Teaching and Learning in a Net-Centric World

Keynote at Athabasca's Learning Services conference

Each year, Athabasca University hosts its several hundred part time tutors and undergraduate faculty to a face-to-face conference. The usual format is not unlike standard academic conference with political or academic keynotes from ‘away’ doing keynote speeches, followed by a variety of concurrent sessions. This year the theme was “Celebrating our Own” meaning we were looking to save money and focus on homegrown AU expertise – and I was asked to do one of the two keynotes.

This was a very big speech for me, given that “an expert is someone more than 50 miles away from home”, I really had to rise to the occasion to demonstrate my expertise, a couple of klicks from my house in Edmonton. But more importantly, I wanted this rare opportunity to confront the University and the main actors with my growing conviction that our undergraduate model of unpaced education is at a pedagogical and economical dead-end. This is a serious charge, as this model has served Athabasca well in the past and still accounts for around 70% of our registrations. – thus it is our core business. I was also concerned that I was going to talk about our undergraduate programming, despite the fact that I am not involved at all in this model, instead I teach in the more traditional paced model of distance education used in the graduate programs. I was hardly comforted on checking in and seeing a colleague from our undergraduate adult education program, who when overhearing of my topic, told me that “I didn’t know what I was talking about.” However undaunted, I presented the talk and was gratified by the many compliments and suggests. I posted the slides to our institutional repository – AUSpace.

I used the talk to overview a new taxonomy of distance education (DE) pedagogies, that moves away from the usual generations of DE based on technology (see for example Jim Taylor’s example of the 5th generation of DE) . I argued in the keynote that our self paced learning model (now migrating from text and mail correspondence, to  text and email) is an example of the first Cognitive/Behavourial Pedgagogy of DE.  This model is associated with creating the “perfect package”, individualized tutoring and no opportunity for peer interactions or learning. The model scales well, but denies the situated and contextual nature of learning and does not afford any student-student interaction. I noted that the model is grounded in the value of good content- despite the fact that the explosion of content in Open Educational Resource repositories, ITunesU, publisher offerings, open textbooks and professional development organization offerings, is causing a massive devaluation of content, despite the costs of creating high quality content.

I then moved onto constructivist moels of DE pedagogy as demonstrate in our graduate programs and most e-learning and bledned learning systems in operation today. This model is alive and well and a whole series of LMS learning environments have been created to support it.

The third pedgagpgical model I described is based on connectivist  ideals. This model with its use of web 2.0 tools continues to allow for self-paced programming but works to allow students to create and enhnace connections – with other learners, with content, with learning networks and with machines.

I’m now working on a paper noting the typical and emerging types of teaching, cognitive and social presence associated with each model. Naturally our experience and expertise with connectivist pedagogical models and learning activities is much more limited than that with earlier pedagogical models. Nonetheless, I hope I was able to convey my excitement and interest in further developing connectivist models to serve as replacement for our aging and somewhat moribund cognitive/behaviourist models. I was also really pleased to see some of the innovations (audio based assignment marking, web 2.0 library interfaces, web conferencing tutor ours, voicethread intergation etc. etc.) that are emerging from faculty interventions to develop connectivist learning possibilities.

All and all, I came away from the conference with renewed energy and excitement about the future of our self-paced programming.

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1 Comment

  1. October 6, 2009    

    I completed an undergrad with the unpaced model at Athabasca University, as well as the paced Master of Distance Education (MDE). From personal experience, I have to say that while a self-paced approach has distinct advantages, a paced model helps promote engagement and completion.

    At least part of the success in the MDE program is the engagement that tends to follow the connectivist and constructivist approaches mentioned by Terry. Some of us truly believed we were developing a community of learners. While I had great experiences with the support of the assigned tutors in the undergrad courses, that is not the same as the community that develops amongst academic peers. So, we are left with the question of whether connectivism and constructivism will be found in undergrad communities in an unpaced program using Web 2.0 technology! For the AU business model, what effect will this have on course enrollments and completions?

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