Friday, July 17, 2009

e-Learning and the Olive Tree

Greetings from Matthew Allen's online learning seminar in Canberra. Matthew's morning workshop sponsored by ALTC was "Innovative education online: Ideas for the future of learning and the Internet", and the afternoon session is "Exploring online learning via Web 2.0 and a knowledge networking approach".

The event has a slightly surreal feel to it. We are at the campus of the Australian Defence Force (ADFA). This is a little different to the usual university campus, with most of the people on campus in uniform and marching around in step. The corridor walls are lined with hooks for the students to hang their hats on. What also makes the event a little odd, is that we have collected from around Australia to discuss how to do academic activities online. This makes me wonder why the ALTC materials are not online with some online forums.

Matthew is from a humanities background and while his scholarship and wisdom on the Internet is great, he tends to deliver it as an old fashioned paper. The material is presented verbally, from a prepared speech, with no visuals and lots of big words. After about five minutes I started to go to sleep. After 30 minutes I started to wonder why I was there, but at that point it suddenly got interesting. This was because we now had enough context to have a useful discussion.

After that we had some question and answer and then Matthew got us to do several very useful group exercises. There was then a break during which I made the event a little surreal for some of my fellow participants. One of the issues Matthew explored was innovative was for Internet-enabled education and for me this raised the issue of how much of what seems new with e-learning is just old learning prettied up with new technology. This is not necessarily a bad thing: taking proven educational techniques and using the Internet to make them work better is a useful strategy.

Over a cup of coffee I found myself relating to participants how I walked the sacred way at Delphi and had stood under an olive tree at where the ancient philosophers once gave their lessons. This caused some perplexed looks from others who thought I was using a metaphor for some form of spiritual journey. I had to explain that I had been on holiday and literally walked the sacred way at Delphi: the olive tree is a real tree, which is where the ancient philosophers did their teaching. Many of the techniques of e-learning could be seen as technological translations of what was done near the olive tree at Delphi.

The major issue for me which came from the day was how to make the Internet tools safe for student use. Matthew argues that teachers have to take risks and use up to date Internet tools. Learning Management Systems are useful for the administration of courses but Matthew argues there are so many more resources out there online for the actual learning.

What occurs to me is that a LMS might be built which only does the administration and interfaces to external tools in a safe way for the actual learning and tools. As an example, Moodle has a built in wiki tool, but it is not a very good wiki. Instead Moodle could interface to an external wiki, authenticate the user and provide a given level of protection of their contnet. The system would then collect up automatically the learner's content and put it in their e-portfolio, for assessment and other purposes.

1 comment:

Internet Studies @ Curtin said...

Sorry about the old fashioned approach without visuals :). Thanks for your comments, however, on the talk - very interesting to see your response.