In developing the intervention, the project has also drawn on connectivist theory. Connectivism can be defined as: the view that knowledge and cognition are distributed across networks of people and technology and learning is the process of connecting, growing, and navigating those networks.” (Siemens & Tittenberger 2009, p.11). This is understood to happen at different levels: neural, conceptual and external.

Connectivism is important to my intervention on all three of these levels. At an external level there is the creation of a learning community through the internet and VLE, with an accent on bringing the learners own experiences into the community along with their subject knowledge (conceptual level) and applying these to problem solving. In this process the neural connections between experience, knowledge and current learning should form networks between, thus aiding memory formation and storage.

Bibliography

Siemens, G. & Tittenburger, P. (2009) [Internet] Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning, (accessed on 29.5.10) (available at: http://weblearn.londonmet.ac.uk/webct/RelativeResourceManager/Template/HETL.pdf)

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Angelo’s fourteen principles are described by Angelo as a “teacher’s dozen” (1993, p.2), with an almost humerous reference to a “teacher’s dozen” being one more that a bakers dozen, and are influenced by Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. They aim to provide principles for improving learning and Angelo recognises the debt to Chickering and Gamson, but adds that there were more specific principles he could not teach without (1993, p.2). It is from five of these fourteen principles that the rationale for using a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) will draw on.
Active learning is more effective than passive learning (Angelo 1993, p.3).
To be remembered, new information must be meaningfully connected to prior knowledge and it must be remembered in order to be learned (ibid, p.4).
Both these principles of Angelo’s “teaching dozen” are served well by the use of the VLE in an integrated way, as it allows the creation of interactive exercises and tasks that draw on the learner’s own experience and knowledge; this cognitive and experiential capital is then applied to problems within the VLE at a time that is convenient to the learner. This is particularly important as much university teaching relies on a relatively passive relationship from the learner in lectures, with little seminar time to explore and apply concepts and ideas received from teaching in the chalk and talk tradition. Additionally, it is the application of the knowledge and experience that contributes to learning, Chickering and Gamson outlined the principle of active learning when they said learners must “…talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences and apply it to their daily lives.” (1987, p.4) Angelo develops this point further: “The more meaningful and appropriate connections students make between what they know and what they are learning, the more permanently they will anchor new information in long-term memory and the easier it will be for them to access that information when it’s needed.” (op cit, p.5).
The active learning tasks are designed around specific goals (as explained further below) related to the course learning objectives and this brings together the elements of good active learning, as set out by Angelo: “activity, in and of itself, doesn’t result in higher learning. Active learning occurs when students invest physical and mental energies in activities that help them make what they are learning meaningful, and when they are aware of that meaning-making.” (ibid, p.3-4).
Learning is more effective and efficient when learners have explicit, reasonable, positive goals, and when their goals fit well with the teacher’s goals (ibid, p.4).
The interactive tasks on the VLE can be designed around very specific goals. My intervention is designed around specific exercises that are based on the course learning objectives. The VLE allows multiple interactive tasks and thus I can break down more complex problems into much more manageable chunks with clear goals that relate to the wider learning objectives. This allows for clarity in task instruction, manageable workload and a clear link to the wider learning objectives. Additionally, given previous problems with writing style and plagiarism, there are specific goals for the students in referencing the material they produce in the tasks and building confidence in academic writing conventions.

Learners need feedback on their learning, early and often, to learn well; to become independent, they need to learn how and give themselves feedback (ibid, p.5).
Interaction between teachers and learners is one of the most powerful factors in promoting learning, interaction among learners is another (ibid, p.8).

The VLE allows teachers to give, and learners to receive, feedback at any time and any place (given access to the internet). It also allows more detailed feedback as learning objectives can be broken down into constituent goals suitable for tasks and exercises that are far less intense than a full academic essay. In terms of students providing peer feedback and general interaction, the VLE has excellent communication tools that can facilitate either live discussion, postings, email or written feedback on work. The need for students to provide peer comment on each others work is built into the tasks. With clear goals set for each task, learners can quickly become focussed on the key areas of importance for feedback under the general moderation of the teacher. This moderation allows for structured and open discussion and postings between participants with the teacher generating a good example of appropriate comment, feedback and etiquette (while addressing any inappropriate comments or behaviour). Such practice encourages independence in learning: “When students learn to internalize the voice of the “coach,” they can begin to give themselves corrective feedback.” (ibid, p.6). For the second of the principles here, it is important to emphasise the structured part of the tasks and interaction as Angelo points out that: “…it isn’t interaction in and of itself that promotes academic learning, it’s structured interaction.” (ibid, p.8).

 

Bibliography
Angelo, T. (1993) “A teacher’s dozen: Fourteen general, research-based principles for improving higher learning in our classrooms.” AAHE Bulletin April 1993: 3–13.
Chickering, A., & Gamson, Z. (1987) “Seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education.” AAHE Bulletin, March 1987: 3-7.

 Morgan, D (2009) Teaching and Learning has always been a highly social activity. Technology hasn’t changed this. Or has it? Paper to the Learning Technologies Conference 2009

This paper focuses on leadership, interaction and the design aspects of learning technologies and the e-learning process, reflecting on the importance of the learner being engaged and motivated in e-learning as well as the importance of collaborative learning.

Morgan establishes that technology is a tool to enable learning rather than delivering learning in itself and this reinforces the important role of the teacher in creating an interactive environment and “creating, facilitating and guiding” online learning. This student centred active learning approach is also seen as self-directed or autonomous learning and sees the learner as being responsible for their own learning, self-guided, making choices as to what to interact with and to what extent.

The foundation of this thinking is in constructivist learning, the concept that “learners have the ability to construct their understanding by drawing on their past and present experiences and reflecting on these.” In terms of e-learning this approach stresses the importance of the design of the e-learning activities in shaping learning. Key skills for the teacher in designing activities are planning, technological knowledge, understanding learning styles and providing opportunities to interact on a range of levels.

Just having access to information is a passive experience, the challenge is to make the experience an active one; activities that “require analysis, evaluation and application….to enhance learning…” (Lynch, 2002, p.12). This leads to an element of empowerment in the learning process leading to motivation and satisfaction, what would seem an implicit reference to wider motivation theory and the relationship between discretion and motivation and satisfaction.

The design of the e-learning activity should focus around three areas:

  1. Learning Tasks (including application of concepts);
  2. Learning Resources (support for, not the learning in itself); and
  3. Learning Support (guidance and encouragement)

In establishing collaborative learning, the teacher’s role is also important to “encourage active participation and reflection; foster a sense of community, and model ‘safe’ communication and ethical uses of the medium”. This would also involve skills to effectively mediate or police the community as well as facilitate relationships within the online community.

This made me laugh, but it reflects on some of the debates around technology in learning and teaching. Particularly it shows how technology may transform delivery and create new opportunities but the process is not new. More importantly, it reinforces the need to guide the learner (with some good old note taking!). My own experience over the last few weeks both in practice and reading around the subject has reinforced this. The use of new media and technology still have be carefully thought out especially in targeting conceptual learning.

Previously, my use of technologies such as VLEs has been very much based on using the space as a storage area for specific information to be accessed by students rather than as an area for developing critical thinking skills. Weblearn has been a repository of lecture notes, statistics and recent relevant reports, rather than a ‘learning community’.

Garrison & Anderson (2003) say “The information age and the networked world are forcing educators to rethink the educational experience. It has become very clear that the value-add in a ‘knowledge-based future’ will be a learning environment that develops and encourages the ability to think and learn both independently and collaboratively. That is, critical and self-directed learners with the motivation and ability to be both reflective and collaborative, and, ultimately, with the motivation to continue to learn throughout their lives..” (p.20) They go on to say that digital technologies (e-learning) require radically new and different notions of pedagogy. (p.20) and that “[t]he challenge is to understand the emerging educational context and how we will create learning environments that will facilitate development of higher-order cognitive abilities and encourage these to thrive.” The phrase “value-add” is a little unclear and may in fact indicate a polarisation of outcomes between learners that are more able to independently learn and cooperate at one end of the spectrum and those who may need more support in learning and the use of technology. There is certainly a challenge in using digital technologies to “facilitate development of higher-order cognitive abilities” as many existing technologies need to codify knowledge and analysis making them less flexible in developing integrated critical analysis using deductive and inductive reasoning. That is not to say that the platform cannot play an important role in engaging the student and providing more inclusive learning environments. In developing cognitive abilities such as conceptual reasoning, creating learning community forums, for instance, can give equal access and status to contributors while providing the space to explore analysis and debate. Whether these will “thrive” is also a challenge in different ways. It is easy to identify conservative elements in teaching and learning practice and without additional resources to support a more transformational approach the growth of such practice will inevitably be more organic. There are also direct concerns over job security, intellectual property and workload models that are potential challenges. For learners, there is clearly a higher awareness and acceptance of new technologies in teaching and learning; although there are still barriers in terms of access to technology. For instance, while internet coverage has grown at a phenomenal rate, there is still a poverty gap in skills and access. Additionally, support has to be provided for those with disabilities that make accessing technology more problematic. Conversely, though, new technology has allowed better and more equal access to learning for many learners with disabilities.

Arsenal and Porto match means I need to go, will complete later.

Whoohoo, I have just managed to get IT support to activate my account and I can now access weblearn! Time to catch up on the last few weeks methinks.

In the meantime I have been having some fun posting videos on weblearn for various modules I teach and setting up a trial blog for some of my postgrads so that I can get a feel for how this might contribute to the teaching and learning experience.

Me, teaching and technology

I teach mainly for the business school at London Metropolitan University, but I also teach for both the Law, Governance and International Relations dept. and the Department of Applied Social Sciences. My teaching interests are around the sociology of work, employment studies and corporate governance. This involves teaching and supporting a wide range of learners from very different backgrounds – including distance learning modules with trade union activists.

I am also a governor at a primary school where I also volunteer one afternoon a week; this is mainly for developing reading at key stage one, but I also sometimes do special short sessions on particular topics for key stage two (most recently fossils).

Currently I use powerpoint, weblearn and google documents (surveys and spreadsheets) in my teaching. I have developed my skills on powerpoint but I do find it a bit limited in its flexibility to integrate different sources and be more spontaneous.

Weblearn has had mixed blessing for me, sometimes I find it a little rigid and it runs very slowly on the university system; however, it can also be a godsend for saving on time.

The ability to share documents over google has added some interesting ways of creating and sharing data with students. As an example, I have used academic surveys of attitudes to compare student groups with the constituency studied – making for interesting comparisons and discussion.

As yet I haven’t picked one technology as I am quite excited about several ideas and still have to see if they are possible. One idea is to build an interactive programme for modelling how multiple variable factors can influence outcomes. This is an area that really build students understanding in a more complex anayltical way as many struggle to get beyond seeing the impact of just one variable.

It could be using sliding scales to model in Excel/SPSS factors that influence management styles in the employment relationship taking into account factors such as product and labour markets, organisational culture, economic shifts. This could also be done in game format following basic rules dictating the outcome of specific choices put to the player.

Alternatively, it could be used to model an area like Marx’s model of crisis in capitalism, an area renowned for its complex and dated language. This format would allow a very different exploration of the basic concepts.

One different idea would be to set up a blog or social network presence to highlight the application of concepts and ideas dealt with in the lecture hall and how they may explain action in the real world. Particularly this would work for employee relations as there is a constant feed of relevant issues in the news. Certainly this is an area at undergraduate level that some students seem to have difficulties with as there experience of the world of work is still very limited which sometimes leads them to oversimplistic conclusions.

Any way, I’ve only got ten minutes to get over the road for this evenings class. Better go.

I have only just received the intro session material as JD was having difficulties accessing weblearn. Unfortunately I have not been able to set up the Skype yet, but should be able to do this tomorrow. I have also just discovered that I needed to post some contextual info on me! Better get on with it.

Have now had a crash course in using and designing a blog page. Oh boy, need to chill out and relax before hitting the sack.

Early start tomorrow and late finish, hopefully be able to get the basic info printed from colleague who has access to the weblearn site.

Aha, and so it begins.

This blog is going to be a companion to a module in Applying Learning Technologies at London Metropolitan University… and maybe more later.

So far I have been unable to access the Weblearn (blackboard/VLE) site for the module as my registration seems to be stuck in the limitless bounds of the administration system. This is particularly unfortunate as the module is essentially run through Weblearn.