Neglected, not forgotten

Oh dear… here’s the end of August and no posts here since the beginning of the month! Well, I did say that I am not a natural blogger.

So, what have I been doing? Developing materials for what I am going to be teaching, of course. Turns out that one class requires the students to learn how to blog effectively, which reminded me that it was time I came here.

On the personal side, I was elected as one of the 2013 ENnies Judges. The ENnies are, you could say, the Oscars of the role-playing game industry (Dungeons & Dragons and the like, not computer games) only more democratic. The Judges are elected, then they read everything that’s submitted and prepare a nominations list – 5 nominations in each category – and then there is a public vote to pick the winners (and the following year’s Judges). My first crate of books has arrived and that’s another thing keeping me quiet.

Back to lesson planning for the time being…

On creative uses of blogging…

As I said yesterday, my purpose in setting up this blog is to reflect on my own learning. I’m not a natural blogger, but a couple of courses that I have taken encouraged if not actually required a reflective journal of some kind, and as I prepare to teach HE for the first time I thought I’d return to the practise… and indeed intend to recommend it to my students.

So, what are the benefits? A fundamental part of learning is thinking.

Sometimes, you find out what other people are thinking through discussion – and the good teacher encourages this. Good assignment-setting will also encourage students to express their thoughts on what they are learning as well as to demonstrate their mastery of the subject matter being taught. Yet participating in discussion or completing assignments is a bit narrow: the thoughts expressed will be focussed on the topic being discussed or the assignment being completed.

Encouraging students to maintain a reflective blog on their studies allows each student to talk about what is important, significant or just plain interesting to him. They can draw in external material and their own experiences, and will find that it aids in organising their thoughts and enriches the whole learning experience. Sharing it with anyone else, even the teacher, is optional although to be encouraged. Reading a fellow student’s blog can give you new insights into material that you have already considered and think that you understand. It can also suggest new areas to explore to the teacher , based on what students are finding interesting… or challenging.

Why Elephant Child?

I am setting up this blog to organise my thoughts and reflections on whatever I am learning at the moment… with me, learning is an ongoing process, feeding the elephant’s child.

Whilst I regard any day in which I do not learn something as having been wasted, I am lucky enough to have done plenty of formal organised study (although I wish I’d latched on to how much fun it is a bit earlier – I was 18 and one week into university when the whole thing clicked!).

Right now I am doing a course ‘Internet History, Technology and Security’ at a wonderful online site called Coursera. This site offers free distance learning courses delivered by eminent lecturers at some very good schools. The instructor of this course is a University of Michegan professor called Charles Severance. Although there’s no academic credit to be gained, this is a ‘proper’ course with assignments and an end-of-course examination.

It’s not the first bit of distance learning that I have done. Started off with the old-school approach from the Open University – hey, wait a moment. I really started LEARNING in the traditional ‘bums on seats’ style at University College Cardiff (which doesn’t exist any more, its successor is Cardiff University) with a BSc in Botany, followed by research for a DPhil at the University of York. Then came the OU – first a course in electronics (as I was a school laboratory technician at the time and wanted to learn about the kit I was putting out for the children to use) followed later on by a slew of courses in their MSc Computers in Commerce and Industry programme once I’d settled down into my next career as a computer scientist (there were no jobs around for academic botanists at the time!). That was in the days when you watched lectures on TV (usually at ungodly hours), received books in the post, sent assignments in by mail and trundled off to take end-of-course examinations in halls they hired for the purpose.

With the rise of the Internet, distance learning has flourished of course. I did some real distance learning with the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand (as I live in Cheshire, it’s hard to put much more distance into your learning than the Antipodes!) – a couple of courses relating to the Moodle VLE – that’s Virtual Learning Environment, a core component of e-learning – which I already knew how to use, but it was fun learning why things I knew worked were so effective, both in administering the system at a technical level and in developing courses for it. Reflective blogging was a mandatory part of those courses, so about a year later I’m getting back into the habit off my own bat!

I have also been studying for an MA Education: Leadership and Management at Edge Hill University: completed the first unit then had to put things on hold as I was unemployed and they said I had to be working in a suitable educational establishment to continue. Now I am back in harness as an IT Lecturer at West Lancashire College, maybe I shall blow the dust off and complete it.

Am I nuts? Probably. But learning is a life-long pleasure. When I stop learning, send for the undertaker.

Set Your Controls…

by Megan Robertson on 24 Jul 2012 10:03

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The next part of OER1 looks at setting aims and objectives for your learning object. There are some useful suggestions about the differences between aims and objectives – the aim being the overall intent and the objectives being precise targets in terms of knowledge and skills that you want your learners to achieve.

It’s a bit like the difference between strategy (capture that castle) and tactics (we’ll bombard it with trebuchets and dig tunnels to undermine the walls) 🙂

Some clear suggestions are given about terminology, the sort of language to use when setting those aims and objectives to create the effect that you want. Basically, state objectives in terms of what a successful student will be able to do to demonstrate to others that he’s mastered the material!

A less helpful suggestion (for me, at least!) is that of mapping out what you want to achieve diagrammatically – spider diagrams and mind maps… never really liked them even when I could draw and sketch by hand. (There’s a suggestion that those unused to this methodology can find out more in a couple of other OpenLearn units, possibly worth a look so that I can support those students who DO find them helpful! The constant battle to ensure material is presented in a way that works for the students, not for me.)



Planning learning materials

by Megan Robertson on 20 Jul 2012 09:54

Friday, 20 July 2012

At the college where I have just started work, we have learners from Level 1 (as in, left school with no qualifications) to HE students, a mix of post-16 entrants (at Levels 1-3) and older people coming back to education at all levels. All come in for face-to-face lessons, but – especially at higher levels – they need to be supported in independent study as well. Coming from a Sixth Form College background, where I ran the Moodle and taught Computing/ICT, I’m used to using a VLE to support delivery. Here, they had Blackboard but this is supposed to be being changed (what to, I haven’t found out yet) over the summer.

A particular challenge, I have learned, is with students embarking on HE who have previously studied Level 3 here and who can struggle with the different style of learning at that level. So I am planning induction materials to cover study skills (the good resources here are why I came to the LearningSpace in the first place, then got sidetracked onto OER1 ‘cos it looked interesting and useful) and effective Internet search and evaluation.

Concepts and operations

by Megan Robertson on 19 Jul 2012 10:39

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Continuing my reading of OER1 with a brief overview of copyright & the benefits of Creative Commons licensing (copyleft as it’s sometimes known). Nothing new but a useful reminder and an interesting analysis of the benefits and disadvantages of taking this approach to the construction of learning resources. On the whole, I’m in favour of it, if only because I’ve learned loads from others and like to put something back. The whole point of MoodlePoodle is sharing ideas about e-learning…

Then the next task, to read an extract about what research has to say about well-structured online learning. Like the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand course in developing materials for Moodle, this is a nice distillation of things that experience has shown me work, again helping me understand why it is that they are effective.

Key points include directed interaction between students, building a community amongst learners (which requires effort and intervention from course facilitators), involvement in activities (else you might as well give your learners a book to read!), feedback on how well individuals are doing with the course (through quizzes, assessments, peer review), support available for those who struggle… and some element of control by the learner of their learning.

Interesting diagram of different ‘types’ of course, suited to different cohorts of learners, with advice as to how to use each style to best effect.

Then a task, to specify what part of the diagram the OpenLearn courses looked at earlier fit into best. I would think the ‘NW’ one (teacher determined, task specific)… which also happens to be the one I find easiest to learn from. And there’s the rub: there is always a tendency to teach (or write resources) in a way that you would like to be taught, which often isn’t the way the real live learners in your classroom or on your website want to learn.

In searching for ideas specifically for HE, the SW quadrant, teacher-determined open-ended strategic learning activities, sounds appealing: give the students a solid foundation which they can use as a springboard to base independent learning in whatever direction appeals to them. There’s good stuff in all the styles, though, and a blend may work even better.


Initial Explorations

by Megan Robertson on 17 Jul 2012 14:09

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Looking at concepts inherent in ‘open’ online learning materials, including a survey of some of the emergent online courses (primarily HE) – see Online Learning (guest access is activated) – and which has led me to start reading through OER1: Creating open educational resources in the OU’s LearningSpace.

This is beginning with analysis of terminology (always a good start, you need to have common ground on what you are talking about!) and a scan of some of the ideas floating around.

It’s a useful learning process as I am preparing to teach HE for the first time, and need to be able to present my classes appropriately, giving students guidance about how to learn as well as access to the knowledge and skills that they will need to complete their course.

The first task in the OER1 course is to explore several other LearningSpace courses… so off I go.

First up: E500_10 Play, learning and the brain

  • the intended learning outcomes: It’s an Intermediate level course about brain development in the young with a particular emphasis on learning.
  • the activities that learners are asked to do: Emphasis on reading papers and undertaking quizzes, interleaved throughout the learning materials.
  • the range of media that are employed: some quite neat interactive event-driven diagrams (probably Flash), good inline links to papers and other references.
  • the teaching sequence: logical and quite linear.
  • Personal notes: Whilst this is about Early Years, it looks to have a few interesting thoughts about older children’s learning, & as a primary school governor might be worth more considered reading than I have time for now.

Next, MU120_1 Maths everywhere

  • the intended learning outcomes: basically to start thinking like a mathematician as you view the world around you.
  • the activities that learners are asked to do: Whilst billed as ‘introductory’ you need to have got hold of a scientific calculator and a book about it before you even start!
  • the range of media that are employed: active reading, video clips, images of other people’s mathematical notes… 
  • the teaching sequence: quite logical (this is mathematics, after all) and each step is clearly explained – how to be an active reader or to use video clips as part of the learning process.
  • Personal notes: More useful ideas here, like making sure learners know what they are supposed to do with the resources you put in front of them!

Footnote: This was initially written in the OU’s Learning Journal space, but just after I started mine they decided to discontinue the facility so I’ve started a WordPress blog & moved the few posts made so far over here.