This is an archive of the 2013 version of ocTEL.

Understanding Learners' Needs – Week 2 Wrap-up

The week’s activities began with a good deal of interest and comment relating to the four ‘Readiness questionnaires’. Most comments and posts related to the limitations of this mechanistic approach to identifying learners’ needs. Colleagues identified that differing degrees of self-awareness amongst students, previous experiences of learning (whether face-to-face or online) and the mood of the moment are all likely to impact upon how the questionnaire would be completed and the value that students would place on the automated feedback that they receive.

We were then delighted to welcome Helen Beetham as our guest for the Week 2 webinar, which was enjoyable, informative and as promised provocative at times.  You can view the recording of Helen’s webinar, and can also view Helen’s slides.

During the webinar we considered the purpose of asking students about their preparedness for online discussion, and considered other approaches to identifying learners’ needs which focus less on student deficit assumptions and more upon understanding what students actually ‘do’ in terms of their practices.  Webinar participants were divided about the various ways that learners are willing to engage with technology, which led Helen to suggest that we should be very wary about making any grand statements about learners’ needs and preferences.  Instead, we should be prepared to recognize the situated nature of learning and make opportunities to speak to students about their use of technology, helping them to imagine different learner and digital identities.

After a brief consideration of models addressing the development of digital literacy, we explored what tutors could do to help students develop those high level digital identities which support learning in uncertain spaces (such as we are experiencing in our ocTEL environment).

Further to a request during the webinar for our ‘collaborative scribbling’ to be shared, what follows is an interpretation of what the four break-out groups in the webinar came up with:

How can tutors support students to develop high level digital identities?

  • Try to build confidence to adopt and make use of technologies
  • Help students to understand what is going to be useful to them
  • Encourage the development of student self-support groups
  • Encourage self-reflection – deciding at what point you need to change
  • Students encouraged to teach staff about their use of technology

What access do tutors need to give students to enable the development of digital identities?

  • Guidance to useful resources
  • A gentle introduction to a variety activities
  • Time and space to build the confidence to access collaborative opportunities online
  • Students need to know and be shown what they are allowed to do, or supposed to do
  • Learning platforms need to be user tested

What practices are supportive of the development of higher level digital identities?

  • Collaborative learning and peer discussion
  • Being fearless about asking for help
  • Being  open-minded to learn in new ways
  • Developing personal learning networks

What skills should we help students to develop?

  • Provide students the opportunity to practice skills
  • Tutors have to demonstrate good practice and good use of social media
  • Provide a safe space where it’s OK not to get things right all the time
  • Foster critical analysis skills for engagement with internet resources
  • Share models of best practice from other students

Our second discussion activity for Week 2 saw many of the points above mirrored and explored in relation to tutors themselves. In the forum discussion on Learner Expectations, Sue Folley, James Kerr, Monika Major, Karen Strickland, and Phil Tubman addressed the challenges that staff in our educational institutions face in developing the digital skills and literacies needed to teach in online contexts. This was accompanied by a recognition that teaching online is different, and often difficult.

In our concluding discussion for Week 2, on Researching Themes in Learner Needs, the group began to explore particular concepts and ideas in further detail. James kicked things off by considering various dimensions in “the curriculum of adult life”, while Elizabeth Charles, in also tackling the nature of adult learning, offered a number of examples relating to her own teaching of digital literacy. Echoing the important point that came up in Helen’s webinar around providing safe spaces where it is ok not to get things right, both James and Elizabeth identify the value of learning from situations in which things did not go to plan, and of learners sharing experiences good and bad.

Further food for thought in our concluding discussion came from Alice Shepherd in offering a rich interpretation of Howard Rheingold’s talk on 21st century literacies, and from Brian Hutchinson in addressing accessibility and offering suggestions for making online courses accessible for all.

With so much happening in ocTEL, in the webinars and forums, on twitter, and on participants’ own blogs, Week 2 also saw many of us discussing how best to engage with the course. David Jennings and Sue Folley offered sage advice across their respective blog posts on this topic, with David reminding us that “there is no such thing as ‘behind’ on ocTEL”, and Sue pointing out that “Everyone will engage differently” and “No one can engage with everything (even the tutors)”.

Sue’s second point certainly rang true with the Week 2 tutor team, but we certainly benefited hugely from what we were able to take in, read and respond to.  As we enter Week 3 of ocTEL let’s reflect on what this experience will guarantee each of us who are participating at any level. It’s summed up nicely in one of the comments from the ocTEL expectations survey we’ve been asking everyone to undertake, in which one participant explains that their personal aim for ocTEL is “Finding out what and who are ‘out there’ in relation to TEL”. The Week 2 team are certainly richer in this respect than we were this time last week, and we’re looking forward to getting richer still as ocTEL progresses over the coming weeks.  We hope and trust that you are too!

Posted on behalf of Julie Fotheringham, Karen Strickland and Keith Smyth, with many thanks to them.

Consultant and occasional writer, based in London. Chartered Pscyhologist and CMALT. Overall co-ordinator of ocTEL.