H808

H808 Diversity in e-Learning (5.2)

For this assignment we have been asked to get a sense of the diversity of those involved in the profession of elearning by looking at job opportunities in the field via jobs.ac.uk and conference announcements on ALT-C.

At the time of writing (16th Jan 2012) there were 11 jobs with the keyword ‘e-learning’ and four with the keyword ‘elearning’ on jobs.ac.uk.  Here’s a screen capture.

elearning

e-learning

   

 

Though some jobs appear under both keywords, there seems to be a slight tendency for salaries on the right hand column to be a little higher, even though the nature of the appointments is similar (at the officer/manager level).   Most of these jobs seem to reflect a supporting role for the educational technologist, though this doesn’t equate to a lack of seniority or executive power judging by the salaries and the various descriptions of duties.  At the same time, there are some roles here where elearning is mentioned as an afterthought or as lip-service to current trends in higher education.  For instance, the  Assistant/Associate Professor in European History at Qatar University is expected to be competent with elearning methods but it’s not clear how this is integrated with other aspects of the job or what kind of measures the university intends to use.  This gives the impression that the person writing the job specification may not themselves have a good understanding of elearning.

Moving on to the conference notices at ALT-C… there are currently four conferences being promoted here.  They are as follows:

 

The first two are online webinars run using Blackboard virtual learning environments and intended for assessors and candidates for the CMALT professional membership scheme for elearning practitioners.  Looking over the list of CMALT members at http://www.alt.ac.uk/sites/default/files/public/Cmalt%20holders%20list_20111121.pdf I noted that none of my OU colleagues seemed to be members (which is a bit surprising given the fact that  CMALT is mentioned in H808).

The third event is a webinar featuring two eminent learning technologists, Diana Laurillard and Stephen Downes.  There isn’t much in the way of detail about the content of the webinar – only the question ‘to what extent should learning design be supported computationally?’.  Most of the page is just biographical information which suggests that they’re relying on reputation alone to sell the event.

The final event is a conference which takes place in Manchester next September.  There aren’t many details here and you have to go to http://www.alt.ac.uk/altc2012 instead.  The motivating questions for this conference seem to be very general and focused on the core activities of learning technologists rather than anything particularly topical.  I suppose this lends weight to the idea that the activities of learning technologists can be highly diverse.

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H808 Professional Values (7.1)

CMALT stands for Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology .  “CMALT is a portfolio-based professional accreditation scheme developed by ALT to enable people whose work involves learning technology to:

  • have their experience and capabilities certified by peers;
  • demonstrate that they are taking a committed and serious approach to their professional development.”

The CMALT prospectus mentions the following values in relation to professional accreditation.

  • Commitment to ongoing professional development
  • Gaining and providing recognition of skills, feedback
  • Critical reflection on practice
  • Keeping up to date with new technology
  • Willingness to learn from colleagues and those with different backgrounds
  • Effective communication and dissemination
  • Awareness of wider context
  • Understanding accessibility and assistive technologies
  • Acknowledging copyright
  • Ongoing evaluation and validation of professional skills

 

Possibly relevant but not mentioned:

  • Effectively meeting obligations to students
  • Staying focused on delivering results
  • Awareness of institutional ethics

 Like a lot of ethical guidance, most of these are formal in nature.  Let’s think about how they compare with education ethics more generally conceived.  The Association of American Educators presents a number of principles and maxims in their code of ethics.  I don’t have the space to discuss them all here, but here are some highlights.

Recommendation

Notes

PRINCIPLE I: Ethical Conduct toward Students It probably goes without saying that the first part of being ethical is to be ethically aware.  But in this case it includes the idea that educators should endeavour to “present facts without distortion, bias, or personal prejudice”.  We don’t find this in the CMALT code, perhaps because learning technologists rarely teach themselves.
PRINCIPLE II: Ethical Conduct toward Practices and Performance This is mostly about demonstrating competence and being committed to professional development.  It also includes the idea that teachers shouldn’t embezzle money or otherwise abuse their position. 
PRINCIPLE III: Ethical Conduct toward Professional Colleagues This covers confidentiality and truthfulness without acknowledging the tension between the two!
PRINCIPLE IV: Ethical Conduct toward Parents and Community Professional educators should work co-operatively, being active in school communities and respecting the values of those within them.

 

Overall this gives the impression that educators have a quite different set of responsibilities to learning technologists and, accordingly, a distinct set of ethical codes and principles.  There is more of a sense of duty of care and precaution in the educational ethics, while the CMALT values are more to do with innovation, future facing, and ongoing professional change.

H808 5.5 Learning Technologists

What do learning technologists do?  Well, this is a question I should be able to answer because at some level I claim to be a learning (educational) technologist.  According to the Association for Learning Technology, learning technologists are “people who are actively involved in managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of learning technology” (ALT, 2011).  This is quite a broad definition, and one which could apply to all kinds of professionals.  But we wouldn’t want to call everybody who fits this definition a learning technologist, would we?  After all, everybody who works in a university is arguably supporting learning.

For me, my professional identity is bound up with a committment to particular set of methods and domains of enquiry.  At the same time, working in research involves an openness to revising one’s views about the best methods to use for investigation.

Jacqui’s forum post argues that one problem is that the role of the technologist is not standardised across institutions.  However, I would suggest that this kind of standardisation is often prohibited by the nature of the work.  If one’s job is to innovate, then it can be difficult to enshrine this is a job description.  In practice, there is a somewhat abstract relationship between the nature of the work that I do in researching and supporting research projects and the eventual application of that research in reconsidered practice.  In any case, one thing I liked about the defintion that Jacqui provided was the idea of focusing on the outputs of a technologist: the design, delivery, support, management and development of technological solution for education.  This seems more specific than ALT defintion.  My first thought was that, as a professional, I don’t really do that unless one frames it in terms of ‘support’.  But thinking about it further, I do contribute to the development and delivery of technical solutions… though often one step removed.

Lisewski and Joyce (2003:63) suggest that many learning technologies are ‘highly reified’.  Thinking in terms of reification is one way of understanding a sense of distance or alienation from the products of one’s labour.  But I find the treatment of reificiation in the paper somewhat discomforting.  Wenger’s account seems to just refer to non-participation or ineffectiveness (something that can be quantified).  But true reification is surely concerned with the formation of human subjectivity through and in interaction with the world.   Reification affects the whole of the social world; else it doesn’t exist. It cannot be limited to a particular context because it necessarily represents or expresses an ideology.  Reification is not a Heideggerian term, but as Heidegger (1954) reminds us, technology by its nature reveals a certain interpretation of the world.  We need better ways of understanding the impact technology has on our thought, motivation and autonomy.  And that seems to be something to which a philosopher can contribute.

ALT (2011) What is Learning Technology? Available at: http://www.alt.ac.uk/about-alt/what-learning-technology [Accessed December 10, 2011].

Heidegger, M. (1954) “The Question Concerning Technology”, from Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings from “Being and Time” (1927) to “The Task of Thinking” (1964), rev. ed., edited by David Farrell Krell. Harper: San Francisco.

Lisewski, B. and Joyce, P. (2003) Examining the five‐stage e‐moderating model: Designed and emergent practice in the learning technology profession. Association for Learning Technology Journal, 11 (1). pp. 55-66. ISSN 0968-7769 Available from http://repository.alt.ac.uk/399/ [last accessed 30 Oct 2011].

Wenger, E. (1998), Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

H808: Reflection and Learning (Core Activity 2.4)

I’ll be concentrating here on Jenny Moon’s (2005) Guide for Busy Academics – Learning Through Reflection.  I was certainly appreciate of its short length, and it seemed to deliver the key points in an efficient way.  Moon begins with the commonplace idea of reflection, suggesting that we can think of reflection as either purposeful activity or as a state of being.

Moon suggests that four ways in which reflection can support learning.  These are pace (slowing down learning); ownership (appropriation); metacognition (thinking about ones own learning); and sensemaking (structuring material).

Here’s Moon’s definition of reflection.

Reflection is a form of mental processing that we use to fulfill a purpose or to achieve an anticipated outcome.  It is applied to gain a better understanding of relatively complicated or unstructured ideas and is largely based on the reprocessing of knowledge, understanding and possibly emotions that we already possess.

I’m unsure about Moon’s emphasis on the emotional content of reflection.  On the one hand, it is understandable, given that one of the accepted purposes of reflection in learning is to allow the learner a sense of appropriation over the material.  But it seems to me that the emotional aspects are somewhat overstated in this piece, because one of the points of reflecting is to attempt to transcend ones immediate reactions or personal context and try to understand a concept or problem in a wider sense.  Moon seems to indicate an awareness of this when she alludes to the idea that reflection is a way of exercising emotional control over learning.

I’m keener on the idea of reflection as sensemaking that is presented in the context of deep and surface learning, though I would suggest that we are still in the realms of individual reflection when in practice there is often an intersubjective element to reflection.  This is certainly the case in my own subject area, which is dialogic in nature.   It’s also the case that in philosophy students are actively encouraged to write in the first person, which Moon identifies as a potential barrier to reflection.

One thing that did come across in Moon’s piece is the central place of reflective learning in the e-portfolio/PDP approach.  In some ways, the e-portfolio approach can be understood as a way of making explicit the kind of reflection that is often happening in a less obvious way as part of learning.  I’m not sure, however, that this is necessarily facilitating more (or better) learning on the part of the student:  after all, you don’t have to consciously construe what you do as reflection in order to be reflecting meaningfully.

H808: Reflections on Core Activity 2.2

Experience of the Task

From the perspective of someone who has put together a significant number of portfolios for academic assessment before, I must say that I have generally found them to be more of a box-ticking exercise than a tool for reflection.  However, it quickly became evident that there were many different drivers at various institutional levels and across international contexts.  Some themes appeared to emerge at the broadest level, and I was left with the impression that eportfolios are less of a pedagogical necessity than a reflection of changing social and institutional practices at a global level.

I tried to be proactive with the task, bring the first person in my half of the group to contribute to the forums, writing about my experience of e-portfolios.  However, I wasn’t able to log in regularly over the next few days, and classmates had assigned me a partnership with a person who hasn’t contributed.  This made it hard for me to contribute in the proposed ways.  However, I did write up some suggestions to do with UKHE and the HEA in the UK context (though by this time I think a number of students had taken it upon themselves to move on (probably fairly).  However, it seemed to me that there was not enough discussion about how and why a wiki would be organised and too much discussion of technological solutions to colloborative working.

I struggled to see the relevance of this task (at this level of detail) for H808.  It now seems to me that the content of this task could be thought unimportant:  the importance lies in the collaboration.  However, I’m having trouble shaking the idea that this is as much about justifying the methods of assessment used in H808 as much as anything else.  I was also a little uncomfortable with the focus on ‘drivers’.  This is a business term which refers to factors that drive turnover and growth; but I want to talk and think about how people learn through technologies.

Relation to Framework for Personal Professional Development

Here’s the framework that we are encouraged to use for reflecting on our development over the life of the course.

It seems to me that the extent to which a task like this can develop particular competencies is largely relative to the prior competencies of the individuals involved.   For instance, setting up a wiki is something that challenges those who do not know how to do it.  Similarly, using PowerPoint and Slideshare to produce the final portfolio require certain technological competencies.  But being an elearning professional is simply not a matter of technological competence, because without some sort of explicit focus on teaching and learning it’s hard to see how technological competence fits in.  (Indeed, there are a elearning professionals whose skills lie almost entirely in pedagogy rather than technology.)

To a limited degree, I would say that this activity could be used to indicate a basic level of (technology-enabled) communicative competence in terms of group collaboration, and research skills in terms of reading & understanding the provided materials and finding new sources.

Primarily for me it has been useful as an exercise in reflection… thinking about the course and what it holds, how my own skills cohere with the skills being expected of students on a course like this, and so on.  I suppose that what I’ve written here could also be considered critique.