Thursday, June 11, 2009

Universities are alive and changing

In The Impending Demise Of The University Don Tapscott is not really arguing universities are about to cease to exist, just that they are changing. Universities are not about someone standing at the front of the room just reciting facts.

The Australian National University Festival of Teaching now on in Canberra is an example of this change. In addiition to discussions of student engaguement with new pedogogies (althout I argue they should be antrodogies), there were demonstrations of teaching graphical programming for art and the use of the new Learning Management System.

Last year I announced last year I was not giving any more lectures. This found its way into the Unkiversity, as an example of Lecture 2.0. It did not cause as much comment from my colleagues as I expected. Some were confused, thinking I meant I was giving up educating, as they equated lectures with teaching. I was cheered at the University of Canberra. Most people reserved judgement, waiting to see how it went.

At this point I did not quite know what I was going to do instead of lectures, but I knew it would involve the web. The ACS then asked me to design a Green ICT course using the Moodle Learning Management system.

What was more important than the software were the
mentored and collaborative online learning techniques pioneered by Dr. David Lindley, Academic Principal of ACS Education. David's approach is to have the educator and coach. The students are given materials and the guided through it. The e-learning materials look low tech, with what are essentially text based lecture notes, without the lectures. Readings are online (and printed) books and journals. To provide an incentive, the students assessment is partly based on their discussion in online forums: if they do not discuss, they fail.

ANU selected Moodle in late 2008 and I helped pilot it in a course in first semester 2009 using Moodle to supplement traditional lectures and labs. At the same time I was also tutoring the first class of Green ICT students in the ACS course using Moodle. It was curious using the same tool in two very different environments.

At ANU I attempted to use the lecture slots to give presentations more like seminars and less like lectures. However, this was constrained by the traditional lecture theatres, the student's expectations and my attempt to steer a middle course. My conclusion was that this approach of supplementing a traditional face-to-face course with some e-learning did not work.

In contrast the ACS pure e-learning approach worked well. The second class of students is now doing the course and enrollments are open for the third Green ICT course.

My ANU colleagues in the same course did not try my blended approach and used traditional lectures, which seemed to work better with Moodle. They will talking about it on Monday at the ANU in Canberra.

For second semester 2009 I will be running a Green ICT course at ANU (COMP7310). This is based on the ACS e-learning course, with face-to-face seminars added. In addition I will need to add some extra content to provide more context for the university students who will not necessarily have the depth of workplace experience of the ACS students. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

My aim would be to have a university with courses which could be partly online and partly face-to-face, with students choosing the mode, as required. If the student feels the need and is able, they could attend the campus, otherwise they would work remotely.

What I envision are the lecture theatres holding hundreds of students being replaced by rooms holding about 20. This is on the assumption only about this many students will attend a course on any given day. The other students might attend the live event remotely via the Internet, or watch a recording later. The 20 students in the room would provide enough to provide interaction and act as representatives for the others.
Recently in Brisbane I saw some technology at QUT for this.

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