Conferences, Digital Champions, and MOOCs

The last few weeks have been really enriching at a personal level in the sense I have participated in several different events. Some as a speaker/trainer; others simply as a delegate. These days, it is hard for someone to go to an event and not have an active role. Usually we go to present our work; and not solely to absorb the experiences others have to share. In a way, this is unfortunate because I think sometimes I spend more time stressing  over  my presentation  than I do concentrating on other people’s contributions. Yet, sharing our work is also important as it enables us to establish new contacts, talk to people who might have similar experiences, etc. In short I can’t decide which one is better, the stress of presenting or the comfort of being a delegate. I think both are important.

A couple weeks ago I went to Southampton to attend the Digital Literacies conference organised by CITE (Hugh Davis, Lisa Harris, and Fiona Harvey). It was a magnificent event. I loved the fact that they are developing really innovative initiatives that really put the learners at the centre. It’s nice to see this happening in Higher Education and having the support of the people above (the management team). The Digital Champions initiative is a proof of that. I wish (or better, I hope) that in the future we are able to develop a similar approach in my own institution.

 

As part of the event students enrolled on to another really impressive initiative – the multi-disciplinary module on Living and Working on the Web – presented their experiences in developing digital literacies and what it means to their present and future careers.

To know how to use the web smartly is becoming more and more important. And this not only applies to young generations, but to people from all ages, different sectors and backgrounds. The problem here is to convince not only such target audiences, but also those who are managing lifelong learning programmes for their communities. There is still a lot of prejudice about offering such opportunities to older, more experienced generations under the pretext they aren’t really into it. Yet, if this is the way forward aren’t we letting down those who want to up skill or re-skill in a market that is increasingly digital? I still don’t have a lot of answers, but recent talks with peers in and outside my own institution tells me this is becoming an issue as our own perception of who should be using social media is the first real obstacle. :-(

 

I started a MOOC this week… well I started a week late because I was reliant on a notification from the course leader that either never arrived or landed in my spam box. Anyway, after experiencing the pre-MOOCs via the Webheads in Action (to whom I owe all my enthusiasm for social forms of learning and the media that can support it) I did have a go at the first MOOCs in 2008 and 2009… but I was never really convinced by them simply because they were rather overwhelming, not only in terms of the number of people they attracted but  also, and mostly, because of the cliques it managed to generate. Learning technologist learning about learning technologies is a bit of a biased practice. It can become a vicious cycle of reporting about the same experiences all over again, without much of a challenge.

When Coursera and other similar initiates came along, I resisted it! Or better put, I signed up to some of the course simply to observe how they were being conducted… I did not engage.
A couple of weeks ago I made the conscious decision of enrolling to a course I know very little about. I chose the History of Rock – Part I because it is a topic that appeals to me (not that I can play or sing any kind of music. I can hardly dance too, but I like a good gig!). As I mentioned before I arrived late to the course… in week 2! But I have now started using the resources. I like the videos. They are short and concise in the message they aim to convey, and Professor John Covach is an eloquent speaker. [The teacher as a performer is content for another post though ...] The quizzes are also OK as a mini challenge… as a form of testing myself. But that is just for me.  There are also discussion fora but I haven’t yet had any patience for those. The threads either don’t interest me or have grown too long for me to plough trough. My fault, I know. …

As far as this MOOC goes, I like it. I like it for its subject area. Yet, I don’t think there is anything there that is new or radically different from other forms of enabling learning in the classroom. And maybe that is not the purpose. Yet, I’d  like to see more of the idea of “students as creators” in MOOCs …but then we would have a problem of support! [having said that, I do like watching the videos. It's like watching youtube videos, something I have grown quite fond of as part of my learning strategy...]

This week Professor Martin Weller wrote a very thought provoking post about the role of MOOCs if education is/were free. I think that is a very good point. I don’t see MOOCs as replacing Higher Education. They are not inclusive at all. And in most cases, they are used as a marketing tool, thus, in my opinion, defeating that philanthropic purpose of “openness” . The way I see it, the value of Universities offering open courses is in providing opportunities for people to learn subjects they would probably not formally enroll to or pay for … as in my case with the “history of the Rock”!!  I’m simply curious. I have no potential of becoming an artist or even a music historian. I like the fact that I can do it without the pressure of formal assessment. So I see MOOCs as a way of HEIs, as publicly funded institution, proving a service to the wider community. Yet, I fear that MOOCs are mainly serving those who are already highly educated and see this as an opportunity to enhance their skills. Moreover, what I miss in MOOCs is the familiarity of smaller networked learning initiatives where people really develop learning interrelationships based on the affinities they share. I am sorry to say this, but nothing tops the Webheads in Action on this matter. Yet, I recognise that things have moved on. The “web population” has increased dramatically since their first course in 2002… but I feel we need more human touch in the way we deploy these technologies for learning. As  Ursula Franklin so rightly puts it, Technology is not only an artifact, but a system of social practices!

 

*Apologies for the ramblings. It has been extremely difficult for me to write in the last few weeks. I’m going through yet another “writer’s block”, I guess.