E-learning environments and e-motivation of learners… same same but different

After been engaged in discussing online education elements during the last couple of weeks, the idea of designing a new online open educational module started to grow in my mind. Why not? It would be an incredible possibility for reaching learners that are not currently involved in my traditional face-to-face courses at the university, where I teach – among other subjects – human rights. For example, it would be fantastic to launch a pilot MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Introduction to Human Rights.

 Although MOOCs could ‘expand the audience for education from current campus students to people ill-served or completely shut out from the current system’ (Weller & Anderson, 2013), they nevertheless requires certain specific skills, as any other Open Educational Resources (OERs). In fact, MOOCs not only demand the existence of specific technological (digital) platforms, such as the ones developed by Harvard and MIT (EdX), Stanford (Coursera) or the UK Open University (FutureLearn), but also minimum levels of digital literacy by educators and targeted learners.

 Developing a model of distance learning, that will apply successful pedagogical techniques in order to engage learning in active, critical and reflective learning is indeed a challenge. Similar interactive dynamics that take place in the face-to-face classrooms need to be recreated (or motivated) within e-learning practises. Within open online environments, teachers need to ‘shift from being providers of knowledge and resources, to acting as directors of technology-enabled networked learners’ (Open University Innovation Report 3, 2014).

 Within e-learning environments, ‘classrooms becomes a space for dynamic, interactive learning where the teacher guides students to apply concepts they have learned online’ (Open University Innovation Report 3, 2014). Therefore, guidance, constant support and motivational mentoring are essentials in order to build an adequate and effective online learning environment where learners are motivated enough during their educational journey. As it has been argued (not without reasons), a learner ‘who is fully motivated will overcome barriers of situation and time, find ways of developing appropriate skills and be able to deal with the stress of study with very little extra external support’ (Simpson, 2008).

 In this sense, e-learning or online educational programmes in higher education do not differ from traditional face-to-face teaching and learning activities. Teachers need to design their curricula in a manner that learners with engage with and facilitate their own creative involvement, that is, enabling them to participatory create their own activities and content, in collaboration and communication with their peers.

 According to Conole (2015) Open Learning Practices (OLPs) need to enable a dialogical exchange by means of a mechanism or practices that will foster ‘communication between learners and the tutors, learners and their peers, and learners and the wider community’. Thus, in order to maintain sustainable levels of motivation, learners – in digital or traditional classrooms – need to be able to see the practical implications (or implementation) of the theoretical concepts that they critically approach and analyse.

 Education is about discovery or creation of knowledge, integration or interpretation of findings, application or practical implementation of their results, and their teaching or dissemination (Weller & Anderson, 2013). And OEPs should not be an exception. They serve the same scaffolding purpose than traditional face-to-face educational practices; they should take learners to the same fascinating path of critical transformative spiritual illumination.

References:

Conole, G. (2015). The 7Cs of Learning Design. Download as PDF (In press)

Innovating Pedagogy 2014 – Open University Innovation report 3 . Available here.

Simpson, O. (2008). Motivating learners in open and distance learning: do we need a new theory of learner support?. Open Learning, 23(3), 159-170. Available here

Weller, M., & Anderson, T. (2013). Digital resilience in higher education.European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 16(1), 53.Available here.

Picture:

tuper16, #education #justicehttps://instagram.com/p/3tTXBjNI-p/, permission kindly granted by the author.

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E-learning environments and e-motivation of learners… same same but different by Alejandro Fuentes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Digital, mobile & flexible (to say nothing but education)

This week we have been discussing – together with some colleagues – pros and cons of digital learning or e-learning. We arrived to the conclusion that it seems quite impossible to imagine today a new university course without facing the dilemma of incorporate or not e-learning modules in new curricula.

Communication technology seems to be obvious. Students come to classrooms with their portable devises such as laptops, tablets or the newest version of smartphones… for not talking about those laying in our own attaches or pockets! Because these devises are here to stay, then why not to incorporate them as part of our pedagogical tools that we could use in our learning and teaching activities. In fact, nowadays it is quite more and more common to read about the benefits of m-learning in education, which stands for mobile learning or ‘the process of learning mediated by a mobile device’ (Kearney, Schuck, Burden & Aubusson, 2012).

Therefore, the question would be whether these relatively new portable technologies will substitute our traditional classroom for a portable space, hosted in a virtual dimension. Or, in other words, whether do we need to have unmediated eyes contact with our students or would be enough to be a digital synchronous or even asynchronous supportive avatar in the digital realm. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

In order to understand the (potential) contribution of e-learning or m-learning to education, it is necessary to reconsider the time and space dimensions. For instance, m-learning takes place in a virtual space, detached from a specific physical/geographical location, and do not necessarily follows fixed notions of linear time (Kearney, Schuck, Burden & Aubusson, 2012).

Thus, portable technologies allows learning and teaching to happen in different locations (i.e. at home, in a cyber café, in a library or just in a wonderful summer destination), and in different times and time zones. Learning activities could be organized in a synchronous (video-conferencing, chat, etc.) or asynchronous (e-mailing, on-line collective documents, etc.) manner, providing learners with an autonomous, personalised and flexible educational tool that could match their socio-cultural and educational needs.

But… how to make these virtual experiences as vibrant and engaging as the traditional face-to-face classrooms are?

The digital space could be seen as not only less adequate to support teacher’s control and mentoring direction, but also diminishing social support and companionship among learners. The identification of needed pedagogical adjustments will require more time than in a face-to-face interaction.

Therefore, the key challenge seems to be connected with communication. How to maintain adequate and efficient level of quality communication between learners and teachers? Chosen the right digital support seems to be essential in order to overcome this challenge by enhancing the digital dialogical interaction between teachers and learners, and between the latter.

In other words, flexibility in e-learning must not be understood as requiring less counselling or mentoring time from teachers. On the contrary, effective digital communication needs active teachers’ support, in particular in connection with the substantive content of the learning module, the tasks expected to be performed by students and the strengthening of social (digital) interaction among them, which is necessary for ‘creating an atmosphere that fosters collaborative learning’ (Hrastinski, 2008).

Last but not least, teachers and educators need to build their own digital literacy before embracing an e-learning or m-learning module, if they would like to effectively and successfully achieve the proposed learning outcomes. This seems to be an obvious and simple task. However, my own personal experience has taught me that it is not.

References

Kearney, M., Schuck, S., Burden, K., & Aubusson, P. (2012). Viewing mobile learning from a pedagogical perspective. Research in Learning Technology20Available here.

Hrastinski, S. (2008). Asynchronous and synchronous e-learning. Educause quarterly, 31(4), 51-55. Available here.

Picture: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License by jairoagua. Available here.

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Digital, mobile & flexible (to say nothing but education) by Alejandro Fuentes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Collaborative learning & digital communities… What a challenge!

A couple of month ago, I started an on-line community (Google communities) for south-east Asia students that I was supervising on-line. The idea was to create an on-line peer-to-peer collaborative environment in which they would have been able to share their knowledge and experiences, supporting each other in the process of interactive generation of the substantial content for their studies.

Ideally, the on-line community and the flexible combination of synchronous and asynchronous digital tools and activities (i.e. Google Hangouts or Skype meetings, collaborative creation of documents with Google docs and Google Drives, or presentation with Prezi or ThingLink, etc.) would have facilitated a flexible and creative digital space in which my students would have assumed a central active role in the creation and conduction of their own learning process. By working together in an on-line environment, their studies were framed in a Learner Generated Content (LGC), in which they would have been the true protagonist, organizing themselves, self-managing their on-line collaborative time (Pérez-Mateo, Maina, Guitert, & Romero, 2011).

I said ‘they would have been’ but… they weren’t! What’s happened?

After certain reflections, perhaps the answer was that students were ill-equipped through their previous educational experiences to collaborate or to engage in peer-reviewing and peer-creating activities. In fact, they would have needed a sort of scaffolding progressive learning modules that would have helped to build their skills and on-line capabilities, leading to the creation of an effective working group (Brindley, Walti & Blaschke, 2009). In other words, learners do not necessarily have sufficient levels of digital literacy when register for an on-line course or activity. Curricula need to provide the necessary space for building those capacities from the very beginning of their collaborative learning.

Therefore, an adequate structured course, where participation and collaboration by learners have a concrete role vis-à-vis the achievements of the learning outcomes, and clear instructions from teachers, supervisors and tutors seem to be essential for guarantee adequate levels of on-line participation and collaboration. In this sense, teachers need to identify tasks and digital tools that would be most appropriate for group collaboration and relevant for the achievement of the established learning outcomes (Brindley, Walti & Blaschke, 2009).

In addition, feedbacks and availability from the instructor need to be considered also as essential factors for building the on-line confidence of the learners, paving the way for a secure and reassuring collaborative learning experience. Teachers need to be present within the digital course’s environment in order to provide learners with feedbacks and counselling support necessary to avoid ‘digital’ frustration and motivational decrement.

So far so good. But… What about time management?

Teachers’ permanent presence on-line could be indeed time-consuming and tiresome if they would like to follow all asynchronous and synchronous activities that take place during the course. In order to manage their time within reasonable limits, teachers need to re-adjust their traditional role as educational agents. As said above, in on-line collaborative learning, learners need to be considered as active participants in the creation of educational content.

Consequently, teachers’ role needs to be more passive, a sort of guiding on-line reassuring presence. Learners are responsible for performing all on-line collaborative activities. Teachers would need to be present in some key synchronous activities (i.e. Tweetchats), and provide feedbacks in some important asynchronous tasks (i.e. elaboration of collaborative documents or presentations).

Finally, teachers’  role in collaborative learning environments need to be complementary to peer-to-peer support, monitoring and evaluation. As main agent of their collaborative education, learners not only co-create and shape knowledge among peers, but also engage in a self-evaluation process vis-à-vis the achievement of the course’s learning outcomes.

If you have any comment or suggestion on how to approach these collaborative learning challenges, you are most welcome!

References

Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M., & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3). Available here.

Pérez-Mateo, M., Maina, M. F., Guitert, M., & Romero, M. (2011). Learner generated content: Quality criteria in online collaborative learning. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning. Available here.

Picture: Hands Hand Raised Hands Raised Hands Up Yes. License: CC0 Public Domain – Free for commercial use / No attribution required.

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Collaborative learning & digital communities… What a challenge! by Alejandro Fuentes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

My digital era… perhaps!

Today my digital era will start… perhaps.

Why perhaps and not something more convincing, like “be sure” or even stronger. Well, being digital is something that perhaps will not only consume my time, by writing, reading and writing back, but also will make me be unfocused, dispersed and even less efficient in my work. Perhaps…

These are my fears… But they are perhaps based on my own digital gap, my own lack of digital knowledge that operate as a barrier against these new form of cognition, of creation and transmission of knowledge. Then, why not to explore what is all about? Why not to try to get out of the traditional cognitive and pedagogic shells that we tend to reproduce – most of the time without questioning – in our academic classrooms.

How to do it? That is ‘the’ question. In the net there are so many possibilities, infinite number of combine opportunities for improve the way that we engage in learning and teaching processes. At the university, where I regularly teach, students know more than their teachers regarding available the digital tools… Embarrassing? Not necessary. What we need, as teachers and educators, is a little bit of ‘insolence’, that is, being a little bit impertinent vis-á-vis our lack of digital knowledge and courageously explore this new digital cognitive dimension.Featured image

As Aristotle said, ‘talent is culture with insolence’. And… I will said that digital literacy requires talented cultural insolence in order to blossom and produce its maximum positive effects.

Digital literacy is a cultural manifestation of our modern, digital societies. This particular form of literacy, which includes a ‘digital’ element that differentiate it from traditional forms of literacy based on printed supports, has been and it will be incorporated more and more as part of our daily cognitive culture, within our teaching environments and as part of a broad cultural manifestation (and product) of contemporary society.

However, digital literacy is not free from cognitive challenges. Learners and to the educators, as to any body else in the society. need to adapt themselves to this new semiotic paradigm, which put into question our traditional cognitive culture, the processes of creation, validation and transmission of knowledge. Our traditional modes of communication, largely based on a paper/written centred culture, are now more focuses on the transmission of messages through images (Instagram), videos (You Tube), short texts (140 characters of Tweeter) or social platforms (Facebook).

Therefore, these new vehicles of digital literacy challenge traditional cognitive processes by introducing a new cultural system of creation and dissemination of knowledge. This new system is largely atomized and bottom up, in which anonymous participants are directly involved in the new cognitive culture. They participate in a talented and flexible manner, being capable to adapt themselves  – through different and most of the time intuitive strategies – to a changeable and evolutive digital environment.

In this sense, individuals – learners and educators – require to have some ‘insolence’ in their approach to existing cognitive structures. They need to explore new cognitive paradigms, new form of validation and transition of knowledge, which escape from the traditional archetypes of the written literacy and transient the conservative and well-rooted printed cognitive means.

An insolent approach does not mean to be dismissive regarding the existing cognitive processes. Insolence needs to be seen as culturally contextual, as any other cultural activity, in order to have a meaningful effect within the cognitive environment in which individuals interact. In fact, digital literacies need to build upon the existent knowledge in a creative but unorthodox or perhaps insolent manner.

In short, digital literacy would require talented cultural insolence in order to provide sustainable answers to the changeable cognitive needs of the digital era.

And… that is precisely what I would need to do. That is, to be slightly insolent vis-à-vis my lack of digital knowledge, having a learning by doing approach in order to overcome the potentially existing digital gap.

Perhaps…

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My digital era… perhaps! by Alejandro Fuentes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.