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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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