Spreading the word

This year, more by luck than judgement, I've started doing consultancy in the broad field of e-learning. I hope to continue and grow this strand of my work. It's good to bring money into the IOE and it's really rewarding to construct and deliver something myself. The variety is interesting and challenging. As I teach in the various setting I am gradually seeing the wood from the trees in how best to structure what I do.

The first thing to say that it's hard - very hard. The first challenge is knowing what the client wants. Usually it's about wanting their trainers/educators to know how to teach online. To approach it the right way, you have to get a feel for the culture of the organisation and the context of the proposed use of learning technologies. This is vital so that what you say is relevant. I have always been heavy on the practical. I've come from a job where showing VLE navigation and usability was a core task and explaining things clearly is a skill that I have. The first few days were very Web 2.0 tool dominated. This worked well but I now feel there is a need to balance it more with pedagogical discussion and practical considerations.

I've been reflecting on my teaching style and, although there has been a lot of hands-on using the technologies sessions, my style is pretty didactic. I prepare slides to talk around and, although I invite discussion, I don't programme in much group discussion time. This will change in the future. I guess this is partly confidence but it's also a desire to practice what I preach. There's no point banging on about the evils of didactic dominance if I don't practice a more participatory pedagogy myself.

What's exciting about this type of work is the lack of precedence. There is no established right way of doing this. Making sense of technology for education is relatively new and companies are looking for someone to come in and give them some answers. So my job is to give a balanced, informative picture based on my experience of working with learning technologies in Higher Education and all the learning I do here and in the blogosphere. Interestingly, it's the latter of these elements that is often the most valuable.

Conversational Framework - why I like it

When imparting the message of learning technologies, I am often asked to fulfil a more practical role than I would like. There are many reasons for this. One is my inclination to steer clear of models. I have an almost subconscious feeling that in the real world your average educator won't be interested in some complicated diagram that takes ages to understand. Maybe this reflects the lack of time/lack of value we have in education for learning design in general. Models are supposed to help with this process but if you don't value or the system doesn't value the process then they serve no purpose.

However, I've been reflecting that perhaps it's irresponsible to ignore and not promote aids to the adoption of learning technologies that are also often aids to learning design in general.

The conversational framework has emerged for me as the most useful for my context as someone promoting the use of learning technologies. It's pretty comprehensive and seems to sum up the situation pretty well whilst giving a useful checklist to the educator.

What's important to realise is that that many model seems to involve taking a pedagogical stance. I'm happy to do this but it's not always an easy sell for others if they don't agree or don't really know what pedagogy their teaching philosophy fits in with. This is where the converstaional framework is good because, by catering, for a great variety of all different teaching and learning methods it not championing one pedagogical stance over another. Instead it caters for the key elements of a number of different ones. It also seems to have a logical inclusion of every common sense and established way of teaching and learning. I guess to be receptive to the conversational framework you just have to agree that including all these thing in teaching is a good idea. Not many would disagree.

Balancing theory and practice in e-learning advice

Recently I've been involved in a project where I seem to have assumed the role of balancing theory and practice in the context of the design and delivery of educational use of learning technologies. It's not surprising that my natural tendencies have let me to fulfil more of the practical side of things rather than the theoretical pedagogical. This is partly because this is where my skills mainly lie although I am developing my pedagogical knowledge (what I call the academic underpinning). But it's also partly because I think this is the area that can often get lost where theory gets overplayed. In a course situation, you need that balance as there is a tendency to concentrate on the theory without allowing the participants the time and space to play with the various tools. In one-to-one consultation with educators approaching learning technologies from scratch you need a bias towards the practical. This may seem wrong but here's why:

I work in an academic culture where teaching is part of what the researchers do. You would think that such people would be minded to treat the use of learning technologies in an action researcher capacity (in the way put forward by Laurillard, 2008). But they don't. Teaching and the design of their teaching isn't something that your average HE academic will approach by reading about the pedagogical underpinnings or recent research into this or that use of a particular tool. They are more likely to ask their colleague what they used and what for (if anything). This is not criticism of them. It's a reflection on the culture surrounding all teaching I think.

In this regard, I would always advocate a practical approach when advising people about using learning technologies in their teaching. Using the phrase "this tool lends itself to..." is better than "this tool has the technological affordance of..." which in turn is better than "the pedagogical underpinning of this tool is..."

When I say better I mean in the context of talking to a sceptical, slightly negative academic who has been told to talk to you about this e-learning "thing".

Taking the ego out of education

There are a number of barriers when it comes to approaching the tricky subject of converting an existing face-to-face course to being purely online. I want to concentrate in this post on what motivate thes teacher/educator to do the job they do. I touched on this in my post from last Nov – Lecture Your Way to Stardom where I put the case that, for some, the performance involved in teaching has a certain appeal. I raise this point again because I think it’s often an unspoken aspect of the teaching profession. Changing the mode of delivery from face-to-face to online (using whatever technology) has an emotion bite to it that is often underplayed and I think part of this is that the teacher doesn’t get to “perform” in the traditional sense of the word.

Or at least that is the perception. Whatever pedagogical stance you take, the educator has a vital, fundamentally important role to play. For me, there is no threat to the subject expert in formal education whatever the future holds. Online, there is ample opportunity to be the centre of attention, to perform. It may feel different but it’s there.

But why is this important? It’s important because I have a hunch, a strong hunch that many educators like the sound of their own voice, they like getting up and being the centre of attention. This is especially true if you’re good at it. Learning technologies are a threat to this position. But education should be about what’s best for the learners not the educators. We need to take the ego out of education!