We have been through a (quite painful) process of moving from a predominantly print based model of distance learning to where we are now – but where are we now and are we clear about the pedagogical implications of the shifts that are (or should be) occurring?
We may be (almost) unique in that our journey began with mass print based distance learning but we are in good company in the journey towards the use digital / hybrid technologies. For most Universities the shift has been from face to face, but are the challenges of teaching effectively in a digital and hybrid environment actually that different? I think what has been different is our approach –
Unlike f2f universities we already had a very effective, and much loved, high quality distance learning product. We can debate how effective it was in terms of outcomes for learning but it was very effective when measured in terms of student satisfaction. We didn’t want to break the jewel – so we tried to keep it as intact as possible, delicately shifting it to an ‘online’ environment. We didn’t significantly change the assessment or the tuition – just the ‘content’. We quickly learnt that content designed for print was horrible online – students hated it and so did we.
But we have struggled as academics and educators to envisage the alternative – we understand that there need to be fewer words on the screen and that there needs to be more interactivity – and we have (I think) looked to the technology to help us achieve this. But this has taken many if us away from where our true expertise lies – we are subject specialists and educators not technologists. This is where we share a fundamental experience with our f2f colleagues- we are being asked to shift our communicative and pedagogic practices into not only a new interface but a new pedagogy. This is because the digital environment (dare I say revolution) is not just about the medium that we deliver our materials in, it is fundamental shift in the way we (as societies) communicate and create knowledge, a world of social media and participative knowledge creation.
So this blog is to help us begin to think about some of the big challenges facing us, which I suggest includes moving from a focus on content to a focus on enabling / encouraging / facilitating students to be in the driving seat of their own learning. Delivering content is our comfort zone as academics – and students like it. It is a familiar and safe model – we deliver content, students learn it and are then assessed on how well they can reproduce that knowledge, albeit critically. We have founded education on this model for a very long time – but times are changing. But I am at risk of modelling exactly the approach to teaching that I am challenging, so I will stop here and ask some questions which I hope will enable you to join in a journey of learning that involves exploration, reflection and, perhaps most importantly conversations with each other to worry at the challenges we face. To kick the thinking off have a look at this and then think about these questions:
- Does learning inevitably need to be driven by the assessment of curriculum content, possibly driven by external bodies (professional bodies / QAA). What might the alternative look like?
- How could a module of learning rooted in context sensitive exploratory, participatory learning strengthen the value of higher education for our students – in particular our vocational / professional students?
- What could we do , as educators, to shift student expectations and practices so that the most highly valued element of what we provide is dialogue (with teachers, peers, the academic and professional / disciplinary community) rather than content (however beautifully packaged)?
Please comment and share your thoughts…….