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Kim Aling

ocTEL MOOC activity 1.2 My Course

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Put yourself in the shoes of a student on a course you might be teaching,

 •at what points of your course are there opportunities to express opinions and instincts?
 •at what point do you have to absorb information and how?
 •at what points do you work with fellow learners?
 •what percentage of the course is assessed individually or as a group?
 
What do you think this says about your teaching approach, and what would you like to do about it? How might technology help, or hinder, you in this.


An Open University course is subtly different to courses in traditional university settings and technology plays a central role for our students.

There are opportunities to express opinions and instincts at all points though the course.  Students are encouraged to comment on ideas in the course material via the forum and sometimes it generates discussion. As a tutor I sometimes pose questions to get students thinking more about the material.  Within the material itself there are often activities to stimulate thought and ground theory to everyday life and the more familiar. There is also space to express opinions at f2f tutorials and which take place about every 6 weeks and online tutorials which are  more adhoc. The main difficulty is that students are often reluctant to express opinion as they are not confident in their learning.  The trick is to use real life and everyday situations to represent the theories they study.  Then take them back to the theory and show how their opinions relate to it.

Information is being absorbed all the way through as they work through the course material.  This consists of written material, audio CDs, DVDs and online activities. Activities embedded in the material, encourage students to think about the material, possibly creating tables or diagrams. The online activities build on the written material, reinforcing learning.

Working with others occurs in f2f tutorials on the forum.  Some courses have collaborative exercises embedded, such as a group role play activity on the forum which is then used as the basis of an assignment.  Other courses have collaborative activities creating artifacts on wikis or by sharing documents on Dropbox or Google Docs.

Unfortunately almost 100% of the assessment is individual.  Students are assessed by regular tutor-marked assignments and sometimes by examination, as well as other elements such as their contribution to forums or collaborative exercises. The ability to collaborate is an important skill, both academically and in terms of employability.  It would be good to see more use of groupwork and some assessment of how learners work as a group. 

It's difficult to say how this reflects my teaching approach as courses are designed by others to work in this way. As a tutor I see my role as facilitating the learning and helping with the process of understanding and assimilating the information provided by the course material.  I aim to develop students' skills of critical thinking, developing arguments using concepts, ideas and theories, and communicating their arguments effectively. Technology plays a central role in OU study and tutoring and for distributed learners is vital for communication and the discussion element of learning.

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Kim Aling

ocTEL MOOC How technology has enhanced learning

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Edited by Kim Aling, Thursday, 18 Apr 2013, 09:16

Eric Mazur’s talk was based on the flipped classroom idea that students get the information in their own time via readings and recorded lectures and then the hardest part of the process, assimilation of that knowledge, in undertaken in the classroom with the teacher via questioning and working together to discuss ideas and construct meaning.  Students defend their answers by pair discussion.

Sugata Mitra, who pioneered the hole in the wall experiments in India, argues that small groups of children can teach themselves.  The optimum group size, he suggests is  4-6.  Any bigger and it becomes chaotic.  Everyone adds their idea and through discussion and experimentation they develop understanding.  He ran an experiment with school children getting 10 years olds to do GCSE questions, where they worked towards the answer and achieved a high average score .  Several weeks later they were retested and had retained much of the information.  This suggests there is power in discussion and working together to assimilate knowledge.  However, he argues there is still a place for the teacher to set the rules and pose the questions.

George Siemens talks about the importance of building social networks in learning so that it is an ongoing process.  He argued the course material in the MOOC they developed was a conduit for developing a community of practice.  He also stressed the importance of PLEs - people building their own suite of tools on the internet to suit them.  Their course encouraged use of a variety of methods to interact beyond the module tools. The internet globalises knowledge and creates opportunities for distributed learning unlinking people from single institutions and allowing engagement with the global knowledge base using experts from all over the world.   It allows a global discussion and pooling of ideas - eg the development of understanding of the SARS virus with data passed on across the world so that work continued 24/7 and pooled different expertise.

In my own field of teaching with the OU these ideas resonate.  Students with the OU work through course material in their own time and we encourage discussion between students through forums and in online and face-to-face tutorials to help them develop meaning and understanding.  Online and face to face tutorials are used to help students understand the material rather than deliver material.  My preferred method of conducting tutorials is to use stimulus material to pose questions which small groups discuss to come to a group answer which is fed back to a class discussion.  It is amazing what students find and how often I see the ‘aha’ moment, as Mazur calls it.  Redistributing groups between activities also helps to create new learning as different combinations of people create new ways of working.  Siemens ideas are interesting from the point of view of the freedom that the internet creates for education.  The fact that students can now develop their own suite of tools, or Personal Learning Environment separate from any institution frees up their learning and puts the power back to the learner.  The idea that learning becomes a global process without institutional boundaries is quite liberating.  However, as Siemans suggests how we change the existing structures to incorporate this and break down the barriers created by competition is another topic for discussion.

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