OU blog

Personal Blogs

Picture of Anna Greathead

MOOCs - a 2012 perspective!

Visible to anyone in the world

Our first activity in H819 was to read and comment on this article from 2012.

2012 wasn't that long ago but this article reads just like the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony - hopeful, idealistic, inclusive and, with the benefit of hindsight, shown to be a little bit naive.

I have yet to see the 'it' which the traditional model of face to face (or, at a push, paid for online) courses provide which cannot be replicated by MOOCs or their equivalent articulated; but 'it' clearly is a thing! The lecturer defensively says 'you can't put what we do online' without really explaining why, the former student nostalgically reminisces about learning to use a washing machine and joining a society and, whilst acknowledging this can be done for free, clearly doesn't want those rites of passage to end.

Again and again in MAODE I have had to contend with the fact that to many educators, teachers and practitioners - learning is a scared and beautiful aim and need not lead to any aim other than learning. Learners may, sometimes, agree - indeed some of those quoted in the article are on these MOOCs for the love of the subject. However - for many learners their education is very much a means to an end - and not just the end of knowing stuff, acquiring skills and understanding concepts - the end they're after is the certificate. There are even learners who will, if possible, circumnavigate the learning if they can still get the certificate!

I think the primary M and the O of the MOOC present separate problems. Whilst the article is at pains to stress how interactive and 'community based' the MOOC she went on the idea of a mass - hundreds of thousands of students -  on one course must mean a dilution of group identity and opportunities for group cohesion - and therefore those avenues of learning (significant) are much narrower. The O - open - is a laudable aim. But the pragmatist will ask 'but who is paying?' and 'how can something free have value?'. Even if people are willing to give up their time and skills for free (and they may not wish to do this in the long term) there are costs associated with any kind of endeavour like this which must be met by someone.

OCs (without the MO!) may well lead to a significant contraction of universities as we have known them. The online model can replicate many aspects of traditional university learning and the technological capabilities afforded by the internet can actually improve on some others. Costs can be lower and reach much further. Both good outcomes.

However - many universities measure their history in centuries and they have survived through various social, political and economic upheaval. I wouldn't bet against them!



Permalink
Share post
Picture of Anna Greathead

H819 begins...

Visible to anyone in the world

H819 has begun with a big reunion! So many familiar names and faces!

Even the first readings have got my mind abuzz so I'll go on the first of many mental journeys right here, right now.

Measuring 'success' in education is more or less impossible.

As this module is about research we are all being encouraged to think of an area of our practice, or of our interest, which we could plan some research to assess impact and success. I immediately felt cynical. There are so many problems.

  1. What is 'success'? Is it engagement? Enjoyment? Outputs? Application? Over what timescale?
  2. How do you control for ALL the variables? I mean every learner whether they're aged 1 or 100 is subject to an almost infinite and definitely unique combination of external variables. How can you possibly attribute any output (or whatever) to whatever educational input you're trying to evaluate?
  3. How do you control for the learning specific variables? Unless you're able to design a learning program with only one style of input (or whatever) then how will you know which activity led to which output (or engagement, enjoyment, application etc!)
  4. Ethics -  is it fair to experiment by trialing unknown and untested activities? The best way to get good (or usable?) data would be to isolate a single group and activity and use it in contrast to a control group.
  5. Time scale - at what point is it reasonable to declare an activity a success or failure? It goes back to defining success or failure. 
Throughout my MAODE studies I have found an internal conflict between thinking of learning as a sacred and lifelong human experience (as well as an endeavor), and the more pragmatic reality in which learning is a means to an end and we (as practitioners) are aiming to make the means as effective as possible and the ends as valuable as possible.
Permalink
Share post
Picture of Anna Greathead

Intitial ponderings on learner's owrnership of their learning

Visible to anyone in the world

The main part of TMA04 is an essay in which we discuss the following question:

‘Learners now have ownership of technology-enhanced learning.’

I have done a fair amount of thinking about this so far. I have been weighing up the ideas of learner agency and how far this equates to ownership. I have wondered which learners should own their learning - surely we don't expect pre-school children to hold this responsibility? How about people who simple must get their 'health and safety' certificate to comply with workplace regulations?

I have considered the idea from the point of view of exam boards and institutions who wish qualifications and awards to have consistency and reputation, and who represent the 'experts' in any given subject area.

At lunch time today my daughter, who is 18 and awaiting A-level results, asked what I was studying at the moment. I told her the question and she rolled her eyes and exclaimed 'I'm bored already' (not an atypical response - she's a scientist through and through and has yet to comprehend the fascination I have with the more existential and ephemeral questions posed by social science!). However - she did immediately follow up with 'I know what the answer is though' (told you she was a scientist!).

Her answer 'It's going to be somewhere in the middle.'

As we discussed what she meant I had to acknowledge that maybe she had more of a grasp of social sciences that I had realised! For every question for which there is an argument and a counter-argument there is unlikely to be a firm conclusion drawn by anyone which is close to either extreme.

And once more I am battling about the very nature of learning! One the one hand I am an idealist who believes learning to be a sacred and precious thing which need no end other than itself (hence I spend hours every day listening to podcasts about every subject I can think of, hence I try to read 50 books every year from a wide variety of genres, hence I sometimes find myself watching documentaries late at night about the design of junction 6 of the M6!) and then also remembering that part of the joy of learning is found in the achievement and affirmation accorded by a good mark, a certificate, letters after your name.

H800 is, to a large extent, a long thought process about how the rapid development of technology in the last 20 years has changed learning at every level and for every player and how we can envision further changes in the future. It is entirely possible, even probable, that one impact is the learner now has more agency and more ownership of their own learning.... but they still must share it somewhat with the people or institutions who will eventually assess them.

Permalink
Share post
Picture of Anna Greathead

Richardson's helpful bullet point lists

Visible to anyone in the world

I do like a list! And this paper was full of them! 

Firstly was the three approaches to studying:

  1. A deep approach based on understanding the subject
  2. A surface approach based on memorizing pertinent facts
  3. A strategic approach based on getting good grades

In fairness to the author it was explicitly stated that most students will employ all three approaches at some point in their learning which made a lot of sense as I really could identify with all three! The tension between approach one and three is most interesting - a genuinely engaged learner will really want a broad, deep and satisfying engagement with the subject - to really 'get it' and make the connections necessary to put their new knowledge to work somehow. However - the genuinely engaged learner may also be busy and overburdened and pragmatic enough to know that reading a fourth journal article about a particular subject is unlikely to make any difference to their final grade and therefore lay it aside for striking out into a new curriculum area which may appear on the exam. Tempting as it may be to dismiss approach two - lets be honest - we've all done it!

The next list, how students perceive (define?) learning, began as a five pointer but a sixth was added later:

  1. Learning as the increase in knowledge
  2. Learning as memorizing
  3. Learning as the acquisition of facts or procedures
  4. Learning as the abstraction of meaning
  5. Learning as an interpretative process aimed at the understanding of reality
  6. A conscious process, fueled by personal interests and directed at obtaining harmony and happiness or changing society

Students who reported their learning as being points 1 - 3 were reported as being more 'surface approach' learners whereas the deep learners were more likely to define learning as points 4 - 5. The sixth point was added later and include a more specific purpose to learning. Again - I am pretty sure I could have defined learning in any of these six ways depending on who asked, when and about what. My gut feeling is that this is less about dividing students into groups (the point 2 definers) and more about students defining individual learning experiences. The article also suggests that learners move from points 1 - 6 (presumably in a somewhat linear fashion) as they progress on their learning journeys. 

The final list is a five point list of the approaches employed by teachers to their educating. 

  1. Teaching as imparting information
  2. Teaching as transmitting structured knowledge
  3. Teaching as an interaction between the teacher and the student
  4. Teaching as facilitating understanding on the part of the student
  5. Teaching as bringing about conceptual change and intellectual development in the student

Unlike the other lists - it seems that this one is more fixed. The researchers were 'surprised' that a move towards the bottom end of the list did not seem to be measurable as teachers became more experienced. There is some discussion about how the subject matter a person teaches may necessarily result in a somewhat different approach and also that teachers give the students what they expect and want from their studies. 

We are discussing this paper in our Tutorial later this week; and there will be a forum about it (which I haven't looked at yet as I wanted to read the paper, and jot down my initial reflections before I read what other people had thought.)

Permalink
Share post
Picture of Anna Greathead

Defining Learning

Visible to anyone in the world

Prepare your own definition of learning.... should take 3 to 3.5 hours. 

I suppose the length of time allocated to this activity should have alerted me to the fact I was on a rabbit warren journey - deeper and deeper, more and more forks in the burrow to note and come back to, no signposted final destination and all whilst in an extremely unfamiliar environment. 

I began at Wikipedia which is a strategy some may roll their eyes at but I defend it nonetheless. Wikipedia is written in language I understand and, in the event of a term or concept being unfamiliar to me, it's likely to be underlined in blue and will deftly take me to a place where I can learn that straight away. (And then, before I know it, I will have 42 Wikipedia tabs open on my desktop and will still be clicking!)

The Wikipedia article was a very good starting point. I was pleased to immediately be able to recognize some words which aligned to Sfard's Acquisition Metaphor and a few which also brought to mind her Participation Metaphor, as well as concepts such as Identity Change. 

I then went to my favourite online place - the OU Library! I literally searched 'What is Learning?'  and the first hopeful hit was a book called What is Learning? by Mark Haselgrove, dated July 2016. I was very hopeful about this book as it was written in a very readable style and there were concise chapters. Hazelgrove described very well how learning is not restricted to people (animals, plants and machines all 'learn') and he made practically no mention of education or schooling at all. He began at the start of the human journey with Habituation, moving on to Conditioned Responses and there is kind of stopped. Whilst I absolutely can see how vital these early learning experiences are (we learned not to touch a fire as it hurt, we learned that if we didn't wipe our feet we got told off) I think that this is only part of what I am being asked to define. 

I then found the book How We Learn by Henry Boyd Bode. My initial search made me think this was published in 2007 but the opening paragraph (where the word 'man' was used in a context where both men and women clearly should have been) made me double check and I saw it had actually been published in 1940. He made the distinction between learning a skill as an apprentice and learning 'the three Rs' as a pupil and how the method must necessarily be different. I was interested in the way he described the fact that 'learning theory' is (or was) little thought of by teachers and students who simply do what they have always done without question, and with the desired outcomes. His book went on to be far more psychological and even philosophical so I book marked it - trying to kid myself I'll come back later to learn more!

My third, and most successful hit was Education and Learning: An evidence based approach  by Mellanby and Theobald from 2014. There is a nice mixture between theory and examples to demonstrate it. They look at the purpose of education, which must (surely!) be connected in some way to the purpose and nature of learning. The most interesting idea in the first few chapters is the idea of education is for the reproduction of a culture. I initially recoiled at this idea - imagining history lessons reporting colonial triumph or literature only celebrating the works of homegrown authors - but I realized that the term was intended to convey the passing on of values and, as they quoted Thomas Arnold as saying, "The best that has been known and thought." 

I have also asked my considerable number of Facebook friends for ideas. Many are teachers, all have been students, but I don't know if any have studied H800! I'll report back!

My tentative first draft of the 'answer' to the posed question is: Learning is both spontaneous and deliberate and protects and maintains the learner, their community and their culture; it can be seen in the gain of knowledge and understanding; it can be for the improvement of the individual and others.

Permalink
Share post

This blog might contain posts that are only visible to logged-in users, or where only logged-in users can comment. If you have an account on the system, please log in for full access.

Total visits to this blog: 61233