ETC – Semester 1 review

My learning environment - original
My learning environment – original

In week three of Education Technology & Communication, I produced a map of my personal learning environment (pictured), taking into account a range of elements that I felt were important to my ecology of resources – those of both my physical and emotional/intellectual environment, and the course and university itself.

At the time, I viewed these things mainly as literal resources (things I could use to learn or assist in learning) or as enablers/detractors of learning (such as coffee, cats and my level of distractability). I have revisited a section of this in light of some other elements of semester 1, specifically the elements relating to the course content and resources.

My learning environment (part) - amended
My learning environment (part) – amended

I skimmed over these initially, and in thinking about the filters in place I’ve highlighted the different influences over the course structure and content, and the format in which it was delivered. I think the primary influence is the lecturer – their perspective and interests, and their interpretation of the material, how to order it and what should be included or not.

I think the course itself is well designed and paced, however in terms of the way the content is presented, there are definite improvements that could be made. The long page and text-heavy nature of each week means that the readings and activities are poorly flagged and require close reading in order to identify. One way of improving this would be to implement a study plan section which clearly identifies the elements expected of a student during the week.  An example of this, developed by one of my colleagues would be as follows:

Sample module - Study Plan
Sample module – Study Plan
Sample Module - Week Contents
Sample Module – Week Contents

The subsequent content is then organised into sections, using the icons at the top to flag different elements (the icons can be created/customised to fit the subject area and content types used).  The result is a cleaner interface for the student, with the course requirements clearly demarcated.

The course content is also fairly heavy on reading – I often find myself searching out videos on youtube to help remember or simplify concepts.  The readings are also often quite long and complex, which after a full day of work can be difficult to contemplate. I have at times found myself having to split one 30-40 page reading over 3 (or even more) evenings. Having direct links to reputable sources in other formats would help here I think. For instance, I found lectures by Etienne Wenger on youtube, and I was able to get more out of these than simply reading the paper allowed.

Additionally, I found a number of references to the Digital Media & Information Literacy (DMIL) course frustrating, since I am not doing this module this year – so papers, readings and concepts were referenced that I didn’t have accessed to, or hadn’t been flagged previously. I appreciate that there is crossover, but if this is being done it’s important to take into account that not everyone will be familiar with this material, or be able to access it (or even understand it from a single incomplete reference).

 

Heutagogy

I think that given the right conditions, people can learn how to teach themselves, and find their path to their own self-determined learning experiences.  The problem seems to me though to be one of capacity and opportunity, in terms of the learner themselves, our education system, and the information landscape we all inhabit.

Our education system is wired in much the same way it has been since the beginning of universal school-based education in western society – as Ken Robinson describes, children are educated in batches according to their date of production; formal education seems to produce conformism and massively decrease creativity.  For people to be truly heutagogical animals, everyone must be given the tools to develop the necessary skills and also the outlook or will to use them – maintenance of curiosity and creativity, and the drive to question.

The internet also poses problems, particularly in light of current trends in information production and dissemination.  A vast amount of information is available very easily.  This makes the task of filtering that information very important, particularly in a complex field.  There aren’t necessarily good tools available that can help the learner to filter for themselves when they by definition of their learner status may not have the skills to make wise choices about the validity and relevance of the sources they happen to encounter.  The ‘hard won knowledge’ of others is easy to miss, or dismiss in the informational miasma of the internet, especially when in some cases the waters are purposefully muddied.

Additionally, heutagogy, reliant as it is on the individual themselves directing their own learning, is not especially useful for skills-based areas where there is a distinct right and wrong answer, method or outcome.  For example, one cannot simply pick one’s own route when it comes to medicine or the law and hope to achieve consistency between practitioners.  If a radiologist is preparing a report for a CT scan, there needs to be reproducibility in the way that scan is read and reported, since these things will have an impact on the patient’s prognosis and subsequent treatment.

For such situations, heutagogical approaches may be useful as an adjunct, but in my opinion can never replace instructional design as a basic building block of such learning.

 

Personal impacts

From my own point-of-view, before starting the MA:DTCE I had completed a course on Coursera, ‘Learning How to Learn’, and I think that some of the elements of this course have both proved useful in, and been reinforced by the ETC module.

The Coursera course was about empowering individuals to understand how we learn, and how to harness that knowledge to direct your own learning – I think this is effectively teaching one how to enact a heutagogical approach, including explicitly calling out effective and ineffective study skills.

In particular, this course has informed my approach to studying this module; how I schedule my study sessions, how to increase my concentration and retention, spaced repetition techniques, maintaining motivation, and ways to avoid procrastination.  As a result, I have found it significantly easier to keep up with the pace of the course, and have not fallen behind at any point.

Where this fell short for me was in the level of study; I didn’t have a yardstick to compare this course to before beginning, having never studied at Master’s level before.  Some of the techniques discussed were more suited to the sort of study you do for exam-based undergraduate or school-based courses rather than ones such as this which are more about synthesis, discussion, reading and research.

When it comes to the impact of the ETC course on my approaches to teaching and learning, I feel much more aware of the different approaches, though I feel I should do a little more revision to understand the connections between them.  I haven’t so far been able to see them as a whole – I think completing a course-level mindmap may help with this (always my preferred information presentation method).

I can feel myself wanting to take a higher level approach to my work (though this is not always possible in my role), and I’m keen to be involved more deeply in the planning stages of projects to enable a more strategic application of approaches to the pedagogy, rather than simply applying instructional design to content in isolation of its context, which is what it feels like I have to do at the moment. Many times, though, the ‘filters’ acting on the learning I produce are opaque to me – I can see the part of the learning environment I have control over, such as the VLE and the organisational and user experience elements of the final product, but because I’m not the SME, a part of it is always blurred and inaccessible.  This will remain the case until I have greater SME access and can plan in a more joint fashion.

I am already taking steps toward this, and am gaining in confidence as time goes on.

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