols systems, and cultural values. These unique features are increasingly referred to as the affordances of media or technology. Thus different media can be used to assist learners to learn in different ways and achieve different outcomes, thus also individualising learning more.
  5. There are many dimensions along which some technologies are similar and others are different. By focusing on these dimensions, we have a basis for analysing new media and technologies, to see where they ‘fit’ within the existing landscape, and to evaluate their potential benefits or limitations for teaching and learning.
  6. There are probably other characteristics or dimensions of educational media that might also be identified, but I believe these three key characteristics or dimensions to be the most important:
    1. broadcast vs communicative
    2. synchronous (live) vs asynchronous (recorded)
    3. single vs rich media
  7. However, the identification of where a particular medium fits along any specific characteristic or dimension will depend in most cases on how that medium is designed.  At the same time, there is usually a limit to how far a technology can be forced along one of these dimensions; there is likely to be a single, ‘natural’ position on each dimension, subject to good design, in terms of exploiting the educational affordances of the medium.
  8. These characteristics or dimensions of media then need to be evaluated against the learning goals and outcomes desired, while recognising that a new educational medium or application might enable goals to be achieved that had not been previously considered possible.
  9. Over time, media have tended to become more communicative, asynchronous, and ‘rich’, thus offering teachers and learners more powerful tools for teaching and learning.
  10. The Internet is an extremely powerful medium because through a combination of tools and media it can encompass all the characteristics and dimensions of educational media.

Activity 6.7 Analysing your current use of technology

1. Take one of the courses you are teaching at the moment. How could you make your teaching more communicative, asynchronous, and rich in media. What media or technologies would help you do this?

2. Write down what you would see as (a) the advantages (b) the disadvantages of changing your teaching in this way.

3. Do you think applying the four dimensions described here will be useful when deciding whether or not to use a new technology? If not, why not?

The next chapter should provide more feedback on your answers.

VII

Chapter 7: Pedagogical differences between media

Purpose of the chapter

1. To identify the main pedagogical characteristics of the following media:

  • text;
  • audio;
  • video;
  • computing;
  • social media.

2. To provide a framework of analysis for determining appropriate pedagogical roles for different media.

3. To enable you to apply that analysis to any particular module of teaching

What is covered in this chapter

Also in this chapter you will find the following activities:

Key Takeaways

There is a very wide range of media available for teaching and learning. In particular:

  • text, audio, video, computing and social media all have unique characteristics that make them useful for teaching and learning;
  • the choice or combination of media will need to be determined by:
    • the overall teaching philosophy behind the teaching;
    • the presentational and structural requirements of the subject matter or content;
    • the skills that need to be developed in learners;
    • and not least by the imagination of the teacher or instructor (and increasingly learners themselves) in identifying possible roles for different media;
  • learners now have powerful tools through social media for creating their own learning materials or for demonstrating their knowledge;
  • courses can be structured around individual students’ interests, allowing them to seek appropriate content and resources to support the development of negotiated competencies or learning outcomes;.
  • content is now increasingly open and freely available over the Internet; as a result learners can seek, use and apply information beyond the bounds of what a professor or teacher may dictate;
  • students can create their own online personal learning environments;
  • many students will still need a structured approach that guides their learning;
  • teacher presence and guidance is likely to be necessary to ensure high quality learning via social media;
  • teachers need to find the middle ground between complete learner freedom and over-direction to enable learners to develop the key skills needed in a digital age.

 

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7.1 Thinking about the pedagogical differences of media

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Figure 9. Is slow motion a unique characteristic of video? Image: Poring mercury into liquid nitrogen: University of Nottingham Image:

Figure 7.1.1 Is slow motion a unique characteristic of video?
Image: Pouring mercury into liquid nitrogen: University of Nottingham
Click on image to see video

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In the last chapter, I identified three core dimensions of media and technology along which any technology can be placed. In the next two chapters, I will discuss a method for deciding which media to use when teaching. In this chapter I will focus primarily on the pedagogical differences between media. In the following chapter I will provide a model or set of criteria to use when making decisions about media and technology for teaching.

7.1.1 First steps

Embedded within any decision about the use of technology in education and training will be assumptions about the learning process. We have already seen earlier in this book how different epistemological positions and theories of learning affect the design of teaching, and these influences will also determine a teacher’s or an instructor’s choice of appropriate media. Thus, the first step is to decide what and how you want to teach.

This has been covered in depth through Chapters 2-5, but in summary, there are five critical questions that need to be asked about teaching and learning in order to select and use appropriate media/technologies:

These are not questions best asked sequentially, but in a cyclical or iterative manner, as media affordances may suggest alternative teaching methods or even the possibility of learning outcomes that had not been initially considered. When the unique pedagogical characteristics of different media are considered, this may lead to some changes in what content will be covered and what skills will be developed. Therefore, at this stage, decisions on content and learning outcomes should still be tentative.

7.1.2 Identifying the unique educational characteristics of a medium

Different media have different potential or ‘affordances’ for different types of learning. One of the arts of teaching is often finding the best match between media and desired learning outcomes. We explore this relationship throughout this chapter, but first, a summary of the substantial amount of excellent past research on this topic (see, for instance, Trenaman, 1967; Olson and Bruner, 1974; Schramm, 1977; Salomon, 1979, 1981; Clark, 1983; Bates, 1985; Koumi, 2006; Berk, 2009; Mayer, 2009).

This research has indicated that there are three core elements that need to be considered when deciding what media to use:

Olson and Bruner (1974) claim that learning involves two distinct aspects: acquiring knowledge of facts, principles, ideas, concepts, events, relationships, rules and laws; and using or working on that knowledge to develop skills. Again, this is not necessarily a sequential process. Identifying skills then working back to identify the concepts and principles needed to underpin the skills may be another valid way of working. In reality, learning content and skills development will often be integrated in any learning process. Nevertheless, when deciding on technology use, it is useful to make a distinction between content and skills.

7.1.2.1. The representation of content

Media differ in the extent to which they can represent different kinds of content, because they vary in the symbol systems (text, sound, still pictures, moving images, etc.) that they use to encode information (Salomon, 1979). We saw in the previous chapter that different media are capable of combining different symbol systems. Differences between media in the way they combine symbol systems influence the way in which different media represent content. Thus there is a difference between a direct experience, a written description, a televised recording, and a computer simulation of the same scientific experiment. Different symbol systems are being used, conveying different kinds of information about the same experiment. For instance, our concept of heat can be derived from touch, mathematical symbols (800 celsius), words (random movement of particles), animation, or observance of experiments. Our ‘knowledge’ of heat is as a result not static, but developmental. A large part of learning requires the mental integration of content acquired through different media and symbol systems. For this reason, deeper understanding of a concept or an idea is often the result of the integration of content derived from a variety of media sources (Mayer, 2009).

Media also differ in their ability to handle concrete or abstract knowledge. Abstract knowledge is handled primarily through language. While all media can handle language, either in written or spoken form, media vary in their ability to represent concrete knowledge. For instance, television can show concrete examples of abstract concepts, the video showing the concrete ‘event’, and the sound track analyzing the event in abstract terms. Well-designed media can help learners move from the concrete to the abstract and back again, once more leading to deeper understanding.

7.1.2.2 Content structure

Media also differ in the way they structure content. Books, the telephone, radio, podcasts and face-to-face teaching all tend to present content linearly or sequentially. While these media can represent parallel activities (for example, in print, different chapters may deal with events that occur simultaneously but from different perspectives) such activities still have to be presented sequentially. Computers and television are more able to present or simulate the inter-relationship of multiple variables simultaneously occurring. Computers can also handle branching or alternative routes through information, but usually within closely defined limits.

Subject matter varies a great deal in the way in which information needs to be structured. Subject areas (for example, natural sciences, history) structure content in particular ways determined by the internal logic of the subject discipline. This structure may be very tight or logical, requiring particular sequences or relationships between different concepts, or very open or loose, requiring learners to deal with highly complex material in an open-ended or intuitive way.

If media then vary both in the way they present information symbolically and in the way they handle the structures required within different subject areas, media which best match the required mode of presentation and the dominant structure of the subject matter need to be selected. Consequently, different subject areas will require a different balance of media. This means that subject experts should be deeply involved in decisions about the choice and use of media, to ensure that the chosen media appropriately match the presentational and structural requirements of the subject matter.

7.1.2.3 The development of skills

Media also differ in the extent to which they can help develop different skills. Skills can range from intellectual to psychomotor to affective (emotions, feelings). Koumi (2015) has used Krathwohl’s (2002) revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives (1956) to assign affordances of text and video to learning objectives using Krathwold’s classification of learning objectives.

Comprehension is likely to be the minimal level of intellectual learning outcome for most education courses. Some researchers (for example, Marton and Säljö, 1976) make a distinction between surface and deep comprehension. At the highest level of skills comes the application of what one has comprehended to new situations. Here it becomes necessary to develop skills of analysis, evaluation, and problem solving.

Thus a first step is to identify learning objectives or outcomes, in terms of both content and skills, while being aware that the use of some media may result in new possibilities in terms of learning outcomes.

7.1.3 Pedagogical affordances – or unique media characteristics?

‘Affordances’ is a term originally developed by the psychologist James Gibson (1977) to describe the perceived possibilities of an object in relation to its environment (for example, a door knob suggests to a user that it should be turned or pulled, while a flat plate on a door suggests that it should be pushed.). The term has been appropriated by a number of fields, including instructional design and human-machine interaction.

Thus the pedagogical affordances of a medium relate to the possibilities of using that medium for specific teaching purposes. It should be noted that an affordance depends on the subjective interpretation of the user (in this case a teacher or instructor), and it is often possible to use a medium in ways that are not unique to that medium. For instance video can be used for recording and delivering a lecture. In that sense there is a similarity in at least one affordance for a lecture and a video. Also students may choose not to use a medium in the way intended by the instructor. For instance, Bates and Gallagher (1977) found that some social science students objected to documentary-style television programs requiring application of knowledge or analysis rather than presentation of concepts.

Others (such as myself) have used the term ‘unique characteristics’ of a medium rather than affordances, since ‘unique characteristics’ suggest that there are particular uses of a medium that are less easily replicated by other media, and hence act as a better discriminator in selecting and using media. For instance, using video to demonstrate in slow motion a mechanical process is much more difficult (but not impossible) to replicate in other media. In what follows, my focus is more on unique or particular rather than general affordances of each medium, although the subjective and flexible nature of media interpretation makes it difficult to come to any hard and fast conclusions.

I will now attempt in the next sections to identify some of the unique pedagogical characteristics of the following media:

Technically, face-to-face teaching should also be considered a medium, but I will look specifically at the unique characteristics of face-to-face teaching in Chapter 9, where I discuss modes of delivery.

7.1.4 Purpose of the exercise

Before starting on the analysis of different media, it is important to understand my goals in this chapter. I am NOT trying to provide a definitive list of the unique pedagogical characteristics of each medium. Because context is so important and because the science is not strong enough to identify unequivocally such characteristics, I am suggesting in the following sections a way of thinking about the pedagogical affordances of different media. To do this, I will identify what I think are the most important pedagogical characteristics of each medium.

However, individual readers may well come to different conclusions, depending particularly on the subject area in which they are working. The important point is for teachers and instructors to think about what each medium could contribute educationally within their subject area, and that requires a strong understanding of both the needs of their students and the nature of their subject area, as well as the key pedagogical features of each medium.

Listen to the podcast below for an illustration of the differences between media.

Podcast 7.4.1 Tony’s shaggy dog story: click play on the above podcast (41 seconds).

References

Bates, A. (1985) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation London: Constables

Bates, A. and Gallagher, M. (1977) Improving the Effectiveness of Open University Television Case-Studies and Documentaries Milton Keynes: The Open University (I.E.T. Papers on Broadcasting, No. 77)

Berk, R.A. (2009) Multimedia teaching with video clips: TV, movies, YouTube and mtvU in the college classroom, International Journal of Technology in Teaching and Learning, Vol. 91, No. 5

Bloom, B. S.; Engelhart, M. D.; Furst, E. J.; Hill, W. H.; Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Company.

Clark, R. (1983) Reconsidering research on learning from media Review of Educational Research, Vol. 53. No. 4

Gibson, J.J.  (1979) The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Koumi, J. (2006) Designing video and multimedia for open and flexible learning. London: Routledge.

Koumi, J. (2015) Learning outcomes afforded by self-assessed, segmented video-print combinations Academia.edu (unpublished to date)

Krathwohl, D.R. (2002) A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An Overview. In Theory into Practice, Vol. 41, No. 4  College of Education, The Ohio State University. Retrieved from http://www.unco.edu/cetl/sir/stating_outcome/documents/Krathwohl.pdf

Marton, F. and Säljö, R. (1997) Approaches to learning, in Marton, F., Hounsell, D. and Entwistle, N. (eds.) The experience of learning: Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press (out of press, but available online)

Mayer, R. E. (2009) Multimedia learning (2nd ed). New York: Cambridge University Press

Olson, D. and Bruner, J. (1974) ‘Learning through experience and learning through media’, in Olson, D. (ed.) Media and Symbols: the Forms of Expression Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Salomon, G. (1979) Interaction of Media, Cognition and Learning San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Salomon, G. (1981) Communication and Education Beverley Hills CA/London: Sage

Schramm, W. (1977) Big Media, Little Media Beverley Hills CA/London: Sage

Trenaman, J. (1967) Communication and Comprehension London: Longmans

 

 

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7.2 Text

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Figure 9. There's nothing like a good book - or is there?

Figure 7.2.1 There’s nothing like a good book – or is there?.

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7.2.1 The unique pedagogical features of text

Ever since the invention of the Gutenberg press, print has been a dominant teaching technology, arguably at least as influential as the spoken word of the teacher. Even today, textbooks, mainly in printed format, but increasingly also in digital format, still play a major role in formal education, training and distance education. Many fully online courses still make extensive use of text-based learning management systems and online asynchronous discussion forums.

Why is this? What makes text such a powerful teaching medium, and will it remain so, given the latest developments in information technology?

7.2.1.2 Presentational features

Text can come in many formats, including printed textbooks, text messages, novels, magazines, newspapers, scribbled notes, journal articles, essays, novels, online asynchronous discussions and so on.

The key symbol systems in text are written language (including mathematical symbols) and still graphics, which would include diagrams, tables, and copies of images such as photographs or paintings. Colour is an important attribute for some subject areas, such as chemistry, geography and geology, and art history.

Some of the unique presentational characteristics of text are as follows:

There is some overlap of each of these features with other media, but no other medium combines all these characteristics, or is as powerful as text with respect to these characteristics.

Earlier (Chapter 2, Section 2.7.3) I argued that academic knowledge is a specific form of knowledge that has characteristics that differentiate it from other kinds of knowledge, and particularly from knowledge or beliefs based solely on direct personal experience. Academic knowledge is a second-order form of knowledge that seeks abstractions and generalizations based on reasoning and evidence.

Fundamental components of or criteria for academic knowledge are:

Text meets all four criteria above, so it is an essential medium for academic learning.

7.2.1.2 Skills development

Because of text’s ability to handle abstractions, and evidence-based argument, and its suitability for independent analysis and critique, text is particularly useful for developing the higher learning outcomes required at an academic level, such as analysis, critical thinking, and evaluation.

It is less useful for showing processes or developing manual skills, for instance.

7.2.2 The book and knowledge

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Figure 9.1 What is a book? From scrolls and paperbacks to e-books, this one minute video portrays the history and future of books.

Figure 7.2.2 What is a book? From scrolls to paperbacks to e-books, this one minute video portrays the history and future of books. Click to see the video from the UK Open University (© Open University, 2014)

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Although text can come in many formats, I want to focus particularly on the role of the book, because of its centrality in academic learning. The book has proved to be a remarkably powerful medium for the development and transmission of academic knowledge, since it meets all four of the components required for presenting academic knowledge, but to what extent can new media such as blogs, wikis, multimedia, and social media replace the book in academic knowledge?

New media can in fact handle just as well some of these criteria, and provide indeed added value, such as speed of reproduction and ubiquity, but the book still has some unique qualities. A key advantage of a book is that it allows for the development of a sustained, coherent, and comprehensive argument with evidence to support the argument. Blogs can do this only to a limited extent (otherwise they cease to be blogs and become articles or a digital book).

Quantity is important sometimes and books allow for the collection of a great deal of evidence and supporting argument, and allow for a wider exploration of an issue or theme, within a relatively condensed and portable format. A consistent and well supported argument, with evidence, alternative explanations or even counter positions, requires the extra ‘space’ of a book. Above all, books can provide coherence or a sustained, particular position or approach to a problem or issue, a necessary balance to the chaos and confusion of the many new forms of digital media that constantly compete for our attention, but in much smaller ‘chunks’ that are overall more difficult to integrate and digest.

Another important academic feature of text is that it can be carefully scrutinised, analysed and constantly checked, partly because it is largely linear, and also permanent once published, enabling more rigorous challenge or testing in terms of evidence, rationality, and consistency. Multimedia in recorded format can come close to meeting these criteria, but text can also provide more convenience and in media terms, more simplicity. For instance I repeatedly find analysing video, which incorporates many variables and symbol systems, more complex than analysing a linear text, even if both contain equally rigorous (or equally sloppy) arguments.

7.2.2.1 Form and function

Does the form or technological representation of a book matter any more? Is a book still a book if downloaded and read on an iPad or Kindle, rather than as printed text?

For the purposes of knowledge acquisition, it probably isn’t any different. Indeed, for study purposes, a digital version is probably more convenient because carrying an iPad around with maybe hundreds of books downloaded on it is certainly preferable to carrying around the printed versions of the same books. There are still complaints by students about the difficulties of annotating e-books, but this will almost certainly become a standard feature available in the future.

If the whole book is downloaded, then the function of a book doesn’t change much just because it is available digitally. However, there are some subtle changes. Some would argue that scanning is still easier with a printed version. Have you ever had the difficulty of finding a particular quotation in a digital book compared with the printed version? Sure, you can use the search facility, but that means knowing exactly the correct words or the name of the person being quoted. With a printed book, I can often find a quotation just by flicking the pages, because I am using context and rapid eye scanning to locate the source, even when I don’t know exactly what I am looking for. On the other hand, searching when you do know what you are looking for (e.g. a reference by a particular author) is much easier digitally.

When books are digitally available, users can download only the selected chapters that are of interest to them. This is valuable if you know just what you want, but there are also dangers. For instance in my book on the strategic management of technology (Bates and Sangrà, 2011), the last chapter summarizes the rest of the book. If the book had been digital, the temptation then would be to just download the final chapter. You’d have all the important messages in the book, right? Well, no. What you would be missing is the evidence for the conclusions. Now the book on strategic management is based on case studies, so it would be really important to check back with how the case studies were interpreted to get to the conclusions, as this will affect the confidence you would have as a reader in the conclusions that were drawn. If just the digital version of only the last chapter is downloaded, you also lose the context of the whole book. Having the whole book gives readers more freedom to interpret and add their own conclusions than just having a summary chapter.

In conclusion, then, there are advantages and disadvantages of digitizing a book, but the essence of a book is not greatly changed when it becomes digital rather than printed.

7.2.2.2 A new niche for books in academia

We have seen historically that new media often do not entirely replace an older medium, but the old medium finds a new ‘niche’. Thus television did not lead to the complete demise of radio. Similarly, I suspect that there will be a continued role for the book in academic knowledge, enabling the book (whether digital or printed) to thrive alongside new media and formats in academia.

However, books that retain their value academically will likely need to be much more specific in their format and their purpose than has been the case to date. For instance, I see no future for books consisting mainly of a collection of loosely connected but semi-independent chapters from different authors, unless there is a strong cohesion and edited presence that provides an integrated argument or consistent set of data across all the chapters. Most of all, books may need to change some of their features, to allow for more interaction and input from readers, and more links to the outside world. It is much more unlikely though that books will survive in a printed format, because digital publication allows for many more features to be added, reduces the environmental footprint, and makes text much more portable and transferable.

Lastly, this is not an argument for ignoring the academic benefits of new media. The value of graphics, video and animation for representing knowledge, the ability to interact asynchronously with other learners, and the value of social networks, are all under-exploited in academia. But text and books are still important.

For another perspective on this, see Clive Shepherd’s blog: Weighing up the benefits of traditional book publishing.

7.2.3 Text and other forms of knowledge

I have focused particularly on text and academic knowledge, because of the traditional importance of text and printed knowledge in academia. The unique pedagogical characteristics of text though may be less for other forms of knowledge. Indeed, multimedia may have many more advantages in vocational and technical education.

In the k-12 or school sector, text and print are likely to remain important, because reading and writing are likely to remain essential in a digital age, so the study of text (digital and printed) will remain important if only for developing literacy skills.

Indeed, one of the limitations of text is that it requires a high level of prior literacy skills for it to be used effectively for teaching and learning, and indeed much of teaching and learning is focused on the development of skills that enable rigorous analysis of textual materials. We should be giving as much attention to developing multimedia literacy skills though in a digital age.

7.2.4 Assessment

If text is critical for the presentation of knowledge and development of skills in your subject area, what are the implications for assessment? If students are expected to develop the skills that text appears to develop, then presumably text will be an important medium for assessment. Students will need to demonstrate their own ability to use text to present abstractions, argument and evidence-based reasoning.

In such contexts, composed textual responses, such as essays or written reports, are likely to be necessary, rather than multiple-choice questions or multimedia reports.

7.2.5 More evidence, please

Although there has been extensive research on the pedagogical features of other media such as audio, video and computing, text has generally been treated as the default mode, the base against which other media are compared. As a result print in particular is largely taken for granted in academia. We are now though at the stage where we need to pay much more attention to the unique characteristics of text in its various formats, in relation to other media. Until though we have more empirical studies on the unique characteristics of text and print, text will remain central to at least academic teaching and learning.

Activity 7.2 Identifying the unique pedagogical characteristics of text

1. Take one of the courses you are teaching. What key presentational aspects of text are important for this course? Is text the best medium for representing knowledge in your subject area; if not, what concepts or topics would be best represented through other media?

2. Look at the skills listed in Section 1.2 of this book. Which of these skills would best be developed through the use of text rather than other media? How would you do this using text-based teaching?

3. What do you think about books for learning? Do you think the book is dead or about to become obsolete? If you think books are still valuable for learning, what changes, if any, do you think should be made to academic books? What would be lost if books were entirely replaced by new media? What would be gained?

4. Under what conditions would it be more appropriate for students to be assessed through written essays and under what conditions would multimedia portfolios be more appropriate for assessment?

5. Can you think of any other unique pedagogical characteristics of text?

References

Although there are many publications on text, in terms of typography, structure, and its historical influence on education and culture, I could find no publications where text is compared with other modern media such as audio or video in terms of its pedagogical characteristics, although Koumi (2015) has written about text in combination with audio, and Albert Manguel’s book is also fascinating reading from an historical perspective.

However, I am sure that my lack of references is due to my lack of scholarship in the area. If you have suggestions for readings, please use the comment box. Also, a study of the unique pedagogical characteristics of text in a digital age might make for a very interesting and valuable Ph.D. thesis.

Koumi, J. (1994) Media comparisons and deployment: a practitioner’s view British Journal of Educational Technology, Vol. 25, No. 1.

Koumi, J. (2006). Designing video and multimedia for open and flexible learning. London: Routledge

Koumi, J. (2015) Learning outcomes afforded by self-assessed, segmented video-print combinations Academia.edu (unpublished)

Manguel, A. (1996) A History of Reading London: Harper Collins

 

 

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7.3 Audio

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Figure 7.3.1 Image: © InnerFidelity, 2012

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Sounds, such as the noise of certain machinery, or the background hum of daily life, have an associative as well as a pure meaning, which can be used to evoke images or ideas relevant to the main substance of what is being taught. There are, in other words, instances where audio is essential for efficiently mediating certain kinds of information.

Durbridge, 1984

7.3.1 Audio: the unappreciated medium

We have seen that oral communication has a long history, and continues today in classroom teaching and in general radio programming. In this section though I am focusing primarily on recorded audio, which I will argue is a very powerful educational medium when used well.

There has been a good deal of research on the unique pedagogical characteristics of audio. At the UK Open University course teams had to bid for media resources to supplement specially designed printed materials. Because media resources were developed initially by the BBC, and hence were limited and expensive to produce, course teams (in conjunction with their allocated BBC producer) had to specify how radio or television would be used to support learning. In particular, the course teams were asked to identify what teaching functions television and radio would uniquely contribute to the teaching. After allocation and development of a course, samples of the programs were evaluated in terms of how well they met these functions, as well as how the students responded to the programming. In later years, the same approach was used when production moved to audio and video cassettes.

This process of identifying unique roles then evaluating the programs allowed the OU, over a period of several years, to identify which roles or functions were particularly appropriate to different media (Bates, 1985). Koumi (2006), himself a former BBC/OU producer, followed up on this research and identified several more key functions for audio and video. Over a somewhat similar period, Richard Mayer, at the University of California at Santa Barbara, was conducting his own research into the use of multimedia in education (Mayer, 2009).

Although there have been continuous developments of audio technology, from audio-cassettes to Sony Walkman’s to podcasts, the pedagogical characteristics of audio have remained remarkably constant over a fairly long period.

7.3.2 Presentational features

Although audio can be used on its own, it is often used in combination with other media, particularly text. On its own, it can present:

Audio however has been found to be particularly ‘potent’ when combined with text, because it enables students to use both eyes and ears in conjunction. Audio has been found to be especially useful for:

This technique was later further developed by Salman Khan, but using video to combine voice-over (audio) explanation with visual presentation of mathematical symbols, formulae, and solutions.

7.3.3 Skills development

Because of the ability of the learner to stop and start recorded audio, it has been found to be particularly useful for:

7.3.4 Strengths and weaknesses of audio as a teaching medium

First, some advantages:

In particular, added flexibility and learner control means that students will often learn better from preprepared audio recordings combined with accompanying textual material (such as a web site with slides) than they will from a live classroom lecture.

There are also of course disadvantages of audio:

Increasingly video is now be used to combine audio over images, such as in the Khan Academy, but there are many instances, such as where students are studying from prescribed texts, where recorded audio works better than a video recording.

So let’s hear it for audio!

Activity 7.3 Identifying the unique pedagogical characteristics of audio

1. Take one of the courses you are teaching. What key presentational aspects of audio could be important for this course?

2. Look at the skills listed in Section 1.2 of this book. Which of these skills would best be developed through the use of audio rather than other media? How would you do this using audio-based teaching?

3. Under what conditions would it be more appropriate for students to be assessed by asking them to make an audio recording? How could this be done under assessment conditions?

4. To what extent do you think redundancy or duplication between different media is a good thing? What are the disadvantages of covering the same topic through different media?

5. Can you think of any other unique pedagogical characteristics of audio?

References and further reading

Bates, A. (1985) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation London: Constables (out of print – try a good library)

Bates, A. (2005) Technology, e-Learning and Distance Education London/New York: Routledge

Durbridge, N. (1982) Audio-cassettes in Higher Education Milton Keynes: The Open University (mimeo)

Durbridge, N. (1984) Audio-cassettes, in Bates, A. (ed.) The Role of Technology in Distance Education London/New York: Croom Hill/St Martin’s Press

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (2005) Seven things you should know about… podcasting Boulder CO: EDUCAUSE, June

Koumi, J. (2006). Designing video and multimedia for open and flexible learning. London: Routledge.

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning (2nd ed). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Postlethwaite, S. N. (1969) The Audio-Tutorial Approach to Learning Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Company

Salmon, G. and Edirisingha, P. (2008) Podcasting for Learning in Universities Milton Keynes: Open University Press

Wright, S. and Haines, R, (1981) Audio-tapes for Teaching Science Teaching at a Distance, Vol. 20 (Open University journal now out of print).

Note: Although some of the Open University publications are not available online, hard copies/pdf files should be available from: The Open University International Centre for Distance Learning, which is now part of the Open University Library.

 

 

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7.4 Video

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Figure 9. The Open University on iTunesU

Figure 7.4.1 The Open University on iTunesU (Click to access video)

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7.4.1 More power, more complexity

Although there have been massive changes in video technology over the last 25 years, resulting in dramatic reductions in the costs of both creating and distributing video, the unique educational characteristics are largely unaffected. (More recent computer-generated media such as simulations, will be analysed under ‘Computing’, in Section 7.5).

Video is a much richer medium than either text or audio, as in addition to its ability to offer text and sound, it can also offer dynamic or moving pictures. Thus while it can offer all the affordances of audio, and some of text, it also has unique pedagogical characteristics of its own. Once again, there has been considerable research on the use of video in education, and again I will be drawing on research from the Open University (Bates, 1985; 2005; Koumi, 2006) as well as from Mayer (2009).

Click on the links to see examples for many of the characteristics listed below.

7.4.2 Presentational features

Video can be used to:

7.4.3 Skills development

This usually requires the video to be integrated with student activities. The ability to stop, rewind and replay video becomes crucial for skills development, as student activity usually takes place separately from the actual viewing of the video. This may mean thinking through carefully activities for students related to the use of video.

If video is not used directly for lecturing, research clearly indicates that students generally need to be guided as to what to look for in video, at least initially in their use of video for learning. There are various techniques for relating concrete events with abstract principles, such as through audio narration over the video, using a still frame to highlight the observation, or repeating a small section of the program. Bates and Gallagher (1977) found that using video for developing higher order analysis or evaluation was a teachable skill that needs to be built into the development of a course or program, to get the best results.

Typical uses of video for skills development include:

7.4.4 Strengths and weaknesses of video as a teaching medium

One factor that makes video powerful for learning is its ability to show the relationship between concrete examples and abstract principles, with usually the sound track relating the abstract principles to concrete events shown in the video (see, for example: Probability for quantum chemistry, UBC). Video is particularly useful for recording events or situations where it would be too difficult, dangerous, expensive or impractical to bring students to such events.

Thus its main strengths are as follows:

It should also be remembered that in addition to the features listed above, video can incorporate many of the features of audio as well.

The main weaknesses of video are:

For these reasons, video is not being used enough in education. When used it is often an afterthought or an ‘extra’, rather than an integral part of the design, or is used merely to replicate a classroom lecture, rather than exploiting the unique characteristics of video.

7.4.5 Assessment

If video is being used to develop the skills outlined in Section 7.4.3, then it is essential that these skills are assessed and count for grading. Indeed, one possible means of assessment might be to ask students to analyse or interpret a selected video, or even to develop their own media project, using video they themselves have collected or produced, using their own devices.

Activity 7.4 Identifying the unique pedagogical characteristics of video

1. Take one of the courses you are teaching. What key presentational aspects of video could be important for this course?

2. Look at the skills listed in Section 1.2 of this book. Which of these skills would best be developed through the use of video rather than other media? How would you do this using video-based teaching?

3. Under what conditions would it be more appropriate for students to be assessed by asking them to analyse or make their own video recording? How could this be done under assessment conditions?

4. Type in the name of your topic + video into Google.

  • How many videos come up?
  • What’s their quality like?
  • Could you use any of them in your teaching?
  • If so, how would you integrate them into your course?
  • Could you make a better video on the topic?
  • What would enable you to do this?

Here are some criteria I would apply to what you find:

  • it is relevant to what you want to teach;
  • it demonstrates clearly a particular topic or subject and links it to what the student is intended to learn;
  • it is short and to the point;
  • the example is well produced (clear camera work, good presenter, clear audio);
  • it provides something that you could not do easily yourself;
  • it is freely available for non-commercial use.

I have to say that most of the examples I found on the Internet do NOT meet all of these criteria! The videos I have linked to in this section do, but then some are produced for the Open University. Can traditional university in-house media departments meet this standard?

References

Bates, A. (1985) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation London: Constables (out of print – try a good library)

Bates, A. (2005) Technology, e-Learning and Distance Education London/New York: Routledge

Koumi, J. (2006). Designing video and multimedia for open and flexible learning. London: Routledge.

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning (2nd ed). New York: Cambridge University Press.

See also:

University of Central Florida’s and University of British Columbia’s annotated bibliographies of digital multimedia research

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7.5 Computing

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Figure 9.5.1 A computer-marked assignment form (University of Western Australia)

Figure 7.5.1 A computer-marked assignment form (University of Western Australia)

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7.5.1 A volatile and comprehensive medium

It is debatable whether computing should be considered a medium, but I am using the term broadly, and not in the technical sense of writing code. The Internet in particular is an all-embracing medium that accommodates text, audio, video and computing, as well as providing other elements such as distributed communication and access to educational opportunities. Computing is also still an area that is fast developing, with new products and services emerging all the time. Indeed, I will treat recent developments in social media separately from computing, although technically they are a sub-category. Once again, though, social media contain affordances that are not so prevalent in more conventional computing-based learning environments.

In such a volatile medium, it would be foolish to be dogmatic about unique media characteristics, but once again, the purpose of this chapter is not to provide a definitive analysis, but a way of thinking about technology that will facilitate an instructor’s choice and use of technology. The focus is: what are the pedagogical affordances of computing that are different from those of other media (other than the important fact that it can embrace all the other media characteristics)?

Although there has been a great deal of research into computers in education, there has been less focus on the specifics of its pedagogical media characteristics, although a great deal of interesting research and development has taken place and continues in human-machine interaction and to a lesser extent (in terms of interesting) in artificial intelligence. Thus I am relying more on analysis and experience than research in this section.

7.5.2 Presentational features

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Figure 9.5 'Screen size can be a real presentational limitation with smaller, mobile devices'

Figure 7.5.2 Screen size can be a real presentational limitation with smaller, mobile devices

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Presentation is not really where the educational strength of computing lies. It can represent text and audio reasonably well, and video less well, because of the limited size of the screen (and video often has to share screen space with text), and the bandwidth/pixels/download time required. Screen size can be a real presentational limitation with smaller, mobile devices, although tablets such as the iPad are a major advance in screen quality. The traditional user interface for computing, such as pull-down menus, cursor screen navigation, touch control, and an algorithmic-based filing or storage system, while all very functional, are not intuitive and can be quite restricting from an educational point of view.

However, unlike the other media, computing enables the end user to interact directly with the medium, to the extent that the end user (in education, the student) can add to, change or interact with the content, at least to a certain extent. In this sense, computing comes closer to a complete, if virtual, learning environment.

Thus in presentational terms computing can be used to:

7.5.3 Skills development

Skills development in a computing environment will once again depend very much on the epistemological approach to teaching. Computing can be used to focus on comprehension and understanding, through a behaviourist approach to computer-based learning. However, the communications element of computing also enables more constructivist approaches, through online student discussion and student-created multimedia work.

Thus computing can be used (uniquely) to:

These skills are in addition to the skills that other media can support within a broader computing environment.

7.5.4 Strengths and weaknesses of computing as a teaching medium

Many teachers and instructors avoid the use of computing because they fear it may be used to replace them, or because they believe it results in a very mechanical approach to teaching and learning. This is not helped by misinformed computer scientists, politicians and industry leaders who argue that computers can replace or reduce the need for humans in teaching. Both viewpoints show a misunderstanding of both the sophistication and complexity of teaching and learning, and the flexibility and advantages that computing can bring to teaching.

So here are some of the advantages of computing as a teaching medium:

On the other hand, the disadvantages of computing are:

The issue around the value of computing as a medium for teaching is less about its pedagogical value and more about control. Because of the complexity of teaching and learning, it is essential that the use of computing for teaching and learning is controlled and managed by educators. As long as teachers and instructors have control, and have the necessary knowledge and training about the pedagogical advantages and limitations of computing, then computing is an essential medium for teaching in a digital age.

7.5.5 Assessment

There is a tendency to focus assessment in computing on multiple choice questions and ‘correct’ answers. Although this form of assessment has its value in assessing comprehension and for testing a limited range of mechanical procedures, computing also supports a wider range of assessment techniques, from learner-created blogs and wikis to e-portfolios. These more flexible forms of computer-based assessment are more in alignment with measuring the knowledge and skills that many learners will need in a digital age.

Activity 7.5 Identifying the unique pedagogical characteristics of computing

1. Take one of the courses you are teaching. What key presentational aspects of computing could be important for this course?

2. Look at the skills listed in Section 1.2 of this book. Which of these skills would best be developed through the use of computing rather than other media? How would you do this using computer-based teaching?

3. Under what conditions would it be more appropriate in any of your courses for students to be assessed by asking them to create their own multimedia project portfolios rather than through a written exam? What assessment conditions would be necessary to ensure the authenticity of a student’s work? Would this form of assessment be extra work for you?

4. What are the main barriers to your using computing more in your teaching? Philosophical? Practical? Lack of training or confidence in technology use? Or lack of institutional support? What could be done to remove some of these barriers?

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7.6 Social media

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Figure 7.6 The range of social media in 2010 Image: © Abhijit Kadle, Upside Learning, 2010

Figure 7.6.1 The range of social media in 2010
Image: © Abhijit Kadle, Upside Learning, 2010

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Although social media are mainly Internet-based and hence a sub-category of computing, there are enough significant differences between educational social media use and computer-based learning or online collaborative learning to justify treating social media as a separate medium, although of course they are dependent and often fully integrated with other forms of computing. The main difference is in the extent of control over learning that social media offer to learners.

7.6.1 What are social media?

Around 2005, a new range of web tools began to find their way into general use, and increasingly into educational use. These can be loosely described as social media, as they reflect a different culture of web use from the former ‘centre-to-periphery’ push of institutional web sites.

Here are some of the tools and their uses (there are many more possible examples: click on each example for an educational application):

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Figure 7.6.2 Examples of social media (adapted from Bates, 2011, p.25)

Type of tool  Example  Application
Blogs

Stephen’s Web

Online Learning and Distance Education Resources

 Allows an individual to make regular postings to the web, e.g. a personal diary or an analysis of current events

 

Wikis

 

Wikipedia

UBC’s Math Exam Resources

 An “open” collective publication, allowing people to contribute or create a body of information

 

Social networking

FaceBook

LinkedIn

 A social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and interact with them

Multi-media archives

 

Podcasts

You-Tube

Flikr

iTunes U

e-portfolios

MIT Open CourseWare

 Allows end users to access, store, download and share audio recordings, photographs, and videos

 

Virtual worlds Second Life  Real-time semi-random connection/ communication with virtual sites and people
Multi-player games Lord of the Rings Online  Enables players to compete or collaborate against each other or a third party/parties represented by the computer, usually in real time
Mobile learning Mobile phones and apps  Enables users to access multiple information formats (voice, text, video, etc.) at any time, any place

 

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The main feature of social media is that they empower the end user to access, create, disseminate and share information easily in a user-friendly, open environment. Usually the only cost is the time of the end-user. There are often few controls over content, other than those normally imposed by a state or government (such as libel or pornography), or where there are controls, they are imposed by the users themselves. One feature of such tools is to empower the end-user – the learner or customer – to self-access and manage data (such as online banking) and to form personal networks (for example through FaceBook). For these reasons, some have called social media the ‘democratization’ of the web.

In general social media tools are based on very simple software, in that they have relatively few lines of code. As a result, new tools and applications (‘apps’) are constantly emerging, and their use is either free or very low cost. For a good broad overview of the use of social media in education, see Lee and McCoughlin (2011).

7.6.2 General affordances of social media

The concept of ‘affordances’ is frequently used in discussions of social media. McLoughlin & Lee (2011) identify the following ‘affordances’ associated with social media (although they use the term web 2.0) in general:

However, we need to specify more directly the unique pedagogical characteristics of social media.

7.6.3 Presentational characteristics

Social media enable:

7.6.4 Skills development

Social media,when well designed within an educational framework, can help with the development of the following skills (click on each to see examples):

7.6.5 Strengths and weaknesses of social media

Some of the advantages of social media are as follows:

However, many students are not, at least initially, independent learners (see Candy, 1991). Many students come to a learning task without the necessary skills or confidence to study independently from scratch (Moore and Thompson, 1990). They need structured support, structured and selected content, and recognized accreditation. The advent of new tools that give students more control over their learning will not necessarily change their need for a structured educational experience. However, learners can be taught the skills needed to become independent learners (Moore, 1973; Marshall and Rowland, 1993). Social media can make the learning of how to learn much more effective but still only in most cases within an initially structured environment.

The use of social media raises the inevitable issue of quality. How can learners differentiate between reliable, accurate, authoritative information, and inaccurate, biased or unsubstantiated information, if they are encouraged to roam free? What are the implications for expertise and specialist knowledge, when everyone has a view on everything? As Andrew Keen (2007) has commented, ‘we are replacing the tyranny of experts with the tyranny of idiots.’ Not all information is equal, nor are all opinions.

These are key challenges for the digital age, but as well as being part of the problem, social media can also be part of the solution. Teachers can consciously use social media for the development of knowledge management and the responsible use of social media, but the development of such knowledge and skills through the use of social media will need a teacher-supported environment. Many students look for structure and guidance in their learning, and it is the responsibility of teachers to provide it. We therefore need a middle ground between the total authority and control of the teacher, and the complete anarchy of the children roaming free on a desert island in the novel “Lord of the Flies” (Golding, 1954). Social media allow for such a middle ground, but only if as teachers we have a clear pedagogy or educational philosophy to guide our choices and use of the technology.

For more on social media, see Chapter 8, Section 8.

Activity 7.6 Identifying the unique pedagogical characteristics of social media

1. Take one of your courses, and analyse how social media could be used in your course. In particular:

  • what new learning outcomes could the use of social media help develop?
  • would it be better just to add social media to the course or to re-design it around social media?

2. I have offered only a cursory list of the unique pedagogical characteristics of social media. Can you think of others that have not already been covered in other parts of this chapter?

3. How does this chapter influence your views on students bringing their own devices to class?

4. Are you (still) skeptical about the value of social media in education? What do you see as its downsides?

Please use the comment box to share your answers.

References

Bates, T. (2011) ‘Understanding Web 2.0 and Its Implications for e-Learning’ in Lee, M. and McCoughlin, C. (eds.) Web 2.0-Based E-Learning Hershey NY: Information Science Reference

Candy, P. (1991) Self-direction for lifelong learning San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Golding, W. (1954) The Lord of the Flies London: Faber and Faber

Keen, A. (2007) The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing our Culture New York/London: Doubleday

Lee, M. and McCoughlin, C. (eds.) Web 2.0-Based E-Learning Hershey NY: Information Science Reference

Marshall, L and Rowland, F. (1993) A Guide to learning independently Buckingham UK: Open University Press

McCoughlin, C. and Lee, M. (2011) ‘Pedagogy 2.0: Critical Challenges and Responses to Web 2.0 and Social Software in Tertiary Teaching’, in Lee, M. and McCoughlin, C. (eds.) Web 2.0-Based E-Learning Hershey NY: Information Science Reference

Moore, M. and Thompson, M. (1990) The Effects of Distance Education: A Summary of the Literature University Park, PA: American Center for Distance Education, Pennsylvania State University

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7.7 A framework for analysing the pedagogical characteristics of educational media

I will now summarise the unique pedagogical characteristics of the different media discussed in this chapter.

Figure 7.7 presents a diagrammatic analysis of various online learning tools. I have arranged them primarily by where they fit along an epistemological continuum of objectivist (black), constructivist (blue) and connectivist (red), but also I have used two other dimensions, teacher control/learner control, and credit/non-credit. Note that this figure also enables traditional teaching modes, such as lectures and seminars, to be included and compared.

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Figure 9.5.5.5 Analysis of social media from an educational perspective (adapted from Bates, 2011)

Figure 7.7 Analysis of media from an educational perspective (adapted from Bates, 2011)

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Figure 7.7 represents my personal interpretation of the tools, and other teachers or instructors may well re-arrange the diagram differently, depending on their particular applications of these tools. Not all tools or media are represented here (for example, audio and video). The position of any particular tool in the diagram will depend on its actual use. Learning management systems can be used in a constructivist way, and blogs can be very teacher-controlled, if the teacher is the only one permitted to use a blog on a course. However, the aim here is not to provide a cast-iron categorization of educational media, but to provide a framework for teachers in deciding which tools and media are most likely to suit a particular teaching approach. Indeed, other teachers may prefer a different set of pedagogical values as a framework for analysis of the different media and technologies.

However, to give an example from Figure 7.7, a teacher may use an LMS to organize a set of resources, guidelines, procedures and deadlines for students, who then may use several of the social media, such as photos from mobile phones to collect data. The teacher provides a space and structure on the LMS for students’ learning materials in the form of an e-portfolio, to which students can load their work. Students in small groups can use discussion forums or FaceBook to work on projects together.

The example above is in the framework of a course for credit, but the framework would also fit the non-institutional or informal approach to the use of social media for learning, with a focus on tools such as FaceBook, blogs and YouTube. These applications would be much more learner driven, with the learner deciding on the tools and their uses. The most powerful examples are connectivist or cMOOCs, as we saw in Chapter 5.

Activity 7.7 Choosing media for a teaching module

1. Take a module or main topic of a course you are teaching. Identify the key learning outcomes then the content area to be covered.

2. Then look through the key characteristics of each of the media in this chapter, and think how each medium might be used to teach your module. Use your analysis from Activities 7.2 to 7.6. Make a list of the functions you have chosen and their relationship to content and skills in the module.

3. Using Figure 7.7, allocate a range of tools and media that you might consider using and place them on the continuum.

4. Are you still happy with your choice?

Don’t worry – we haven’t finished yet. The next chapter will provide a way to make decisions on a more realistic basis. The main purpose here is to get you thinking about possible uses of different media in your subject area.

Key Takeaways

There is a very wide range of media available for teaching and learning. In particular:

  • text, audio, video, computing and social media all have unique characteristics that make them useful for teaching and learning;
  • the choice or combination of media will need to be determined by:
    • the overall teaching philosophy behind the teaching;
    • the presentational and structural requirements of the subject matter or content;
    • the skills that need to be developed in learners;
    • and not least by the imagination of the teacher or instructor (and increasingly learners themselves) in identifying possible roles for different media;
  • learners now have powerful tools through social media for creating their own learning materials or for demonstrating their knowledge;
  • courses can be structured around individual students’ interests, allowing them to seek appropriate content and resources to support the development of negotiated competencies or learning outcomes;.
  • content is now increasingly open and freely available over the Internet; as a result learners can seek, use and apply information beyond the bounds of what a professor or teacher may dictate;
  • students can create their own online personal learning environments;
  • many students will still need a structured approach that guides their learning;
  • teacher presence and guidance is likely to be necessary to ensure high quality learning via social media;
  • teachers need to find the middle ground between complete learner freedom and over-direction to enable learners to develop the key skills needed in a digital age.

VIII

Chapter 8: Choosing and using media in education: the SECTIONS model

Purpose of the chapter

The main purpose of this chapter is to provide a framework for making effective decisions about the choice and use of media for teaching and learning. The framework used is the SECTIONS model, which stands for:

  • S tudents
  • E ase of use
  • C osts
  • T eaching functions
  • I nteraction
  • O rganisational issues
  • N etworking
  • S ecurity and privacy

On completion of this chapter, you should be able to choose appropriate media and technology for any subject that you may be teaching, and be able to justify your decision.

What is covered in this chapter

Also in this chapter you will find the following activities:

Key Takeaways

1. Selecting media and technologies is a complex process, involving a very wide range of interacting variables.

2. There is currently no adequate theory or process for media selection. The SECTIONS model however provides a set of criteria or questions the result of which can help inform an instructor when making decisions about which media or technologies to use.

3. Because of the wide range of factors influencing media selection and use, an inductive or intuitive approach to decision-making, but informed by a careful analysis of all the criteria in the SECTIONS framework, is one practical way to approach decision-making about media and technologies for teaching and learning.

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8.1 Models for media selection

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Figure 8 The SECTIONS model

Figure 8 The SECTIONS model

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8.1.1 What the literature tells us

Given the importance of the topic, there is relatively little literature on how to choose appropriate media or technologies for teaching. There was a flurry of not very helpful publications on this topic in the 1970s and 1980s, but relatively little since (Baytak, undated). Indeed, Koumi (1994) stated that:

there does not exist a sufficiently practicable theory for selecting media appropriate to given topics, learning tasks and target populations . . . the most common practice is not to use a model at all. In which case, it is no wonder that allocation of media has been controlled more by practical economic and human/political factors than by pedagogic considerations (p. 56).

Mackenzie (2002) comments in a similar vein:

When I am discussing the current state of technology with teachers around the country, it becomes clear that they feel bound by their access to technology, regardless of their situation. If a teacher has a television-computer setup, then that is what he or she will use in the classroom. On the other hand, if there is an LCD projector hooked up to a teacher demonstration station in a fully equipped lab, he or she will be more apt to use that set up. Teachers have always made the best of whatever they’ve got at hand, but it’s what we have to work with. Teachers make due.

Mackenzie (2002) has suggested building technology selection around Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory (Gardner, 1983, 2006), following the following sequence of decisions:

learner → teaching objective → intelligences → media choice.

Mackenzie then allocates different media to support the development of each of Gardner’s intelligences. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has been widely tested and adopted, and Mackenzie’s allocations of media to intelligences make sense intuitively, but of course it is dependent on teachers and instructors applying Gardner’s theory to their teaching.

A review of more recent publications on media selection suggests that despite the rapid developments in media and technology over the last 20 years, my ACTIONS model (Bates, 1995) is one of the major models still being applied, although with further amendments and additions (see for instance, Baytak, undated; Lambert and Williams, 1999; Koumi, 2006). Indeed, I myself modified the ACTIONS model, which was developed for distance education, to the SECTIONS model to cover the use of media in campus-based as well as distance education (Bates and Poole, 2003).

Patsula (2002) developed a model called CASCOIME which includes some of the criteria in the Bates models, but also adds additional and valuable criteria such as socio-political suitability, cultural friendliness, and openness/flexibility, to take into account international perspectives. Zaied (2007) conducted an empirical study to test what criteria for media selection were considered important by faculty, IT specialists and students, and identified seven criteria. Four of these matched or were similar to Bates’ criteria. The other three were student satisfaction, student self-motivation and professional development, which are more like conditions for success and are not really easy to identify before making a decision.

Koumi (2006) and Mayer (2009) have come closest to to developing models of media selection. Mayer has developed twelve principles of multimedia design based on extensive research, resulting in what Mayer calls a cognitive theory of multimedia learning. (For an excellent application of Mayer’s theory, see UBC Wikis.) Koumi (2015) more recently has developed a model for deciding on the best mix and use of video and print to guide the design of xMOOCs.

Mayer’s approach is valuable at a more micro-level when it comes to designing specific multimedia educational materials, as is Koumi’s work. Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia design suggests the best combination of words and images, and rules to follow such as ensuring coherence and avoiding cognitive overload. When deciding to use a specific application of multimedia, it provides very strong guidelines. It is nevertheless more difficult to apply at a macro level. Because Mayer’s focus is on cognitive processing, his theory does not deal directly with the unique pedagogical affordances or characteristics of different media. Neither Mayer nor Koumi address non-pedagogical issues in media selection, such as cost or access. Mayer and Koumi’s work is not so much competing as complementary to what I am proposing. I am trying to identify which media (or combinations of media) to use in the first place. Mayer’s theory then would guide the actual design of the application. I will discuss Mayer’s twelve principles further in Section 5 of this chapter, which deals with teaching functions.

It is not surprising that there are not many models for media selection. The models developed in the 1970s and 1980s took a very reductionist, behaviourist approach to media selection, resulting in often several pages of decision-trees, which are completely impractical to apply, given the realities of teaching, and yet these models still included no recognition of the unique affordances of different media. More importantly, technology is subject to rapid change, there are competing views on appropriate pedagogical approaches to teaching, and the context of learning varies so much. Finding a practical, manageable model founded on research and experience that can be widely applied has proved to be challenging.

8.1.2 Why we need a model

At the same time, every teacher, instructor, and increasingly learner, needs to make decisions in this area, often on a daily basis. A model for technology selection and application is needed therefore that has the following characteristics:

For these reasons, then, I will continue to use the Bates’ SECTIONS model, with some modifications to take account of recent developments in technology, research and theory. The SECTIONS model is based on research, has stood the test of time, and has been found to be practical. SECTIONS stands for:

I will discuss each of these criteria in the following sections, and will then suggest how to apply the model.

Activity 8.1 Making a preliminary decision on media selection

1. Choose a course that you are teaching or may be teaching. Identify what media or technologies you might be interested in using. Keep a note of your decision and your reasons for your choice of media/technologies.

When you have finished reading this chapter you will be asked to do a final activity (Activity 8.10) and then you can compare your answers in the two activities after reading the whole chapter.

 References

Bates, A. (1995) Teaching, Open Learning and Distance Education London/New York: Routledge

Bates, A. and Poole, G. (2003) Effective Teaching with Technology in Higher Education San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley and Son

Baytak, A.(undated) Media selection and design: a case in distance education Academia.edu

Gardner, H. (1983) Frame of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences New York: Basic Books

Gardner, H. (2006) Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons and Theory in Practice New York: Basic Books

Koumi, J. (1994). Media comparisons and deployment: A practitioner’s view. British Journal of Educational Technology, Vol. 25, No. 1

Koumi, J. (2006). Designing video and multimedia for open and flexible learning. London: Routledge.

Lambert, S. and Williams R. (1999) A model for selecting educational technologies to improve student learning Melbourne, Australia: HERDSA Annual International Conference, July

Mackenzie, W. (2002) Multiple Intelligences and Instructional Technology: A Manual for Every Mind. Eugene, Oregon: ISTE

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia Learning (2nd ed). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Nel, C., Dreyer, C. and Carstens  (2001) Educational Technologies: A Classification and Evaluation Journal for Language Teaching Vol. 35, No. 4

Patsula, P. (2002) Practical guidelines for selecting media: An international perspective The Useableword Monitor, February 1

UBC Wikis (2014)Documentation: Design Principles for Multimedia Vancouver BC: University of British Columbia

Zaied, A. (2007) A Framework for Evaluating and Selecting Learning Technologies The International Arab Journal of Information Technology, Vol. 4, No. 2

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8.2 Students

PrintThe Malaysian Ministry of Education announced in 2012 that it will enable students to bring handphones to schools under strict guidelines Image: © NewStraightsTimes, 2012
Figure 8.2 The Malaysian Ministry of Education announced in 2012 that it will enable students to bring handphones to schools under strict guidelines
Image: © NewStraightsTimes, 2012

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The first criteria in the SECTIONS model is students.

At least three issues related to students need to be considered when choosing media and technology:

8.2.1 Student demographics

One of the fundamental changes resulting from mass higher education is that university and college teachers must now teach an increasingly diverse range of students. This increasing diversity of students presents major challenges for all teachers, not just post-secondary teachers. However, it has been less common for instructors at a post-secondary level to vary their approach within a single course to accommodate to learner differences, but the increasing diversity of students now requires that all courses should be developed with a wide variety of approaches and ways to learn if all students in the course are to be taught well.

In particular, it is important to be clear about the needs of the target group. First and second year students straight from high school are likely to require more support and help studying at a university or college level. They are likely to be less independent as learners, and therefore it may be a mistake to expect them to be able to study entirely through the use of technology. However, technology may be useful as a support for classroom teaching, especially if it provides an alternative approach to learning from the face-to-face teaching, and is gradually introduced, to prepare them for more independent study later in a program.

On the other hand, for students who have already been through higher education as a campus student, but are now in the workforce, a program delivered entirely by technology at a distance is likely to be attractive. Such students will have already developed successful study skills, will have their own community and family life, and will welcome the flexibility of studying this way.

Third and fourth year undergraduate students may appreciate a mix of classroom-based and online study or even one or two fully online courses, especially if some of their face-to-face classes are closed to further enrolments, or if students are working part-time to help cover some of the costs of being at college.

Lastly, within any single class or group of learners, there will be a wide range of differences in prior knowledge, language skills, and preferred study styles. The intelligent use of media and technology can help accommodate these differences. So, once again, it is important to know your students, and to keep this in mind when making decisions about what media or technology to use. This will be discussed further in Chapter 9.

8.2.2 Access

Of all the criteria in determining choice of technology, this is perhaps the most discriminating. No matter how powerful in educational terms a particular medium or technology may be, if students cannot access it in a convenient and affordable manner they cannot learn from it. Thus video streaming may be considered a great way to get lectures to students off campus, but if they do not have Internet access at home, or if it takes four hours or a day’s wages to download, then forget it. Difficulty of access is a particular restriction on using xMOOCs in developing countries. Even if potential learners have Internet or mobile phone access, which 5 billion still do not, it often costs a day’s wages to download a single YouTube video – see Marron, Missen and Greenberg, 2014.

Any teacher or instructor intending to use computers, tablets or mobile phones for teaching purposes needs answers to a number of questions:

If students are expected to provide their own devices (which increasingly makes sense):

Students (as well as the instructor) need to know the answers to these questions before they enrol in a course or program. In order to answer these questions, you and your department must know what students will use their devices for. There is no point in requiring students to go to the expense of purchasing a laptop computer if the work they are required to do on it is optional or trivial. This means some advance planning on your part:

It will really help if your institution has good policies in place for student technology access (see Section 8.7). If the institution does not have clear policies or infrastructure for supporting the technologies you want to use, then your job is going to be a lot harder.

The answer to the question of access and the choice of technology will also depend somewhat on the mandate of the institution and your personal educational goals. For instance, highly selective universities can require students to use particular devices, and can help the relatively few students who have financial difficulties in purchasing and using specified devices. If though the mandate of the institution is to reach learners denied access to conventional institutions, equity groups, the unemployed, the working poor, or workers needing up-grading or more advanced education and training, then it becomes critical to find out what technology they have access to or are willing to use. If an institution’s policy is open access to anyone who wants to take its courses, the availability of equipment already in the home (usually purchased for entertainment purposes) becomes of paramount importance.

Another important factor to consider is access for student with disabilities. This may mean providing textual or audio options for deaf and visually impaired students respectively. Fortunately there are now well established practices and standards under the general heading of Universal Design standards. Universal Design is defined as follows:

Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, refers to the deliberate design of instruction to meet the needs of a diverse mix of learners. Universally designed courses attempt to meet all learners’ needs by incorporating multiple means of imparting information and flexible methods of assessing learning. UDL also includes multiple means of engaging or tapping into learners’ interests. Universally designed courses are not designed with any one particular group of students with a disability in mind, but rather are designed to address the learning needs of a wide-ranging group.

Brokop, F. (2008)

Most institutions with a centre for supporting teaching and learning will be able to provide assistance to faculty to ensure the course meets universal design standards. BCcampus has a very useful guide for preparing web-based materials that meet accessibility standards. Norquest College and eCampus Alberta have published a more detailed guide to ensuring online materials are accessible for persons with disabilities.

8.2.3 Student differences with respect to learning with technologies

It may seem obvious that different students will have different preferences for different kinds of technology or media. The design of teaching would cater for these differences. Thus if students are ‘visual’ learners, they would be provided with diagrams and illustrations. If they are auditory learners, they will prefer lectures and podcasts. It might appear then that identifying dominant learning styles should then provide strong criteria for media and technology selection. However, it is not as simple as that.

McLoughlin (1999), in a thoughtful review of the implications of the research literature on learning styles for the design of instructional material, concluded that instruction could be designed to accommodate differences in both cognitive-perceptual learning styles and Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning cycle. In a study of new intakes conducted over several years at the University of Missouri-Columbia, using the Myers-Briggs inventory, Schroeder (1993) found that new students think concretely, and are uncomfortable with abstract ideas and ambiguity.

However, a major function of a university education is to develop skills of abstract thinking, and to help students deal with complexity and uncertainty. Perry (1984) found that learning in higher education is a developmental process. It is not surprising then that many students enter college or university without such ‘academic’ skills. Indeed, there are major problems in trying to apply learning styles and other methods of classifying learner differences to media and technology selection and use. Laurillard (2001) makes the point that looking at learning styles in the abstract is not helpful. Learning has to be looked at in context. Thinking skills in one subject area do not necessarily transfer well to another subject area. There are ways of thinking that are specific to different subject areas. Thus logical-rational thinkers in science do not necessarily make thoughtful husbands, or good literary critics.

Part of a university education is to understand and possibly challenge predominant modes of thinking in a subject area. While learner-centered teaching is important, students need to understand the inherent logic, standards, and values of a subject area. They also need to be challenged, and encouraged to think outside the box. This may clash with their preferred learning style. Indeed, the research on the effectiveness of matching instructional method to learning styles is at best equivocal. For instance, Dziuban et al. (2000), at the University of Central Florida, applied Long’s reactive behavior analysis of learning styles to students in both face-to-face classes and Web-based online classes. They found that learning style does not appear to be a predictor of who withdraws from online courses, nor were independent learners likely to do better online than other kinds of learners.

The limitation of learning styles as a guide to designing courses does not mean we should ignore student differences, and we should certainly start from where the student is. In particular, at a university level we need strategies to gradually move students from concrete learning based on personal experience to abstract, reflective learning that can then be applied to new contexts and situations. Technology can be particularly helpful for that, as we saw in Chapter 7.

Thus when designing courses, it is important to offer a range of options for student learning within the same course. One way to do this is to make sure that a course is well structured, with relevant ‘core’ information easily available to all students, but also to make sure that there are opportunities for students to seek out new or different content. This content should be available in a variety of media such as text, diagrams, and video, with concrete examples explicitly related to underlying principles. We shall see in Chapter 10 that the increasing availability of open educational resources makes the provision of this ‘richness’ of possible content much more viable.

Similarly, technology enables a range of learner activities to be made available, such as researching readings on the Web, online discussion forums, synchronous presentations, assessment through e-portfolios, and online group work. The range of activities increases the likelihood that a variety of learner preferences are being met, and also encourages learners to involve themselves in activities and approaches to learning where they may initially feel less comfortable. Such approaches to design are more likely to be effective than courses in multiple versions developed to meet different learning styles. In any case developing multiple versions of courses for different styles of learner is likely to be impractical in most cases. So avoid trying to match different media to different learning styles but instead ensure that students have a wide range of media (text, audio, video, computing) within a course or program.

Lastly, one should be careful in the assumptions made about student preferences for learning through digital technologies. On the one hand, technology ‘boosters’ such as Mark Prensky and Don Tapscott argue that today’s ‘digital natives’ are different from previous generations of students. They argue that today’s students live within a networked digital universe and therefore expect their learning also to be all digitally networked. It is also true that professors in particular tend to underestimate students’ access to advanced technologies (professors are often late adopters of new technology), so you should always try to find up-to-date information on what devices and technologies students are currently using, if you can.

On the other hand, it is also dangerous to assume that all students are highly ‘digital literate’ and are demanding that new technologies should be used in teaching. Jones and Shao (2011) conducted a thorough review of the literature on ‘digital natives’, with over 200 appropriate references, including surveys of relevant publications from countries in Europe, Asia, North America, Australia and South Africa. They concluded that:

Graduating students that have been interviewed about learning technologies at the University of British Columbia made it clear that they will be happy to use technology for learning so long as it contributes to their success (in the words of one student, ‘if it will get me better grades’) but the students also made it clear that it was the instructor’s responsibility to decide what technology was best for their studies.

It is also important to pay attention to what Jones and Shao are not saying. They are not saying that social media, personal learning environments, or collaborative learning are inappropriate, nor that the needs of students and the workforce are unchanging or unimportant, but the use of these tools or approaches should be driven by a holistic look at the needs of all students, the needs of the subject area, and the learning goals relevant to a digital age, and not by an erroneous view of what a particular generation of students are demanding.

In summary, one great advantage of the intelligent application of technology to teaching is that it provides opportunities for students to learn in a variety of ways, thus adapting the teaching more easily to student differences. Thus, the first step in media selection is to know your students, their similarities and differences, what technologies they already have access to, and what digital skills they already possess or lack that may be relevant for your courses. This is likely to require the use of a wide range of media within the teaching.

8.2.4 The information you need about your students

It is critical to know your students. In particular, you need the following information to provide an appropriate context for decisions about media and technology:

1. What is the mandate or policy of your institution, department or program with respect to access? How will students who do not have access to a chosen technology be supported?

2. What are the likely demographics of the students you will be teaching? How appropriate is the technology you are thinking of using for these students?

3. If your students are to be taught at least partly off campus, to which technologies are they likely to have convenient and regular access at home or work?

4. If students are to be taught at least partly on campus, what is – or should be – your or your department’s policy with regard to students’ access to devices in class?

5. What digital skills do you expect your students to have before they start the program?

6. If students are expected to provide their own access to technology, will you be able to provide unique teaching experiences that will justify the purchase or use of such technology?

7. What prior approaches to learning are the students likely to bring to your program? How suitable are such prior approaches to learning likely to be to the way you need to teach the course? How could technology be used to cater for student differences in learning?

There are many different ways to get the information needed to answer these questions. In many cases, you will still have to make decisions on insufficient evidence, but the more accurate information you have about your potential students, the better your likely choice of media and technology. Almost certainly, though, you will have a variety and diversity of students, so the design of your teaching will need to accommodate this.

Activity 8.2: Knowing your students

How many of these questions can you answer off the top of your head?

What additional information do you need, and where can you find it?

References

BCcampus and CAPER-BC (2015) B.C. Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit Victoria BC: BCcampus.

Brokop, F. (2008) Accessibility to E-Learning for Persons With Disabilities: Strategies, Guidelines, and Standards Edmonton AB: NorQuest College/eCampus Alberta

Dziuban, C. et al. (2000) Reactive behavior patterns go online  The Journal of Staff, Program and Organizational Development, Vol. 17, No.3

Jones, C. and Shao, B. (2011) The Net Generation and Digital Natives: Implications for Higher Education Milton Keynes: Open University/Higher Education Academy

Kolb. D. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall

Laurillard, D. (2001) Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies New York/London: Routledge

Marron, D. Missen, C. and Greenberg, J. (2014) Lo-Fi to Hi-Fi”: A New Way of Conceptualizing Metadata in Underserved Areas with the eGranary Digital Library Austin TX: International Conference on Dublin Core and Metadata Applications

McCoughlin, C. (1999) The implictions of the research literature on learning styles for the design of instructional material Australian Journal of Educational Technology, Vol. 15, No. 3

NorQuest College (2008) Accessibility to E-Learning for Persons With Disabilities: Strategies, Guidelines, and Standards Edmonton AB: ECampusAlberta

Perry, W. (1970) Forms of intellectual development and ethical development in the college years: a scheme New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston

Prensky, M. (2001) ‘Digital natives, Digital Immigrants’ On the Horizon Vol. 9, No. 5

Schroeder, C. (1993) New students – new learning styles, Change, Sept.-Oct

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8.3 Ease of Use

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Figure 8.5.2 Reliability is important! Image: © pixgood.com

Figure 8.3 Reliability is important!
Image: © pixgood.com

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In most cases, the use of technology in teaching is a means, not an end. Therefore it is important that students and teachers do not have to spend a great deal of time on learning how to use educational technologies, or on making the technologies work. The exceptions of course are where technology is the area of study, such as computer science or engineering, or where learning the use of software tools is critical for some aspects of the curriculum, for instance computer-aided design in architecture, spreadsheets in business studies, and geographical information systems in geology. In most cases, though, the aim of the study is not to learn how to use a particular piece of educational technology, but the study of history, mathematics, or biology.

One advantage of face-to-face teaching is that it needs relatively little advance preparation time compared with for instance developing a fully online course. Media and technologies vary in their capacity for speed of implementation and flexibility in up-dating. For instance, blogs are much quicker and easier to develop and distribute than video. Teachers and instructors then are much more likely to use technology that is quick and easy to use, and students likewise will expect such features in technology they are to use for studying. However, what’s ‘easy’ for instructors and students to use will depend on their digital literacy.

8.3.1 Computer and information literacy

If a great deal of time has to be spent by the students and teachers in learning how to use for instance software for the development or delivery of course material, this distracts from the learning and teaching. Of course, there is a basic set of literacy skills that will be required, such as the ability to read and write, to use a keyboard, to use word processing software, to navigate the Internet and use Internet software, and increasingly to use mobile devices. These generic skills though could be considered pre-requisites. If students have not adequately developed these skills in school, then an institution might provide preparatory courses for students on these topics.

It will make life a lot easier for both teachers and students if an institution has strategies for supporting students’ use of digital media. For instance, at the University of British Columbia, the Digital Tattoo project prepares students for learning online in a number of ways:

If your institution does not have something similar, then you could direct your students to the Digital Tattoo site, which is fully open.

It is not only students though who may need prior preparation. Technology can be too seductive. You can start using it without fully understanding its structure or how it works. Even a short period of training – an hour of less – on how to use common technologies such as a learning management system or lecture capture could save you a lot of time and more importantly, enable you to see the potential value of all features and not just those that you stumble across.

8.3.2 Orientation

A useful standard or criterion for the selection of course media or software is that ‘novice’ students (students who have never used the software before) should be studying within 20 minutes of logging on. This 20 minutes may be needed to work out some of the key functions of the software that may be unfamiliar, or to work out how the course Web site is organized and navigated. This is more of an orientation period though than learning new skills of computing. If there is a need to introduce new software that may take a little time to learn, for instance, a synchronous ‘chat’ facility, or video streaming, it should be introduced at the point where it is needed. It is important though to provide time within the course for the students to learn how to do this.

8.3.4 Interface design

The critical factor in making technology transparent is the design of the interface between the user and the machine. Thus an educational program or indeed any Web site should be well structured, intuitive for the user to use, and easy to navigate.

Interface design is a highly skilled profession, and is based on a combination of scientific research into how humans learn, an understanding of how operating software works, and good training in graphic design. This is one reason why it is often wise to use software or tools that have been well established in education, because these have been tested and been found to work well.

The traditional generic interface of computers – a keyboard, mouse, and graphic user interface of windows and pull-down menus and pop-up instructions – is still extremely crude, and not isomorphic with most people’s preferences for processing information. It places very heavy emphasis on literacy skills and a preference for visual learning. This can cause major difficulties for students with certain disabilities, such as dyslexia or poor eyesight. However, in recent years, interfaces have started to become more user friendly, with touch screen and voice activated interfaces.

Nevertheless a great deal of effort often has to go into the adaptation of existing computer or mobile interfaces to make them easy to use in an educational context. The Web is just as much a prisoner of the general computer interface as any other software environment, and the educational potential of any Web site is also restricted by its algorithmic or tree-like structure. For instance, it does not always suit the inherent structure of some subject areas, or the preferred way of learning of some students.

There are several consequences of these interface limitations for teachers in higher education:

8.3.4 Reliability

The reliability and robustness of the technology is also critical. Most of us will have had the frustration of losing work when our word programming software crashes or working ‘in the cloud’ and being logged off in the middle of a piece of writing. The last thing you want as a teacher or instructor is lots of calls from students saying they cannot get online access, or that their computer keeps crashing. (If the software locks up one machine, it will probably lock up all the others!) Technical support can be a huge cost, not just in paying technical staff to deal with service calls, but also in lost time of students and teachers.

‘Innovation in teaching’ will certainly bring rewards these days as institutions jostle for position as innovative institutions.  It is often easier to get funding for new uses of technology than funding to sustain older but successful technologies. Although podcasts combined with a learning management system can be a very low-cost but highly effective teaching medium if good design is used, they are not sexy. It will usually be easier to get support for much more costly and spectacular technologies such as xMOOCs or virtual reality.

On the other hand, there is much risk in being too early into a new technology. Software may not be fully tested and reliable, or the company supporting the new technology may go bankrupt. Students are not guinea pigs, and reliable and sustainable service is more important to them than the glitz and glamour of untried technology. It is best to wait for at least a year for new apps or software to be fully tested in general applications before adopting them for teaching. It is wise then not to rush in and buy the latest software up-date or new product – wait for the bugs to be ironed out.  Also if you plan to use a new app or technology that is not generally supported by the institution, check first with IT services to ensure there are not security, privacy or institutional bandwidth issues. Thus it is better to be at the leading edge, just behind the first wave of innovation, rather than at the bleeding edge.

A feature of online learning is that peak use tends to fall outside normal office hours. Thus it is really important that your course materials sit on a reliable server with high-speed access and 24 hour, seven days a week reliability, with automatic back-up on a separate, independent server located in a different building. Ideally, the servers should be in a secure area (with for instance emergency electricity supply) with 24 hour technical support, which probably means locating your servers with a central IT service or ‘in the cloud’, which means it is all the more important to ensure that materials are safely and independently backed up.

However, the good news is that most commercial educational software products such as learning management systems and lecture capture, as well as servers, are very reliable. Open source software too is usually reliable but probably slightly more at risk of technical failure or security breaches. If you have good IT support, you should receive very few calls from students on technical matters. The main technical issue that faculty face these days appears to be software up-grades to learning management systems. This often means moving course materials from one version of the software to the new version. This can be costly and time-consuming, particularly if the new version is substantially different from the previous version. Overall, though, reliability should not be an issue.

In summary, ease of use requires professionally designed commercial or open source course software, specialized help in graphics, navigation and screen design for your course materials, and strong technical support for server and software management and maintenance. Certainly in North America, most institutions now provide IT and other services focused specifically on supporting technology-based teaching. However, without such professional support, a great deal of your time as a teacher will be spent on technical issues, and to be blunt, if you do not have easy and convenient access to such support, you would be wise not to get heavily committed to technology-based teaching until that support is available. 

8.3.5 Questions for consideration

Ease of use is another critical factor in the successful use of technology for teaching. Some of the questions then that you need to consider are:

  1. How intuitively easy to use, both by students and by yourself, is the technology you are considering?
  2. How reliable is the technology?
  3. How easy is it to maintain and up-grade the technology?
  4. The company that is providing the critical hardware or software you are using: is it a stable company that is not likely to go out of business in the next year or two, or is it a new start-up? What strategies are in place to secure any digital teaching materials you create should the organisation providing the software or service cease to exist?
  5. Do you have adequate technical and professional support, both in terms of the technology and with respect to the design of materials?
  6. How fast developing is this subject area? How important is it to regularly change the teaching materials? Which technology will best support this?
  7. To what extent can the changes be handed over to someone else to do, and/or how essential is it for you to do them yourself?
  8. What rewards am I likely to get for using new technology in my teaching? Will use of a new technology be the only innovation, or can I also change my way of teaching with this technology to get better results?
  9. What are the risks in using this technology?

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Figure 8.4.1 Total cost of a fully online masters' course over 7 years (from Bates and Sangrà, 2011)

Figure 8.4.1 Total cost of a fully online masters’ course over 7 years (from Bates and Sangrà, 2011)

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8.4.1 A revolution in media

Until as recently as ten years ago, cost was a major discriminator affecting the choice of technology (Hülsmann, 2000, 2003; Rumble, 2001; Bates, 2005). For instance, for educational purposes, audio (lectures, radio, audio-cassettes) was far cheaper than print, which in turn was far cheaper than most forms of computer-based learning, which in turn was far cheaper than video (television, cassettes or video-conferencing). All these media were usually seen as either added costs to regular teaching, or too expensive to use to replace face-to-face teaching, except for purely distance education on a fairly large scale.

However, there have been dramatic reductions in the cost of developing and distributing all kinds of media (except face-to-face teaching) in the last ten years, due to several factors:

The good news then is that in general, and in principle, cost should no longer be an automatic discriminator in the choice of media. If you are happy to accept this statement at face value, than you can skip the rest of this chapter. Choose the mix of media that best meets your teaching needs, and don’t worry about which medium is likely to cost more. Indeed, a good case could be made that it would now be cheaper to replace face-to-face teaching with purely online learning, if cost was the only consideration.

In practice however costs can vary enormously both between and within media, depending once again on context and design. Since the main cost from a teacher’s perspective is their time, it is important to know what are the ‘drivers’ of cost, that is, what factors are associated with increased costs, depending on the context and the medium being used. These factors are less influenced by new technological developments, and can therefore be seen as ‘foundational’ principles when considering the costs of educational media.

Unfortunately there are many different factors that can influence the actual cost of using media in education, which makes a detailed discussion of costs very complex (for a more detailed treatment, see Bates and Sangrà, 2011). As a result, I will try to identify the main cost drivers, then provide a table that provides a simplified guide to how these factors influence the costs of different media, including face-to-face teaching. This guide again should be considered as a heuristic device. So see this section as Media Costs 101.

8.4.1 Cost categories

The main cost categories to be considered in using educational media and technologies, and especially blended or online learning, are as follows:

8.4.1.2 Development

These are the costs needed to pull together or create learning materials using particular media or technologies. There are several sub-categories of development costs:

Development costs are usually fixed or ‘once only’ and are independent of the number of students. Once media are developed, they are usually scalable, in that once produced, they can be used by any number of learners without increased development costs. Using open educational resources can greatly reduce media development costs.

8.4.1.3 Delivery

This includes the cost of the educational activities needed during offering the course and would include instructional time spent interacting with students, instructional time spent on marking assignments, and would include the time of other staff supporting delivery, such as teaching assistants, adjuncts for additional sections and instructional designers and technical support staff.

Because of the cost of human factors such as instructional time and technical support needed in media-based teaching, delivery costs tend to increase as student numbers increase, and also have to be repeated each time the course is on offer. In other words, they are recurrent. However, increasingly with Internet-based delivery, there is usually a zero direct technology cost in delivery.

8.4.1.4 Maintenance costs

Once materials for a course are created, they need to be maintained. Urls go dead, set readings may go out of print or expire, and more importantly new developments in the subject area may need to be accommodated. Thus once a course is offered, there are ongoing maintenance costs.

Instructional designers and/or media professionals can manage some of the maintenance, but nevertheless teachers or instructors will need to be involved with decisions about content replacement or updating. Maintenance is not usually a major time consumer for a single course, but if an instructor is involved in the design and production of several online courses, maintenance time can build to a significant amount.

Maintenance costs are usually independent of the number of students, but are dependent on the number of courses an instructor is responsible for, and are recurrent each year.

8.4.1.5 Overheads

These include infrastructure or overhead costs, such as the cost of licensing a learning management system, lecture capture technology and servers for video steaming. These are real costs but not ones that can be allocated to a single course but will be shared across a number of courses. Overheads are usually considered to be institutional costs and, although important, probably will not influence a teacher’s decision about which media to use, provided these services are already in place and the institution does not directly charge for such services.

8.4.2 Cost drivers

The primary factors that drive cost are

Production of technology-based materials such as a video program, or a Web site, is a fixed cost, in that it is not influenced by how many students take the course. However, production costs can vary depending on the design of the course. Engle (2014) showed that depending on the method of video production, the development costs for a MOOC could vary by a factor of six (the most expensive production method – full studio production – being six times that of an instructor self-recording on a laptop).

Nevertheless, once produced, the cost is independent of the number of students. Thus the more expensive the course to develop, the greater the need to increase student numbers to reduce the average cost per student. (Or put another way, the greater the number of students, the more reason to ensure that high quality production is used, whatever the medium). In the case of MOOCs (which tend to be almost twice as expensive to develop as an online course for credit using a learning management system – University of Ottawa, 2013) the number of learners is so great that the average cost per student is very small. Thus there are opportunities for economies of scale from the development of digital material, provided that student course enrolments can be increased (which may not always be the case). This can be described as the potential for the scalability of a medium.

Similarly, there are costs in teaching the course once the course is developed. These tend to be variable costs, in that they increase as class size increases. If student-teacher interaction, through online discussion forums and assignment marking, is to be kept to a manageable level, then the teacher-student ratio needs to be kept relatively low (for instance, between 1:25 to 1:40, depending on the subject area and the level of the course). The more students, the more time a teacher will need to spend on delivery, or additional contract instructors will need to be hired. Either way, increased student numbers generally will lead to increased costs. MOOCs are an exception. Their main value proposition is that they do not provide direct learner support, so have zero delivery costs. However, this is probably the reason why such a small proportion of participants successfully complete MOOCs.

There may be benefits then for a teacher or for an institution in spending more money up front for interactive learning materials if this leads to less demand for teacher-student interaction. For instance, a mathematics course might be able to use automated testing and feedback and simulations and diagrams, and pre-designed answers to frequently asked questions, with less or even no time spent on individual assignment marking or communication with the teacher. In this case it may be possible to manage teacher-student ratios as high as 1:200 or more, without significant loss of quality.

Also, experience in using or working with a particular medium or delivery method is also important. The first time an instructor uses a particular medium such as podcasting, it takes much longer than subsequent productions or offerings. Some media or technologies though need much more effort to learn to use than others. Thus a related cost driver is whether the instructor works alone (self-development) or works with media professionals. Self-developing materials will usually take longer for an instructor than working with professionals.

There are advantages in teachers and instructors working with media professionals when developing digital media. Media professionals will ensure the development of a quality product, and above all can save teachers or instructors considerable time, for instance through the choice of appropriate software, editing, and storage and streaming of digital materials. Instructional designers can help in suggesting appropriate applications of different media for different learning outcomes. Thus as with all educational design, a team approach is likely to be more effective, and working with other professionals will help control the time teachers and instructors spend on media development.

Lastly, design decisions are critical. Costs are driven by design decisions within a medium. For instance cost drivers are different between lectures and seminars (or lab classes) in face-to-face teaching. Similarly, video can be used just to record talking heads, as in lecture capture, or can be used to exploit the affordances of the medium (see Chapter 7), such as demonstrating processes or location shooting. Computing has a wide and increasing range of possible designs, including online collaborative learning (OCL), computer-based learning, animations, simulations or virtual worlds. Social media are another group of media that also need to be considered.

Figure 8.4.2 attempts to capture the complexity of cost factors, focusing mainly on the perspective of a teacher or instructor making decisions. Again, this should be seen as a heuristic device, a way of thinking about the issue. Other factors could be added (such as social media, or maintenance of materials). I have given my own personal ratings for each cell, based on my experience. I have taken conventional teaching as a medium or ‘average’ cost, then ranked cells as to whether there is a higher or lower cost factor for the particular medium. Other readers may well rate the cells differently.

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Figure 8.4.4.1 Cost drivers for educational media

Figure 8.4.2 Cost drivers for educational media

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Although the time it takes to develop and deliver learning using different technologies is likely to influence an instructor’s decision about what technology to use, it is not a simple equation. For instance, developing a good quality online course using a mix of video and text materials may take much more of the instructor’s time to prepare than if the course was offered through classroom teaching. However, the online course may take less time in delivery over several years, because students may be spending more time on task online, and less time in direct interaction with the instructor. Once again, we see that design is a critical factor in how costs are assessed.

In short, from an instructor perspective, time is the critical cost factor. Technologies that take a lot of time to use are less likely to be used than those that are easy to use and thus save time. But once again design decisions can greatly affect how much time teachers or instructors need to spend on any medium, and the ability of teachers and students to create their own educational media is becoming an increasingly important factor.

8.4.3 Issues for consideration

In recent years, university faculty have generally gravitated more to lecture capture for online course delivery, particularly in institutions where online or distance learning is relatively new, because it is ‘simpler’ to do than redesign and create mainly text based materials in learning management systems. Lecture capture also more closely resembles the traditional classroom method. Pedagogically though (depending on the subject area) it may be less effective than an online course using collaborative learning and online discussion forums. Also, from an institutional perspective lecture capture has a much higher technology cost than a learning management system.

Also, students themselves can now use their own devices to create multimedia materials for project work or for assessment purposes in the form of e-portfolios. Media allow instructors, if they wish, to move a lot of the hard work in teaching and learning from themselves to the students. Media allow students to spend more time on task, and low cost, consumer media such as mobile phones or tablets enable students themselves to create media artefacts, enabling them to demonstrate their learning in concrete ways. This does not mean that instructor ‘presence’ is no longer needed when students are studying online, but it does enable a shift in where and how a teacher or instructor can spend their time in supporting learning.

Activity 8.4 How will cost affect your decision about what media to use?

  1. Are concerns about the possible cost/demands on your time influencing your decisions on what media to use? If so in what ways? Has this section on costs changed your mind?
  2. How much time do you spend preparing lectures? Could that time be better spent preparing learning materials, then using the time saved from delivering lectures on interaction with students (online and/or face-to-face)?
  3. What kind of help can you get in your institution from instructional designers and media professionals for media design and development? What media decisions will the answer to this question suggest to you? For instance, if you are in a k-12 school with little or no chance for professional support, what kind of media and design decisions are you likely to make?
  4. If you were filling in the cells for Figure 8.4.2, what differences would there be with my entries? Why?
  5. In Figure 8.4.2, add the following media: e-portfolios (in computing) and add another section under computing: social media. Add blogs, wikis and cMOOCs. How would you fill in the cells for each of these for development, delivery, etc.? Are there other media you would also add?
  6. Do you agree with the statement: It would now be cheaper to replace face-to-face teaching with purely online learning, if cost was the only consideration? What are the implications for your teaching if this is really true? What considerations would still justify face-to-face teaching?

Please share your answers in the comment box below.

References

Bates, A. (2005) Technology, e-Learning and Distance Education London/New York: Routledge

Bates, A. and Sangrà, A. (2011) Managing Technology in Higher Education San Francisco: JosseyBass/John Wiley and Co

Engle, W. (2104)UBC MOOC Pilot: Design and Delivery Vancouver BC: University of British Columbia 

Hülsmann, T. (2000) The Costs of Open Learning: A Handbook Oldenburg: Bibliotheks- und Informationssytem der Universität Oldenburg 

Hülsmann, T. (2003) Costs without camouflage: a cost analysis of Oldenburg University’s  two graduate certificate programs offered  as part of the online Master of Distance Education (MDE): a case study, in Bernath, U. and Rubin, E., (eds.) Reflections on Teaching in an Online Program: A Case Study Oldenburg, Germany: Bibliothecks-und Informationssystem der Carl von Ossietsky Universität Oldenburg

Rumble, G. (2001) The Cost and Costing of Networked Learning Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, Volume 5, Issue 2 

University of Ottawa (2013)Report of the e-Learning Working Group Ottawa ON: The University of Ottawa

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8.5 Teaching and media selection

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Figure 8.5.1 People do not necessarily learn better ... when the speaker's image is added to the screen (Meyer, 2009).

Figure 8.5.1 People do not necessarily learn better … when the speaker’s image is added to the screen (Mayer, 2009).

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8.5.1 The importance of design in multimedia teaching

Chapter 7 discussed the various pedagogical differences between media. Identifying appropriate uses of media is both an increasingly important requirement of teachers and instructors in a digital age, and a very complex challenge. This is one reason for working closely with instructional designers and media professionals whenever possible. Teachers working with instructional designers will need to decide which media they intend to use on pedagogical as well as operational grounds, which was the purpose of Chapter 7.

However, once the choice of media has been made, by focusing on design issues we can provide further guidelines for making appropriate use of media. In particular, having gone through the process suggested in Chapter 7 of identifying possible teaching roles or functions for different media, we can then draw on the work of Mayer (2009) and Koumi (2006, 2015) to ensure that whatever choice or mix of media we have decided on, the design leads to effective teaching.

Mayer’s research focused heavily on cognitive overload in rich, multimedia teaching. From all his research over many years, Mayer identified 12 principles of multimedia design, based on how learners cognitively process multimedia:

8.5.2.1 Coherence

People learn better when extraneous words, pictures and sounds are excluded rather than included. Basically, keep it simple in media terms.

8.5.2.2 Signalling

People learn better when cues that highlight the organization of the essential material are added. This replicates earlier findings by Bates and Gallagher (1977). Students need to know what to look for in multimedia materials.

8.5.2.3 [Avoid] Redundancy

People learn better from graphics + narration, than from graphics, narration and on-screen text.

8.5.2.4 Spatial contiguity

People learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near rather than far from each other on the page or screen

8.5.2.5 Temporal contiguity

People learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively.

8.5.2.6 Segmenting

People learn better when a multimedia lesson is presented in user-paced segments rather than as a continuous lesson. Thus several ‘YouTube’ length videos are more likely to work better than a 50 minute video.

8.5.2.7 Pre-training

People learn better from a multimedia lesson when they know the names and the characteristics of the main concepts. This suggests a design feature for flipped classrooms, for instance. It may be better to use a lecture or readings that provide a summary of key concepts and principles before showing more detailed examples or applications of such principles in a video.

8.5.2.8 Modality

People learn better from graphics and narration than from animation and on-screen text. This reflects the importance of learners being able to combine both hearing and viewing at the same time to reinforce each other in specific ways.

8.5.2.9 Multimedia

People learn better from words and pictures than from words alone. This also reinforces what I wrote in 1995: Make all four media available to teachers and learners (Bates, 1995, p.13).

8.5.2.10 Personalization

People learn better from multimedia lessons when words are in conversational style rather than formal style. I would go even further than Mayer here. Multimedia can enable learners (particularly distance learners) to relate to the instructor, as suggested by Durbridge’s research (1983, 1984) on audio combined with text. Providing a ‘human voice and face’ to the teaching helps motivate learners, and makes multimedia teaching feel that it is directed solely at the individual learner, if a conversational style is adopted.

8.5.2.11 Voice

People learn better when the narration in multimedia lessons is spoken in a friendly human voice rather than a machine voice. 

8.5.2.12 [No] image

People do not necessarily learn better from a multimedia lesson when the speaker’s image is added to the screen.

In re-reading Mayer’s work, I am struck by the similarities in findings, using different research methods, different multimedia technologies, and different contexts, to the research from the Audio-Visual Media Research Group at the British Open University in the 1970s and 1980s (Bates, 1985).

More recently, the University of British Columbia has done an excellent job of suggesting how Mayer’s design principles could be operationalised. Staff at the University of British Columbia have combined Mayer’s findings with Robert Talbert’s experience from developing a series of successful screencasts on mathematics, into a set of practical design guidelines for multimedia production.

Talbert’s key design principles are:

8.5.3 Teaching as a weak discriminator in media selection

Most teachers and instructors would put the effectiveness of a medium for teaching and learning as the first criterion. If the technology is not educationally effective, why would you use it? However, if a student cannot access or use a technology, there will be no learning from that technology, no matter how it is designed. Furthermore, motivated teachers will overcome weaknesses in a particular technology, or conversely teachers inexperienced in using media will often under-exploit the potential of a technology.

Thus design decisions are critical in influencing the effectiveness of a particular technology. Well-designed lectures will teach better than a poorly designed online course, and vice versa. Similarly, students will respond differently to different technologies due to preferred learning styles or differences in motivation. Students who work hard can overcome poor use of learning technologies. It is not surprising then that with so many variables involved, teaching and learning is a difficult discriminator for selecting and using technologies. Access (and ease of use) are stronger discriminators than teaching effectiveness in selecting media.

8.5.4 Questions for consideration

Therefore, it is not enough to focus just on the design of multimedia materials, as important as design is, even considering just the pedagogical context. The choice and use of media need to be related to other factors (what Mayer calls ‘boundary conditions’), such as individual differences between learners, the complexity of the content, and the desired learning outcomes. Thus when considering media from a strictly teaching perspective, the following questions need to be considered:

  1. Who are my students?
  2. What content needs to be covered?
  3. What are the desired learning outcomes from the teaching in terms of skills development?
  4. What instructional strategies or approaches to learning do I plan using?
  5. What are the unique pedagogical characteristics of different media? How might different media help with the presentation of content and development of student skills in this course?
  6. What is the best way to present the content to be covered in this course? How can media help with the presentation of content? Which media for what content?
  7. What skills am I trying to develop on this course? How can media help students with the development of the requisite skills for this course? Which media for which skills?
  8. What principles do I need to use when designing multimedia materials for their most effective use?

Working through these questions is likely to be an iterative rather than a sequential process. Depending on the way you prefer to think about and make decisions, it may help to write down the answers to each of the questions, but going through the process of thinking about these questions is probably more important, leaving you with the freedom to make choices on a more intuitive basis, having first taken all these – and other – factors into consideration.

Activity 8.5 Multimedia design principles

How well do you think Meyer’s design principles would apply to classroom teaching?

Which principles would also work in a classroom context and which wouldn’t?

Under what conditions would Meyer’s principles work in a classroom context?

Please share your answers in the comment box below.

References

Bates, A. (1985) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation London: Constables

Bates, A. (1995) Teaching, Open Learning and Distance Education London/New York: Routledge

Bates, A. and Gallagher, M. (1977) Improving the Effectiveness of Open University Television Case-Studies and Documentaries Milton Keynes: The Open University (I.E.T. Papers on Broadcasting, No. 77)

Durbridge, N. (1983) Design implications of audio and video cassettes Milton Keynes: Open University Institute of Educational Technology

Durbridge, N. (1984) Audio cassettes, in: Bates, A. (ed.) The Role of Technology in Distance Education London: Routledge (re-published in 2014)

Koumi, J. (2006). Designing video and multimedia for open and flexible learning. London: Routledge

Koumi, J. (2015) Learning outcomes afforded by self-assessed, segmented video-print combinations Academia.edu (unpublished)

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning (2nd ed). New York: Cambridge University Press

UBC Wikis (2014) Documentation: Design Principles for Multimedia Vancouver BC: University of British Columbia

 

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8.6 Interaction

The fifth element of the SECTIONS model for selecting media is interaction. How do different media enable interaction? The ‘affordance’ of interaction is critically important, as there is now an overwhelming amount of research evidence to suggest that students learn best when they are ‘active’ in their learning. But what does this mean? And what role can or do new technologies play in supporting active learning?

8.6.1. Types of learner interaction

There are three different ways learners can interact when studying (Moore, 1989), and each of these ways requires a somewhat different mix of media and technology.

8.6.1.1 Interaction with learning materials

Print

Figure 9.6.1 Computers enable 'inherent' interaction

Figure 8.6.1.1 Computers enable learners to interact with learning materials (also ‘inherent’ interaction)

Print

This is the interaction generated when students work on a particular medium, such as a printed textbook, a learning management system, or a short video clip, without direct intervention from an instructor or other students. This interaction can be ‘reflective’, without any overt actions, or it can be ‘observable’, in the form of an assessed response, such as a multiple choice test, or as a contribution to a discussion, or as notes to assist memory and comprehension.

Computer technology can greatly facilitate learners’ interaction with learning resources. Self-administered online tests can provide feedback to students on their comprehension or coverage of a subject area. Such tests can also provide feedback to teachers on topic areas where students are having difficulty, and can also be used for grading of students on their comprehension. Using standard test software built into learning management systems, students can be automatically assessed and graded on their comprehension of course materials. More advanced activities might include composing music using software that converts musical notation to audio, entering data to test concepts through online simulations, or participating in games or decision-making scenarios controlled by the computer. Thus computer-managed learner interaction is particularly good for developing comprehension and understanding of concepts and procedures, but it has limitations in developing the higher order learning skills of analysis, synthesis and critical thinking, without additional human intervention of some kind.

There are other ways besides computer-managed learning to facilitate interaction between learners and learning material. Textbooks may inc