March 31, 2015

Integrating open textbooks, open research and open data into teaching

Listen with webReader

Figure 10.9.1 Open Stax open textbooks

This is the third of five posts on open education for my online open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age. The previous two posts were:

Open textbooks

Textbooks are an increasing cost to students. Some textbooks cost $200 or more, and in North America a university undergraduate may be required to spend between $800-$1,000 a year on textbooks. An open textbook on the other hand is an openly-licensed, online publication free for downloading for educational or non-commercial use. You are currently reading an open textbook. There are an increasing number of  sources for open textbooks, such as OpenStax College from Rice University, and the Open Academics Textbook Catalog at the University of Minnesota

In British Columbia, the provincial government is funding the B.C. open textbook project, in collaboration with the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The B.C. open textbook project focuses on making available openly-licensed textbooks in the highest-enrolled academic subject areas and also in trades and skills training. The B.C. open textbooks have the same four principles of OER plus a fifth,

  • Retain – i.e. no digital rights management restrictions (DRM), the content is yours to keep, whether you’re the author, instructor or student.

In the B.C. project, as in many of the other sources, all the books are selected, peer reviewed and in some cases developed by local faculty. Often these textbooks are not ‘original’ work, in the sense of new knowledge, but carefully written and well illustrated summaries of current thinking in the different subject areas.

Advantages of open textbooks

Students and governments, through grants and financial aid, pay billions of dollars each year on textbooks. Open textbooks can make a significant impact on reducing the cost of education.

There are also other considerations. It is a common sight to see lengthy line-ups at college bookstores all through the first week of the first semester (which replaces important study time). Because students may be searching for second-hand versions of the books from other students, it may well be into the second or third week of the semester before students actually get their copy. Cable Green of the Creative Commons has pointed to research that shows that when first year math students have their textbooks from the first day, they do much better than students who often don’t get the key textbook until three weeks into the course. He also pointed to research from Florida Virtual Campus that indicates that many students (over 60 per cent) simply do not buy all the required textbooks, for a variety of reasons, but the main one being cost (Green, 2013).

So why shouldn’t government pay the creators of textbooks directly, cut out the middleman (commercial publishers), save over 80% on the cost, and distribute the books to students (or anyone else) for free over the Internet, under a Creative Commons license? Cable Green’s ‘vision’ for open textbooks is: 100 per cent of students have 100 per cent free, digital access to all materials by day one.

Limitations of open textbooks

Murphy (2103) questions the whole idea of textbooks, whether open or not. She sees textbooks as a relic of 19th century industrialism, a form of mass broadcasting. In the 21st century, students should be finding, accessing and collecting digital materials over the Internet. Textbooks are merely packaged learning, with the authors doing the work for students. Nevertheless, it has to be recognized that textbooks are still the basic currency for most forms of education, and while this remains the case, open textbooks are a much better alternative for students than expensive printed textbooks.

Quality also remains a concern. There is an in-built prejudice that ‘free’ must mean poor quality.Thus the same arguments about quality of OER also apply to open textbooks. In particular, the expensive commercially published textbooks usually include in-built activities, supplementary materials such as extra readings, and even assessment questions.

Others (including myself) question the likely impact of ‘open’ publishing on creating original works that are not likely to get subsidized by government because they are either too specialized, or are not yet part of a standard curriculum for the subject; in other words will open publishing impact negatively on the diversity of publishing? What is the incentive for someone now to publish a unique work, if there is no financial reward for the effort? Writing an original, single authored book remains hard work, however it is published.

Although there is now a range of  ‘open’ publishing services, there are still costs for an author to create original work. Who will pay, for instance, for specialized graphics, for editing or for review? I have used my blog to get sections of my book reviewed, and this has proved extremely useful, but it is not the same as having top experts in the field doing a systematic review before publication. Marketing is another issue (although my experience is that publishers are very poor at properly marketing specialised textbooks, expecting the author to mainly self-market, while the publisher still takes 85-90 per cent of all sales revenues.) Nevertheless there are real costs in marketing an open textbook. How can all these costs be recovered? Much more work still needs to be done to support the open publishing of original work in book format. If so, what does that mean for how knowledge is created, disseminated and preserved? If open textbook publishing is to be successful, new, sustainable business models will need to be developed. In particular, some form of government subsidy or financial support for open textbooks is probably going to be essential.

Nevertheless, although these are all important concerns, they are not insurmountable problems. Just getting a proportion of the main textbooks available to students for free is a major step forward.

Learn how to adopt and use an open textbook

BC campus has mounted a short MOOC on the P2PU portal on Adopting Open Textbooks. Although the MOOC may not be active when you access the site, it still has most of the materials, including videos, available.

Open research

Governments in some countries such as the USA and the United Kingdom are requiring all research published as a result of government funding to be openly accessible in a digital format. In Canada, recent Supreme Court decisions and new legislation means that it is much easier to access and use free of charge online materials for educational purposes, although there are still some restrictions.

Commercial publishers, who have dominated the market for academic journals, are understandably fighting back. Where the journal has a high reputation and hence carries substantial weight in the assessment of research publications, publishers are charging researchers for making the research openly available. The kudos of publishing in an established journal acts as a disincentive for researchers to publish in less prestigious open journals without having to pay to get published. However, it can only be a question of time before academics fight back against this system, by establishing their own peer reviewed journals that will be perceived to be of the highest standard by the quality of the papers and the status of the researchers publishing in such journals. Once again, though, open research publishing will flourish only by meeting the highest standards of peer review and quality research, by finding a sustainable business model, and by researchers themselves taking control over the publishing process.

Over time, therefore, we can expect nearly all academic research in journals to become openly available.

Open data

In 2004, the Science Ministers of all nations of the OECD, which includes most developed countries of the world, signed a declaration which essentially states that all publicly funded archive data should be made publicly available. Following an intense discussion with data-producing institutions in member states, the OECD published in 2007 the OECD Principles and Guidelines for Access to Research Data from Public Funding.

The two main sources of open data are from science and government. In science, the Human Genome Project is perhaps the best example, and several national or provincial governments have created web sites to distribute a portion of the data they collect, such as the B.C. Data Catalogue in Canada.

Again, increasing amounts of important data are becoming openly available, providing more resources with high potential for learning.

The significance for teaching and learning of the developments in open access, OER, open textbooks and open data will be explored more fully in the next section.

Activity 10.9 Using open resources

1. Check with OpenStax College, the Open Academics Textbook Catalog and the B.C. open textbook project to see if there are any suitable open textbooks for your subject. If you have any comments on specific books, please post them in the comment section for other readers.

2. What open journals are there in your subject area? (The help of a librarian may be useful here.) Are the articles of good quality? Could your students use these if they were conducting research in this area?

3. Ask your librarian for help in looking for open data sites that might have useful data that you could use in your teaching. Would students be able to find these data sites by themselves, with just a little guidance? How could they or you use this open data in their learning?

Feedback, please

In the field of educational technology, there are some good quality open journals, such as IRRODL, which are as good as any ‘closed’ published journal in the field. However, I don’t have much knowledge about open journals in other fields, and my son, who is a research scientist, is adamant that he would never think of publishing in an open science journal, because it would not carry enough weight when he writes grant proposals.

In addition, I have never used open data (apart from data from Stats Canada, UNESCO and the OECD) in my own teaching, so any comments or feedback on open journals and open data, especially in terms of how I should handle these topics in a book that aims to support a broad range of teachers and instructors, will be very much appreciated.

Lastly, are the three activities suggested reasonable from your point of view (especially if you are a librarian!)?

Up next

The next section to come tomorrow is what all the previous three posts have been leading up to: the implications of ‘open’ for course and program design.

References

Green, C. (2013) Open Education, MOOCs, Student Debt, Textbooks and Other Trends Vancouver BC: COHERE 2013 conference

Murphy, E. (2103) Day 2 panel discussion Vancouver BC: COHERE 2013 conference (video: 4’40” from start)

Balancing the use of social media and privacy protection in online learning

Listen with webReader

Print

Figure 9.9 Privacy ranking by Privacy International, 2007 Red: Endemic surveillance societies Strong yellow: Systemic failure to uphold safeguards Pale yellow: Some safeguards but weakened protections http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privacy#mediaviewer/File:Privacy_International_2007_privacy_ranking_map.png

Figure 9.9 Privacy ranking by Privacy International, 2007
Red: Endemic surveillance societies
Strong yellow: Systemic failure to uphold safeguards
Pale yellow: Some safeguards but weakened protections
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privacy#mediaviewer/File:Privacy_International_2007_privacy_ranking_map.png

Print

This is the last of the SECTIONS criteria for selecting media for my online open textbook, Teaching in a Digital World. The last ‘S’ stands for Security and Privacy.

This is a change from earlier versions of the SECTIONS model, where ‘S’ stood for speed, in terms of how quickly a technology enabled a course to be developed.. However, the issues that I previously raised under speed have been included in Section 9.3, ‘Ease of Use’. This has allowed me to replace ‘Speed’ with ‘Security and privacy’, which have become increasingly important issues for education in a digital age.

9.9.1 The need for privacy and security when teaching

Instructors and students need a private place to work online. Instructors want to be able to criticize politicians or corporations without fear of reprisal; students may want to keep rash or radical comments from going public or will want to try out perhaps controversial ideas without having them spread all over Facebook. Institutions want to protect students from personal data collection for commercial purposes by private companies, tracking of their online learning activities by government agencies, or marketing and other unrequested commercial or political interruption to their studies. In particular, institutions want to protect students, as far as possible, from online harassment or bullying. Creating a strictly controlled environment enables institutions to manage privacy and security more effectively.

Learning management systems provide password protected access to registered students and authorised instructors. Learning management systems were originally housed on servers managed by the institution itself. Password protected LMSs on secure servers have provided that protection. Institutional policies regarding appropriate online behaviour can be managed more easily if the communications are managed ‘in-house.’

9.9.2 Cloud based services and privacy

However, in recent years, more and more online services have moved ‘to the cloud’, hosted on massive servers whose physical location is often unknown even to the institution’s IT services department. Contract agreements between an educational institution and the cloud service provider are meant to ensure security and back-ups.

Nevertheless, Canadian institutions and privacy commissioners have been particularly wary of data being hosted out of country, where it may be accessed through the laws of another country. There has been concern that Canadian student information and communications held on cloud servers in the USA may be accessible via the U.S. Patriot Act. For instance, Klassen (2011) writes:

Social media companies are almost exclusively based in the United States, where the provisions of the Patriot Act apply no matter where the information originates. The Patriot Act allows the U.S. government to access the social media content and the personally identifying information without the end users’ knowledge or consent.
The government of British Columbia, concerned with both the privacy and security of personal information, enacted a stringent piece of legislation to protect the personal information of British Columbians. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) mandates that no personally identifying information of British Columbians can be collected without their knowledge and consent, and that such information not be used for anything other than the purpose for which it was originally collected.

Concerns about student privacy have increased even more when it became known that countries were sharing intelligence information, so there remains a risk that even student data on Canadian-based servers may well be shared with foreign countries.

Perhaps of more concern though is that as instructors and students increasingly use social media, academic communication becomes public and ‘exposed’. Bishop (2011) discusses the risks to institutions in using Facebook:

  • privacy is different from security, in that security is primarily a technical, hence mainly an IT, issue. Privacy needs a different set of policies that involves a much wider range of stakeholders within an institution, and hence a different (and more complex) governance approach from security;
  • many institutions do not have a simple, transparent set of policies for privacy, but different policies set by different parts of the institution. This will inevitably lead to confusion and difficulties in compliance;
  • there is a whole range of laws and regulations that aim to protect privacy; these cover not only students but also staff; privacy policy needs to be consistent across the institution and be compliant with such laws and regulation.
  • Facebook’s current privacy policy (2011) leaves many institutions using Facebook at a high level of risk of infringing or violating privacy laws – merely writing some kind of disclaimer will in many cases not be sufficient to avoid  breaking the law.

The controversy at Dalhousie University where dental students used Facebook for violent sexist remarks about their fellow women students is an example of the risks endemic in the use of social media.

9.9.3 The need for balance

Although there may well be some areas of teaching and learning where it is essential to operate behind closed doors, such as in some areas of medicine or areas related to public security, or in discussion of sensitive political or moral issues, in general though there have been relatively few privacy or security problems when teachers and instructors have opened up their courses, have followed institutional privacy policies, and above all where students and instructors have used common sense and behaved ethically. Nevertheless, as teaching and learning becomes more open and public, the level of risk does increase.

9.9.4 Questions for consideration

1. What student information am I obliged to keep private and secure? What are my institution’s policies on this?

2. What is the risk that by using a particular technology my institution’s policies concerning privacy could easily be breached? Who in my institution could advise me on this?

3. What areas of teaching and learning, if any, need I keep behind closed doors, available only to students registered in my course? Which technologies will best allow me to do this?

Over to you

1. I couldn’t find more recent references on this issue than 2011, when it seemed to be a hot topic. Has anything significantly changed with regard to privacy and social media in education since 2011 that I should be aware of? Or have our institutions nailed it regarding sensible policies and practices? (Did I hear guffaws?) References would be particularly welcome.

2. If anyone would like to share their experiences regarding privacy issues as a result of using social media for teaching, please either send me an e-mail (for privacy reasons) or share a comment on this post.

Up next

The final section on Chapter 9: Making decisions about what media to use. This will suggest a relatively simple approach for what is in effect a highly complex topic.

Yes, I know, you just can’t wait for this final episode. Keep tuned to this station.

References

Bishop, J. (2011)  Facebook Privacy Policy: Will Changes End Facebook for Colleges? The Higher Ed CIO, October 4

Klassen, V. (2011) Privacy and Cloud-­Based  Educational Technology in British Columbia Vancouver BC: BCCampus

See also:

Bates, T. (2011) Cloud-based educational technology and privacy: a Canadian perspective, Online Learning and Distance Education Resources,, March 25

 

 

Networking (and novelty) as criteria for media selection

Listen with webReader
Figure 9.8.1 UBC's Math Exam Wiki

UBC’s Math Exam Wiki (click on image to go to web page)

Almost there! This section covers the ‘N’ in the SECTIONS model for the chapter on media selection for my online open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age.

Networking and novelty

These are two quite different factors influencing media selection, of which networking is by far the most important.

Networking

This is a relatively new addition to the SECTIONS model and aims to take into account the potential of social media and open education. In essence, an increasingly important question that needs to be asked when selecting media is:

  • how important is it to enable learners to network beyond a course, with others such as subject specialists, professionals in the field, and relevant people in the community? Can the course, or student learning, benefit from such external connections?

If the answer to this is an affirmative, then this will affect what media to use, and in particular will suggest the use of social media such as blogs, wikis, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google Hangout.

There are at least five different ways social media are influencing course design:

  • as an addition to credit-based online software/technology
  • credit course design using only social media
  • student generated learning resources
  • self-managed learning groups
  • instructor-led open educational resources.

Supplementing ‘standard’ learning technologies

Some instructors are combining social media for external networking with ‘standard’ institutional technologies such as a learning management system. The LMS, which is password protected and available only to the instructor and other enrolled students, allows for ‘safe’ communication within the course. The use of social media allows for connections with the external world (contributions can still be screened by the course blog or wiki administrator by monitoring and approving contributions.)

For instance, a course on Middle Eastern politics could have an internal discussion forum focused on relating current events directly to the themes and issues that are the focus of the course, but students may manage their own, public wiki that encourages contributions from Middle East scholars and students, and indeed anyone from the general public. Comments may end up being moved into and out of the more closed class discussion forum as a result.

Exclusive use of social media for credit courses

Other instructors are moving altogether away from ‘standard’ institutional technology such as learning management systems and lecture capture into the use of social media for managing the whole course. For instance, UBC’s course ETEC 522 uses WordPress, YouTube videos and podcasts for instructor and student contributions to the course. Indeed the choice of social media on this course changes every year, depending on the focus of the course, and new developments in social media. Jon Beasley-Murray at UBC built a whole course around students creating a high level (featured-article) Wikipedia entry on Latin American literature (Latin American literature WikiProject – see Beasley-Murray, 2008).

Student generated learning resources

This is a particularly interesting development where students themselves use social media to create resources to help other students. For instance, graduate math students at UBC have created the Math Exam/Education Resources wiki, which provides ‘past exams with fully worked-out and reviewed solutions, video lectures & pencasts by topic‘. Such sites are open to anyone needing help in their studying, not just UBC students.

Self-managed learning groups

cMOOCs are an obvious example of self-managed learning groups using social media such as webinars, blogs and wikis.

Instructor-led open educational resources

YouTube in particular is becoming increasingly popular for instructors to use their knowledge to create resources available to anyone. The best example is still the Khan Academy, but there are many other examples.

Once again, the decision to ‘open up’ teaching is as much a philosophical or value decision as a technology decision, but the technology is now there to encourage and enable this philosophy.

Novelty

Novelty is a two-edged sword. ‘Innovation in teaching’ will certainly bring rewards these days as institutions jostle for position as innovative institutions.  It is often easier to get funding for new uses of technology than funding to sustain older but successful technologies. Although podcasts combined with a learning management system can be a very low-cost but highly effective teaching medium if good design is used, they are not sexy. It will usually be easier to get support for much more costly and spectacular technologies such as xMOOCs or virtual reality.

On the other hand, there is much risk in being too early into a new technology. Software may not be fully tested and reliable, or the company supporting the new technology may go bankrupt. Students are not guinea pigs, and reliable and sustainable service is more important to them than the glitz and glamour of untried technology. Thus it is better to be at the leading edge, just behind the first wave of innovation, rather than at the bleeding edge.

Questions for consideration

  1. How important is it to enable learners to network beyond a course, with others such as subject specialists, professionals in the field, and relevant people in the community? Can the course, or student learning, benefit from such external connections?
  2. If this is important, what’s the best way to do this? Use social media exclusively? Integrate it with other standard course technology? Delegate responsibility for its design and/or administration to students or learners?
  3. What rewards am I likely to get for using new technology in my teaching? Will use of a new technology be the only innovation, or can I also change my way of teaching with this technology to get better results?
  4. What are the risks in using this technology?

Feedback

1. I am looking for an example of using social media to supplement ‘standard’ institutional technologies (I made up the Middle East politics example). Any suggestions that are openly accessible (at least the social media parts) will be most welcome.

2. Is it really worth including novelty as a criterion?

3. Any other comments on this section

Next up

The last part of the SECTIONS model: speed and security.

Seeking the unique pedagogical characteristics of social media

Listen with webReader
Figure 5.5.5.1 Image: swilmarth (via Flickr)

Figure 5.5.5.1 Image: swilmarth (via Flickr)

Social media are still in a very volatile state of development, and many faculty worry about the negative aspects of students who are continually ‘on’ or obsessed with social media. At the same time, there are exciting developments and future possibilities for the intelligent use of social media in education, which are explored in this post.

Although social media are mainly Internet-based and hence a sub-category of computing, there are enough significant differences between educational social media use and computer-based learning or online collaborative learning to justify treating social media as a separate medium, although of course they are dependent and often fully integrated with other forms of computing. We shall see that the main difference is in the extent of control over learning that social media offer to learners.

9.5.5.1 What are social media?

Around 2005, a new range of web tools began to find their way into general use, and increasingly into educational use. These can be loosely described as social media, as they reflect a different culture of web use from the former “centre-to-periphery” push of institutional web sites.

Here are some of the tools and their uses (there are many more possible examples: click on each example for an educational application):

Type of tool  Example  Application
Blogs Stephen’s WebOnline Learning and Distance Education Resources  Allows an individual to make regular postings to the web, e.g. a personal diary or an analysis of current events
Wikis WikipediaUBC’s Math Exam Resources  An “open” collective publication, allowing people to contribute or create a body of information
Social networking FaceBookLinkedIn  A social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and interact with them
Multi-media archives PodcastsYou-TubeFlikriTunes U

e-portfolios

MIT Open CourseWare

 Allows end users to access, store, download and share audio recordings, photographs, and videos
Virtual worlds Second Life  Real-time semi-random connection/ communication with virtual sites and people
Multi-player games Lord of the Rings Online  Enables players to compete or collaborate against each other or a third party/parties represented by the computer, usually in real time
Mobile learning Mobile phones and apps  Enables users to access multiple information formats (voice, text, video, etc.) at any time, any place

 Figure 9.5.5.1 Examples of social media (adapted from Bates, 2011, p.25)

The main feature of social media is that they empower the end user to access, create, disseminate and share information easily in a user-friendly, open environment. Usually the only cost is the time of the end-user. There are often few controls over content, other than those normally imposed by a state or government (such as libel or pornography), or where there are controls, they are imposed by the users themselves. One feature of such tools is to empower the end-user – the learner or customer – to self-access and manage data (such as online banking) and to form personal networks (for example through FaceBook). For these reasons, some have called social media the “democratization” of the web.

In general social media tools are based on very simple software, in that they have relatively few lines of code. As a result, new tools and applications (‘apps’) are constantly emerging, and their use is either free or very low cost. For a good overview of the use of social media in education, see Lee and McCoughlin (2011).

9.5.5.2 The affordances of social media

Commentators on social media have in particular pushed the concept of affordances. McLoughlin & Lee (2011) identify the following categories of  general ‘affordances’ associated with social media (although they use the term web 2.0):

  • Connectivity and social rapport
  • Collaborative information discovery and sharing
  • Content creation
  • Knowledge and information aggregation and content modification (Burden and Atkinson)

However, we need to specify more directly the unique pedagogical characteristics of social media:

9.5.5.3 Presentational characteristics

Social media enable:

  • networked multimedia communication between self-organising groups of learners
  • access to rich, multimedia content available over the Internet at any time or place (with Internet connection)
  • learner-generated multimedia materials
  • opportunities to expand learning beyond ‘closed’ courses and institutional boundaries

9.5.5.4 Skills development

Social media,when well designed within an educational framework, can help with the development of the following skills (click on each to see examples):

It can be seen that social media can be extremely useful for developing some of the key skills needed in a digital age.

9.5.5.5 Strengths and weaknesses of social media

Figure 9.5.5.5 presents a diagrammatic analysis of various e-learning tools. I have arranged them primarily by where they fit along an epistemological continuum of objectivist, constructivist and connectivist (colour coded), but also I have used two other dimensions, teacher control/learner control, and credit/non-credit. Note that this figure also enables traditional teaching modes, such as lectures and seminars, to be included and compared.

Figure 9.5.5.5 Analysis of social media from an educational perspective (adapted from Bates, 2011)

Figure 9.5.5.5 Analysis of social media from an educational perspective (adapted from Bates, 2011)

Figure 9.5.5.5 represents a personal interpretation of the tools, and other teachers or instructors may well re-arrange the diagram differently, depending on their particular applications of these tools. The position of any particular tool in the diagram will depend on its actual use. Learning management systems can be used in a constructivist way, and blogs can be very teacher-controlled, if the teacher is the only one permitted to use a blog on a course. However, the aim here is not to provide a cast-iron categorization of e-learning tools, but to provide a framework for teachers in deciding which tools are most likely to suit a particular teaching approach. Indeed, other teachers may prefer a different set of pedagogical values as a framework for analysis of the different tools.

However, to give an example from Figure 9.5.5.5, a teacher may use an LMS to organize a set of resources, guidelines, procedures and deadlines for students, who then may use several of the social media, such as photos from mobile phones to collect data. The teacher provides a space and structure on the LMS for students’ learning materials in the form of an e-portfolio, to which students can load their work. Students in small groups can use discussion forums or FaceBook to work on projects together.

It can be seen that social media now enable teachers to set online group work, based on cases or projects, and students can collect data in the field, without any need for direct face-to-face contact with either the teacher or other students. Learners can access learning materials through open content, and also access other experts on a topic through the experts’ web sites, and learners can post media-rich assignments either individually or as a group. These assignments when assessed can be loaded by the learner into their own personal learning environment for later use when seeking employment or transfer to graduate school.

The example above is in the framework of a course for credit, but the framework would also fit the non-institutional or informal approach to the use of social media for learning, with a focus on tools such as FaceBook, blogs and YouTube. These applications would be much more learner driven, with the learner deciding on the tools and their uses. The most powerful examples are connectivist or cMOOCs, as we saw in Chapter 7.

However, many students are not, at least initially, independent learners (see Candy, 1991). Many students come to a learning task without the necessary skills or confidence to study independently from scratch (Moore and Thompson, 1990). They need structured support, structured and selected content, and recognized accreditation. The advent of new tools that give students more control over their learning will not necessarily change their need for a structured educational experience. However, learners can be taught the skills needed to become independent learners (Moore, 1973; Marshall and Rowland, 1993). The new tools will make this learning of how to learn much more effective but still only in most cases within an initially structured environment.

The use of social media raises the inevitable issue of quality. How can learners differentiate between reliable, accurate, authoritative information, and inaccurate, biased or unsubstantiated information, if they are encouraged to roam free? What are the implications for expertise and specialist knowledge, when everyone has a view on everything? As Andrew Keen (2007) has commented, ‘we are replacing the tyranny of experts with the tyranny of idiots.’ Not all information is equal, nor are all opinions. Many students look for structure and guidance, and it is the responsibility of teachers to provide it. We therefore need a middle ground between the total authority and control of the teacher, and the complete anarchy of the children roaming free on a desert island in the novel “Lord of the Flies” (Golding, 1954). Social media allow for such a middle ground, but only if as teachers we have a clear pedagogy or educational philosophy to guide our choices and use of the technology.

9.5.5.6 Summary

In summary:

  • learners now have powerful tools through social media for creating their own learning materials or for demonstrating their knowledge.
  • courses can be structured around individual students’ interests, allowing them to seek appropriate content and resources to support the development of negotiated competencies or learning outcomes.
  • content is now increasingly open and freely available over the Internet; as a result learners can seek, use and apply information beyond the bounds of what a professor or teacher may dictate.
  • students can create their own online personal learning environments
  • many students will still need a structured approach that guides their learning
  • teacher presence and guidance is likely to be necessary to ensure high quality learning via social media
  • there is though a middle ground between complete freedom and overdirection that can enable the development of the key skills needed in a digital age.

The use of social media for learning thus represents a major power shift from teachers to learners.

Activity 9.5.5

1. Take one of your courses, and analyse how social media could be used in your course. In particular:

  • What new learning outcomes could the use of social media help develop?
  • Would it be better just to add social media to the course or to re-design it around social media?

2. I have offered only a cursory list of the unique pedagogical characteristics of social media. Can you think of others that have not already been covered in other parts of this chapter?

3. How does this chapter influence your views on students bringing their own device to class?

4. Are you (still) skeptical about the value of social media in education? What do you see as its downsides?

Please use the comment box to share your answers.

This is the last of five posts on the unique pedagogical characteristics of different media. The other four posts were:

This post will be followed by a short section on deciding about media.

Feedback

Comments again will be most welcome. In particular:

  • can you suggest other unique characteristics of social media?
  • does Figure 9.5.5.5 work for you? How would you ‘place’ social media in context with other media?
  • examples, please: I’m looking for good examples that illustrate these unique features – or other unique characteristics I haven’t considered
  • is this the place to discuss personal learning environments? (Probably!).  However, it seems to me they deserve a section of their own, maybe under design. Any thoughts on this would be welcome
  • lastly, does it make any sense to differentiate between media these days? After all, isn’t everything multimedia now?

References

Bates, T. (2011) ‘Understanding Web 2.0 and Its Implications for e-Learning’ in Lee, M. and McCoughlin, C. (eds.) Web 2.0-Based E-Learning Hershey NY: Information Science Reference

Candy, P. (1991) Self-direction for lifelong learning San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Golding, W. (1954) The Lord of the Flies London: Faber and Faber

Keen, A. (2007) The Cult of the Amateur: how Today’s Internet is Killing our Culture New York/London: Doubleday

Lee, M. and McCoughlin, C. (eds.) Web 2.0-Based E-Learning Hershey NY: Information Science Reference

Marshall, L and Rowland, F. (1993) A Guide to learning independently Buckingham UK: Open University Press

McCoughlin, C. and Lee, M. (2011) ‘Pedagogy 2.0: Critical Challenges and Responses to Web 2.0 and Social Software in Tertiary Teaching’, in Lee, M. and McCoughlin, C. (eds.) Web 2.0-Based E-Learning Hershey NY: Information Science Reference

Moore, M. and Thompson, M. (1990) The Effects of Distance Education: A Summary of the Literature University Park, PA: American Center for Distance Education, Pennsylvania State University

Seeking the unique pedagogical characteristics of computing

Listen with webReader
Figure 9.5.1 A computer-marked assignment form (University of Western Australia)

Figure 9.5.1 A computer-marked assignment form (University of Western Australia)

This is the fourth post on the unique characteristics of different media, for my open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age.

This was a fun one to do, mainly because I ignored any previous research on this topic, because I rarely, to my shame, read articles in journals on computing and education. When I have done, the articles seem to be about another world of education in which I don’t – or didn’t – work. So I deserve your criticisms of this post, and, if I’m honest, I would welcome direction to any references that I ought to take account of, so long as they will enable me to help faculty in their teaching.

A volatile and comprehensive medium

It is debatable whether computing should be considered a medium, but I am using the term broadly, and not in the technical sense of writing code. The Internet in particular is an all-embracing medium that accommodates text, audio, video and computing, as well as providing other elements such as distributed communication and access to educational opportunities. Computing is also still an area that is fast developing, with new products and services emerging all the time. Indeed, I will treat recent developments in social media separately from computing, although technically they are a sub-category. Once again, though, social media contain affordances that are not so prevalent in more conventional computing-based learning environments.

In such a volatile medium, it would be foolish to be dogmatic about unique media characteristics, but once again, the purpose of this chapter is not to provide a definitive analysis, but a way of thinking about technology that will facilitate an instructor’s choice and use of technology. The focus is: what are the pedagogical affordances of computing that are different from those of other media (other than the important fact that it can embrace all the other media characteristics)?

Although there has been a great deal of research into computers in education, there has been less focus on the specifics of its pedagogical media characteristics, although a great deal of interesting research and development has taken place and continues in human-machine interaction and to a lesser extent (in terms of interesting) in artificial intelligence. Thus I am relying more on analysis and experience than research in this section.

Presentational features

Figure 9.5 'Screen size can be a real presentational limitation with smaller, mobile devices'

Figure 9.5 ‘Screen size can be a real presentational limitation with smaller, mobile devices’

This is not really where the educational strength of computing lies. Computing can represent text and audio reasonably well, and video less well, because of the limited size of the screen (which video often has to share with text) and the bandwidth/pixels/download time required. Screen size can be a real presentational limitation with smaller, mobile devices, although tablets such as the iPad are a major advance in screen quality. The traditional user interface for computing, such as pull-down menus, cursor screen navigation, and an algorithmic-based filing or storage system, while all very functional, are not intuitive and can be quite restricting from an educational point of view.

However, unlike the other media, computing enables the end user to interact directly with the medium, to the extent that the end user (in education, the student) can add to, change or interact with the content, at least to a certain extent. In this sense, computing comes closer to a complete, if virtual, learning environment.

Thus in presentational terms computing can be used to:

  • create and present (original) teaching content in a rich and varied way (using a combination of text, audio, video and webinars)
  • enable access to other sources of (secondary) ‘rich’ content through the Internet
  • create and present computer-based animations and simulations
  • structure and manage content through the use of web sites, learning management systems and other similar technologies
  • with adaptive learning, offer learners alternative routes through learning materials, providing an element of personalisation
  • enable students to communicate both synchronously and asynchronously with the instructor and other students
  • set multiple-choice tests, automatically mark such tests, and provide immediate feedback to learners
  • enable learners digitally to submit written (essay-type), or multimedia (project-based) assignments through the use of e-portfolios
  • create virtual worlds or virtual environments/contexts through technology such as Second Life

Skills development

Loyalist College's virtual border crossing

Loyalist College’s virtual border crossing

Skills development in a computing environment will once again depend very much on the epistemological approach to teaching. Computing can be used to focus on comprehension and understanding, through a behaviourist approach to computer-based learning. However, the communications element of computing also enables more constructivist approaches, through online student discussion and student-created multimedia work.

Thus computing can be used (uniquely) to:

  • develop and test student comprehension of content through computer-based learning/testing
  • develop computer coding and other ICT knowledge and skills
  • develop decision-making skills through the use of simulations and/or virtual worlds
  • develop skills of reasoning, evidence-based argument, and collaboration through instructor-moderated online discussion forums
  • enable students to create their own artefacts/online multimedia work through the use of e-portfolios, thus improving their digital communication skills as well as assessing their knowledge
  • develop skills of experimental design, through the use of simulations, virtual laboratory equipment and remote labs
  • develop skills of knowledge management and problem-solving, by requiring students to find, analyse, evaluate and apply content accessed through the Internet to real world problems
  • develop spoken and written language skills through both presentation of language and through communication with other students and/or native language speakers via the Internet.

These skills of course are in addition to the skills that other media can support within a broader computing environment.

Strengths and weaknesses of computing as a teaching medium

Many teachers and instructors avoid the use of computing because they fear it may be used to replace them, or because they believe it results in a very mechanical approach to teaching and learning. This is not helped by misinformed computer scientists, politicians and industry leaders who argue that computers can replace or reduce the need for humans in teaching. Both viewpoints show a misunderstanding of both the sophistication and complexity of teaching and learning, and the flexibility and advantages that computing can bring to teaching.

So here are some of the advantages of computing as a teaching medium:

  • it is a very powerful teaching medium in terms of its unique pedagogical characteristics, in that it can combine the pedagogical characteristics of text, audio, video and computing in an integrated manner
  • its unique pedagogical characteristics are useful for teaching many of the skills learners need in a digital age
  • computing enables learners to have more power and choice in accessing and creating their own learning and learning contexts
  • computing enables learners to interact directly with learning materials and receive immediate feedback, thus, when well designed, increasing the speed and depth of their learning
  • computing enables anyone with Internet access and a computing device to study or learn at any time or place
  • computing enables regular and frequent communication between student, instructors and other students
  • computing is flexible enough to be used to support a wide range of teaching philosophies and approaches
  • computing can help with some of the ‘grunt’ work in assessment and tracking of student performance, freeing up an instructor to focus on the more complex forms of assessment and interaction with students.

On the other hand, the disadvantages of computing are:

  • many teachers and instructors often have no training in or awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of computing as a teaching medium
  • computing is too often oversold as a panacea for education; it is a powerful teaching medium, but it needs to be managed and controlled by educators
  • there is a tendency for computer scientists and engineers to adopt behaviourist approaches to the use of computing, which not only alienates constructivist-oriented teachers and learners, but also underestimates or underuses the true power of computing for teaching and learning
  • despite computing’s power as a teaching medium, there are other aspects of teaching and learning that require the personal interaction of a student and teacher (this will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 10). These aspects are probably less than many teachers believe, but more than many advocates of computer learning understand.
  • computing needs the input and management of teachers and educators, and to some extent learners, to determine the conditions under which computing can best operate as a teaching medium; and teachers need to be in control of the decisions on when and how to use computing for teaching and learning
  • to use computing well, teachers need to work closely with other specialists, such as instructional designers and IT staff.

The issue around the value of computing as a medium for teaching is less about its pedagogical value and more about control. Because of the complexity of teaching and learning, it is essential that the use of computing for teaching and learning is controlled and managed by educators. As long as teachers and instructors have control, and have the necessary knowledge and training about the pedagogical advantages and limitations of computing, then computing is an essential medium for teaching in a digital age.

Assessment

There is a tendency to focus assessment in computing on multiple choice questions and ‘correct’ answers. Although this form of assessment has its value in assessing comprehension, and ability in a limited range of mechanical procedures, computing allows for a wider range of assessment techniques, from learner-created blogs and wikis to e-portfolios. These more flexible forms of computer-based assessment are more in alignment with measuring the knowledge and skills that many learners will need in a digital age.

Activity 9.5.4

1. Take one of the courses you are teaching. What key presentational aspects of computing could be important for this course?

2. Look at the skills listed in Section 1.3 of this book. Which of these skills would best be developed through the use of computing rather than other media? How would you do this using computer-based teaching?

3. Under what conditions would it be more appropriate in any of your courses for students to be assessed by asking them to create their own multimedia project portfolios rather than through a written exam? What assessment conditions would be necessary to ensure the authenticity of a student’s work? Would this form of assessment be extra work for you?

4. What are the main barriers to your using computing more in your teaching? Philosophical? Practical? Lack of training or confidence in technology use? Or lack of institutional support? What could be done to remove some of these barriers?

Over to you

OK, let me have it on this.

1. Is it OK to think of computing as an educational medium, in the sense in which I have used it?

2. What key pedagogical characteristics of computing have I missed (remember, though: there’s a whole section on social media coming next)?

3. Do you agree with my criticism of the limitations of computer screens in terms of representing knowledge and poor user interfaces? Or am I just jaded from too much time spent trying to get my computer to do what I want it to do?

4. I have to add examples for each of the presentational and skills development characteristics. Suggestions (with links if possible) would be welcome.

5. You can see I have a love/hate relationship with computing as an educational medium. Has this unduly influenced my analysis? If so, which side has won – love or hate? Is it too personal and not objective enough? (In answering this question, please state whether you are a behaviourist, constructivist or connectivist).

6. Do you think this post would be of any assistance or help to a faculty member? If no, why not? How would you approach this issue of deciding on appropriate media for teaching?

Next up

The unique pedagogical characteristics of social media – this will be my last on pedagogical affordances. I will discuss the uniqueness of face-to-face teaching in Chapter 10, which is on modes of delivery.

After social media, there will be a brief section on design issues in multimedia, a concluding section on Teaching Functions, then short sections on the ONS of the SECTIONS model. I know: the book is getting more like a marathon than a sprint.