Web 2.0 – Challenging Didactic Teaching

tom_preskett2_80By Tom Preskett

Web 2.0 and didactic teaching may not seem directly related, but Web 2.0 challenges the way we teach across the board, and the impact will be felt as much in higher education as anywhere else. In general terms, in England, didactic delivery of lectures is prevalent. I’m happy to be challenged on this, but that is my experience. Whatever my motivation for starting this job (as a learning technologist), my motivation for continuing is very much to do with trying to change this status quo. There are others, but this is dominant.

Why? This is difficult to get to the heart of. But it might have something to do with my experiences of education. What worked best for me. What was negative for me. It might have something to do with the fact that where I perceive bad teaching, it usually involves didactic, transmissive models. Didactic teaching is also the setup lecturing200that requires the least planning, sometimes no more than deciding on the content. In some ways, it’s lazy teaching. People who don’t want to think about how they teach, will be didactic.

Coincidentally, these people will also not want to hear about learning technology. I never saw myself as championing particular pedagogies, but the various collaborative models lend themselves to everything that is positive about Web 2.0 and, therefore, my way of thinking. I have used the phrase “Web 2.0” rather than “learning technologies” because some learning technologies are concerned with presenting content (albeit in a flexible way) rather than offering different ways of delivering and learning. Web 2.0 gives us the right social, collaborative, creative idea.

So how does Web 2.0 or any learning technology challenge didactic teaching? The simple answer is that when you show educators any learning technology, they are forced to think about how they teach. For higher education in England, the didactic, transmissive model is prevalent so this is being challenged. So, by making people think about how they teach, you are breaking down the status quo as I called it earlier. It’s worth noting that I’m not convinced our educators think about how they teach enough. My role is not ostensibly about challenging teaching methods; it’s about learning technology. But the didactic approach is often the issue underlying resistance to change.

This is where the obvious impact of Web 2.0 on all of our lives is important. The more the impact, the harder it is to ignore. The more obvious the benefit, the harder it is to ridicule. Just look at Twitter and the Iran elections.

A Model for Integrating New Technology into Teaching

By Anita Pincas
Guest Author

I have been an internet watcher ever since I first got involved with online communications in the late 1980s, when it was called computer conferencing. And through having to constantly update my Online Education & Training course since 1992, I’ve had the opportunity to see how educational approaches to the use of the internet, and after it, the world wide web, have evolved. Although history doesn’t give us the full answers to anything, it suggests frameworks for looking at events, so I ‘d like to propose a couple of models for understanding the latest developments in technology and how they relate to learning and teaching.

First, there seem to be three broad areas in which to observe the new technology. This is a highly compressed sketch of some key points:

1. Computing as Such

Here we have an on-going series of improvements which have made it ever easier for the user to do things without technical knowledge. There is a long line of changes from the early days before the mouse, when we had to remember commands (Control +  X for delete, Control +  B for bold, etc.), to the clicks we can use now, and the automation of many functions such as bullet points, paragraphing, and so on. The most recent and most powerful of these developments is, of course, cloud computing, which roughly means computer users being able to do what they need on the internet without understanding what lies behind it (in the clouds). Publishing in a blog, indeed on the web in general, is one of the most talked about examples of this at the moment. The other is the ability to handle video materials. Both are having an enormous impact on the world in general in terms of information flow, as well as, more slowly, on educational issues. Artificial intelligence, robotics, and “smart” applications are on the way too.

2. Access to and Management of Knowledge

This has been vastly enlarged through simple increase in quantity, which itself has been made possible by the computing advances that allow users to generate content, relatively easy searches, and open access publishing that cuts the costs. Library systems are steadily renewing themselves, and information that was previously unobtainable in practice has become commonplace on the web (e.g. commercial and governmental matters, the tacit knowledge of every day life, etc.). As the semantic web comes into being, we can see further advances in our ability to connect items and areas of knowledge.

3. Communications and Social Networking

We can now use the internet – whether on a desktop or laptop or small mobile – to communicate 1 to 1, or 1 to many, or many to many by voice, text and multimedia. And this can be either synchronous or asynchronous across the globe. The result has been an explosion of opportunities to network individually, socially and commercially. Even in education, we can already see that the VLE is giving way to the PLE (personal learning environment) where learners network with others and construct and share their own knowledge spaces.

For teachers there is pressure not to be seen as out of date, but with too little time or help, they need a simple, structured way of approaching the new technological opportunities on their own. The bridge between the three areas of development should be a practical model of teaching and learning. I use one which the teachers who participate in my courses regularly respond to and validate. It sees learning and teaching in terms of three processes:

  1. acquiring knowledge or skills or attitudes,
  2. activating these, and
  3. obtaining feedback on the acquisition and activation.

I start off by viewing any learning/teaching event as a basic chronological sequence of 3Ps:

But this basic template is open to infinite variation. This occurs by horizontal and vertical changes. The horizontal variations are: the order in which the three elements occur; the repetition of any one of them in any order; the embedding of any sequence within any other sequence. The vertical changes are in how each of the three elements is realised. So the model can generate many different styles of teaching and ways of learning, e.g., problem based, discovery based, and so on.

Finally, this is where the bridge to technology comes in. If a teacher starts from the perceived needs in the teaching and learning of the subject, and then systematically uses the 3Ps to ask:

  • What technology might help me make the content available to the learners? [P1]
  • What technology might help me activate their understanding/use of the new content? [P2]
  • What technology might help me evaluate and give the learners feedback on their understanding or use? [P3]

then we have needs driving the use of the technology, and not the other way around.

Here is a simple example of one way of organising problem based learning:

(Click on the table to zoom in.)

I have developed the model with its many variations in some detail for my courses. Things get quite complex when you try to cover lots of different teaching and learning needs under the three slots. And linking what the learners do, or want to do, or fail to do, etc., with what the teacher does is particularly important. Nevertheless, I find that my three areas of new development plus the 3P scaffolding make things rational rather than being a let’s-just-try-this approach. Perhaps equally important, it serves as a template to observe reports of teaching methods and therefore a very useful tool for evaluation. I have never yet found a teaching/learning event that could not be understood and analysed quickly this way.

An Interview with Terry Anderson: Open Education Resources – Part II

boettcher80By Judith V. Boettcher
Guest Author

[Continued from Part I]

[Note: After listening to Terry’s description of how the crowd’s activity might be used to produce new information, I learned that Google announced a new tool on November 12 called the “Google Flu Tracker.” It tracks flu trends across the country by using aggregated Google search data to estimate flu activity! This service was developed after learning that “certain search terms are good indicators of flu activity”! -JB]

JB: It sounds as if we are on the brink of a number of new models, both for producing, using and paying for educational content. But let’s switch gears a little. Just as the net is changing how the crowd may be creating content, online courses are starting to use content in new ways. We have types of content: published content; “found content” for information that students bring to the course community; and we have the performance and teaching direction content, which students and faculty create during the course. What do you think the role of content is in a course today? What percent of a course is actually published content?

TA: Publishers are concerned that students are not buying the textbook, and faculty are saying that students who do buy the textbook are not reading the textbook. What I think is an important opportunity is giving students the option of creating and sharing their own conception of the course knowledge.

JB: Have you been sharing student-created content from year to year as yet?

TA: Not yet. I am encouraged by the use of a new system that we are using at Athabasca. The system is Elgg, a social networking tool that can be used by smaller communities. We wanted a system that was institution-centric rather than course-centric.

What I really like about ELGG is the permissions options. You use a menu to control access to any piece of information that you post, such as a phone number, blog posting or wiki entry. For example, the first option is to keep it private, just for yourself, then you might keep it to yourself and a friend, then to the people in your course, your teacher, people at your university, or Google or the world. Some things you want public, and some you want to keep private. You can’t resolve that on an institutional policy basis. It seems that having students in control and being knowledgeable about that control is the way to go.

theory_practiceWe use this for portfolios and graduation type of assignments so it really helps with getting content out of the LMS [learning management system]. You can show your work to your mother or anyone else who cares.

JB: Do you link to Elgg from your LMS, then?

TA: Yes, and what I have been doing this last term as an experiment is weaning students away from the discussion board environment to the blogging environment in Elgg. Blogging is not as good for threaded discussions, but then threaded discussions don’t allow people outside the course to pop in and read, contribute and comment. I use Moodle for the drop box, assignments, study guides, course content, and other non-interactive kinds of course pieces.

JB: Terry, let’s go back to your own book that you have made available on the net. Why did you make your book freely available online?

TA: The publication of the first edition of the The Theory and Practice of Online Learning was an experiment as it was published in both print copy and made available as a free download. The 400 copies of the printed version sold quickly, and in the first month there were about 6,000 to 7,000 downloads of the book. Over the years it has been online, there have been about 90,000 downloads, and portions of the book have been translated into five languages.

We now have a second edition out, and we are using the same model. The book and its individual chapters continue to be freely available online under a Creative Commons license. People are still downloading the first edition, but I would like to wean folks from the older version. The second edition has four new chapters, including chapters on Mobile Learning and Social Software and is available from the Athabasca University Press.

JB: So, does the freely downloadable option stimulate sales of the printed copy?

TA: I think that is an open question. We just don’t know. I do know that making it freely downloadable increases exposure and access. As for other models, I don’t know what the impact of the Amazon Kindle Reader will have. One thing I am disappointed about is the small price differential that is common on the Kindle books. But we will just have to keep experimenting I think.

JB: Terry, thanks so much for your time, your insights and your ongoing exploration and testing of the use of open education resources.

Simulated Labs Are Anathema to Most Scientists

Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education
7 November 2008

[Editor’s note: This article was originally submitted as a comment to John Adsit’s November 6 I-Blog article, “Old School Thinking Blocks Quality Online Science Classes,” on 11.6.08.]

I completely agree with the last portion of what John [Adsit says in “Old School Thinking Blocks Quality Online Science Classes“]. My own blogging on the subject is at smartscience.blogspot.com.

I also mostly agree with the rest of his comments.

1. Typical lab experiences are poor. However, many science teachers, using the same labs, provide great lab experiences. Online science courses must do as well.

2. John refers to an “‘integrated’ lab program” in America’s Lab Report. [The entire report is available online at no cost.] Actually, the report refers to “integrated instructional units” more than twenty times. It never uses the phrase “integrated lab program” or even “integrated lab.” It’s not the lab program that they wish to be integrated but the instructional unit containing the lab.

keller013. The question of exactly how online science courses will meet the goals is left open. That’s partly good because new technologies cannot always be anticipated. However, the range of options should be restricted a little. Here, America’s Lab Report provides an excellent guideline. Here it is.

“Laboratory experiences provide opportunities for students to interact directly with the material world (or with data drawn from the material world), using the tools, data collection techniques, models, and theories of science.”

As long as your online science labs fill this definition, you can go forward and test it against the lab goals and the integration goals.

4. Absolutely, old school thinking is blocking excellent innovation in science, especially in the lab area. The reason for this blockage is not hard to find. In addition, the blockage comes in the form of restricted means rather than ends. The blockers (e.g., UCOP) say you cannot use online labs in any form rather than specifying results that must be achieved. America’s Lab Report took the opposite approach.

The reason for the blockage clearly comes from a statement on one UC web page that no virtual lab THAT THEY HAD SEEN could substitute for hands-on labs. Yet, they steadfastly refuse to look at new technologies in virtual labs.

Here’s the problem. A plethora of virtual labs have appeared, and they’re all SIMULATED. That is, they use equations and/or algorithms to generate data, objects, and phenomena for investigation by students. This approach is anathema to most scientists. The attempts to make simulations into science labs has so turned off these scientists that now they won’t even consider ANY virtual labs.

alrYet, many people continue to attempt to create virtual labs from simulations. Instead, they should be looking elsewhere. For example, one of the authors of the NACOL report, Kemi Jona, has been working on an alternate approach: remote real-time robotic labs. They’re virtual, online, and real. They violate the rules of the UCOP, but they meet the America’s Lab Report definition and goals.

That such exemplary work is banned by California and New York is a travesty. With ever-declining budgets and schools in crisis, any valid approach should be supported.

The approach should be as good or better than the best traditional labs. The standard cannot be the “typical” labs that are so poor. They’re a “straw man” and should not be part of the debate.

I hope that someone can get the attention of the UCOP and have them look into some of the excellent alternatives to supervised traditional labs. If they end up looking at simulations, they’ll just be turned off again, and we’ll have to suffer many more years of banned virtual labs. We must present them with real innovations that don’t depend on simulated activities but use real data from the real world with highly-interactive collection of personal data by students.