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Saturday, February 02, 2008

It’s a Mash-up 2: Capturing the Learning

Lesson: PgCert Teacher Training: Online Assessment and Evaluation – Thursday 31st Jan – Groups 2 and 3


Following on from the Wednesday lesson with group 1, on Thursday I again teamed up with Heather Conboy to deliver the PgCert online assessment and evaluation lesson to Groups 2 and 3 of the PgCert teacher training course. We had the interesting situation this time around of having participants with a bit more experience of using online assessments in their current practice.

Participants have a lot to contribute

What was useful to remember is that there is a wealth of insights to be gained from participants on a course and that encouraging participants to share there experiences is very valuable for other participants. We saw this in two ways I) a verbal explanation of how one participant was using wikis formatively in his lessons and ii) with two other lecturers demonstrating and presenting their ideas to the others. The explanations and examples from peers has a much more captivating effect on the rest of the participants rather than the 'detached' overview of how these technologies can work for them from the lecturer in transmission mode.

Socratic Questioning

Although the transmission mode is required and can still be effective in small doses, participant involvement adds greatly to the lesson, both for online synchronous and classroom based lessons. In this situation in my role as a facilitator, it was important to listen to what was being said, follow the discussion and at the appropriate time summarize and highlight the main points that were addressed, add new topics or angles that are relevant but have not been discussed and to perhaps prompt the participants with some supplementary questions to further stimulate debate and discussion. I think I did this reasonably well, but this is something I am keen to improve on as I believe the skills of the Socratic questioning approach are valuable in teasing opinions and insights out of participants and therefore making them think a little deeper about issues.

The group wiki is still great :-)

The practical group wiki exercise once again contributed to the social and active learning approach, but in the sessions with groups 2 and 3, the discussion and debate seemed to be the dominant medium through which participant learning occurred. This was confirmed in participant feedback, where discussion with colleagues was the dominant theme of what was the best aspect of the course.

Teaching and Learning: Online Versus Classroom

Having spent a lot of time facilitating sessions online recently (very enjoyably) in a synchronous web based classroom, I forgot how good it is to get into a classroom and do face to face teaching. I actually believe that my research and practice in developing a suitable online strategy for teaching and learning has had direct benefits that have flowed over into my classroom based teaching. From my research I have developed a model of online learning that I believe takes advantage of theories based on social and active learning to promote the idea of facilitating learning ultimately in a community of practice. The model is geared to adult distance learners and early signs indicate that this model of online learning is effective in improving learning and is effective in engaging and motivating students to want to learn. Setting aside any financial, staffing or political issues the approach of an online synchronous web based classroom linked to the ease of use and usefulness of web 2.0 based technologies for asynchronous out of class tasks is more than a match for the traditional asynchronous only or blended solutions that do not
rely on a synchronous web based classroom to pull together a community of learners.

In the absence of the option of face to face teaching, this type of learning is tailor made for adult distance learners and also has many benefits for busy professionals in pursuit of professional development qualifications. In the UK as the IT policies (and infrastructure) of many government led organisations and some private companies is slow to react to changing developments in IT and the fact that these organisations are struggling with how to regulate the use of web 2.o technologies in the workplace it would seem that the home user is best placed to take advantage of the model of online learning that I propose. With a bit of planning many organisations in the workplace could quite easily adopt this model of online learning to good effect.

There is no denying the warmth and intimacy that can be achieved by connecting face to face with students is a powerful factor in making face to face teaching enjoyable and the ability to delve deeper into problems on a one on one basis is also an attractive feature for both teacher and learner a like. That said learning in the online synchronous web based classroom can offer many advantages, which include:

  • 1. Individuals can be more focused as they are physically isolated from other participants and have to focus on what is going on in the lesson to communicate effectively with other participants and the teacher.
  • 2. Responses to questions are much more easily collated simultaneously from everyone in the lesson ensuring that it is easier for all participants to be heard in the classroom (whether that be via audio or text)
  • 3. The ability for all participants as well as the teacher to quickly and easily become a presenter. This could be via the sharing of a web browser or the sharing of presentations or documents.
  • 4. The sheer easily accessible variety of ways to implement learning activities, thus having a better chance to cater for a diverse range of learning styles.
  • 5. The ability to capture the learning. with the capability to record all the verbal, whiteboard and text chat interactions none of the learning is lost and can always be available for latter review, not only for the participants themselves, but for participants that have to miss a class. In addition the teacher is in a great position to review their own work.

The capturing of the learning is such a useful feature it has got me wondering whether the principles of my model of online learning can be applied to face to face teaching. One thing that is without doubt is that the use of web2.0 technologies such as blogs, wikis, social bookmarking and educational networking, both in class and for out of class work is a no brainer. These tools give the teacher much more scope to offer interesting and varied in class tasks and are great at encouraging small group work activity (within class). On the face of it the use of the online synchronous web based class may not be workable or required but I am starting to think if the physical environment was set up correctly and everyone was logged into a computer with access to the web based synchronous classroom there are some possibilities. i.e. I) we could still grab everyone's ideas via whiteboard and text chat tools, ii) if everyone had hands free phone with the ability to move around the class, perhaps we could also capture the verbal discussions without chaining participants or the teacher to the desk.


There are undoubtedly some issues to address, aside from the technicalities but in actual fact in a few years time I don't think it will be a problem. With students having lightweight portable computer tablets and wireless mobile phone, hands free headsets we will much better placed to capture the learning

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