The theme of #ocTEL week 1 is “TEL Concepts and Approaches“. The preparation includes many activities with the idea (paraphrasing the presentation of the week) that it may be a chance to ‘ground’ ourselves within the learning landscape by exploring examples of theories and approaches, or to have an opportunity to talk about specific theories, the approaches they take and the outcomes they achieve. I did two of these activities and published the outcomes in preceding posts (here and there). Then, I looked at the slides of the related webinar and the exchanges in the chat window.
The topic of the webinar of this week is “Teachers Talking about TEL“, presented by Liz Masterman. I missed it, but I read the powerpoint and the comments from the chat window (sorry Liz, I couldn’t find time to sit and follow the talk — the recording is here). If I got it well, it opens questions dealing essentially with acceptability of TEL and the difficulty of its adoption in higher education covering questions about students needs and preferences, the role of learning and teaching theories, the reuse of digital resources (OER), the transformation of practice… This is so rich that it is difficult to step back from the brainstorm and to think about what we get from such a course: all doors are open and are left open in the end: the conclusion takes the form of five questions. So, let’s take them as a homework:
1. Is there a tension what students want and what might be more beneficial to their learning?
Yes, this is often the case and this a very general situation. Just considering the content, in compulsory education or higher education, we know that students interested in a certain topic would very much like to avoid others they don’t like. For example, in medicine it is classical that students are eager to enter the ward, but not to take the biochemistry or statistic courses. An other example could be the willing to learn English but avoiding learning all the technicalities of the grammar. As a matter of fact, too many students have a project but do not understand the curriculum. There issue is that you really understand the curriculum once you know…
2. ‘Good use of technology builds on all the education theory.’ Do you agree?
To respond “Yes” is difficult to avoid, but it is actually meaningless. Good use of technology builds on much more than educational theories, there are also the communication theories, ergonomic, computational literacy. Moreover, if the idea is to say that all the learning and teaching theories, and educational as well, can be of some help, one may agree but so what… The issue may be, when facing a problem, to find how to formulate it and understand it, and then to find the means to get the most relevant response. But, if this response is informed by a theory, would that mean that we have to know it (functionally, and not only by name)? This may be a real challenge. Eventually, would agreeing means that we consider that such good use builds on behaviourism as well as on constructivism, cognitivism as well as situated learning. Unfortunately not all the learning theories are consistent among themselves. So, definitely, we have to reconsider the question.
3. What are the trade-offs and compromises in using (open) educational resources created by others?
This is a very difficult question which may not have a definite and general answer. An educational resource is in general the product of a process which is largely part of its meaning. The big issue is to know how to document a resource so that it can be reused. This issue might be easier to manage in higher education, but still there is a significant difference between an educational document on the “Little Fermat theorem” and one on “A dream within a dream”, a poem of Edgar Allan Poe. When these resources were dominated by books, teachers tended to choose text-books close to what they had learned (or had been taught) and the way they had learned, and to appropriate them for a long period. With the current blooming of on-line resources, it is rather difficult because very little is known of them. TEL has developed the concept of Learning object and the related meta-data, but still this is much less operational than expected.
Aside the difficulty of appropriating the resources prepared by others, there is the need for teacher to remain the creators of their courses. It is through this creative process that they can solve the actor paradox: each time a course is delivered, or an educational resource used, it must be as it were the first time with the same enthusiasm and liveliness so that the student can enter the knowledge game and not be offered the mere repetition of a course which is delivered every years alike.
4. Where is the locus of ‘cool TEL’ in your university/college and what is its relationship to institutional support?
No genius loci yet for TEL in Grenoble (but its in the agenda). However there is a place where TEL develops in a blended approach for many years now, it is the first year of medicine at Grenoble University. The model is that of a flip classroom, with all the material delivered on DVD and then a questions-answers session with tutors, and eventually an evaluation simulating the future exam. It is very similar to a MOOC (at least 1500 students attend) but before the MOOC (it is not Online yet). It is interesting, in relation with the webinar discussion to notice the motivation of this innovation: equity between students. An other interesting innovation, of a different nature, is offered to students of the second year of this medicine school. It is called Laboratorium of epidemiology and it consists of a simulation with the objective to set a context to motivate students to learn statistics in a situated way.
5. What information will best help you decide whether to try out
That information which I will get in the ocTEL MOOC, indeed! Actually, I am already fully convinced.