Encouraging use of learning networks – and dealing with me

This post is a combination “message to the troops” and thinking about how to encourage use of a discipline based learning network.

Message to the troops

The “message to the troops” is some advice to the poor folk who work with me about how to manipulate/understand me. It probably applies to others at CQU who for some reason read this dribble.

I’m a glass half empty sort of guy. Whenever I see an idea, that I’m actually interested in, I will concentrate on why I don’t think it will work. Not exactly a good way to win friends and influence people. Especially when this is usually misinterpreted as suggesting that it’s a bad idea and should never happen. It’s usually meant as these are the problems I can see, if we can work solutions or responses to these into the idea, then it will be a stronger idea.

I fully expect (and hope) that other people will do the same with my ideas. Pull them apart, find the flaws, identify alternate approaches or understandings so that the idea can be made stronger.

I, like just about anyone else, may not like it, but that’s life. Especially if you’re an academic and believe in peer review or you’re into this whole social networking thing.

Of course, it’s not all about the other folk. I need to frame my suggestions/identification of weaknesses in a more positive way.

Another point to keep in mind is that my thinking will normally be guided by some theoretical framework, model or way of looking at the world. If you can work within that model or find the weaknesses in that model and present them to me, you’ve got a better chance of getting your way. That’s nothing unique, everybody is like that.

Encouraging use of discipline based learning networks

One of the major projects of the PLEs@CQUni project is the development of discipline-based learning networks. This work is being led by Col Beer and he’s got some initial thoughts online in a blog post, a paper (Beer and Jones, 2008) and a presentation.

We had a discussion yesterday about the problem of how do you encourage students to make use of the discipline-based learning network Col is developing. We don’t want to build it and find that they do not come. This discussion is part of what generated the first section of the post. What follows is my attempt to make explicit the theoretical frameworks I’m thinking about in relation to this problem and how that might be harnessed.

Col’s initial idea was to have some sort of case study similar to a case study that was designed and implemented by another of our staff. My reservations about this idea were that included:

  • It was potentially a great deal of work to do well.
  • Focused on us building yet more stuff rather than encouraging the members of the learning network to get active.
  • Was potentially based on the idea of constructive alignment which doesn’t appear to be directly applicable to this problem
    Constructive alignment involves aligning all aspects of a course (outcomes, activities and assessment) so as the student can’t help but to learn. In a discipline-based learning network there is no assessment and no formal outcomes in the same way that there is in a course.

So, how do you solve this problem? Well the theoretical lenses I’m working with at the moment are diffusion theory/TAM and the 7 principles. A recent blog post provides some slightly expanded discussion about these perspectives and links to other resources.

In this particular case I’m drawn to a combination diffusion theory and the 7 principles.

The 7 principles become useful as a way of determining what students might find attractive. The question of what they want comes up in another recent post. The combination of these lead to some quick ideas for what students might find attractive

  • More appropriate contact with staff and other “experts” in the discipline.
    Not necessarily about course related information. That should be covered in the course environments. But more about discipline and broader questions that don’t necessarily fit within a course. This might be an important point, it must be clear to the students why the discipline-based learning network is different from the course sites.
  • A feeling of community – especially for distance students.

Supplement this with thoughts from diffusion theory – with a little help from this paper which identifies the following components of diffusion theory that might provide some guidance

  • Perceived innovation attributes
    If students see the discipline-based learning network as providing an advantage, being compatible with what they already do, being low in complexity, being something they can try and see if they like it and being something they can observe they are more likely to use it.

    The above thoughts about what students might want out of it is part of this. Could be important to ask them. Get a few of the students together, explain the idea to them and ask for their ideas about what they might want out of it.

  • Innovation-decision
    Students will have an optional innovation decision. They either use it or they don’t. For this type of decision diffusion theory has some advice how to deal with it.
  • Communication channels<br
    The nature of the channel(s) used to communicate information about the learning network to students should be thought about carefully.
  • Social system
    Knowing a great deal more about the students and the BProfCom (the first program to trial this learning network idea) is necessary and should be used in design.

References

Beer, C. & Jones, D. (2008). Learning networks: harnessing the power of online communities for discipline and lifelong learning. In D. Orr, P.A. Danaher, G. Danaher & R.E. Harreveld (Eds.), Lifelong Learning: reflecting on successes and framing futures. Keynote and refereed papers from the 5th International Lifelong Learning Conference (pp. 66-71). Rockhampton: Central Queensland University Press. http://hdl.cqu.edu.au/10018/13162

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