Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Learning is a risky process

The Guardian education blog is carrying an article entitled: Web2.0: boon or bane for universities?

Whilst the article highlights the opportunities for networking and user engagement with these tools, it also goes on to highlight some perceived dangers for HE. Let's have a look at these.
  1. "One institution reported three examples of serious problems in one year involving students' use of the new technology including the victim of a student scuffle using Facebook to identify the address of his attacker, and getting his revenge." I can see that this is an issue, but aren't we in the business of trying to support our students' critical thinking, at university and in the world? In any case, I am not sure why this is a problem for higher education rather than society, and most institutions will have regulations covering social relationships on-campus, or where they are directly linked the university.
  2. "it tends to be individual academics who are driving innovative use of the technology in learning, which can present problems when those academics move on, or when they want support from their institution's centralised IT systems." It tends to be individual academics who are driving innovative use of learning and teaching. The technology is secondary, and in any case Web 2.0 tools tend to flatten hierarchies, so that learners are more in control of their learning. Moreover, these tools also have a low entry level, so that they are easy to engage with. It is the academic implications that need addressing, whether you are using a VLE or external software. One way to get around this is, of course, to ensure that programme teams are fully engaged rather than leaving it to one interested individual. HEIs need to find ways to devolve, to reward and to disseminate innovative practice.
  3. "Assessment also becomes more difficult when academics are not merely having to assign marks to a heap of scripts but to wade through student podcasts and video clips or Second Life presentations." I would love to see the evidence for this nonsense. A meaningful assessment strategy, perhaps allied to a patchwork text approach,would not be heaping Web2.0 production techniques and artifacts, on top of traditional techniques and artifacts. It would be providing the students with the scope to demonstrate, perhaps through a patchwork assignment or portfolio or personal learning environment, their achievement of learning outcomes. The critical issues here are less workload, and more copyright, security, plagiarism and IPR.
  4. "There is also the fear that, if students have access to podcasts and YouTube videos of lectures, they may not bother turning up to the real thing. And who owns the copyright to these podcasts - the lecturer? The institution that employs him or her to lecture? No one?"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Hasn't this been said about e-learning and technologies since time began? There is plenty of evidence highlighting that where videos and podcasts enhanced the curriculum, rather than replacing elements of it, student attendance is not damaged, but is engaged. As to the issue of copyright, UCU certainly suggest ways for managing this issue, and we have a collective agreement on the issue.
  5. "Meanwhile, there are issues over who should be responsible if students or lecturers say something online that results in litigation against the university." Agreed - and we don't really want this to go to case law do we?
  6. "Then there is the issue of control. A lecturer involved in a discussion on a public social networking site is operating in a forum that belongs not to his or her institution but to the students, and, ultimately to the private company that runs the site. This company may at some point decide to make commercial use of the information on the site, or to withdraw its services." That is a real risk, and it is one of the roles of e-Learning managers to appraise programme teams of these risks, in order that they can make smart decisions about technologies. It is also part of their role to ensure that those programme teams and their students are able to bring evidence forward of assessment for learning and assessment of learning, into institutional learning environments. This will enable guarantees to be made about security and backups. The terms of use of technologies like Twitter and SecondLife highlight their right to use your content in perpetuity, but state that it is yours to exploit. Again, individuals need to make savvy decisions. Equally, who is to say that that our VLE isn't going to be sold/merge/die?
The more interesting control issue, is the democratic power of these tools, where a progressive pedagogy is implemented. One that is participative and empowering of students as actors, able to collate and critique examples of how they have met learning outcomes and make learning decisions.

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