LifeAfterTomorrow

My reflections on Topic 5

So, this is the end of the journey. Or the beginning of using the knowledge gained in this course. The course started in digital illiteracy resulting in problems even to understand what to do and how to get information. There were a few times I misunderstood meeting times and coordinates and I could not easily recall that information. Thanks to our group and Marcus guidance we finally got on track and accomplished our tasks in due time.

I’ve learned a lot about tools and procedures related to online teaching. Many of these things I could have been reading guided by the course list of recommended literature, but the guides and webinars made things easier. But the most valuable insights are related to the understanding of the difficulties that students may face when attending an online course. Putting us in this situation gave us the understanding of the student’s situation. Moreover, the tools and procedures are not a major issue them self. But the limitations of the tools result in additional obstacles when forming the groups, getting to know each others personalities and capabilities – the important group dynamics was more difficult online than in the real life.

I will use the knowledge I gained for introducing at least one online learning activity in my courses. My experience is now that strict and clear instructions are needed in order to facilitate the task. I will also carefully choose the particular tool that will be part of the learning activity. Ideally, I will use tools that are supported by KTH because of the legal, technical, confidentiality and license issues. KTH taking responsibility of these issues will reduce my work load and worries.

I think that digital tools for online learning activities have a great potential. Many brilliant tools and methods are yet to be developed but as a course designer and teacher you can easily get lost. I think that a course in online education should contain two separate parts. One part about the tools and how to use them. In particular specific recommendations based on real teaching experiences including hands-on exercises and labs. The other part should be dedicated to course design in a digital environment. How to avoid the most frequent obstacles which we now know are universal and the same as in classroom teaching but even more difficult in the digital world. Maybe also a third part with novel educational ideas based on and enabled by the digital possibilities.

My experience from this course is that the digital tools and flexibility when it comes to the choices of methodology in the collaborative work took a significant amount of attention from the actual tasks. Maybe even so that more time was given to the handling of the tools and trying to find a form for cooperation than the actual problem definition and solution. In this particular course where the objective is to get experience of using digital tools and to learn and understand the difficulties this make sense. However, when designing other courses care must be taken in trying to avoid such situations.

Finally, I’m happy to have participated in this course and would recommend the course to teachers curious about online education.

 

 

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eTeachingDesign

My reflections on Topic4

In my view (before this course), designing online courses is pretty much about the same thing as designing traditional teaching. The technology is used mainly as a medium for the traditional teaching. The different tools will enable the teacher to do the teaching activities that he/she always have done, but only in a different context. The technology is to a large extent considered as a substitute for the traditional class room teaching. And, a substitute can usually never fully replace the original. Hence, the starting point for my participation in this course was to get the knowledge what digital tools that are best for moving my teaching online and how to use these tools to, as far as possible, avoid technical problems.

Now, I could say with somewhat more confidence, that designing online courses is pretty much about the same thing as designing traditional teaching. However, the digital tools enable many more possibilities to design learning activities than traditional classrooms have. I think that many of the new ideas of great online teaching have yet not been invented, and that an open (source) platform, such as the Open EdX software I wrote about in my reflections on Topic 2, will enable a massive development in new revolutionary learning tools.

However, we are not yet there… and for every brilliant tool there are hundreds of mediocre systems with severe limitations that will be revealed just after you have made a dedicated effort into designing a learning activity. Until a de facto standard has evolved, the process for a teacher with Klondike ambitions could be quite painful. And history have shown that the most successful during the gold rush was the persons who provided the tools. I’m certainly more aware of the problem now, but I still lack the knowledge needed to start up a new online course. Maybe I’m ready for a small step introducing some online learning activity in my existing course.

Online teaching is not always appropriate. Bates is listing typical arguments that online teaching (i) best suites mature and experienced learners that are too busy to spend full time on campus, (ii) that subjects about new technology and problem solving are most appropriate and (iii) to be able to handle very large classes. I like the way Bates is expressing this. This is to phrase the question wrongly. It’s more appropriate to ask “What are the challenges I am facing as an instructor (or my learners are facing as students) that could be better addressed through online learning? And what form of online learning will work best for my students?”.

However, I feel that in some circumstances the traditional lecturing from an experienced “professor”, an expert in the field, cannot be substituted, although technology can be used to scale such activity as done e.g. in TEDs talks. According to Bates, and common sense, in the end it is all about the quality of the learning activities, not the form or the medium.

References

ObstaclesInADigitalWorld

My reflections on Topic 3

“The biggest obstacle in online teaching and online communication is the technical tools”. That’s my own subjective interpretation of the problem, which could be concluded in the following list:

  • There are always “technical problems” with digital tools. Always a few students (or teachers) that cannot connect. A large amount of the dedicated time will be waisted. Also, the tool has limitations and takes significant attention to master which will reduce the quality of the teaching.
  • Some tools are provided by the university or institute as some kind of baseline infrastructure. Hence, the students and teachers are familiar with these tools and don’t need to spend time on learning how to use them.
  • Third party tools, in particular the common social platforms, are popular alternatives. Also here most students and teachers have previous experience. However, can we require such knowledge from the students? Not everyone use social media for different reasons.
  • Security and confidentiality is an issue that must be taken seriously. In Sweden there are laws regulating the visibility of students in class. Also, students must be able to feel safe and comfortable since the role of a student implies testing of controversial ideas in a closed and safe environment. Is this compatible with the extensive contracts in many social platforms where all rights and confidentiality are given away? What are the tools that the university may take responsibility for?
  • How can we make a good choice of a set of tools that can interact with each other. So that the list of students and login information can be shared. Also, so that documents, data and assignments easily can be shared.
  • The tools must be scalable to avoid technical problems when all students are accessing simultaneously.

During my work for Topic 3, together with group 11, I got another view of these mainly technical and legal hard issues and it turned out that I was partly wrong. During the time to contribute to our own collaboration in group 11 for Topic 3 I was travelling. We decided to make a video collage using the tool KTH play. Due to insufficient internet I instead recorded my contribution using my iPhone and hand-written notes. The technology was not the problem.

The insight came when I was reading about a project in open and distributed learning in Kenya. The project was interesting enabling more students in particular remote areas to participate in higher education. As the authours write, social interaction was not feasible in earlier forms of distance education but the introduction of “Web 2.0” enabled many different possibilities of social interaction, two-way communication and student collaborations.

The article is focusing of how the students are perceiving the online collaborative learning process in relation to the tools they were using. The authours are recognizing that considerable diversity in infrastructure support for e-learning and learners’ background exists among countries, motivating this particular study in Kenya. The study is based on a questionnaire distributed to 210 students asking them to rate the five major challenges in open distributed collaborative learning.

The two most perceived  difficulties among the students in online collaboration were “lack of participation by other members” and “lack of feedback both from
instructor and peers” experienced by about half of the students. This is in line with previous studies pointing out that social interaction and group dynamics are more difficult online compared to face-to-face meetings. About 30% of the students rated “slow internet connectivity” as the major problem. This is higher than in other studies pointing out the importance of a good internet infrastructure.

These problems are kind of universal; lack of engagement of both students and tutors and the social interaction (group dynamics) when doing group work. For me, the results were surprising and gave me another insight in distributed online teaching. Even though the “Web 2.0” enables many new possibilities, the universal problems in teaching are still there, and maybe even exaggerated by the limitations of the tools and digital infrastructure.

References

Education Tech, Challenges with Online Collaboration.

Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. Collaborating online: learning together in community. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2004.

Muuro, Wagacha, Oboko, Kihoro, Students’ Percieved Challenges in an Online Collaborative Learning Environment: A Case of Higher Learning Institutions in Nairobi, Kenya. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, Vol. 15, No. 6, 2014.

DigitalLearningTools

My reflections on Topic 2

Digital tools for teaching makes me curious. I would like to learn more about the possibilities of using these tools in my teaching – in classroom and for project assignments. I think that a lot of testing and experimentation is needed from my side in order to understand how they can be used. Earlier this week I got an invitation to give a two hour lecture at Tel Aviv University in December. I think I’ll try to make this to an experimentally event for me – and the students. Here, I’ll try to make a overview of what I’ve learned during the last weeks for my own reference and hopefully for some use also for others.

The introduction of the Web 2.0 concept enabled many possibilities for all kind of digital communities. Also digital education from complementing classroom teaching to massive on-line open courses (MOOC) is an important branch of the Web 2.0 era. Web 2.0 is the concept of the “next generation” internet, actually present since at least a decade, with the focus on usability, user interaction and platform independence. In contrast to Web 1.0 sites, limited to passive viewing, Web 2.0 sites will make it possible for the users to contribute, interact and collaborate in a virtual community. Typically Web 2.0 sites are social networking sites like Facebook and Google+ and media sites like YouTube.

There are many professional MOOC platforms intended for universities, big organisations as well as individual to host their professional MOOC’s with full support. The most important MOOC sites are listed below (thanks Alastair):

As I understand, these sites and organisations also provide the digital platform and related tools needed for the courses as well as instructions and support for setting everything up, usually not for free and depending on the amount of support you would need. However, I will here write a little about the open (source) alternatives and additional tools that we might need to build our own (M)OOC or as a complement to class room teaching.

Of cause, there is a MOOC on MOOC tools and how to setup MOOCs. One that is currently running can be found on Coursera with the title “Powerful Tools for Teaching and Learning: Web 2.0 Tools (Coursera)”, by University of Houston System, Bernard R Robin & Sara G. McNeil. This course will cover tools for communication, collaboration, creativity and what they call “Mini Action Research Project” and “Life Long Learning”. However, the tools they promote are only a small subset of the ocean of possibilities available and any recommendation must be considered to be quite arbitrary.

Complete (M)OOC platforms, although simple and limited, are a good starting point and can be complemented by specific additional tools. There are free and open (source) platforms available, some of them also including a cloud solution avoiding the set-up and running of a host server. However, the capacity might be limited and the “Massive” part of MOOC might not be completely fulfilled, but for smaller individual courses these tools are often sufficient. MOOC News & Reviews are listing some of the most interesting open solution for hosting your own MOOC.

  • Udemy is an easy-to-use (no coding) and free platform in the cloud. The free version is accessible only through udemy.com. It’s good for individual teachers/instructors to easily build online courses for free or for paying students. It’s a presentation platform enhanced with voice-over, quizzes and forum capabilities. Udemy has over 2 million registered users.
  • CourseSites is a more complete and advanced cloud platform but requires no coding. It is intended for teachers within educational institutions and includes basic functionality and some additional features like dashboard, calendar, todo lists et.c.
  • Moodle is the most popular open-source platform. The open source concept makes Moodle highly configurable if you know how to do, but basic courses can easily be built without any need for coding. There is no cloud solution and you need to host the application yourself which might require high performance solutions.
  • Open EdX software, the software behind EdX has been released as open source by Harvard and MIT and is the same tool as used for the official university MOOCs on EdX.org. The concept is similar to WordPress with a basic framework and added functionality via third-party plug-ins. The EdX software is fully professional and scalable (100.000+ students), still open-source, but requires hosting solutions and maintenance investment. There is also a Google tool, Course Builder, but Google now has a partnership with the EdX software and the future for Course Builder is thus uncertain.

In addition to the (M)OOC platforms there are additional tools for specific purposes worth mentioned. In particular tools for

  • Communication: Primary communication from the instructors to the students can make use of common platforms like static (Web 1.0) web pages, blogs (WordPress) and videos (YouTube). On-line classes can be given using AdobeConnect with some amount of interaction possible.
  • Collaboration: A simple way of collaborating is to use a common space for documents and presentations, which GoogleDocs can provide. Discussions can be made in Google+ or FaceBook Also AdobeConnect is easy to use for dedicated group meetings including chat, voice, video and screen sharing.
  • Interaction: Instant feedback and interactive quizzes are ingredients for active learning in both IRL and digital classrooms. Two examples of tools where the students simply use their smart phones are Socrative and Kahoot. The interaction by the students can instantly be viewed as statistics.

Of cause many more tools are available and most universities are also providing the infrastructure for teachers and students which I will not mention here. These institutional tools are often commercial and adapted to the specific university’s needs and students and teachers usually have no previous experience in these tools from outside of the institute. However, the institutional tools typically come with professional support, security and are connected to the student database and administrative systems. As such they cannot be considered to be completely open – (MO)OCs – and should be seen as tools complementing classroom teaching.

References

Alastair Creelman – lecture material in ONL162, 2016.

“Powerful Tools for Teaching and Learning: Web 2.0 Tools (Coursera)”, by University of Houston System, Bernard R Robin & Sara G. McNeil.

MOOC News & Reviews, Building Your Own Online Class? – How To Choose the MOOC Platform, by John Swope, Feb 24, 2014.

MyReflectionsTopic1

So, what was this about? A meta course? By intention to make us as confused as possible? To make us realise the necessity of a rudimentary framework. I like the approach. Give a person a hammer and she/he will eventually start using it. Some will start building castles. Some will slam each other in the head. All will learn something; that castles cannot be build with a hammer alone and that it hearts to be hit.

I have learned two things from this exercise. I’m not the only digitally illiterate person, and there are many different digital languages out there. You don’t necessarily speak google+ just because you are fluent in Face Book.

MyFirstBlogPostEver

Now it has happened. I’m publishing my first blog post. Although I’m curious and interested in new digital media I’m usually not very active and participative. I rather observe than talk.

This blog is mandatory in the course Open Networked Learning, hence my title of this blog. Of cause, I’m voluntarily taking this coarse since the possibilities of the digital media for teaching interests me. Novel innovative teaching activities enabled by the digital technology could revolutionate education. I strongly believe that traditional lecturing, also in video format by experts in their fields cannot be replaced but the possibilities to renew and compliment these by digital technologies might have a strong possibility. However, without the basic knowledge in how to interact with the students via this new and often unintuitive medium there is a large risk for total failure.

I’m already using the infrastructure provided by KTH for digitally interacting with my students in particularly my project course in computational fluid dynamics. The tools are used for communicating and information, but not for teaching activities. I’m very interested to see the possibilities to extend my course also with digital teaching moments. That would be awesome.