Friday, October 16, 2009

Questions about e-Learning

After my presentation at the ANU meeting of educational designers today ("The Gaggle"), I was asked a series of rapid fire questions by an unidentified attendee who was obviously frustrated by the lack of opportunity to ask questions earlier on. He then commented he had Twitted the questions, with the tag Gaggle. This was poetic justice and at the previous event I had become frustrated by the inability to ask my questions and blogged about it. Perhaps these events should adopt the Public Sphere/Barcamp web enhanced technique, but this can take some getting used to for the uninitiated.

Later I was able to find that the Tweets were from Leigh Blackall (leighblackall), who according to his blog, works in Educational Development for the Otago Polytechnic and specialises in developing open educational resources. Here is my attempt to answer his questions more fully:

What if anyone could pick and chose anything from anywhere to make a degree? Why limit it to institutions?

You can pick and choose anything for your education. But it may help to have someone help you pick and choose. That is part of what institutions do. They also provide a form of quality control for you, and for others, to say what you studied and what you did with it was worthwhile. This particularly applies to education for professions which effect on people's lives.

I help educate engineers and other professionals where mistakes can result in causalities, as well large financial loss. The students and society therefore need some assurance they know what they are doing. In the case of the green ICT course we are attempting to help arrest the greenhouse effect. Failure will result in the suffering of millions of people.

It is possible to structure courses which allow for more freedom. My Green ICT course (COMP7310) is part of the ANU Graduate Studies Select program which allows student to pick courses across the university from any discipline. One student is at another Australian university and one works for a Canadian university and is just doing the course for interest.

Exploring a topic with a guide is essentially what is done in Masters and PHD research. This does not happen so much at undergraduate level. But the ANU ICT undergraduates can do projects, where they explore a topic with guidance from a supervisor. But with this freedom comes very hard work and a much higher risk of failure

Some examples of project work from my students are: Semantic Web for Museums and Evaluating Emergency Management Websites. The work on museums has been taken up for building indigenous databases. The work on emergency web sites was studied carefully by the ACT bushfire authorities, but regrettably not by their Victorian counterparts.

An idea expressed by an anti web Guy, design describing researchers adding info to archived artifacts. Um, internet?

Not sure about this one. The ANU is centre for work on how to build e-archives. But a lot of what is in those archives can look frustratingly old fashioned, such as PDF facsimiles of traditional academic papers and books. But it helps to keep that stuff and make it available online, even when conceiving new formats.

One of my students worked on a publishing system for the ACS. This resulted in the IFIP Digital Library. While a useful service, it is frustrating that the content indexed is either in PDF or in a copyright commercial database. The Australian National Data Service is providing access to research data in a more flexible way, with generated maps , for example.

Oh dear, I have very little in common with the ANU experiences

We probably have a lot in common. That may not have come across in this forum.

If I engage with a www network, instead of your closed moodle group, will I fail your little group work assessment?

Yes, the course requires the students to work in the closed Moodle group. This to help teach the students how to work together and to help them teach each other. Also it is to protect the students from the world at large and protect the world from the students.

Some of the students have very little experience, having come from an undergraduate university course at a university. They find discussing a topic difficult, especially a topic new to them. They find it very confronting having to discuss it with people they don't know.

Other students have work experience and are more able to hold an open discussion. However, these students may be working in the field and prohibited by their employer from discussing the topic in public. Some of my students hold positions in governments and corporations and while they can discuss some of their work in a closed university group, they cannot discuss it in public.

Also the partly trained students may be a danger to the public. As an example the students will frequently make mistakes in my course when calculating greenhouse gas emissions. They commonly confuse units of measure, with results which are wrong by orders of magnitude.

Me and my big mouth. I need to try to question less confrontationally.

That is nothing. For real confrontation, try giving a seminar at Cambridge University Computer Lab. I once tried giving a seminar at the lab on security. The group swiftly tired of my general talk and started a very detailed discussion of how they had hacked the British banking system.

ps: Thanks for the questions.

1 comment:

Leigh Blackall said...

Hey Tom, thanks for taking the time. I suppose when I learn patience, I can trust that Gaggle is simply an opportunity for people to package and present their ideas and methods to both online and offline people, with the QA/discussion taking place later, in online places like this. An enhancement to the limits of face to face time.

My response here