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.

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