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The Angry Blogger

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We have been directed to the blog of Audrey Watters a few times in H819. This is a brave choice for the Open University as she is, it's fair to say, highly critical of EdTech.

I knew little of EdTech before I began MAODE (at least in an academic sense - I had unknowingly been using and creating EdTech for ages!) and, like many new converts, have become excited by the development of new technology-enhanced learning innovations, and the potential for EdTech to revolutionise education, learning, and the world! This makes reading Watters' blog slightly uncomfortable as a lot of what she writes is critical of EdTech and uncomfortably valid! It cannot be denied that many EdTech innovations have not lived up to the promises made in the timescale predicted.

However - I remain hopeful. Although technology has not provided the revolution in learning first predicted, and hoped for, it has made a huge difference. After all - I am on my sofa on a rainy Tuesday studying for a Masters Degree without ever having met one of my tutors, and only having met my student colleagues after making specific arrangements. My learning in MAODE has taken place in asynchronous forums, online tutorials, watching YouTube videos, searching for online journal articles, writing blog posts, utilizing Google, researching on Twitter, creating surveys on MailChimp, using my laptop, desktop, mobile phone and tablet....  All of this would have been impossible fifteen years ago. EdTech is doing something right.

One thing I read today from Watters' blog was a critique of EdTech based on the fact that the introduction of EdTech into a classroom had not resulted in higher grades. EdTech had failed in improve the outcomes for an individual cohort of students. On the one hand I can see this is disappointing - one function of EdTech is supposed to be to better engage students which should lead to better learning and better outcomes. However I reacted against this as improved outcomes for students who were already in the classroom is not the sole, or even the principle, aim of EdTech. EdTech broadens the range of people for whom education is an option. EdTech improves the efficiency and  cost effectiveness of education. EdTech could (and should) allow more depth of learning based on greater opportunity to access resources about and collaborate with experts in niche areas.

I'm not sure if I want to read Watters' blog! I don't like my idealism to be challenged! But maybe that's exactly what I need if I am to become an effective practitioner.

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Back to the beginning.... again

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Weeks 1and 2 of H819 seem to be covering some reasonably basic (foundational?) things.

Finding a journal to review current research, reading an article or post and trying to identify (and then critique) the authors assumptions, claims and unfounded statements, assessing the structure of a literature review.

I am not trying to claim this is unhelpful. Indeed - the step by step instructions for a lot of this are *very* helpful and I wish I had begun my MAODE journey with these kinds of activities. On the one hand I may be rolling my eyes at having to review a literature review, on the other hand I am reviewing said literature review and spotting all sorts of structural techniques and visual aids which I could (and hopefully) will employ.


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MOOCs - a 2012 perspective!

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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!



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H819 begins...

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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.
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