Tag: learning design

This is an archive of the 2013 version of ocTEL.

Flexible Learning

Exactly a week ago I was presenting at HEA Flexible learning through professional practice at Bath Spa University Corsham Court Campus.  The place is beautiful!  Worth the long drive from Huddersfield (as much as I love Huddersfield too – do visit, you will be surprised!)  The event was great too. I was presenting a module re-design to […]

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#ocTEL MOOC (week 4 A42) Why would the student do or say this rather than that?

The second activity of this week on “Producing Engaging and Effective Learning Materials” is about the evaluation of resources in our area. So, it means, in my case, evaluating a resource for the learning of mathematics. However, I will start from a more general perspective. Whatever is the targeted learning, the first thing to check is the validity of the content the resource claims providing the learners with respect to the referent discipline. Then only, I will assess it from a learning perspective. Indeed, there are many issues to consider from accessibility to usability, motivation and autonomy. But, three questions have a hight priority in driving my evaluation:

Why would the student do or say this rather than that?
What must happen if she does it or doesn’t do it?
What meaning would the answer have if she had been given it?

I borrow these formulations from the Theory of Didactical Situations (Brousseau 1997 p.65), but the questions are very pragmatic. The theory works here as a driver of our thinking; it is a tool to anticipate what could be the learning outcome, its likeliness, the possible limits and hence the needed intervention of a teacher. Depending on the responses, one may have to stage the use of the resource in one way or another.

Interaction and feedback are the main objects of the evaluation. The issue is not that students will do that or this, but why they do it,  because the constructed piece of knowledge must appear as the best adapted to the situation. Knowledge is something you reconstruct for yourself and appropriate because of its use value. The next issue is to verify, if the resource is interactive in some way, that it can feedback students so that they have a chance to realize that something went wrong and then react to that. If the resource is not interactive, then the issue is whether it is possible to figure out any thing about the activity (possibly, just reading) of students and find the appropriate support to bring. Eventually, the stake of this inquiry is the meaning possibly constructed by the student.

All this means that there is enough documentation about the resource, otherwise one has to guess or invent… just having a resource without information about its design, the intention of the designer and indications about its use, it is hardly possible to make a proper evaluation. This may be the reason why I couldn’t do it for the proposed resource. But, anyway, I will make the exercise when achieving the third task of the week.

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#ocTEL MOOC (week 4 A41) Can TEL be taught or only learned?

The theme of the week is “Producing Engaging and Effective Learning Materials“, with as a first task comparing learning resources, with three examples. As one can easily realise, since the content is completely different in each case, the comparison will be at the level of the style, organisation, choice of media and ways of involving learners. But let’s see what is proposed…

The first suggestion is to use one resource from Khan Academy’s YouTube videos. So, I chosen the “Introduction to Vectors and Scalars“:

Actually, a surprise! This introduction aims at clarifying the distinction between “vector” and “scalar”. If I have understood well: a scalar is a quantity (for example, a distance of 5m between two points) and the vector is a scalar associated to a displacement (for example, moving 5m to the right). It could be a bit more complex, introducing change of time, suggests the teacher. Then, he introduces a distinction between velocity (vector quantity, the move has a direction) and speed (scalar quantity, the direction is not specified). I am unsure of what will be the conceptions of vector and scalar that learners could develop after this lesson (e.g. what about scalars operating on vectors). So, the benefit from this staging of vectors can be discussed, but I recognise the power of the enchantment of the blackboard: the speed of the discourse regulated by that of the hand, the hesitations and small mistakes which gives the flavour of informal discourse, the always positive style: it might sound like very complicated ideas, but we will see in the course of the video that they are actually very simple ideas… (quasi verbatim). There is a kind of illusion of being close to the tutor, feeling that he is speaking to you. Well done! But still unsure about what could be the learning outcome…

So, now let’s move to the second example, taking one example from one resource from ElearningExamples e-learning games. Among the great many possibilities, I chosen the “Learning center for young astronomers“. This center gives access to several resources either texts or video, possibilities to navigate among resources. Some questions give opportunity for engaging in kind of interactions. The resource includes suggestions for use in the classroom. This is a classical environment for getting information along a not too boring journey in an encyclopaedia. It is not motivating by itself, but if learners have some motivation they may enjoy. I had a look on other resources of this set of examples, they are essentially game-like. The most difficult was to understand how learning is addressed. Games? yes, but learning… not obvious.

Eventually, I visited the iEthiCS simulation as suggested. The thing to emphasize is the clarity and the simplicity of the environment, and still an engaging style. Indeed, it is for adults and moreover medical students usually with a quite hight motivation towards case-based learning. After watching he video of the case, the student can make choices and get video commentaries (there is a text-based version). This is rather lively and efficient. The feeling of a contact with the tutor, although with little interaction (just decision choices), is realistic and convincing. This is a good video-based teaching.

So, now back to the task: “comparing resources”. To be frank, global comparisons is likely to be meaningless. But it is possible to make some on aspects shared by these resources. For example comparing the use of video by Khan Academy and iEthics, or the way learner’s navigation is framed by the Center for young astronomers and iEthics. All seems adapted to a certain conception of learners and of their autonomy, and they look quite well with their own style (that one may indeed always discuss). But an other question is whether they would succeed in “passing” the content they intend to give learners an access to. A question that #ocTEL does not ask, but the question which in the end is the most important. Khan academy treats knowledge as information so everything will depend on the listener, the Center for young astronomer does that too but in a more active way. Only iEthiCs treats knowledge as a tool for problem solving and not as information only, this is this which drives the design of the environment and it is, in my opinion, the key challenge of the design of TEL environments.

Eventually, the task includes a question about the extent to which these resources “differ from that of the resources we’re using in ocTEL?” There are two remarkable differences: these resources are rather focussed, while ocTEL is totally and vastly open (real risk to get lost), these resources target delivering some knowledge in some form, while ocTEL organizes exchanges of ideas and opinions about something which may be or not supported by some knowledge about TEL.I have not the feeling of following a course, but of being on a market place with a lot of possibilities. But it is hardly possible to identify what I am learning, and if there is something to learn beyond getting all these information.

Actually, we are touching there the main difficulty, challenge and weakness of TEL. So, my question: can TEL be taught or only learned?

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#ocTEL MOOC (week 3 A33) Learning forward, designing backward

The third activity for this week 3 on Designing active learning is to design an activity and to review a learning activity. I didn’t design one specifically for this MOOC, but I am happy to share one which I designed for a Doctoral school a few years ago, it was about the design of learning game, starting by inviting students to play a game…

The idea is simple: invite students to play a game first alone against the teacher who manages to sometimes loose, sometime win. This the time to acquire the rules. Then the students play against each other, first alone, then in team with a spokesperson who will play the strategy of the team. There are two levels of debriefing, the first one specific to the game as such, the second to understand the structure and the function of the game as a learning situation. Eventually, students are invited to analyse a simulation game in epidemiology. The sequence closes with a more theoretical analysis of the role of games in learning.

The lesson learned from this exercise is that while learning goes forward from action to articulated knowledge, the design of a learning situation must go backward from the targeted learning outcome back to the optimal situation to engage learner in the process. This situation could be a game but not necessarily, it must essentially be a situation which allows learners to mobilise what they know, whatever it is, in order to make the first step towards the target. The sequence of situation is a journey allowing the construction of the required mental constructs, then language, then means to evaluate and ground the piece of knowledge which has emerged.  This is a quick summary, but the essential is there.

It is with this in mind that I reviewed two activities proposed by (@James Kerr), History of Educational Technology-A Collaborative Timeline Project, and (@ElizabethECharl), Webquest – a hunting we will go. In both cases, the difficulty is to figure out precisely what will be the learning outcome and how the situations are appropriate for this objective. Kerr activity is interesting as such, it could stimulated conversations on the history of educational technology and beyond on the role of technology in education. It is an open situation which could give ground at several different learning objective. Elizabeth activity is more focussed on information search on the net. It is a starter, and actually presented as such, which fruitfulness will depend on the follow up either by new situations or by the teacher — here a librarian. As a learner, I am now in standby in both cases…

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The (dodgy) foundations of technology enhanced learning #ocTEL

Ooh, this is sneaky. After three weeks, I’m jumping back into the #ocTEL MOOC. I’m fortunate in that this week the course comes to the end of Part I, the Foundations of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), so I’m just going to quickly post about the brief interactions I’ve had and the insights that I’ve gleaned […]

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#ocTEL MOOC (week 3 A32) While playing, one cant' help learning

The focus on this week second task is on game-based learning as the best example of good case of active learning. The reasons given are brief and clear: “It encapsulates many principles of active learning, such as engagement in an authentic context, learning by mistake-making and reflection, experiential learning, collaborative learning and learning by problem-solving”. Apart from the word “authentic” that I would discuss, I agree with the list. But is it enough? In my opinion: “no”, because the issue is not that some learning occurs but to be able to tell what learning occurs and, even better, that an intended learning objective has been reached. For this, it is not enough to engage the learners in an active play.

Let’s take the case of the proposed games, of which I tried two: the adventure game Lost in the City and the strategy game Westward.  After 15 minutes of play (recommended), I stopped, I stepped back and I tried to respond to the question: “What do you think you could learn playing this game?” The only response I could offer is that we could learn how to play these games and that it may take some time. Then what we could learn once being reasonably familiar with the game is not obvious, although there could be a general statements (I prefer to leave the floor to a knowledgeable other): “The game “Lost in the City” is interesting as an exercise in following directions and solving puzzle” (@James Kerr), “Westward […]  felt as though it wrapped entertainment around learning very well, and could present learning in an engaging way” (@James Kerr). Yes, but which learning? James Kerr refers to “The Oregon trail” as a similar game. If I got it well, it is both a role-play and a simulation game of a period in the history of the US (as a matter of fact, following a link from the wikipedia page of “The Oregon trail” one reaches “Westward!” and learn that it is an online adaptation of it  – but may be not to confuse with Westward – without an exclamation point).

So, before being lost (or loosing my reader, if one happens to reach this line), I must tell what I learned today from activity 3.2. The first thing is that I learned a bit how to play these games which I didn’t know before; and indeed, while playing, I cant’ help learning. The second thing is that one cannot say clearly and precisely what can be learned when playing a game; almost every learning is possible from learning how to play, learning some attitude, some skills and serendipitously some content or know-how which could have a meaning and a utility outside the universe of the game. The analysis is almost impossible.

Hence, the reasonable approach is to question the game from the perspective of the learning outcome one targets. I will come back to this point with the week 3 activity 3.3.

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#ocTEL MOOC (week 3 A31) Isn't learning always active?

“Designing active learning” is the theme of the week. This title surprises me since indeed learning is always active. Whatever they are, leaning requires activities, actions and decisions on the side of the learner. Indeed, these are not of the same na…

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#ocTEL Designing Active Learning

I am getting very excited after a week of meetings and discussions about the SCALE UP project we are going to be running in the university next year. I have proposed two very different modules for the pilot – one is alread…

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#ocTEL MOOC (week 1 Laurillard Downes webinar) Surprise, surprise, language may be the problem.

Among the recommended resources to “watch, read and research” to prepare week 1 of the #ocTEL course, there was a discussion between Diana Laurillard and Stephen Downes on the extent to which learning design should be supported computationally – (look at the webinar recording [here]). The discussion started by a presentation by Diana Laurillard of the Learning Designer, a “software to engage university teachers in the design of technology-enhanced learning (TEL) which is informed by pedagogic research and appropriate theories of teaching and learning.” Then followed a presentation by Stephen Downes looking at learning design as a language, and hence with the power and the limits of a language. As we know,language is a tool to communicate, to represent, to share, to argue and to reason. But to some extent it is a poor and complex way of representing and communicating, and at the same time a marvellous and powerful instrument. That is our everyday reality… nevertheless,  language is necessary for practitioners and researchers. Stephen suggests that the latter tends to conform to the preference of science for “pure abstraction and formalism” (Bourbaki would have said “naïve formalism”, indeed beyond toy examples only computers handle pure formalism), whereas reality is always more complex than whatever formalism can capture. Then comes the difficult question: “Is there a functionally useful language which can describe learning and teaching?” I guess that if the response is “no”, then the ambition of Learning Designer (and the project of the like) shrinks dramatically or even worse becomes irrelevant; if the response is “yes”, it may be because of a “hidden positivism” and the dream for a language about learning being interpretation independent (a “stupid” language). This is a rough summary, I agree, but I think fair to the content of the discussion and enough for the comments I would like to share.

When we engage in a discussion, there is always the tacit assumption that it exists and/or it is possible to build a common language even if locally in time and space for the sake of the communication. Many events during the conversation are meant to call for or facilitate this construction (esp. all the events revealing misunderstanding). Indeed, articulating and interpreting are the key processes. It may be the case that this common linguistic space vanishes with the end of the conversation; this is not a problem as long as it has played its role. But there are situations in which it is better if we have not to build again this space, for example for teacher training courses. This means that it exists a de facto functional language useful to describe learning and teaching, it is the language of training, or the language of the professional literature, or the language of the #ocTEL MOOC. This does not mean that it is completely fixed, static, unified and unique. On the contrary this language evolves under the requirements of practice and with the improvement of our understanding of teaching and learning. It is a language rich enough to welcome a variety of approaches and theories, from constructivism to connectivism. Actually, it is not because there would be a common language that we would have a unique model of learning and teaching. Such a language must be flexible and open enough to express different models (just as the mathematical formalism allows to express Euclidean or non-Euclidean geometry, as it were). Indeed, we must keep in mind that this common language is a social construct.

Looking at these issues from a scientific perspective, there are some objectives which come into play which change the ambition. Since I think that this conversation is not the kind philosophers had at the birth of psychology as a science, I accept the idea that it is good and possible to identify invariants in learning and teaching, and that it is possible to model some of the phenomena which arise with both. To describe them and to come collectively to an agreement on the validity of the related claims, it is indeed necessary first to have a precise language (and hence definitions) and some insurance that interpretation will be under (a reasonable) control. Indeed, this implies abstraction, that is: not taking all the complexity of teaching-learning on board. This is not a problem as long as researchers are not dogmatic and humble enough to be clear about this limit. It is here that we have the problem of communication between research and practice, which in fact is a problem only when underestimated or forgotten. No body is right by principle, we must have discussions, argumentations, efforts to share a language as a condition to understand the models and there limits, possibly indeed their failure. The computational support of learning design is just a specific case for this issue. It means that the science of teaching-learning as made enough progress to make such computational models possible. Indeed, such a model, even Learning Designer, is conjectural: it has to be discussed, its limits must be explore. It is important that users be aware that buying the software, they buy the underlying approach and model of teaching-learning. Hence, they have not to look at it as the orthodox way of thinking, but a possible way that they must confront to their own understanding, perspective and practice.

From these confrontations among practitioners, among researchers, and between practitioners and researchers will come the progress of our knowledge about teaching and learning theoretically and in practice. So, language is not a problem, it is a tool which gets its strength and efficiency from its adaptivity and dynamic nature (even in science which vocabulary and meaning evolve continuously).

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#ocTEL Week 1: reflecting on my practice

Well this is timely. In our institution we are just reflecting on module feedback, marking final assignments, planning for the coming year. I am also personally involved in compiling a portfolio for professional recognition.Reflecting on my p…

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