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22 March: E-learning etc.

23 March 2011

On reflection, I’m struck by the thought that this session around e-learning used no power-point or formal presentation at all–it was simple conversation, and thus, as several of you pointed out, and example in itself of a “flipped” session.

Indeed, the reading groups threw up so much material that I’m not going to separate them out this week.

In one strand, Paul C mentioned the expectations and characteristic approaches to learning of current students. (Paul referred to them as Generation X, but they were born between 1963 and 1978. Millennial students, also known as digital natives, are apparently Generation Y)

Here’s an interesting piece on this generation;

I tried (without much success, because the discussion fruitfully went in all directions simultaneously) to link this as the next stage in the argument I started in the recommended reading for this week. That paper is ten years old, and I think I have changed my views. It saw one of the greatest limitations of e-learning as the need to be confident with the technology, so that it does not come between the learner and the content. That transparency has been achieved for Generation Y students. (Or at least for most of them–we briefly mentioned those who remain excluded by their lack of access to the technology.) So perhaps more can be done that way, nowadays.

[If you are a real sucker for punishment, by the way, you can read my thoughts about struggling to learn on-line on my blog, starting with this post from January 2009, and followed by several more in February 2009 (click on the date listings in the right hand column). I’m clearly a “digital immigrant”.]

This discussion took us to a reference to Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows (2010) in which he argues that the internet is changing the ways in which we look at the world and relate to knowledge (he also has an intermittent blog). Such apocalyptic books crop up regularly in response to new technology, of course, but his argument led us briefly into a consideration of how the distribution and accessibility of sheer information changes the role of the teacher. Previously, to put it crudely, the knowledge belonged to us and we shared it, and we were in some measure respected for knowing a lot. Now we have lost that claim to respect, but it could be argued that our skills are needed more than ever to help people make sense of all the information that bombards them. In that case we may have to transform radically our approach to teaching…

…which thought leads neatly to the second major strand of the discussion–the other recommended article on “flipping”. Put simply, this is changing the relationship between homework and classwork. It’s one form of “blended learning”. The argument is that since information can be conveyed so much more efficiently and effectively on-line than through old-fashioned lecturing (although that is not entirely accepted), then students should acquire their knowledge for homework, and use the face-to-face sessions in class to consolidate it through exercises, activities and discussions.

[Actually, that is a principle we espouse on this programme. As it says in the Handbook; “taught sessions will be used only for those activities for which they are most appropriate.” (p.21)]

In short, let the technology take care of the lower levels of Bloom’s cognitive domain and keep the face-to-face time for the higher levels. That led into some discussion of what could and could not be taught on-line, and also of how intimate the connection may need to be between introducing new material and working with it. In some disciplines one might be dealing with several new items or practical moves within the space of a lesson…

The challenge for full resource-based learning (rather than the blended variant) is how the system can build in the learning conversation and mutual feedback between teacher and student. What’s involved is explored by Diana Laurillard in her “conversational model”. At the time she was writing RBL faced an enormous challenge. Has it met that challenge?

But then we looked at practical ways in which the technology could be used, and particularly referred to the phenomenon of Salman Khan (there’s a link to his own site from TED). Points made in discussion included how short Khan’s tutorials are, how easy it is to replay them or revisit particular points, and how amateur and improvised they are.

[That latter feature showed how e-learning–or at least blended learning–has not in practice come to be dominated by global commercial interests on a top-down basis as was generally feared a decade ago. Instead, the growth of social networking and its tools has promoted the “citizen educator” just as the blogosphere has created the “citizen journalist”. In both cases, of course, it happens at the cost of assurance of quality. Incidentally, to which I referred as an example of that top-down model, is, I can confirm, now defunct. However, perhaps sites like, which host lectures from various universities, are a form of successor.]

But that in turn led on to ideas about how you can make use of such ideas yourselves. This kind of blog is of course one example (although I have the luxury of time to bore you with a thousand words a week–but the secret is that much of it can be recycled each year, so as ever the first time around is the hardest). We talked about using smart-boards to record a class, so that students–perhaps including those who missed it–can re-view it.

And Caroline mentioned Adobe Capture for screen capture (no link because it has been discontinued! Its bigger brother Captivate is however available from Amazon for £465!). Always a cheapskate, I recommended Jing (free version from here) although I couldn’t get it to work in class! And Audacity for the sound…

The technical resources are less of an issue than ever. [Sort of. What we did not talk about was the difference between domestic-standard material–such as video up-loaded to YouTube or TeacherTube (try using it if computer access to YouTube on site is blocked)–and institutional-standard stuff. The latter tends to go on the VLE, which requires an extra log-in, and is invariably clunky compared with students’ normal on-line experience, and the technical stuff may have to be done by technical people…]

But what does matter is time. Here is the evidence from the Dearing Report of 14 years ago. Here is a recent report from the HE Academy which fudges the issue, as well it might. Don’t underestimate the time it takes…

Incidentally, at one stage we slipped into something of a grumble group bemoaning the state of British education–particularly the inability of students to compose literate sentences. This is a notorious minefield, and often misrepresented by the press; recent stories in this area do not seem to have got it very far wrong however. The linked report is from a site called –strapline “Promoting accuracy in public debate”–which is well worth following.

And thanks to Paul C for circulating this;

He comments: “wonderful engagement, feedback and an excellent example of how to teach?” I’m not so sure. Certainly an impressive “performance” and no doubt honed through years of practice and repetition (back to the “deliberate practice” point we’ve discussed two or three times), but… would his manner have been acceptable if he were a real teacher? Some of it is patronising and not far off offensive to non-native English speakers–ceertainly not “inclusive”. Or am I just being po-faced and pompous? Discuss!

Natalie mentioned putting maths problems in a real-world context: see Dan Meyer’s dy/dan blog for some great ideas including WCYDWT; and this post of mine for when it all goes wrong (the course concerned is not this one).


I asked for it. Literally. What did you want to address in the final session next week? Practically everything!

But the recurring theme was application. What’s the use of theory? How can we use this stuff?

OK–but it’s not entirely my responsibility. You need to think how things might work. So instead of a reading task for next week, think of a question of the order of either;

  • if I approach teaching __x__ from the perspective of theory __y__, would it be a good idea to do __z__?


  • I’ve been teaching __a__ like this… What might theory __b__ suggest as a more effective way?


The dates for the Summer Term meetings (afternoons only) are:

10, 17, 24 May

7, 14, 21 June

A couple of those sessions will be about the “minimum core”, but that leaves scope for your own suggestions and requests for about four session. If you don’t ask you’ll get what you are given!

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