Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A little bit of Theory for my practice!!!!

Last one and then I'm going to talk about ideas. I love theory primarily because it can provide a universal languange for people to talk about their ideas, beliefs and values with out going into all the details but I think it might be useful to just give a brief outline of my theoretical framework and the key ideas that make me tick. I got this started on the last blog.

Frame Work for Practice

"Teaching is a practical and observable act. Pedagogy encompasses that act together with the purposes, values, ideas, assumptions, theories and beliefs which inform, shape and seek to justify it" (Alexander,2002, 2 cited in Singh & Richards, 2006).

With the quote above in mind, there are three broad theoretical perspectives that umbrella my framework for social work and my teaching philosophy. These include structuralism, post-modernism and critical theory. For me these lead to Empowerment theory which provides the value base for my work. There after anything goes as long as it fits the situation and my sense of integrity stays in tact.

Structuralism incorporates feminist, marxist, anti-discriminatory, anti-oppressive and radical empowerment theories. This part of my framework informs a strong commitment to social justice and human rights. A social justice perspective recognises oppressive power structures such as those existing in traditional teacher – student relationships and involves levelling the playing field so that education is accessible to anyone who wants it. Accessibility can include financial subsidising, and physical access but less tangible it also includes the right of individuals to access education which is non-discriminatory, non-oppressive, socially and culturally safe, respectful, appropriate and inclusive in terms of meeting the characteristics and needs of all students.

A social justice perspective sits comfortably with a student centred approach where such an approach de-emphasises the teacher as an expert instead of recognising the expertise that students bring. Teaching and learning from this perspective is based on co-construction and mutual empowerment in contrast to teacher directed learning.The structuralist school of thought focuses on the group or shared experience of oppression and marginalisation.

Postmodernism which is the second key theoretical perspective underpinning my philosophy draws attention to multiple realities, diversity and the unique experience of individuals. This understanding is crucial in terms of my teaching philosophy on multiple levels. It reminds me to keep my kete open and maintain an eclectic approach to teaching and learning. It keeps me reflective and flexible because I know that what worked for one student or one group of students will not necessarily work for the next. It explicitly informs my commitment to exploring students learning styles, culture, characteristics and needs.

Critical theory is a little more abstract but at it’s most simple it enables me to marry structuralist and post structuralist ideas around shared or collective realities and experience with the post modern emphasis on unique experience and individual realities. In short this means that both can be true – people do share experiences that result in the same or similar feelings. Feelings of oppression, stigma, internalised stigma, loss and so on. Simultaneously each experience a person has in the world does not define who they are, rather a person is a combination of all their experiences and the experiences of their ancestors and their children and the political, economic, social and spiritual climate in which they all exist, existed and will exist. The point being that though a person may share any number of experiences with others they are ultimately unique.

In terms of learning theories, one of the things that intrigues me about academia is the tendency towards negative critiquing. I am experimenting with positive critique – rather than looking for the negative, looking for the positive! I think hmm, what do I want to take from this idea for my kete. I guess it’s informed by the post modern and eclectic ideas in my framework.

That said, once upon a time and not very long ago I would have said I’m a constructivist girl all the way and Vygotsky’s my man when it comes to learning theories and this would have been in conflict with my own claim to post modernism. However the more aware I become of my own learning style the more aware I become that when all is said and done I’m really the ultimate in Piaget’s lone scientist – Just leave me a lone and let me consolidate! So as I mature as an academic and as an educator I find that more and more I’m thinking it’s all good – Each theory starts as one person’s idea which makes them all valid. Consequently I have in my kitty some behavioural tools and some cognitive tools and some cognitive behavioural tools, some cognitive humanist tools, some humanist feminist tools, some feminist psychoanalytical tools and quite a lot of constructivist tools too.

I'd like to talk in more detail about the recovery, aspirations and strengths models that I teach as they are absolutely relevant for flexible learning but I really must get on with my flexible learning ideas and presentation now.

Sustainability - Freire - And Coming Full Circle

Some Mandala examples

I have an exceptional 16 year old daughter called Elizabeth who is Cultural Coordinator for the Environment at her school, Youth rep on Sustainable Dunedin Committee, An active member of the Dunedin Secondary Students Climate Forum, a member of the Otago Regeneration crew and environmental rep on the DCC Youth Action Committee. She rock climbs, sails, attends kick boxing, plays basket ball and netball, leads a fairly active social life and does pretty well at school, particularly in geography. I worry about her sustainability but she once told me "don't oppress me mum" and I needed no further telling.

Having a daughter who is so passionate and actively involved in climate change, environmental and sustainability issues eventually rubs off. I asked her what it is that I can do to include sustainability education in my course. Our conversation went as follows;


What's my role in including sustainability in my course?


There are two things - Let people make their own choices – Give them information so that they can make choices about their views

on sustainability.


What information? - I don't understand the climate and Peak oil issues like you.


Make them aware of the most recent scientific reports


How do I incorporate that in a mental health course that is already full on?


Use the video's I show you - Show them the video's.


Okay so what's the other thing?


Encourage people to think about regeneration


What's regeneration?


You know like the idea of building a better community


What does a better community look like?


Get people to visualise there ideal and plan steps to get there.


That's my stuff, that's what I do. Social work, community building, the recovery model, aspiration based strengths planning!


Yea - but regeneration encompasses envisioning a new way of life.


Like hippy communes - Empowerment, solidarity and organic vegetarian food!


LOL - Yea mum like that and tell them to ride share or ride bikes.

Thanks to this little conversation with my daughter I am beginning to get an understanding of sustainability that I can grab hold of. Sustainability in the context we are using it is the new Empowerment Theory or a branch of it.

This got me me thinking about my dear old Freire and I popped on to wikipedia for a wee look. Wouldn't you know it - Freire initiated work on ecopedagogy before he died which obviously links directly to sustainability and the earth charter. Wow I love learning and linking it all up.

So now I know that I do sustainability in my course, I have always done sustainability, I kind of suspected I might and actually I probably do it more than most with my passion for social justice, recovery, strengths and my emphasis on holistic and multi-cultural concepts of health and well-being which encompass mind, body, spirit, community, political and environmental elements.

I half formulated an idea one lunch time about sustainability in our school and it seems to have popped up as our sustainability strategy. It links sustainability to social justice which is all good and well but this feels like only half the story. It has to come full circle. I was thinking that social justice has to link back to the environment and then I read this in wikipedia

"The Earth Charter's ethical vision proposes that environmental protection, human rights, equitable human development, and peace are interdependent and indivisible"

and that makes sense to me. It get's me thinking about Maori models of health and well-being and I'm also thinking about Carl Jung's work with mandala's and the idea of universal connection. I suppose that brings me to the more contemporary concept of connectivism and wonder of wonders here I am back at online learning and the possibilities this provides in terms of access to knowledge and collaboration.

Check out Carl Jung's death experience and A great wee summary of Carl Young's key ideas

So back to sustainability in my class - apart from the problem of shoving to much information at my students in too short a time there seems no reason why I can't include some of Elizabeth's video's in my class. Here's a wee few from Elizabeth to get me started....

ACT NOW: cute vid with a young girl narrator, talking about climate change and how the "men in black suits" aren't listening despite all the warnings. 4 mins

PLASTIC BAG TVC: funny little turtle guy talking about plastic bags and why we should not use them... 30 seconds

CANVAS BAGS BY TIM MINCHIN: very VERY funny song about canvas bags.... this guy won awards for this song!! :P 3.15 mins

PEAK OIL: HOW WILL YOU RIDE THE SLIDE?: kynda quirky vid about peak oil and explaing (simply) what peak oil means... or is going to mean for us. 2 mins

HOW IT ALL ENDS: really cool vid, making the science of climate change/global warming really simple and easy to understand! 10mins

THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH: doco about how disgusting the great pacific garbage patch is, and how much damage its causing! something like 6 pieces of platic particla for every one plankton!! just under 10 mins.

THE DANGERS OF PLASTIC BAGS: really beautiful video with images and scary facts about plastic bags and how much they harm our environment. Really good!! 9 mins.

Plus a couple of power ful photographs to finish on.

My Cultural Identity and Cultural Sensitivity and bit of a waffle about potential changes to delivery

I think this song must have been one of my mothers favourites for a time. I associate it very strongly
with my childhood and it always makes me smile.

Cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity are fundamental attributes in human service work so developing and enhancing these attributes in students is an integral aspect of my course. Quite literally my students do unit standards that encourage them to develop self awareness, including awareness of their own cultural identity and values and unit standards that deal with cultural awareness and working with diversity. Being that these are topics I teach and that they are fundamental tools in human service work, my own path of study has involved much exploration into my own cultural identity.

In relative brief, my cultural identity combines my ethnic ancestry past and present, the social, economic and political climate in which my ancestors grew, in which I have grown and in which I currently exist, and my particular characteristics and needs which may be genetic or learnt.

My ancestry is most recently Australian and /New Zealand and historically Scottish, Irish, French and English. The English part tells me very little on it's own as the English are such a hotch potch of assimilated ethnicities. One day I will do some more research into my true ethnic heritage. The Scottish aspect is certainly most dominant in terms of custom and practices which have been passed on and in terms of my own sense of physical and sprititual belonging. I have spent time in Scotland, England and France and when I cross the boarder into Scotland from England I experience a very strong sense of having come home.

Significant historical events that have impacted hugely on my culture include WWII, the great depression and the Anti Discriminatory movement of the 1960s/1970s. WWII had some very explicit impacts on my family culture, while the great depression has installed a certain thriftiness which keeps being passed on down through generations. The 1960s and 1970s have impacted hugely on my current belief and value system but also enabled my parents a degree of freedom in their lifestyle and parenting that I would not have been exposed to a decade earlier. My mother's family were open brethan and to this day run the open brethan church in Dunedin. My early years included a significant church culture which continues to influence me today in terms of certain moral standards and ideals I hold and many that I don't which result in a loss of contact with half my family.
In contrast to the strict church regime on Sundays, my parents were hippies with all that this entails. I grew up going to music festivals and beach parties and went to sleep at night to Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and sometimes to my mother playing beethoven's 9th symphony on her piano. Eventually the era enabled my parents to freely divorce and this had huge implications for my cultural identity.

My upbringing was primarily working class in terms of cultural capital, political outlook, income and geographical location but middle class in some of the ideals, patterns of behaviour and cultural symbols I was exposed to - books, ballet, theatre and music. My mother came from a middle class family that had risen from working class while my father came from a working class family which I suspect had fallen over several generations. The result was really a lot of confusion and a lack of any real sense of belonging anywhere which has huge implications for my current sense of cultural identity. After my parents divorced we were poor and they each diverted energy to their own seperate lives which created a significant sense of loss. My passion for acting sustained me through a wayward youth and in a round about way set me on my current path.

I met and married my husband in Australia, he was 19, English and on his gap year and I was 22. We struggled through years of poverty, putting ourselves through University with children in tow, running barter or green dollar systems with our neighbours. We traded childcare, homework support, reading, maths and science tuition for food, fresh fish, firewood etc. But even here there was a twist. My husbands family are wealthy and every two years they would come out from England and take us on a fantastic holiday. We have now been married 19 years, have three high achieving children, live in a nice house (a year ago I lived in a house with holes in the walls, roof, floor). On the surface anyone looking at me now would describe me as middleclass and somewhat privileged. A person might think that they could assign me a cultural identity but my current appearance betrays the layers of history and experience that define my cultural make-up and I have barely skimmed the surface here. My cultural identity in turn informs the characteristics and needs which I bring as a student into the classroom.

So my characteristics and needs? I need a lot of affirmation, I need to talk out loud or write things down in order to organise my thoughts, I need autonomy and to be trusted, I need to feel a sense of belonging and team. I am eternally optimistic and hopeful, I have total faith in the capacity of people to be and do anything they choose. I am hugely enthusiastic sometimes to the point of being over welming and over bearing. I am loyal and giving and kind and courageous and opinionated and curious and analytical. I am committed, hard working, organised and so on.

The teacher who truly understands the complexity of cultural identity should never take a student at face value or assume that they know what that student is or what that student needs. Rather they should allow a student time to identify and formulate a sense of their own characteristics and needs and attempt to accomodate those as best they can.

As stated earlier, awareness of self and others or cultural sensitivity is explicitly integrated throughout my course. The integration of this learning starts in term 1 where students explore their own cultural identity, I introduce them to a brief 10, 000 year history of England and bring in guest speakers to introduce Maori and Ngai Tahu tikaka and te reo and the customs of various pacific and asian peoples in line with group membership. Students are intoduced to tools such as geneology, familiy trees, whakapapa, systems and ecological maps, name history searches and cultural symbols, heroes and rituals, VARK and a variety of other surveys exploring characteristics and needs. Students are encouraged to both use these tools and critique them. Students explore their ancestry and experieces in relation to their culture, values and attitudes in a journal format that starts in term 1 and continues through out the year and in a group work project culiminating in a poster and presentation capturing the ethnic make up of New Zealand, the relationship between Maori and the Crown and sub-cultures including one subculture that symbolises each group member.
Students are also introduced to the Te Tiriti o Waitangi in Term 1 but I have decided to put this in term two where it fits much better and focus in term 1 on exploring culture.

The integration continues in term two where students learn about legislation, policy and the national strategic plans that underpin requirements in relation to cultural sensitivity. This course covers Application of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, international and national human rights legislation, worker responsibilities and consumer rights. In the third term students explore theories and models of practice which includes a 10, 000 year overview of different cultural perspectives on mental health and a closer look at specific recovery based models including Maori, Pacific, Europeon and other ethnic models relevant to the cultural make-up of the group. In term four students pull it all together in a framework for practice which demonstrates self awareness in terms of strengths, risks, knowledge, skills and values and plans for ongoing professional development.

I think that I will continue to work with cultural sensitivity in the same way that I have been doing apart from the change already mentioned involving moving The Treaty component to term two where it is a much better fit. While parts of the first term course could go on line, I think the face to face interaction and group work aspect of the term one focus are an integral part of the learning. Students are in a situation of having to explore their own characteristics and needs in relation to the characteristics and needs of others. It is immediate and present. I have them share there characteristics and needs in groups, write a combined group set of characteristics and needs then share these again with the whole class. We then use this as a base for our class contract. It works so well in terms of setting the class culture for the year that I would be very disappointed to lose this.

Having said that, my students do a full time course in one day contact per week. I have initiated over the past couple of years an initial 3 day orientation which brings the contact days up to 10. It is possible that if the students did some introductory and follow up material on line, the face to face stuff could be done in combination with an orientation face to face week and they could probably even manage the group poster stuff in this time frame. In fact, it would probably work better than it does now.

Term two could go pretty much entirely on line - with maybe a two day hui at the end of the term. Term 3 has some significant skills stuff and would need at least a week long face to face work shop and Term 4 could go on line with a two day presentation and celebration to finish.

Hmmm - I have been thinking about a fairly significant shift to online delivery but this is the fist time I have actually mentally worked through the feasibility of this.

Currently my course has 36 contact days (34 plus 2 orientation days). This would reduce it to 14 contact days but I wonder how much time it would then take (beyond initial set up time) to cater to students on line. Could it take more than the 20 days I would save?

I wouldnt be making these changes to make the programme more cost effective as it is already pretty cost effective but rather to attract more students which of course may ultimately make it more cost effective too. It would be interesting to talk to people using blended delivery about how much face to face to include. In a recent discussion with my current students they were quite adamant that they needed weekly contact but could see 2 hours being sufficient rather than the current 6. I wonder if you could provide an optional face to face for local students preferring this option and a weekly elluminate session for others? Would this reduce equitable access or increase flexibility in terms of meeting student needs? What do people think?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Access and Equity - Universal Design

Universal design as a concept originated in Social Disability theory and in anti discriminatory ideas. In social disability theory there is no such thing as disability, only a disabling environment. This theory led to making changes in the environment so that services, products, buildings etc were more accessible thus enhancing social inclusion and reducing social exclusion and stigma.

Universal design is defined as
" an approach to the design of all products and environments to be as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability or situation". (Universal Design Education on Line, 2004). There are seven principles associated with Universal design including;

1) Equitable Use
2) Flexibility in Use
3) Simple and Intuitive Use
4) Perceptible Information
5) Tolerance for Error
6) Low Physical Effort
7) Size and Space for Approach and Use
NC State University 1997

The Centre for Universal Design makes the point that not every principle is applicable to every design and that in practice designers must also consider factors such as economic, engineering, cultural, gender, and environmental concerns in their design processes.

How could these principles be applied in my course;

1) Equitable Use - I think this principle is already applied in my course. The course is open entry and my students consist equally of individuals working within the mental health industry and consumers who access these services. My students range in age from 17 to 60 are generally about 50/50 male and female, include different ethnic groups and come with severe literacy issues and degrees. I work hard to establish a warm and trusting environment where everyone is valued equally for the expertise they bring and where skills and abilities are shared.

2) Flexibility in Use - Again I think this is something that I'm doing well but there is always room for improvement. I work really hard to cater to different learning styles both in the way I present material and in my approach to assessment. By learning styles I am referring specifically to VARK and less specifically to all aspects of a person's character, culture and experiences that make them who they are. I think that as I develop more material online, I will be increasingly able to cater better to different learning styles, needs and learning preferences. I have loved getting material on line for students this year as it means that students can go at their own pace. I definitely think that it is possible to provide students with different means to the same end - choice from a range of activities, readings etc that will take them to the same learning outcomes and I would like to work towards a course site that includes this choice. I am keen to get optional audio's done for all my power point presentations, and I would love eventually to have audio's attached to all the readings and words linked to a thesaurus or glossary of terms. I want more interactive material such as quizzes and games and I am experimenting with online ways of providing creative assessment opportunities.

3) Simple and Intuitive Use - I am making progress with this. I both coordinate my particular course and do most of the lecturing on it so I continue to work at integrating and simplifying course material and assessments and standardising presentation and language which I think considerably enhances the extent to which material becomes simple and intuitive. This has been difficult because my course is unit standard based and external moderators want evidence that every PC has been addressed. I have to accommodate moderators needs which in my experience are bizarrely removed from students needs - I have increasingly prioritised student needs which has meant less positive feedback from external moderators but more accessible material for students and a more healthy sense of integrity for me. One change I have made in preparing assessments is thinking what do the students want to know - I now put the assessment due date first. This is ongoing and up for continual review in the face of ongoing student groups with different needs.

Perceptible Information - As with an earlier response, I think that as I develop more online material I am better able to cater to peoples sensory needs. I have made ongoing changes to my presentation material over the four years I have been teaching. In my first year my overheads were far too many and the writing was far too small. In my second year I re did all of these with much less and much bigger writing. In my third year I added lots of pictures and in my fourth year - this year I have moved to power point and could not go back. I am so mad at myself for not just using power points in the beginning. What was I frightened of? I am strongly encouraging colleagues who are still using overheads to make the change. I love using power points but it is still a challenge to get these right in terms of not making them over stimulating or distracting, making sure writing is readable against backgrounds, ensuring that they have enough material to act as lecture notes and not too much. One thing I have learnt is never to use green pen on the whiteboard or green font in power points as it is much harder to read than other colours. I note that this flexible learning course does not really have any lecture notes just a brief introduction to each topic area and then a bit of a guided tour - I think that is entirely appropriate for a level 7 course but I am sure that a level 4 unit standard based course that is underpinned by industry competencies is different (I'm preempting perceived criticism here and I do wonder if more online material in terms of a guided tour will enable a move away from lecture notes - I suspect it might but part of me is convinced that equitable access requires a set of simple lecture notes for some students - I'm certainly open to other views and to being convinced otherwise on this one!

Tolerance for Error - Hmmm - Although this is not directly relevant I'm thinking about this in terms of an assessment task I developed recently with my colleague Kate Timms. The task was individual but we built in a consultation session where students presented their work to peers and got feedback on their plans. Peers had to provide suggestions and students then had to critically reflect on these and modify their plans accordingly. We wanted the students to experience a consultation process but the activity also provided formative feedback resulting in a higher pass rate accross the board. In an earlier blog I discussed the EDC session with Phil Ker, Otago Polytechnic CEO. One of the things that Phil talked about was removing the stress point caused by Assessment and focusing more on formative assessment and less on summative assessment. Earlier this year Heather Day also got me thinking about this stress point when she asked the question in a training seminar - How do students see assessment? I realised that assessment is infinatetly stressful for students so much so that for many it takes the pleasure out of learning - causing students displeasure and stress is totally out of sycnh with what I aim to do so I am trying to figure out ways of doing this more organically. My sister recently graduated from teachers college and she talked about the idea of 'assessment in situe' where teachers spend more time observing students in natural settings. The teachers 'observations' then become the assessment. Unfortunately this requires that students are present which does not fit easily with the move to more online learning but I guess if you set the students up with an online group task for example then you could observe how they participated in that task and give them feedback on that - the student could work towards group outcomes over a year and assess themself against these. I am working towards more self and peer assessed tasks and more formative assessment as I think this does reduce the hazards for students and staff. One excellent recent example is using collaborative google docs for a group assessment. I became a collaborator with the students - offering feedback as they worked towards their end product - because they have had the feedback as they go, they will pass the assesment with a very high standard. It occurs to me though - that they might not know this!

Low Physical Effort - I'm not sure this one ie relevant - I could change it to low mental effort but that wouldn't be consistent with the deep level reflective learning I encourage. I may have to think more about this one.

7) Size and Space for Approach and Use - I guess this oes have relevace for equitable access but it's getting late and I can't think what.

The principles for Universal Design are definately applicable in my course!

Inflexible teaching is what I grew up with. It is why I spent most of my secondary experience in the corridor. Sounds of "out the door miss McNeill" reverberate in my ears to this day, I still struggle with a stupidity complex and I bring this experience and undersanding to my student group many of whom have has similiar experiences.

Access and equity are the antithesis of inflexibility they are what flexible teaching is all about. Flexible teaching is about practicing this craft in a post modern world where we are aware of diversity and the uniqueness of individuals, where we appreciate the validity of different world views, different ways of being, different learning styles and dfferent learning needs.

Flexible teaching is about ensuring that as many students as possible can access material. Accessability is not just about physical access but about emotional, mental and spiritual access too but I will talk more abouty this under 'Cultural Sensitivity'.


Flexble Learning in Educational Settings

Well I have watched the Kaplan university adds 1 and 2 (an expensive looking add campaign), read Otago Poly's Charter (Which I am reasonably familiar with), listened to the ellumiate session with Phil Ker (which was fascinating) and then gone off and read a few colleagues blogs and plans. I found Helen's and Gary's particularly useful in terms of the upcoming task. I'm pleased to say that I am no longer a lurker - It's just because I now know how to leave comments! I have not carried out a formal interview with a colleague but I have talked a lot with my colleague David McQuillian who has been a huge inspiration for me so maybe I can talk about that a bit and add an interview at a later date.

I actually really enjoyed listening to members of EDC and Phil talking about fexible learning but I'm not sure if a distinction was made between 'flexible' and 'online' learning or not. Phil described the Polytechnics motives for flexible learning and these were summarised on the whiteboard as Access, Learner Autonomy and Cost Efficiencies. These motivations seem to be more alighned with online learning than with the much broader concept of flexible learning. Phil went on to describe what we mean by flexible learning which again emphasised ideas associated with online learning and gave the example of CAPL and the online development work of other schools. What I found particularly interesting was that when Phil talked about examples from his own teaching experience, they were not online examples, rather he talked about quality teaching, hours of planning in order to get the delivery just right, motivating and inspiring a passion for knowledge and learning in all his students. He talked about one group who maintained motivation because of weekly classroom sessions.

I think that flexible learning has become synonymous with online learning and that this is potentialy detrimental for quality education particularly in the current poltical economic environment. There is a danger of promoting online learning at the expense of providing quality education and I think that educationalists should take care not to get too caught up in the sensationalist aspects but rather try to maintain some focus in what is best for this group of students/ for this course etc. If flexible learning is at least in part about catering more to the needs of students rather than to the needs of teachers then it stands to reason that providing a quality education for all students could become more time consuming for teachers, more labour intensive and more rather than less expensive. Certainly online and self directed activities will meet some student's needs but there will always be student's whose needs require face to face and significant scaffolding. In a truly flexible environment the teacher would then be needing to run face to face sessions and online sessions which is in keeping with the idea of blended delivery.

Having said this, call me cynical but we are in a political and to some extent economic climate (I think in the current context the econonmic climate is enabling the political one) that requires a shift to online learning whether we like it or not. I think that if we are passionate about education we have a duty to jump on this band wagon, learn some skills and figure out how we can provide the most flexible learning environment possible for our students.

Reflecting a little bit more the climate isn't only one which is being imposed by political agenda and economic need, rather it is about social change. The world, what we think about knowledge and our right to access this is infinately different from what it was twenty years ago. I suspect educators who are refusing to go online will find themselves being left behind. I already see evidence of this in the groups I teach. Many of my students young and old have moved sgnificantly in the last few years, this year I still have students struggling with the idea of online resourses and I happily provide three students in my group with hard copies of the material. I also have 6 out of 16 students in this particular group using laptops in the class room which is very exciting but I am drifting somewhat off track.

The final point here is just to reiterate that I think flexible learning and online learning are two very different things. Online activities can potentially enhance my capacity to be a more flexible teacher but going online will not make me flexible. On the contrary going entirely online could be particularly inflexible.

Colleagues I have talked to in the massage course and midwife school who have successfully enhanced their capacity to offer flexible learning by going online have done so by offering a blended delivery. The massage course combines block face to face practical sessions with online theory. I think there is a lot of scope for this kind of delivery in my course. I found David's shift to online learning absolutely inspirational. I feel if massage can do it, then mental health support certainly can too. I have learnt a lot from David as he figures out the in's and outs of delivering his course online. One thing that he has suggested and which I will definatelty heed is the importance of setting the course up on an information management system like blackboard or Moodle. He set his students up from the outset on Blogs and does not think this was the most student friendly move. I will need to go back and interview him more formally to clarify his thinking here but it has rubbed off on me. I have also learnt about the use of google docs and google groups which are both tools I can see being very useful in my course.

A little bit more about blackboard - this time last year I had only used it as a student in my PD courses. My colleague Kate Timms introduced me to it more thoroughly and I now have most of my courses set up here. I am already finding blackboard a bit limiting but that said , I just feel so ignorant and like I have deprived my students of so much by not using this tool more thoroughly in the past. I can't wait to get my head around Moodle and move to that.

The mid wife course held a significant face to face orientation in which students learnt the necessary computing skills in addition to getting to know each other at an overnight camp. I think this would be an important aspect in scaffolding my students. I am also really excited by the work sarah stuart is doing with Second Life for the Mid Wife Course. I can see this potentially being a fabulous tool in my course. I think the thing for me to remember is to not try and do everything at once.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Student Safety in on line Forums

I've just been off visiting a site from the extra resources section open thinking educator. Knowing Leigh a little, I expect we were linked to that site because there is a significant and ongoing debate on that site about copyright and access to information. Leigh is big on the idea of free education and the theme is followed through in his second extra resources link.

I haven't actually formed an opinion on that topic yet but what interested me about the site was the intensity of the debate. It felt like any minute now they were going to start throwing things or hitting each other. Clearly participants were engaging by choice and could choose not to engage but it all started from one guy stating his vision for open education. In my student cohort there are always some very vulnerable students. I'm picturing one of them making an 'innocent' or perhaps niave value ridden statement and coming under public scrutiny and attack. That could be absolutely soul destroying and worse for some of my students. It is an issue that needs considerable thought in relation to online learning. Ensuring our students safety can be difficult enough in the face to face environment.

Thoughts on time

The work under 'Examples of Flexible Learning' just took me nearly three full days to complete. Given that I tend to work at a slower pace than most people and that our instructors estimated three weeks at 5 hours per week, I'd just like to say damn fine job of estimating the workload guys. I'm impressed. But I had better pick up the pace if I'm planning to catch up and be ready for my presentation next Friday. I do wish I was more able to do things superficially!!!


Thoughts on RPL

Well, Ive listened to Willies input on CAPL and RPL. The history was fascinating! I have worked with CAPL to RPL three students in the National Certificate in Mental Health. It was a fantastic process. I did think in some ways they ended up doing more work than the students enroled in my course, gathering evidence can be a huge task and I don't think it is always the easiest option.

I think there is a lot more scope for portfolio based assessment in my course where students gather their own evidence but I do think it is important that this does not become too big and too much about students proving endless bits of paper evidence otherwise how does it differ from them just doing course assessments? I do think in the RPL process the onus is on students to provide evidence but Like Willie explained in her example the facilitator has a responsibility to match the evidence provided with course outcomes and I think this definatley requires some flexibility and the capacity to see links or the big picture where others might not.

In our face to face session the other day Bronwyn was talkng about courses that start with a quizz where students can test their knowledge against course outcomes, If they pass the quizz they can move on to the next bit. If they don't, they do some activities then try again. I think this concept has huge potential as an evidence based portfolio made easy.

In my course I have endless unit standard performance criteria which the students have to provide evidence of meeting. The result is tedious workbook tasks which I give little weight to. The online self directed quizz approach would be an excellent way of managing this stuff efficiently for me and students - definatly something to work towards in my flexible delivery plan.

One thing Willie mentioned which I found particularly interesting was the idea that "we learn at our points of need...we learn when we need to learn". That is absolutely true of me. I have no room in my busy little head for learning things which aren't immediately applicable. If I can't apply learning immediately it doesn't tend to go in or if it makes it in, it gets lost in the wilderness and refuses to find its way back out!

I'm not sure though that this is true of everyone. I have a high tactile element in my learning style and I think the need to apply information in order to retain it is part of that learning style. Somehow the process of application activates my internal filing system and I can store the information such that it can be successfully retrieved (some might call this deep learning).

My husband is one of those walking encyclopedia types. He scores very low on tactile qualities but very high on visual (I have practically no visual). He has the capacity to retain and recall endless bits of random knowledge picked up from beer lids, tobacco pamphlets and matchbox lids. Actually he reads a lot of science and natural history journals too but the point is that he just kind of learns all the time and it's not on a need to know basis and he doesn't need to apply it in order to retain it.

Following my CAPL experience I made my students learning journal a much more significant aspect of their work. It is an ongoing year long assessment including some structured tasks given each term and other reflective exercises or personal journalling that the students can choose to do. There is one submission date per term and students can choose to submit or not. I set significant time and space aside for reading these assessments and providing formative feedback but there are no rights or wrongs. There is a final submission date at the end of the year and students know in advance that they have to be finished by then. The flexibility around submission for this assessment has been a very successful and entirely appropriate innovation given the nature and content of the task. It allows students to explore self at thier own pace . students

Colleagues have talked about using blogs for Journal assessments but blogs absolutely would not be appropriate for human service students doing this task. Students are not journalling about their flexible learning Journey, they are journalling their life story. In human service journals the focus is on self awareness - what makes them tick and learning about what to share, how to share it, what not to share, clarifying and establishing personal boundaries, figuring out why and how they respond or react the way they do, how life experiences have imacted on their values, attitudes and behaviours, acknowledging their values, strengths, risk area's, predjudices and so on. This level of self exploration is essential in human service work to prevent workers from imposing their values and cultural expectations on vulnerable clients but it can make some students feel very exposed and vulnerable and there are frequently times when students share highly personal, intimate or traumatic life events. I myself shared some very personal life experiences during my own social work training and I'm very glad I didn't do this online.

I have been thinking that an unpublished google doc shared between student and facilitator would be a good online journal tool as this would allow ongoing formative feedback to ecourage deeper reflection while protecting the student's privacy rights.

Even more thoughts on Fexibility!!!!!

I seem to be struggling to come up with creative names for this and my previous 2 posts which have been about completing the reading and post requirements for 'Examples of Flexible Learning'.

I have read past plans - all of them as I do appreciate the opportunity to learn by example. Check out the following 2008 participants. These were the plans and blogs I particularly enjoyed;
Kristi Carpenter from Occupational Therapy
Megan Gibbons from Sport and Adventure
Penelope Kinny from Occupational Therapy

Kristi mentioned the importance of flexibility in terms of assessment due dates which I think is a particularly interesting issue. I recently wrote a policy for our school to facilitate consistent practice in submission, extension, resubmit and resit processes. We now have a strict extension policy which is what my colleagues and I wanted but in fact this doesn't fit with my own philosophy or with my personal preference. Personally speaking I like autonomy. I like not to be treated or feel like a naughty child. I like to be left alone and have people trust that I will do the necessary tasks when I can. I have tended to apply this attitude in the programme I coordinate and it has worked - It means that I have to plan for bulk marking sessions and so I do. I feel uncomfortable imposing the extension policy that I wrote because actually it is punitive and in conflict with a flexible student centred practice.

What I particularly liked about Kristi's plan and reflection was that she was thinking in terms of the interactive face to face class room environment and how she might capture or mimic that atmosphere in an online setting. From my perspective this is the single most important thing I would like to achieve in an online learning environment. Interestingly colleagues in my field of practice who are anti online learning are so because they believe that the quality of face to face interaction can not be emulated on line. I am beginning to think otherwise and in fact I feel quite excited about the challange this brings. Clearly you can not capture non - verbal aspects of communication on line but I do think that online forums allow for a depth of reflection not always experienced in face to face settings. Another related thing that is beginning to excite me about online teaching is the extent to which students become exposed to their colleagues work. I always have an urge to copy the A+ submissions and hand them out to the class but in online learning everyone can have access to each others work and I think this has huge potential in terms of raising the quality of work accross the board. Instead of there being one teacher there are twenty! Very cool.

In her plan Megan talked about the shift from expert giver of knowledge (Lecturer) to 'Facilitator' . I think that perhaps this shift is organic when you have twenty students sharing on line. I recently introduced a group of students to Google Documents. I had only just been introduced to them myself and had very little idea about how they worked. We had great fun figuring it out together. Students are using the google docs to collaborate on group work assessment pieces. They have shared their documents with me so I can check in on their progress and give them ongoing feedback and suggestions. I also really like the increased capacity for formative feedback that online teaching enables.

Megan also mentioned that she had found blogs as a median for online role plays to be much better at facilitating student connection and engagement than the Blackboard discussion board had been. That doesn't surprise me. Blackboard has limited scope for personal expression so it's not surprising that it doesn't lend itself to community building.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More thoughts on Flexible Learning

Not entirely sure why we would watch the video promoting the University of London’s distance programme. Was their something specific we were supposed to gain from this?

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the recorded panel discussion on flexible learning but sound quality could have been better. Didn't stay for it all but picked up the following;

Robyn Jay described technology as an en-richer and enabler for adult students with literacy issues and I certainly see this as being significant in terms of flexibility.

Leigh Blackall questioned the extent to which technology does enhance and enrich learning when so many people struggle with it (was he playing the devil's advocate?). I think most of the struggle people have with technology is fear of the unknown and for adult students the fear of looking stupid. I don’t think this need be an issue if people are adequately supported or scaffolded in the first instance to develop the skills they need. This doesn’t just apply to technology but to any learning environment.

Stephan Ridgway noted that online learning assumes people are self directed learners and that not all people are. He noted that in any group there are always students who are more dependant than others. This is certainly a position that I take but I take it with the view that by the end of my course students will be independent learners. It seems to me that incorporating online skills into their course is in keeping with building their independence while not doing so is utterly disempowering.

David McQuillan suggested that not being self directed is the same as not being motivated. I just want to say that I think that self direction and motivation are two entirely different things. I suggest that the capacity for self directed learning is a learnt behaviour or a learnt skill while motivation is an attitude or state of mind. I have worked with students who are initially completly lacking in the ability to self direct but they are so motivated they not only master there illiteracy but they learn to manage their own learning in a year long course. I have also worked with students who are completely capable of self directed learning but entirely unmotivated. I think it is important to keep these too things quite separate.

David also drew attention to the fact that teaching the necessary technology can be built into a course. I agree but I think that getting this right would be difficult in a wholly distant course. I would always want to have a good week or two ice breaker and course orientation where there was an opportunity to get a sense of peoples needs in a face to face environment. I think something like 90% of communication is non verbal. You cannot pick up on the nonverbal cues – facial expressions, body language and spatial positioning on line but in two weeks of face to face at the outset, you could pick up on enough to put appropriate support in place.

Leigh suggested that perhaps flexible learning by which I’m sure he was meaning online learning in some ways targets people who are advanced learners. This takes me back to Robyn’s initial comment about technology being an en-richer and enabler for people with adult literacy issues.

In my view online learning need only cater to advanced or self directed learners if it is set up to do that. My thinking is that online learning provides the flexibility to cater to all learners and that the challenge for us as teachers is to set up our virtual learning environment in a way that manages this.