MOOCs and more: teaching, learning and responding to student demand.

I was recently asked to speak at an event on MOOCs and technology-enhanced learning. I was part of a panel discussing what we can learn from MOOCs to apply to technology-enhanced learning, and how to support technology-enhanced learning more generally. This is something I could happily discuss for hours, so it was something of a challenge to boil it down to five minutes’ initial input. However, as one of my fellow panellists who’d used Twitter as a medium in creative writing courses would I think agree, editing ideas down to their essence is an important thinking process.

The five-minute view on this for me is that when you look across the university sector as a whole and take a really broad brush picture, what you tend to see is universities providing and supporting technology-enhanced learning in addition to all the things they’ve always done. There seems to be very little they’re able to stop doing, which means that efficiency gains are unlikely, and high workloads may be an issue. So we’re all currently supporting mobile and bring your own, at the same time as recognising the need to continue providing various types of computers and other devices for students.

Looking at online learning, there still aren’t as many options as you’d expect for potential students who can’t attend on-campus for reasons of geography, timing or other commitments. There are lots of example of individual online courses, usually at CPD or masters’ level, but these don’t appear to be impacting on the business as usual of most institutions. What often seems to happen is that a particular course or department, which is very well tied into their discipline or that profession, has recognised an opportunity and are taking it forward.

When it’s the lecturers or tutors who can’t be present face to face, you do see some interesting practice to connect with their learners at home, in terms of doing various kinds of activities on wikis, Twitter, or online classroom type activities. We seem to have such a lasting affection for the lecture that it takes a significant push from somewhere to move us away from it. It’s not just lecturers and conference delegates – students who have chosen to have a campus based learning experience are generally wedded to the lecture as a comfortable means of learning – they feel they’re in the right place, with their peers, doing the right thing.

Enhancements? Yes. Lecture Capture? Yes (mostly). Really changing what we spend time on and how we interact in higher and further education? We’re not seeing that come through as strongly from students. We’ve done a big piece of work recently on student expectations of technology in higher education. Students want wireless, they want things to be convenient, they want personalised timetables in the sense of a timetable telling them what they’re meant to be doing, not in a sense of completely configurable learning around their prior commitments. To a certain extent you’d expect that; they come to higher education expecting a transformational experience, they don’t come defining what that will be. But, these student expectations emphasise the importance of individual academics, or departments, working with students to jointly change the direction of travel, and explore more interesting models.

However, it’s hard sometimes to see where the incentives are for tutors to lead that journey. And, as I suggested before, often the push can come if they know their students well, and they know that for some reason a traditional on-campus experience isn’t going to work for them. So, a common theme that we saw on a number of visits we’ve done recently with senior managers, is even those institutions who we know have some really great practice, institutions that we would expect to be leading the way, report back to us that they still have challenges with scaling up and embedding.

There are lots of pockets of good practice but, again, looking in a very broad brush way across the sector, we’re not seeing so much of it really changing the way things are done in their institution. A key piece of the jigsaw is curriculum design and getting senior academics on board. So, not just the individual academics who are doing the teaching, but Heads of Department, Heads of Faculty, Associate Deans, to help them see where the pressures to change are coming from, and what they may gain from changing practice.

We’re running a project at the moment on scaling up online learning, looking to explore what some of the barriers are, and where we might be able to offer solutions. The key barriers that came up in our initial workshop were around strategy implementation, resource and workforce skills. MOOCs have often been a good illustration of the way that a senior manager taking a key decision can make things happen. Sometimes more blended learning hasn’t had as clear a path to implementation in terms of policies and process, or in terms of identifiable goal, and that brings with it the issues around resource and workforce skills. We’ve started now in that project to look at possible approaches to tackling some of these issues.

Now, can I condense that down to one tweet’s worth?

1 thought on “MOOCs and more: teaching, learning and responding to student demand.

  1. Gill Scott

    On “could you condense this to a single tweet” – probably not but a nice challenge for all to think about – for us in FE we are looking to do things differently – developing a MOOC with real focus on a specific need for our sector could help us to rethink what we do and move away from old models – recently re-read Sir John Jones book Magic Weaver – in one section he lists the comments from eminent souls on the resistance to change from chalk to ink, from ink to biro, from log tables to calculators……and so nothing changes and yet everything does – the joy of education is enjoying the different modes of travel – embracing the journey and looking at the horizon

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