Predicting the Future = Knowing the Past

I made a comment during the first week of reading in the Current/Future State of Higher Education (#cfhe12), lamenting the lack of readings that withstood academic rigor, most notably through the journal process.  Academic journals are a source of contention and fight in open access circles (#oped12), and there are a number of journals that have already gone open access, continuing to vet and peer-review rigorous research while opening its books to anyone interested.

The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning is such an open journal, and readings from it have helped guide my understanding of the history of distance and online education.  Within its electronic pages I have found history, perspective, dissent, and most importantly theoretical and research rationale for posits and claims.  So I wonder why, at this point in my cMOOC readings for cfhe12 and oped12, I have not found any articles from this journal, considering the ones I have encountered so far paint a great road map leading us from the dawn of industrial education to the massification precipice we are at today.

Today I read Terry Anderson’s 2003 look at the importance of interaction in learning, and putting theory in place for instructional designers and distance/online educators.  This is in a personal effort to fully grasp the history of distance education, its relationship to the MOOC movement (whether that be cMOOC or xMOOC), and determine the learning theories at the heart of this movement.  What really caught my eye:

  • Anderson is a leading figure at Athabasca University, a Canadian university that has pioneered both the open education movement as well as distance learning.  So when he says the seminal thinkers in this field are Daniel and Marquis, those names go into the TO READ section.
  • Anderson does not come to a clean conclusion on what interaction is in relation to education…and for good reason; there are a lot of authors with a lot of opinions, and Anderson is focused in distance education, while the extreme majority of research on education looks at traditional, face-to-face ed.  I spent a lot of time thinking about interaction when doing my comprehensive project prior to dissertation; I was attempting to design a learning model for museum education that would promote authentic interaction between subject and object.  For me, authentic was the opposite of rote; I wanted individuals to have the opportunity for uniqueness rather than conformity in their interaction.  Interaction can be as benign as following a worksheet; while a student would be interacting with content through that mechanism, behaviorist lessons are an example of low-hanging fruit and do not (in my opinion) aspire to the potential of authentic interaction, where a student works with the content in such a way that a change happens to the student through working with the content (and some would say a change happens to the content as well).  As I read over this, I kind of see interaction as the place a teacher (in the traditional sense) fills in the Student ——-> Content journey, and this interaction could reasonably equal pedagogy.
  • From the paper:  interaction in formal education contexts is specifically designed to induce learning directed towards defined and shared learning objectives or outcomes.  We could go in all sorts of directions with learning analytics here, but I will stick with theory.  If interaction is directed toward defined objectives or outcomes, we are defining learning by something we can measure.  In that end, the measurement tool is just as important (to the system) as the content and interaction.  If our tools are designed for ease and simplicity, so will be the interaction between student and content.
  • Again from the paper, and here is the rub:  Deep and meaningful formal learning is supported as long as one of the three forms of interaction (student–teacher; student-student; student-content) is at a high level. The other two may be offered at minimal levels, or even eliminated, without degrading the educational experience.  High levels of more than one of these three modes will likely provide a more satisfying educational experience, though these experiences may not be as cost or time effective as less interactive learning sequences.  Anderson comes to this conclusion through a mix of literature (which he unfortunately does not provide in detail, referencing a “classic debate” between scholars Clark and Kozma that I have no reference for), a lack of research consensus, and his own anecdotal thoughts.  It will take some combing to see what the others were talking about, but going from my personal history and research, I have trouble weighing the three forms of interaction equally here, as well as being able to cast off two of them for a buffered third.  Of course, this theorem would seem to be at the heart of the xMOOC system, which is designed to focus heavily on the student-content interaction, while providing a smattering of student-student, and leaving out student-teacher.
  • The classroom delivery section of the paper discusses how the lecture is an antiquated measure designed at a time when scholars dictated a hand-scribed book to followers.  Anderson says that in a world of free and ubiquitous content, the lecture will go away and be replaced…but in the xMOOC model, the lecture is still the focal point of the course.  Perhaps here is part of the struggle between open access and the existing educational hierarchy…is the value in the content, or in the brand delivering it (#oped12)?
  • The correlation between distance education as a method of delivering high-quality education by focusing extensively on developing student-content interactions is a mirror to the xMOOC style.
  • In the section on audio and video conferencing, Anderson mentions that faculty often utilize the new technologies as a way to transfer existing practices (i.e., lecture) to a more flashy medium.  Anderson notes that if the technology is utilized to build up interactions in different ways (student-student side chat, student-teacher FAQ, student-content hyperlinks), students show greater satisfaction with their learning.
  • Anderson sees the LMS as an opportunity for greater student-student interaction. On its own, it’s an interesting idea, but taken with everything else in this section, it’s kind of fascinating…while Anderson himself states that learning outcomes can be stabilized and kept strong if one of the three interactions is high, he continues to go to student-student as an ideal format for learning.  This would make sense, as he spends some time on social cognition early in the paper, but would undercut the axiom he provides.  If student-student is the ideal interaction (that would be a theoretical proposition), then methods to increase that are the ideal methods to increase educative outcomes (pedagogical intervention).  How can distance education do such a thing? And if it can, how can it in the massified future of ed?

A paper worth pondering…

7 thoughts on “Predicting the Future = Knowing the Past

  1. Pingback: Social Learning in Independent Spaces? | All MOOCs, All The Time

    1. Rolin Moe Post author

      Is that a relic of the lecture/gatekeeper model? Is that changing with new faculty? Also, what are universities and places of higher Ed doing different in the realm of assisting noob profs with pedagogy? What do you see in your NITLE travels?

      Heck, an intro to the TPACK model would be at least a start.

      1. Bryan Alexander

        I’m basing this on years of studies, such as the Campus Computing Project. I’ve run the observations past academic/educational computing people at different campuses, including NITLE Network ones, and nobody disagrees. Heck, Mike Wesch told me he uses an LMS… as a ereserves tool.

        New faculty: perhaps. They’re more likely to use blogs than their elders, but more for professional than pedagogical purposes. Then again, it’s hard to track off-campus tools they use.

  2. Emily

    Thank you for delving into this topic. I’ve been disappointed at the lack of peer-reviewed research in CFHE12, too. Your pointers to this paper and journal are very helpful.

    I also have a degree in instructional design, and have been saying for years that technology excels at delivering content and doing some types of evaluation – but where we really need to focus is on interactions (stu/content, stu/stu, stu/fac).

    Building interaction into courses takes a lot of time and know-how. In my department, classes have 108 students, so increasing stu/fac interaction is extremely difficult. Still, increasing stu/stu interaction can be immensely helpful…if we can get faculty to try it. It’s happening slowly, though, and it makes me wonder: How much of this is going to change if we never teach faculty how to teach?

    1. Rolin Moe Post author

      Great points. It’s really interesting that institutions have devoted time and resources into instructional design, yet have not realized an investment in professional development earmarked for pedagogy is necessary as well.

      1. Emily

        One of the issues I hear cited (by administration) is “academic freedom,” which seems to translate to “we aren’t allowed to tell faculty what to do or how to teach.” I find myself puzzled by this because I’ve not been acculturated into that society, I guess. Why ever not? Do employers not ask specific things of employees? Are we not a teaching institution?

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