The great sage of our time offers the following definition of dilemma
A dilemma (Greek: δί-λημμα “double proposition”) is a problem offering two possibilities, neither of which is practically acceptable.
I have at least one course that I should be redesigning, but I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. The two unacceptable possibilities I see are:
- I keep the course as a standard course.
i.e the Australian standard blended course delivered across multiple-campuses and via distance education. Course site, textbook, individual lecturers at each campus running lectures and tutorials, fixed study schedule and learning outcomes to box tick. Students completing and submitting assignments. etc.
An approach that fulfils the organisational expectations, resourcing, policies, processes, tools, and doesn’t offer any surprises (i.e. run any risks). Saves me time, which I can spend on other tasks (i.e. research)…..and is just slightly hypocritical for a course talking about transforming teaching through ICTs, 21st Century Skills etc. Not to mention going against much of what I use in my own work.
- I follow in the footsteps of some intrepid Canadians such as Alec Couros and open the course up and get the students engaging in the broader community.
This would better much how I learn, think and work. It would, I strongly believe, provide the students with a much better experience. It might even win a few kudos with the organisation, enabling senior management to say “Oh MOOCs/open courses, we’re already doing that”.
Yes, an argument could be made for a third option. Use aspects of the open (#2), but stick largely with the standard course (#1). This is essentially what I do already. This is possibility #1 for me (I could never run a purely standard course). I’ve done this combination for a year. It’s chafing, constrained and makes me feel a little inauthentic.
For the rest of this post, I’m going to reflect on the factors at play.
The MOOC fad
For those of you who have missed it – and apparently some have –
ok, question from the audience, "What is a Mooc?". Where have these people been living? Do academics not read anymore? #eAssessment
— Mark Smithers (@marksmithers) August 22, 2012
MOOCs are the latest fad to hit higher education.
In the last week, I’ve heard stories about two Australian Vice-Chancellors (not at my current institution) hearing about MOOCs and asking people within their institution for insights into this phenomenon. The first one asked his/her IT division, the second his/her Marketing folk.
So, there’s a bit of a mixed message. It’s increasingly important to the senior management of the institution, which could prove useful. But at the same time it’s a fad and at least some Senior Executive seem confused about the idea.
I also think most senior executive are probably more interested in the Massive letter of MOOC, rather than the Open which is where my interest lays.
Been there, done that
I offered my first totally open, online course in 1996. We evolved those over a few years, with this being the last. The Systems Administration course included a textbook we wrote that was widely used and translated into other languages.
The point is that I’m not the standard University academic. I have a preference for and experience with open courses. I have some technical capability.
Great examples to learn from
As mentioned above, Alec Couros – and others – have designed and implemented significantly better designs that could be used to inform an open re-design of the course I have in mind. A few tweaks of Alec’s approach would work very nicely.
Courses that are made for it
I’m currently teaching two courses, both of which are tailor-made for an open course. In fact, they almost demand it. One is aimed at helping pre-service teachers explore how ICTs can be used to improve their learning and teaching. The other is a Master’s level course helping participants explore and research the implications of Networked and Global Learning to their own teaching. These courses really should “walk the walk”.
Minimum course standards
I’m going to a presentation tomorrow talking about proposed minimum course standards. Sorry, minimum online course standards. Apparently, there are no minimum standards if you aren’t online.
The proposed standards assume you are using/require you to use the institutional LMS. Which, I believe, is set up so that you have to have an institutional account to access. So much for being open.
Of course, the minimum course standards argument reminds me so much of my troubles in 1995/1996 with the battle between traditional print-based distance education and online learning.
A somewhat inappropriate meta-level for networked learning
In this earlier post I suggested that the meta-level of institutional networked learning – i.e. the systems, processes, people and policies used to implement institutional networked learning – are not generally known for their capability to enable and encourage
community, openness, flexibility, collaboration, transformation and it is all user-centred
The nature of the teleological, management science-based processes and practices being adopted by universities means that the meta-level of institutional networked learning is configured to ensure that everyone is using the same institutional resources and approaches. e.g. minimum course standards. The meta-level is not set up to learn, it is not set up to innovate or transform. It is set up to efficiently achieve the decided upon status quo.
Any action that breaks this status quo is problematic. It is seen as inefficient or wrong headed. This creates a need to fight battles to explain the point of the innovation/mutation, rather than receive support. It also means that the meta-level must assume and provide the same level of support for everyone.
It leads to situations where academics are reported to the University solicitor for using a Google doc to allow students to book a Wimba classroom for their group (because when the students put their name and email address in the Google doc this is apparently breaking data privacy laws).
Bringing the students along is hard
This blog post from Dave White talks about the use of the digital visitors and residents metaphor at a conference. It includes the following
Even if this is the case many find being visible in their practice online stressful. Reflecting on her own teaching practice Lindsay Jordan highlighted that moving students from a Visitor to a more Resident mode online is often a painful process. She spoke of how distressing encouraging her students to start sharing in an open manner via blogging was – distressing both for her and for them.
Many students, like many people, don’t like change. They don’t like their expectations being challenged.
Bringing the staff(ing) along is hard
At least one of these courses will have other teaching staff associated with it. This means that the organisational staffing and workload calculation processes are involved. This creates two problems. First, just like the students some of the staff may not adapt well to the new approach. Second, I know that the workload calculation formulas will not work well with the new model.
Workload and research
All of these last few factors create workload. Many of these factors can be gotten around, but they require more work (Yes, another whinging academic complaining about the workload). This could be worked around, if not for the increasing priority on research. Just last week a fairly senior member of staff mentioned that the faculty I belong to is behind expectations in terms of research output. In preceding months, I’ve heard other mentions about research outputs being a major priority for the university.
The obvious question is whether or not the other folk appropriately involved in the redesign of these course(s) can be effectively drawn into the attempt to address these issues. And whether I can be bothered to expend the effort. Can this type of approach be brought in from the edge?
This post is perhaps/hopefully the start of a process of doing this. I wonder what form the process should take?