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Month: May 2013

Learning from experience, narrative style #octel

This week #ocTEL MOOC takes a look at “Platforms and Technologies“. It’s a topic that I’ve really been looking forward to as I want to gain a better understanding of the pros and cons of hosted and open source options. Why? because like it says in the course notes and commentary, I realise that

ultimately this is about power and control. Within educational technology, power and control basically means the forms of pedagogy that a tool enables or prevents.

However, it looks like such lofty ambitions will have to wait a bit longer because I’m going to be pushed for time this week and have, in the meantime, become interested by something related to the “one thing” activity. Namely, narrative learning and its facilitation through blogging or, if I’m going to tie this in to the theme of the week, blogging platforms. The “one thing” activity asked that we refresh our memory in relation to Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory and then think about the use of technology in terms of the learning cycle and learning styles that he advocates. Well, I’ve never been sold on the theory of learning styles, but this time I wasn’t inclined to be sold on Kolb’s experiential learning theory as much as I might have been in the past either. This is because I’ve recently been investigating the role that stories play in learning, and it’s led me to think about narrative learning and to consider experiential learning more widely.

Narrative Learning.

In adulthood, learning is integrally related to lived experience, but the relationship between lived experience and learning can be understood in a number of ways. Similarly, conceptualisations of when learning actually occurs can be understood in a number of ways too. According to Kolb, individuals choose a way of “grasping the experience”, and choose a way to “transform the experience” into something meaningful and usable. In constructivist learning theory such as this, the learner connects to the experience by reflecting upon it, thus learning is located in reflection. It might be said that constructivist interpretations see the person and their experiences as existing somewhat separate from one another. However, within situated learning theory the learning is seen as occurring in the interaction between learners and their contexts, and reflection as occurring within this social and highly contextual interaction. Narrative learning theory though, still under the constructivist umbrella, argues that there is a much closer connection between learners and experience. It regards experience as being  prelinguistic; that is, experience must afterwards be “languaged”, or storified, and it’s in the process of “languaging”, or narrating, the experience and ascribing meaning to it that learning occurs.

Experience is the basis of meaning making, and it’s in the construction of the narrative, the way in which it’s made accessible to language that determines the meaning individuals ascribe to it. Individuals need to make sense of many many experiences, as Clark and Rossiter point out in the article that I’ve been reading

Everyday we are bombarded by a dizzying variety of experiences and we make sense of those by storying them, by constructing narratives that make things cohere. Coherence creates sense out of chaos by establishing connections between and among these experiences.[…] Narrative is also how we craft our sense of self, our identity.

The quest for sense and coherence through the construction of narrative, or story, is how we demonstrate our growing understanding of a thing and it’s how we make our learning visible, not just to ourselves but to others too.

I find that blogging is not only a way of making learning visible, but it’s a powerful way to achieve learning too, striving to narrate understanding, make sense and achieve coherence.

Thus, informed by experiential learning theory, narrative learning can be seen as not just fostering learning through the telling of stories, but as the learning process itself. What’s absolutely fabulous about this though is the sheer amount of tools available to tell stories and to be a narrative learner today.

I’m glad that as part of this week’s activities, I didn’t reflect on whether or not I accommodate Kolb’s learning styles in my teaching/learning because otherwise I wouldn’t have considered accommodating learning “narrative style”, whereas now I most certainly do. I’m also glad, that on open courses such as this that I’m given license to choose my own learning pathways – previously not sticking to the question would have had me marked out as being awkward, and would have lost me marks. This is way better. Self-determined narrative learning rocks!!

Thanks #ocTEL folks.

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References: Clark, C. and Rossiter, M. ( 2008) Narrative Learning in Adulthood. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, no. 119, Fall.

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Make it personal, keep it simple: finding and creating resources. #octel

In Week 4, the fundamental question that #ocTEL asks is “how can we take advantage of technological developments in order to create and source relevant learning resources?” Actually, the question continues “for our students”, but I’m going to ignore that bit. I’m just going to throw in here the idea of “self-organised learning” and, on the very same subject, quote Steve Wheeler in his blogpost today, when he refers to “the ability of the learners themselves to direct their own learning, and to be able to call upon the resources they need, when they need them”, before I move on to relate how I’ve engaged with the question and with this week’s activities.

The first activity was about finding and reviewing resources and, in terms of ease of use and usefulness, comparing a number of resource repositories. The repositories were split into two camps: “official” ones, such as  Jorum and Merlot, and “open” ones like YouTube, TED and iTunesU. I have to say that I was disinclined to do this activity as I’ve done it before. It’s so time consuming, and never mind that it seems to smack of either desperation or wild anticipation akin to a lucky dip. However, I was interested to read Imogen Bertin‘s post in the forum “iTunesU – you need to learn how to search it…”. Interesting, as having undertaken a detailed review and comparison of the repositories, Imogen reports over all lukewarm enthusiasm for the “official” repositories both in terms of their search function and in terms of the resources found. However, the “open” repositories fare somewhat better, especially iTunesU. Imogen says,

if you know how to search it, then it’s actually very good. […] there is a rake of useful stuff on there, lots of it free, but how to search isn’t obvious at all.

And on that score, Imogen kindly enlightens us.

itunes u
iTunesU. You need to learn how to search it.

She also declares that “YouTube rocks!”, and attributes this to its great search engine.

It’s an excellent post, with a great follow up conversation, but my point is this: with the likelihood of such patchy results, why bother to go looking for such content in the first place. Wouldn’t it be handier to have a filtering system in place whereby relevant resources come to you. I mean, why not harness the power of your personal learning network [PLN]?

When a member of my PLN posts a link to a potentially handy resource, I bookmark it in the hope that it’ll be useful to me at a later stage. This way I’ve started to develop my own database of searchable resources. It means I’m not starting a search from scratch as I already have a bank of resources, resources that to some degree have been vetted by my peers. This is how I’ve found a number of great resources recently. Just for the record, I searched iTunesU with the term “digital literacies”, and what do you know, it came up with the exact same resources that I already have bookmarked, plus one! So thanks, Imogen for bringing this to attention. 🙂

A further activity this week related to creating you own materials. You were asked to choose a tool with which you’re not already familiar and consider its application in your context. A number of suggestions were offered for review:

and the following questions were amongst those provided as prompts:

  • How easy was it to understand how this tool worked?
  • How quickly and easily would you find it to use?

In terms of context, I paddle my own canoe. I’m an individual (tutor, facilitator, guide, learner…) who simply wants to develop online learning resources that add interest and stimulate interaction with the learning experience. Consequently, I need “low-threshold, low-barrier” technologies that are easily learned and easily accomplish my teaching and/or learning objectives, and more often than not, have sharing and collaboration features built-in to them.

With this criteria in mind, I took a look over the suggested tools. Straight off, Xerte failed to grab me because it didn’t actually tell me what it did. It opened with “Welcome to the Xerte Project”, whatever that is, and went on to tell me that:

Xerte Online Toolkits is an award winning suite of browser-based tools that allow anyone with a web browser to create interactive learning materials quickly and easily. Content can be delivered to all devices using standards compliant HTML5

Err, I’m sorry, I just want to know what the tool does. Can I design a quiz, record audio, make a video or animate a scenario etc? I didn’t appreciate all the technical terminology either. Therefore, at this stage, I’m not inclined to investigate Xerte any further, despite enthusiastic recommendations in the “what people are saying…” section of the website. Glomaker and Cmap fared similar fates with me I’m afraid. However, Camtasia, Jing and Screen-o-matic were more the sort of tools I’d be looking for, and pretty much said what they did on the tin, so to speak:

Enhance Your Online Conversations With Jing.
Jing gives you the basic tools to start sharing images and short videos of your computer screen.

  • Capture What You See
  • Record What You Do
  • Quick & Easy Sharing

The tools I require need to be intuitive and easy to take up in the first instance, maybe with the option of progressing to more advanced capabilities over time. In fact, I just recently used Screencast-o-matic to produce a presentation for another course I’ve been taking, and I found it to be very straight forward and easy to use. I can certainly recommend it. Co-incidentally, the presentation was on the topic of personal learning networks and how developing a PLN has helped me learn and make progress towards my learning goals. I’ll provide the link here, in case anyone would care to take a look.

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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 through my “legitimate peripheral participation”.

Legitimate Peripheral Participation: #ocTEL MOOC.
Legitimate Peripheral Participation: #ocTEL MOOC.

Week 1: TEL Concepts and Approaches

The challenge for week 1 was to see what doing a course, or taking up a learning opportunity feels like, and to get a feel for the learning landscape and the underpinning theories of TEL.

I was intrigued by Helen Blunden’s post where, having looked at the learning activity graph, she identified herself as a ‘social autonomous’ learner. What struck me, when I looked at the learning graph, was that it seemed to be the activities that helped to define the type of learner. I would have said that I’m a social autonomous learner too, but looking at the activities it had me pegged in the individual autonomous learner category. Blogs, dissertations etc., yes, that’s me alright. However, the activities denoting a social autonomous learner were pitched as collaborative commentary on resources, group projects and problem solving; well, I can do those too. So I’m not too sure that the social – individual binary is that big a deal; it looks to me like it’s a matter of context. In my opinion, what’s more important is the difference between directed and autonomous learning and where one is on that journey. I’m glad that I read and commented on this post because a useful discussion developed as Phil Tubman joined in as well. He made the point that assessment often drives the type of learning activity.

Week 2: Understanding Learners’ Needs

This week was all about understanding learners’ needs. As the introduction made clear, “the centrality of understanding learners’ needs is obviously not unique to Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), and some of the principles in this area are common to all teaching. However, TEL brings with it new contexts that make additional demands of learners”. Some of the key issues to consider being:

  • technical competence and a set of aptitudes often bracketed together under the ‘digital literacy’ heading
  • language and culture, from understanding of the jargon of a domain to different cultural norms about interacting with individuals and groups via the medium of technology
  • individual sensory, motor or cognitive impairments that affect what is accessible via technology
  • learning preferences and disciplines, such as the ability to schedule self-paced learning

Getting down to business, the “if you only do one thing” activity was to take a look at one or two questionnaires that claim, or should that be aim, to predict whether a prospective student is ‘ready’ for online learning. I’m already familiar with one or two of these instruments from my Program for Online Teaching course, so I wasn’t inclined to explore this particular topic much further. I was happy to read the thoughts of others. In her “mini blog”, Jane Challinor noted that the focus of the questionnaires seemed to be largely in terms of access to technology, motivation, time management and computer literacy. She also went on to wonder

whether we shouldn’t use something similar [pre-course readiness questionnaire] with all students on conventional courses as I am pretty sure that some do not appear prepared for the experience! 🙂

Definitely! I’m all for a pre-course readiness questionnaire, or initial assessment, and not just in terms of gauging access to technology and time management skills either, but to gauge actual levels of skill; that is, skill in relation to computer literacy, digital literacy and academic literacy. Initial assessment would be used to indicate general levels, but what I think would be really fantastic is then to carry out further diagnostic assessment and really identify a student’s specific skill set; that is, can they demonstrate basic use of a range of tools and sites for finding and recording information online, can they cite in text references etc. That way, you’d get a better picture of an individual, often with what amounts to a ‘spiky’ profile. Furthermore, you’d not only know where the majority of the class was starting from, but you’d also know their individual strengths and weaknesses too. Be it online or face-to-face, I think this would be really helpful to both lecturer and student alike. After all, a readiness survey is a bit late once you’ve enrolled on a course. And it can’t be a surprise that I advocate this type of readiness questionnaire/initial assessment because it’s common practice in adult literacy teaching, where you just don’t know where individuals are starting from.

Week 3: Designing Active Learning

This week’s topic centres on designing active learning, with the “if you only do one thing” activity, asking “what is learning?” In order to answer the question, you’re asked to think about the last time you learned something; describe what you learned; how you went about learning it and what strategies you used. A table, with an overview of categories of learning “suitable for instructional design planning”, was provided to help stimulate thinking. Well, I’m happy that I’ve caught up with the course, but as yet I haven’t browsed the comments of others this week, and I’m wondering if anyone else, like me, is struggling to clearly decipher and be inspired by either the table or the question.

Never mind, a quick look over this blog in recent weeks and months is enough to tell you that I’m an individual/social self-determined learner. I’ve learned facts and concepts (know that), I’ve learned procedures, picked up inferences and made deductions (know how), I’ve learned how to participate in online environments (knowing in action) and I’ve identified learning goals and have strategies in place to achieve these goals, and I can also reflect on my learning (elements that could intervene in all the other categories). I have learned to learn. I think what’s bugging me about this question is that there’s an assumption that it’s up to someone else to design your learning. Wouldn’t it be better if more emphasis was put on learning to learn and individuals were able to design their own learning pathways. Imagine that!!

Reader, yes, I know. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I wonder if I’m the only one. Anyway, I’m off now to more seriously engage with the reading on active learning, and get ready to participate more fully from next week onwards. I’m also going to look back over the last three weeks’ resources, especially the concept of heutagogy, and build on these somewhat ‘dodgy’ foundations 🙂

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