Monday, March 26, 2007

Blogs, reflection and assessment

Another issue that kept nagging at me throughout the Shock of the Social conference was the way blogs are being used in some Universities.

I was quite shocked to find that informal, reflective tools were being used in a very controlled manner: Writing blogs would form part of the assessment process and in some instances their use would be very much controlled by the tutor: make people write a mini-essay posting and make other students comment.

In my view this takes away the strength of the tool: instead of fostering individual reflection and critical thinking about certain subjects that the student is interested in, it makes a blog into another tool to satisfy the needs of the tutor and the institution.

The writing by Boud and Walker (2002, p94) would suggest that reflection on demand does not work. Although they emphasise the importance of reflection in context, embedded in the learning activities, they point towards a carefully balanced process in which reflection is linked to conceptual frameworks and learning outcomes, but is not prescribed by the tutor. In their view, 'writing a 'reflective journal' [, which a blog is,] and the 'expectation that they will be read by an assessor leads some students to censor their reflections so much that they fail to engage with their felt experience and avoid learning'. The role of the tutor would be to balance between 'recipe - following' and providing enough guidance to avoid students losing focus.

The argument for including blogs as assessment at the conference was that if not linked to assessment, people would not use them.

You would have to question if blogs were right for purpose to the activity in which they were being used.
I am an educator with first hand experience of how students used asynchronous discussion boards while the activity was included and not included in the assessment process. I know that including them ensured that people used the tools, but not in the way I would have liked them to: It made them write mini-essays for me, rather than that they communicated with each-other over course concepts.

I think it would be a shame for blogs to be used in this way as in my view it destroys their potential for reflection. Perhaps it would work to only make the use of blogs compulsory, but to not prescribe and control the way they were being used.
Boud and Walker referred to papers in which it was advocated to assess reflective journals in terms of reflective writing, rather than in terms of standard academic writing. This might be another option to make them part of the formal educational structure.

Second Life

At the 2007 The Shock of The Social conference in Oxford in the UK last week, I had my first experience of Second Life. An enthusiast showed us how he bought clothes, gave hair to his person that flew us around the virtual world. Showed us adults flying planes along interesting buildings and led us to a university area. He showed us to an educational presentation area as well.

I have to say I did not feel comfortable playing a computer game like this and was wondering if it really is the way forward in engaging our future learners as some learning technologists might like us to believe. Was Lyotard right after all in his final book to be concerned about us moving towards an inhuman society? How far will we remove ourselves from reality?

It makes me wonder if the real world has become so complex that people have the feeling they are no longer in control and see playing a game in which they can control their imaginary lives and living in a dream world, as the way out.

The Net has given us a great opportunity to connect with people all over the world in a variety of networks and to me that is one of its major strengths. Although this is Second Life's strength as well, the unnatural 'game-like' atmosphere could make that people will use their other networks instead.

Educause has a feature here on the uses in education.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

YouTube ethnography project

I have followed with interest the videos that have appeared in YouTube in relation to Web2.0. The original one made by the Digital Ethnography group from Kansas State University gave a view on Web 2.0 in which learning technologists and other enthusiasts can recognise their current work.

Cory the Raven posted a counter video on YouTube that questions what this kind of medium has to offer in addition to traditional media such as text and film.

The video itself has a very interesting pace to it and I would say the number of comments, communications and discussions on YouTube at the moment, ranging from McLuhan to Welsh, show that the level of communication that has been made possible through the Internet has changed these two older media into something new. It has made that text and film have been transformed from one-to many media in broadcasting mode, into many-to-many media, where information and discussion encourage the creation of knowledge. This in my view makes a big difference. The information is discussed and reactions to the older media mean that new thoughts and ideas are created. The videos have already been viewed by more than a million people and hundreds of comments have been made.

I agree with Cory that it is becoming problematic that half the population is not taking part in the online discussions. It makes that the knowledge in networks is less reliable, as it might only paint a one-sided picture on a subject. As somebody who has worked hard over the past five years to engage people with technology it seems a waste that a vast number of people are excluded from valuable learning opportunities. It seems to me that the higher the rate of convergence of technologies, the faster the engagement of disengaged people will be: the easier and cheaper it will be to access technology on digital televison or mobile phone, the quicker people will be tempted to take part.

Cory seems overly concerned with the move from living in the real world to living in a virtual world. It reminds me of Lyotard's final book in which he was very concerned about the move humans are making towards the 'inhuman'. I would argue that most people who venture online are firmly grounded in the real world and that problems in the real world quite often make that people move online to find information and to discuss whatever makes them tick in reality.

The Net-generation and confidence

I have just spent a very frustrating afternoon trying to get all the features back on my computer that were there before my 16 year old son wiped my profile and restored the default. You will probably say, you could have avoided this by password protecting the profile, but I have never liked to do this as I feel it is important for Pieter to know that I trust him to stay out of the areas on my machine that he should not be touching. He has a brand new very good computer him self! It surprises me how (over)confident the net-generation is. They dare to tackle any problem on a computer and think they know all the solutions to problems relating to their needs. They don't always take into account the needs of other people!

I have to retract these last sentences as Pieter just asked me why I wouldn't just do a 'systems restore'. Of course I have to admit that his confidence might be justified as I have all precious files, folders and feeds back.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Research methods

At the moment I am thinking about research methods that could capture the new developments in technology. I am especially interested in personalisation and 'free-roaming' across Internet networks. If students have more control over their learning and move outside the formal educational setting, it will be much harder to track their 'knowledge creation'.

I am thinking of using Social Network Analysis techniques to analyse what actually happens in networks. How easy/hard is it to be accepted in a network and to learn from people and information flows in networks? How important is the communication that takes place? Is 'parallel learning' as mentioned by George Siemens on his connectivism blog at all possible, or as Bill Kerr post in his learningevolves blog, do people advocating 'connectivism' take their thinking too far and deny the importance of the individual and the learning that occurs inside their heads? How dense are these networks and how diverse are the participants?

I am also considering the use of integrated design research frameworks, as advocated by Terry Anderson' at the 'Connectivism' conference, to see if they would capture all aspects of an intervention to move to a more negotiated, personalised online learning experience. As I am most interested in the learner experience, I am not convinced that such a structured approach would be suited to research educational processes as they are usually 'too messy' as researcher, tutor, learner, design and context all interact. This might mean that an ethnographic approach would work better to capture all the connections.