Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Beyond Content

...and beyond teaching?

Yesterday, I said that I thought that too much emphasis does seem to be placed on getting the content out there and not enough, perhaps, on the teaching or facilitation around that content. While I think there's no replacement for a good teacher to help someone progress through their learning, Derek Morrison at the Auricle blog introduced me to a different way of thinking about the "content problem" that Sebastian Fiedler wonders about.

Auricle: "But we all know (don't we?) that a load of content online, no matter how prestigious the source, does not e-learning make; a fact recognized by David Wiley's Open Learning Support (OLS) project, a pilot research project launched last April in collaboration with MIT."

As I said, it's not the content that makes MIT. Then I said, "it's the teaching." Well, that was probably a simplification. It's the teaching and learning. And while we can't re-create the MIT experience around it's content, the Open Learning Support project fascinates me as a way to at least create some additional, and I think needed, piece of the puzzle--a learning community. What a great idea to create an open space where those folks who want to take advantage of the MIT content can also engage with other learners!

We educational progressivists like to tout the notions of learner-centered classrooms and constructivism, and maybe this project, with its "self-organizing" learning communities will end up showing just how powerful such ideas can be. But will these open communities really take us not just beyond content but also beyond the need for teaching?

I don't think so. Derek also references Gilly Salmon's 5-stage model, suggesting (I think) that this kind of progression may be missing in some of the OLS project communities. In order for a learning community to advance, it needs someone to tend it. It may be that effective self-organizing learning communities can be successful if someone (or a few someones) in the community take on a facilitative role.

But it does feel to me like content plus community are still not quite enough. Facilitation seems to me to be key. I'm eager to see what the OLS tells us about this!

Monday, October 11, 2004

From Seblogging: Do we have a content problem?

Thumbing through my blog clippings this morning, came across this post on Sebblogging back in July:

Seblogging: "So, I keep asking myself: what is wrong with you? everybody else seems to be really concerned about quality content and its delivery... what kind of distorted mental world are you living in?"

Sebastian goes on to quote Oleg Liber and his article Cybernetics, e-learning and the education system:

"higher learning is concerned with worldviews, with the acquisition of the concepts and distinctions of a discipline, its discourse; and this is best learnt through practice, though engaging in the discourse. This requires a form of cognitive apprenticeship [25], where a rich conversational engagement between learners and teacher can take place; it cannot be achieved just through the learning of facts."

This made me think of a lesson I learned when I started work at SNHU--I hope I can take parts of this lesson with me to my new job at NSCC. What I discovered when I got to SNHU, where hundreds of course sections are served up online each year, was that there was virtually no course/content development going on--instructors were handed a syllabus and an empty course shell in Blackboard. Importantly, though, instructors are given significant training in using Blackboard's discussion tools and a huge emphasis is placed on how to create that discourse that's so vital.

It does seem to me that most schools have a content problem--they get so wrapped up in how the content is going to be presented that they forget that what really matters is how that content is taught. People I've talked to are scratching their heads about the Open CourseWare project at MIT--why would they want to give away all that content? Well, it's not the content that makes MIT--it's the teaching.

The internet does indeed give us some amazing tools for discourse. Can we shift our emphasis in course development and delivery toward that end of the spectrum?