Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Understanding the experiences of learners in a digital age: ELESIG start-up

I think I struggle with the whole learners' experiences thing, and I think that's because I feel like a grandma who has just been handed a basketful of free range, extra large, shelled, hard-boiled eggs by her smiling, fresh-faced grandson who has just discovered the best way to eat them... I'm not saying that we don't need to identify where our learners come from, their motivations and aspirations, the types of tools that they use and why, and how technologies impact upon their learning and achievement, and more importantly, their sense of who they are and how they can act in the world. However, I wonder whether that which is being presented as shiny and new hasn't already got a long track record. Perhaps sector-wide maturity in e-learning, and pedagogic evaluation, has reached the point where we can discuss the normalisation of this process.

So what were the lessons learned from last week's ELESIG event?
  1. Upskilling staff to be both reactive and proactive in their use of technologies is central to connecting students' uses of technologies to the development of their critical literacies.
  2. Higher education needs to stop chasing "cool". There are core academic values that we want to develop, and it may be that some institutions build a digital reputation that connects into those core academic values and provides a framework within which students can define themselves and succeed. However, institutions are unlikely to stay ahead of the technological game, given that students are so fleet of foot and universities are so unwieldy.
  3. Helen Beetham made the point that evidence from learners defined some clear challenges for institutional values and cultures. She posited that a crunch point may be coming, where academic issues, for instance, around the centrality of subject knowledge or plagiarism clashed with 21st century learning that is predicated upon building social capital, by way of mashing, reusing and re-presenting the work of others.
  4. There is a growing theme around the creation of on demand, personal learning environments, in which the individual learners experiences (rather than institutional e-Learning drivers) enable the aggregation of relevant tools. Connected to this, Oxford Brookes University, highlighted that they are embedding the notion of the digitally literate learner in their new institutional e-Learning Strategy and also within validations. Through our e-Learning Champions and programme development checklists at validation and periodic review, we engage with these issues. However, I wonder whether DMU needs to have a more overtly didactic, Brookesian approach that forces the issue of engaging with digitally literate learners, rather than expecting that staff will engage with the issue.
  5. As ever, there was only tentative engagement with the learner's role in society and the institutional contribution to that. The central theme seemed to be what the learner values in higher education, and whether we can help learners achieve some resilience in managing their learning. However, Mel from South Bank argued against the "destructive effect of transmission learning" and highlighted that we still see so much of that through the use of our institutional VLEs. It was also interesting to pick up the throwaway remark from one of the presenters about adding value to "the technologies that are provided for them (students)". For me, there are several untapped areas.
  • I am with those who argue that higher education is a democratic project, and that (it into the work of Ronald Barnett) it can be made socially empowering through a learner's coming to understand their subject area, themselves and their world, and coming to act in it. This social empowerment, and the cultural and social capital which follows, needs more understanding.
  • I am less interested in community, and more in participation and association. How do individuals associate or disassociate, become enfranchised or disenfranchised, participate or step away, and why? What therefore is the impact of PLEs on learner engagement, motivation and achievement, both in higher education and society?
  • In terms of transition, progression and retention, how do technologies and the ways in which academics engaged with them, connect into student's emotional development? What is the impact upon digital natives, digital immigrants, employer engagement, mature students, etc?


Steve Mackenzie said...

with regard Point 4: Quite simply the appropriate application and use of web 2.0 and e-learning technologies is so valuable to learning that it should be COMPULSORY that teachers enroll on an accredited course in this field and that additional CPD should be a natural ongoing occurrence.

Institutions such as DMU need to seriously think about possible restructuring of modules and programmes. Staff loading should be looked at and the quality of learning delivered (in the context of 21st Century learning technological tools available.)

For Staff, they will soon realize that the use of web 2.0 tools is no big deal, they are only tools that can help enhance learning. Once Staff invest in the time to think and apply them best to their teaching and learning situations they will also realize that within 3 iterations or so the workload will not be quite as much, as they get familiar with the technology and the best ways to deploy it.

Steve Mackenzie said...

Just another point on delivery of learning.

TRANSFERRABLE SKILLS - are often quoted as a desirable outcome of higher education programmes.

So if a student goes through a 3 year course at DMU or any other institution and is not exposed to the electronic tools that are vital life and work skills in the 21st century then that's not very good is it. (apart from practical uses the tools themselves can help to develop other transferable skills)