I am writing a course at the moment.
It has two forms. One is as an open online course in Sport Informatics and Analytics. The second is as a component of a new Master of High Performance degree at the University of Canberra.
I have been thinking a lot about engagement in both forms of the course. I keep returning to a conversation between Howard Rheingold and Alan Levine to help me clarify the significance of students meeting in a physical space in synchronous time as structured exposure to ideas and practices as well as in asynchronous time and virtual space.
Whilst pondering these issues, I have been following Tony Bates’ discussions of Teaching in a Digital Age. A recent post notes “the need for frequent interaction between students, and between teacher and students, for the kinds of learning needed in a digital age”. Tony suggests that this interaction “usually takes the form of semi-structured discussion”.
Tony spends some time looking at how connectivist Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) facilitate discussion. He observes that these MOOCs do have some form of “loose central structure” that uses transmissive communication. He proposes that subject experts need to support learners to develop “deep, conceptual learning”. These experts:
clarify misunderstandings or misconceptions, to provide accurate feedback, to ensure that the criteria for academic learning, such as use of evidence, clarity of argument, etc., are being met, and to ensure the necessary input and guidance to seek deeper understanding.
He concludes his discussion with the role seminars play in this learning and understanding.
One of my hopes for the course I am writing is that it can be scalable from macro-sharing to micro-learning opportunities. I trust that the approach to the course is sufficiently invitational to support self-organised learning and conversation. One of my roles will be to facilitate these conversations.
Rebecca Croxton (2014) emphasises this facilitation role. Her research notes the importance of student-teacher interaction in the persistence of on-line learning. She points to:
- active, socially engaged learning
- the centrality of student-teacher communication
- purposeful, meaningful interaction
as critical to student persistence.
These arguments have taken me back to Ivan Illich and conviviality in order to explore the relationships between “persons, tools and a new collectivity”. Conviviality is “individual freedom realized in personal interdependence”. Social arrangements in a convivial society “guarantee for each member the most ample and free access to the tools of the community” and limit this freedom “only in favour of another member’s equal freedom”.
I have taken from his argument that an equitable society promotes learning, sociality and community and uses communication tools to do this. Richard Kahn notes that these tools:
work to produce a more democratic and sustainable society that is “simple in means and rich in ends” and in which individuals can freely communicate, debate, and participate throughout all manner of a cultural and political life that respects the unique “balance among stability, change and tradition.”
Matt Bower and his colleagues have reported on how blended synchronous learning can contribute to this educational vision. Their report identifies the effectiveness of linking remote and face-to-face students in live classes.
Their conclusion returned me to another aspect of Howard Rheingold and Alan Levine’s conversation. Howard suggested that Alan is a pedagogical technologist. Matt and his colleagues draw attention to the centrality of pedagogy in blended learning:
it is important to not attribute the success of the learning experience to the technology itself. As was apparent in all of the case studies, the teacher and the quality of their pedagogical practices was the main determinant of the student experience. To that extent, teacher practice, development and support should be the primary focus of any blended synchronous learning initiatives. (2014, p.178)
I am hopeful that both forms of the course I am writing will be framed by good pedagogical practice, nourished by conversation and conviviality. There is an increasing number of guides as to how this is becoming more possible and how a community driver might use an approach that is “simple in means and rich in ends”.