Assembling the heterogeneous elements for digital learning

"Me as teacher" – the 2015 focus for NGL

NGL is a course I teach. Participants are asked to spend the semester engaging with networked and global learning as: student, learner, and teacher. They are asked to blog and reflect on this mishmash of experiences throughout the semester. I’m trying to do this as well. Not only to model one version of expectations, but also because I find it a valuable learning process myself. I did “me as learner” last week, this week it’s time for “me as teacher”.

as “meta-“teacher

Last year I wrote this “as teacher” and it had a more traditional focus. I was thinking about me as the teacher of a couple of formal courses. The directions in NGL tries to expand the understanding of “teaching” beyond formal learning to include “as you doing something that helps others learn”. For the rest of this year I’d like to push the boundaries a bit. I’d like to go meta in terms of teaching.

One of my key positions at the moment is that university e-learning is a “bit like teenage sex”. It’s quite horrendous and isn’t dealing well with some difficult problems. Yet another restructure, or a focus on quality standards is not going to help! There’s something more fundamental here. I want to explore what that might be.

In particular, I want to help universities learn how to do e-learning better.

I use that “learn how to” for two purposes. First, to indicate that they need to get better. Second, and much more importantly, is that the way to get better is to focus on the problem as a learning problem. The solution isn’t to analyse the situation and identify the solution (and then implement it). The solution is to recognise that they only way to improve the quality of e-learning is to approach it as a never-ending learning problem. The organisation as a whole always needs to be learning. Trying new things, failing, getting better, finding what works, changing it etc.

Me “as teacher” is actually me as meta-teacher.

Back to the questions asked of NGL participants.

What is your role as a teacher? Who are your students? What is the context?

Let’s keep the context narrow and say within my current institution. The “students” are essentially anyone involved with e-learning at the institution. I’m not formally teaching any of them, but perhaps as I engage within the network of the institution there will be some learning.

Taking a very network centered perspective on learning, my “role as teacher” is to help make connections. Borrowing from the “distributed view” the idea is that

the world is complex, dynamic, and consists of interdependent assemblages of diverse actors (human and not) connected via complex networks.

The mindset underpinning university e-learning is to SET in it’s ways. The question is how to change that?

What role does NGL currently play? How can it help?

My argument is that due to the SET mindset, NGL doesn’t play much of a role at all in university e-learning. While network technology is used increasingly within university e-learning, the practices, conceptions, and processes around it are still largely industrial and completely inappropriate. All the attempts to improve e-learning are trying to do so within the confines of this inappropriate mindset.

I think that really grokking a NGL mindset promises to improve the ability of universities to learn how to do e-learning. Largely because it’s a more appropriate model of the learning that needs to take place.

I’m particularly interested in how the idea of Context-Appropriate Scaffolding Assemblages (CASA) might be implemented and subsequently make it easier for universities to learn how to do e-learning in much more interesting and effective ways.

What difficulties might arise?

The largest barrier is that this requires a mind-shift. A major mind shift. Modern organisations (at least those that still haven’t figured it out) like universities are built on a different mindshift. A NGL mindset is radically different. Different mindsets have been a barrier to reform – especially around computing – before. Pedaling a different mindset is a good way to set yourself up as “strange”.

Then there’s the question of workload. The selfish reason I’m interested in this problem is because I suffer from it. Too much make work, not enough capability to engage in meaningful learning.

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