Lesley's learning journey, 14th January 2013 (3)

Another obstacle - get out the machete!

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Lesley Shield
14 January 2013

The longer I spend in the MOOC, the more divided my opinions become. On the positive side, I like the diversity of participants, the eclecticism that brings to the experience. Like all social experiences, it's kind of addictive. I find myself regularly checking to see if anyone's visited or commented on my 'clouds'

(I *so* want to make a response at some point that contains the words, 'you', 'offa' 'cloud','hey', ,'my', 'get' - reorganise to make a well-known phrase or saying. Watch this space to find out if I succeed,,,)

On the other hand, though, I look in dismay at the competition that's promoted - what's your reputation, eh?) and at the lack of inclusivity promoted by synchronous events timed in the middle of the working day.. In any massive environment, someone will attend because the time zone will make it appropriate to do so or, in this case, because this is something of a test, out of interest to see how it's run. The danger is that these attendances will lead the designers to believe that such events are easy to attend. They aren't. Synchronicity in distance learning can be extremely divisive at many different levels. I say this as someone who played a fairly large role in the introduction of synchronous comms for language learning at the OU. Being on the receiving end, I understand much better the concerns raised by students who couldn't join. Synchronous events need to be planned and scheduled well in advance, part time, distance learners can't just fit something into their lives without due notice. Furthermore, their circumstances may not allow it; imagine a family with one computer. How could the student reasonably demand a) access to that device with only a few hours' warning and, on b) on top of that, that everyone should keep quiet while the synchronous event occurs. It may be possible if you have your own space at work and a job that permits you to study during work time, but that simply isn't realistic for most people.

'But', you say, 'the session can be recorded so people can view it later'. Well,it can, but the experience isn't the same, or, in my view, even comparable so is divisive from that point of view. Then the ethics of recording participants is a minefield. You don't want to be recorded or videoed? Well, you can't contribute... And so it goes.

I do wonder increasingly whether all this 'openness' takes into account diversity of needs,of emotions, of learning preferences and of individuality.

The joy of the MOOC is that it gives me the opportunity to reflect on both benefits and drawbacks and to consider how or if the challenges might be addressed.

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Stephen Bright
11:12pm 15 January 2013


Good point Lesley. Recently we have had requests at my university for web-based synchronous videoconferencing tools and I am more than a little uneasy that this is simply the easiest way for lecturers to replicate their 'one-way transmission' pedagogy (perhaps with a short time for questions at the end). Rather than re-thinking their learning activities to creative more interactive and engaging ways of students to learn the stuff. :-) 

Lesley Shield
10:27am 16 January 2013 (Edited 10:28am 16 January 2013)


My experience of this is based on working in audiographics environments - some of which support video conferencing. There are some real technical and pedagogical issues - bandwidth not the least of them. 

I remember in the 1990s and early 2000s talking to those working with point to point videoconferencing. They all said students turned it off and focused on the audio stream because they didn't find seeing their interlocutors particularly useful. Research in Korea - not sure if it's published - has implied that younger students prefer to see avatars of their interlocutors than the 'real thing' - not as in graphical virtual worlds but as in still pictures... 

For some disciplines, videoconferencing can be useful. But not for everything. As  you say, Stephen, it's all too easy to use the 'transmission' (and 'transfer') model. From my experience of audiographics, students, too, like this model. They're used to it. It isn't challenging. And if it's recorded, so much the better because they don't even need to pay much attention if they bother to attend the synchronous version! I do it myself, I know; drift off into a daydream, do email, chat with friends on facebook, etc. if I'm attending a presentation that doesn't grab my attention!

But shouldn't we be challenging these models? They're not very inclusive, particularly in terms of widening participation, it seems to me, particularly in the sort of scenario I've outlined above. And what about those students who don't have access to a computer at home (more than we imagine!) and have to use e.g. libraries?

So much to think about, so much to consider...

Jonathan Vernon
9:36pm 22 January 2013


i really like this very important reminder of where 'hard working people' are most of the day. I hate the phrase but this usually implies that some poor soul has to get up early to commute into aplace of work where they are generally fully occupied all day. They have other responsibilities too. And might be living in Japan so want any synchronous activity coming out of Europe to be very earky morning. Here's a challenge then - run a synchronous event over six to eight hours say 8.00am to 2.00pm with a series of speakers to host, content recorded and looped on the hour or 90 minutes - in order to feel that a global audience could participate.

Jonathan Vernon
9:57pm 22 January 2013


Hi Leslie, i did just read that indeed a non-human presenter is sometimes preferred - a basic cartoon. Easier to identify with?

Lesley Shield
10:02pm 22 January 2013


You did, Jonathan. The reason isn't entirely clear, but it's something to do with separating online/offline identity. I don't think the research has been published, but it's an interesting avenue. It could also be a cultural preference.

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