Saturday, September 17, 2011

MOOC thinking #change11

I am a teacher and a lifelong learner. I learn when I teach. I learn sometimes in the interstices of teaching. Sometimes I learn for teaching. Sometimes I learn just for the sake of it. I've signed up for #change11, the MOOC to end all MOOCs. Though I shall be disappointed if there are no more MOOCs.
I still have no idea what I'll be focussing on when the MOOC happens. I've been thinking about my academic priorities for this year (apart from making sure all the students pass...). Here's a short list:

To enable students to be proficient learners whenever and wherever is appropriate
To change their view if the world, to include critical questioning of the taken for granted
To enable students to communicate clearly and purposefully
To link the purposes of education - work and citizenship

Surrounding all these ideas is the issue that technology is changing the way we learn and teach, and shifting us towards more co-operative, more collaborative ways of working with a much more nuanced attitude towards knowledge and authority. These inevitably change people's reactions to the authority and knowledge found in the workplace and in the political sphere. So I want to examine what difference that makes.

I think my third and fourth points will be priorities for the MOOC. Enabling students to communicate is for me about academic voice, finding their own way to communicate with academic language rather than just taking on the words and producing alien writing - how to be themselves as academics. (While refusing to contemplate the horrors I just visited on the English language in that last phrase.) Working online gives learners more and different ways of expressing themselves, and thus changes the way in which learners develop their voice.

The fourth has been a bother to me for a long time. On issues like this I often find myself to be an uneasy liberal. I much prefer people to learn because they want to, not because they have to. And because it improves them, not because it improves somebody else's profit margins. Apart from anything else, it's more effective. But I have no problem teaching people to be good workers. I concede there may be a difference between what I mean by a good worker (thoughtful, critical, purposeful) and what governments and employers mean by a good worker (skilful, compliant). If I'm teaching someone to use their brain, their critical faculties, I'm teaching them to be a better worker, whether their boss likes it or not.

I also think that learning in formal and semi formal settings must usually have some purpose beyond the student. It can be very satisfying to learn something for my own sake, but given that we are usually spending someone else's money, I don't find it sufficient to say that learning for its own sake is justifiable. (or if the learner is a net tax payer, then a lot of other people are spending their money.) I like the idea of learning for citizenship. People who hone their brains become better citizens, because they can better judge the options before them and their governments, question more cogently the evidence put before them by experts (and by charlatans posing as experts), and arrive more conclusively at decisions that need to be made. (again probably less to the liking of the powers that be than to me.)

So the two purposes amount to the same conclusion about what and how to teach and how people should learn. There's no contradiction, but rather a unity between the purposes. That sounds very nice as a statement, but I want to be able to back it up with better evidence and argument. So that's what I think I'll be focussing on in this MOOC: a small sector of how technology affects the methods and the purposes of learning.

4 comments:

Holding Blog said...

Interesting list: To enable students to be proficient learners whenever and wherever is appropriate
To change their view if the world, to include critical questioning of the taken for granted
To enable students to communicate clearly and purposefully
To link the purposes of education - work and citizenship

Sounds very much like the aims of Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence. Unsure why they called it that, I think 'Learning for Excellence' would have been nearer the mark. Enjoyed the post.

Rob said...

Thank you, Holding Blog. I hadn't come across Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence, but I have now via Google - looks very interesting

parduespring said...

Thank you for your thoughtful reflections. As an engineering professor I used to think my role as "instructor" was complete when I addressed the expectations of my department in our common syllabus for courses and when I moved the students along a progression of content knowledge in mechanical engineering. A few years ago I realized I could accomplish both those aims more readily if I replaced "I" with "we" and truly engaged the 40 brains in a room. So, I began reading Dee Fink's Creating Significant Learning Experiences and step one was to state my real learning goals for students. Taking the implicit and making it front and center as a set of explicit statements such as yours above has been a critical factor in my change. Thanks again!

Mary Karpel said...

Thank you for your interesting reflections. Your focus on learning as opposed to the technology itself within this MOOC connects with my initial thinking. How the two combine successfully is, I hope, something I can experience here in change11. I'm no techie but I do understand the implications of communications technologies on our world and realise that they need to be shaped by a diverse range of thinkers.