The changing role of the online teacher

As I mentioned in my last post, I was recently invited by Lisa Lane  to write a blog post for her Programme for Online Teaching blog. For details about the programme see the website: Program for Online Teaching 

I am reblogging my post here, so if you have already seen it, there is no need to read any further!

 

Some big issues in online teaching

Pedagogy is often defined as the method and practice of teaching, but is that all it is? And what do we understand by teaching? What is a teacher’s role? These are questions that have always engaged educators, but with increasing numbers of learners taking online courses in the form of massive open online courses (MOOCs), teaching online has come into sharp focus again. In my recent reading of research into MOOCs, I have noted reports that there has not been enough focus on the role of the teacher in MOOCs and open online spaces (Liyanagunawardena et al., 2013).

Years ago when I first started to teach online, I came across a report that suggested that e-learning was the Trojan Horse through which there would be a renewed focus on teaching in Higher Education, as opposed to the then prevailing dominant focus on research. It was thought that teaching online would require a different approach, but what should that approach be? Two familiar and helpful frameworks immediately come to mind.

  1. Garrison, Anderson and Archer’s Community of Inquiry Model (2000), which focuses on how to establish a social presence, a teaching presence and a cognitive presence in online teaching and learning.

Establishing a presence is obviously important when you are at a distance from your students. Over the years I have thought a lot about how to do this and have ultimately come to the conclusion that my ‘presence’ is not as important as ‘being present’. In other words, I have to ‘be there’ in the space, for and with my students. I have to know them and they me. Clearly MOOCs, with their large numbers of students, have challenged this belief, although some succeed, e.g. the Modern and Contemporary American Poetry MOOC, where teaching, social and cognitive presence have all been established by a team of teachers and assistants, who between them are consistently present.

  1. Gilly Salmon’s 5 stage model for teaching and learning online (2000) which takes an e-learning moderator through a staged approach from online access, through online socialization and information exchange, towards knowledge construction and personal development in online learning.

I have worked with this model a lot, on many online courses. Gilly Salmon’s books provide lots of practical advice on how to engage students online. What I particularly like about this model is that it provides a structure in which it is possible for learners and teachers to establish a presence and ‘be present’ in an online space, but again, MOOCs have challenged this approach, although Gilly Salmon has run her own MOOC based on her model.

In both these frameworks the teacher’s role is significant to students’ learning in an online environment, but these frameworks were not designed with ‘massive’ numbers of students in mind. The teaching of large numbers of students in online courses, sometimes numbers in the thousands, has forced me to stop and re-evaluate what I understand by pedagogy and teaching. What is the bottom line? What aspects of teaching and pedagogy cannot be compromised?

The impact of MOOCS

The ‘massive’ numbers of students in some MOOCs has raised questions about whether teaching, as we have known it, is possible in these learning environments. In this technological age we have the means to automate the teaching process, so that we can reach ever-increasing numbers of students. We can provide students with videoed lectures, online readings and resources, discussion forums, automated assessments with automated feedback, and ‘Hey Presto’ the students can teach each other and the qualified teacher is redundant. We qualified teachers can go back to our offices and research this new mechanized approach to teaching and leave the students to manage their own learning and even learn from ‘Teacherbots’ i.e. a robot.

Is there a role for automated teachers?
Recently I listened (online) to Sian Bayne’s  very engaging inaugural professorial lecture, which was live streamed from Edinburgh University.  Sian is Professor of Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh, here in the UK. During this lecture, Sian spent some time talking about the work she and her team have been doing with Twitterbots, i.e. automated responses to students’ tweets. The use of a ‘bot’ in this way focuses the mind on the role of the teacher. The focus of Sian’s talk was on the question of what it means to be a good teacher within the context of digital education. Her argument was that we don’t have to choose between the human and non-human, the material and the social, technology or pedagogy. We should keep both and all in our sights. She pointed us to her University’s Online Teaching Manifesto, where one of the statements is that online teaching should not be downgraded into facilitation. Teaching is more than that. (Click on the image to enlarge it).

manifestop1

Sian and her Edinburgh colleagues’ interest in automated teaching resulted from teaching a MOOC (E-Learning and Digital Cultures – EDCMOOC), which enrolled 51000 students. This experience led them to experiment with Twitterbots. They have written that EDCMOOC was designed from a belief that contact is what drives good online education (Ross et al., 2014, p.62). This is the final statement of their Manifesto, but when it came to their MOOC teaching, they recognized how difficult this would be and the complexity of their role, and questioned what might be the limitations of their responsibility. They concluded that ‘All MOOC teachers, and researchers and commentators of the MOOC phenomenon, must seek a rich understanding of who, and what, they are in this new and challenging context’.

Most of us will not be required to teach student groups numbering in the thousands, but in my experience even the teaching of one child or one adult requires us to have a rich understanding of who and what we are as teachers. Even the teaching of one child or one adult can be a complex process, which requires us to carefully consider our responsibilities. For example, how do you teach a child with selective mutism? I have had this experience in my teaching career. It doesn’t take much imagination to relate this scenario to the adult learner who lurks and observes rather than visibly participate in an online course. In these situations teaching is more than ‘delivery’ of the curriculum. It is more than just a practice or a method. We, as teachers, are responsible for these learners and their progress.

The ethical question

Ultimately the Edinburgh team referred to Nel Noddings’ observation (Ross et al., 2014 p.7) that ‘As human beings we want to care and be cared for’ and that ‘The primary aim of all education must be the nurturance of the ethical ideal.’ (p.6). Consideration of this idea takes teaching beyond a definition of pedagogy as being just about the method and practice of teaching.

As Gert Biesta (2013, p.45) states in his paper ‘Giving Teaching Back to Education: Responding to the Disappearance of the Teacher’

…. for teachers to be able to teach they need to be able to make judgements about what is educationally desirable, and the fact that what is at stake in such judgements is the question of desirability, highlights that such judgements are not merely technical judgements—not merely judgements about the ‘how’ of teaching—but ultimately always normative judgements, that is judgements about the ‘why’ of teaching

So a question for teachers has to be ‘‘Why do we teach?” and by implication ‘What is our role?’

For Ron Barnett (2007) teaching is a lived pedagogical relationship. He recognizes that students are vulnerable and that the will to learn can be fragile. As teachers we know that our students may go through transformational changes as a result of their learning on our courses. Barnett (2007) writes that the teacher’s role is to support the student in hauling himself out of himself to come into a new space that he himself creates (p.36). This is a pedagogy of risk, which I have blogged about in the past.

As the Edinburgh team realized, we have responsibilities that involve caring for our students and we need to develop personal qualities such as respect and integrity in both us and them. This may be more difficult online when our students may be invisible to us and we to them. We need to ensure that everyone, including ourselves, can establish a presence online that leads to authentic learning and overcomes the fragility of the will to learn.

Gert Biesta (2013) has written that teaching is a gift. ‘….it is not within the power of the teacher to give this gift, but depends on the fragile interplay between the teacher and the student. (p.42). This confirms Barnett’s view, with which I agree, that teaching is a lived pedagogical relationship. Teachers should use all available tools to support learners as effectively as possible. Pedagogy is more than the method and practice of teaching and I doubt that teaching can ever be fully automated. As teachers, our professional ethics and duty of care should not be compromised.

References

Barnett, R. (2007). A will to learn. Being a student in an age of uncertainty. Open University Press

Biesta, G. (2013). Giving teaching back to education: Responding to the disappearance of the teacher. Phenomenology & Practice, 6(2), 35–49. Retrieved from https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/pandpr/article/download/19860/15386

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Liyanagunawardena, T. R., Adams, A. A., & Williams, S. A. (2013). MOOCs: a systematic study of the published literature 2008-2012. IRRODL, 14 (3), 202-227. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1455

Noddings, N. (1984). Caring. A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. California: University of California Press.

Ross, J., Bayne, S., Macleod, H., & O’Shea, C. (2011). Manifesto for teaching online: The text. Retrieved from http://onlineteachingmanifesto.wordpress.com/the-text/

Ross, J., Sinclair, C., Knox, J., Bayne, S., & Macleod, H. (2014). Teacher Experiences and Academic Identity: The Missing Components of MOOC Pedagogy. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(1), 57–69.

Salmon, G. (2011). E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Update

Since writing this blog post Sian Bayne has published a paper about Teacherbots.

Bayne, S. (2015). Teacherbot: interventions in automated teaching. Teaching in Higher Education, 20(4), 455–467. doi:10.1080/13562517.2015.1020783

Pedagogy First Blog

At the beginning of March I was contacted by Lisa Lane and invited to write a blog post for her Programme for Online Teaching Blog. As with everything Lisa does, this was very well thought through and organized. Here was what she wrote in her introduction:

The Pedagogy First! blog is taking over the main page at the Program for Online Teaching.

We are hoping that we will present the views of those at the vanguard of online teaching as a creative and dynamic process. Through a journalistic approach, we hope to inspire those teaching online, make them think, and give them the tools to develop their own online teaching style and materials. Let’s go till June and see what happens!

She set up a Googledoc with a list of suggested topics, attached to specific weeks and invited us to select one or something similar.

At the time I was thinking a lot about the role of the teacher in online open learning environments, so that’s what I wrote about and it was scheduled to be posted at the end of May and has been posted today .

I so admire Lisa for her unwavering dedication to online learning and to promoting this at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, California. Her open Programme for Online Teaching has been running since 2005 and, together with a number of colleagues and volunteers, she must have encouraged many, many teachers to explore the potential of online learning.

I think the next POT Cert class will probably start in September and run for about 12 weeks. In the meantime, what a great idea to keep people engaged, connected and interested, by setting up a multi-author blog. I’m not sure exactly how many blog posts there have been since the beginning of March, but probably about 20. You can find them all on the website

Thank you Lisa for inviting me to be one of the authors.

New Year non-resolutions. #ds106 #dailycreate

I picked up this idea from a tweet by Alan Levine – @cogdog

People having lots of fun with today’s #ds106 #dailycreate of Non-Resolutions tdc.ds106.us/tdc722/ Love one by @Downes (“the Cossack”??)

What a great idea – so much more satisfying than the usual alternative of declaring resolutions which we know we will never keep. This also completely fits with the glass half-empty perspective I have a natural tendency to adopt and which I have blogged about in the past.

So here are my non-resolutions – in no particular order.

  • I will not be looking for or finding the elixir of youth!
  • I will not join the ranks of the extroverts, even though I suspect this might have some advantages.
  • I will not succeed in persuading my family to work in a soup kitchen on Christmas Day 2014. After years of talking about it, I suspect this is unlikely ever to happen, although I did manage to keep it all very low key this year and prove that it can still be enjoyable.
  • I will not get to see Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, although I hope this might happen in 2015 or after. There are other places on my bucket list too, that will have to wait.
  • I will not work out the meaning of life. Why on earth are we here and what is it all for?
  • I will not read as much as I would like to and will continue to feel insufficiently informed about anything and everything 🙂
  • I will not be any more than an adequate photographer. After quite few stabs at it, courses etc., I have realised that all the associated technical stuff leaves me cold and takes the pleasure out of capturing the moment for me, i.e. snapping! I just need the memories, not the perfect photo.
  • I will not get to have it all my own way – thankfully! It wouldn’t be good for me 🙂
  • I will not be joining the ds106 community despite having it recommended by people I respect – but thanks for this motivation to blog once more before the end of the year.
  • I will not be able to stop questioning, every time I make a blog post, whether it was the right thing to do!

Happy New Year to anyone who ventures here and reads this post. May your 2014 be all you would wish for.

Finding your blogging voice: lessons from Jack Kerouac

This morning I found a pingback on my last post about blogging and conscious incompetence. This came from Lisa Lane’s (online) teaching blog and her post –To Not Speak. Like Bonnie Stewart, Paul Prinsloo, me and I’m sure many others, Lisa has been wondering why some bloggers become tongue-tied and lose their voice.

Lisa has said that she needs ‘inspiration for a completely different kind of analysis of what I do’. I agree and recently, to my complete surprise, I have been finding this through participation in Al Filreis’ Modern & Contemporary American Poetry MOOC (ModPo), which I am finding challenging in many ways, to the extent that it has more than once pushed me out of my comfort zone. I know scarcely anything about poetry and what I do know has been gleaned from the last 7 hard weeks in ModPo.

But thinking about the beautiful blogging voices (Bonnie, Lisa and Paul and others) that seem to be undergoing, as Lisa puts it, ‘a crisis of confidence’, I am reminded of Jack Kerouac’s  Belief & Technique for Modern Prose.  List of Essentials.

Jack Kerouac was introduced to us in Week 6 of ModPo as one of the Beat poets. These were poets of the late 1940s and 1950s, who worked against traditional conventions and standards of writing poetry. They were counter-cultural in all aspects of their lives, experimenting not only with poetry, but also with drugs, sexuality and alternative life-styles. Kerouac, a novelist as well as a poet, was interested in the concept of spontaneous prose. A term used to describe this is ‘babble flow’ and here is an example from Kerouac:

Aw rust rust rust rust die die die pipe pipe ash ash die die ding dong ding ding ding rust cob die pipe ass rust die words– I’d as rather be permiganted in Rusty’s moonlight Rork as be perderated in this bile arta panataler where ack the orshy rosh crowshes my tired idiot hand 0 Lawd I is coming to you’d soon’s you’s ready’s as can readies by Mazatlan heroes point out Mexicos & all ye rhythmic bay fishermen don’t hang fish eye soppy in my Ramadam give

(My spell checker had a field day with this!)

In this ‘babble flow’ Kerouac is experimenting with the ‘sound’ of poetry. He has let go of literary inhibitions and is making new associations. He writes in the moment without censorship or selectivity of expression and without punctuation or other grammar conventions. He doesn’t wait; he allows an undisturbed and incessant flow from his mind. He is true to his beliefs about modern prose and his list of essential techniques.  This is a long list of 30 points, but there are some wonderful messages in the list for bloggers who are ‘losing their voice’ for whatever reason. Here are some of my favourites from the list.

2. Submissive to everything, open, listening

4. Something you feel will find its own form

6. Blow as deep as you want to blow

7. Write as you want bottomless from bottom of mind

9. Be in love with yr life

10. Visionary tics shivering in the chest

14. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition

23. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind

28. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge

29. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it

For me Kerouac’s essentials align closely with Stephen Downes’ reasons for his prolific blogging. He writes (see response to Bonnie Stewart’s post):

like any writer – I know that if I stop doing it, I’ll lose it. Being articulate has to be a habit; if you stop, it’s difficult to pick up again. The world moves on; your own internal mental representation of jargon moves on.

In his supportive response to Bonnie Stewart’s concerns Stephen writes:

…. write, Bonnie write (sung to the tune of Run Forrest Run (though I’ve never seen the film so I’ve probably misappropriated it). Write quickly, write forcefully, paint that map and plan a pushpin into it, stake a position, be wrong! But be clear about it.

That’s not to say that blogging needs always to be fast and furious.  I remember that in 2008 I came across the idea of slow blogging and wrote a post about it.

I think there is still a place for slow blogging. There are times when we need solitude and contemplation away from the incessant chatter of the internet, but what I have learned from Week 6 in ModPo is that if and when I find myself in danger of losing my blogging/writing voice, as I surely will – this has happened many times in the past – then I will remind myself of Jack Kerouac’s list and indulge in some ‘babble flow’ to get me going again.

One can only write if one arrives at the instant towards which one can only move through space opened up by the movement of writing. In order to write one must already be writing. (Maurice Blanchot in The Gaze of Orpheus)

Living in a state of conscious incompetence

learning-path2Source of image: http://www.selfleader.com/blog/coaching/learning-to-learn-from-unconscious-to-conscious/

Thoughts about conscious incompetence came to mind in the light of Bonnie Stewart’s recent blog post – The Story of Education: A Grimm Fairytale  in which she recounts her loss of her blogging voice and how she feels that her voice has been ‘wrong-footed and is shaky’. I don’t want to oversimplify her post. You will need to read and interpret it for yourself, but I did wonder whether her recent entry into the academic world of a PhD student – “I did not fully understand the extent to which my own voice and formal Academic Writing did not/would not mix” had pushed her into the conscious incompetence zone. (This of course raises all sorts of questions about academic writing, but I don’t want to go there just now).

I have heard others speak about losing their blogging voice and wonder if they too have been pushed into the zone of conscious incompetence in some way.

I feel as though I live in a permanent state of conscious incompetence and I wonder how much this is to do with working so much online, having Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Flickr and other accounts, following people’s blogs, participating in MOOCs etc.

It seems that I am constantly reminded of what I don’t know and how little I know, in the face of so much information about what other people do seem to know.

The internet is a great leveler. I have worked for most of my life in education, but only online for the last 14 years or so. Before that I worked either in schools, or with students in Higher Education, and was, for the most part, blissfully unaware of expertise beyond my limited circles. When teaching school children, although I could easily recognize those children who were brighter than me and would definitely go further, I had the advantage of age and life experience. Even with students in Higher Education I had this advantage. But in recent years my work has been ‘out there’ in the big wide world and it is difficult not to be conscious of your incompetence.

At the ALT2013 conference which I recently attended, I briefly discussed this with Stephen Downes, who was a keynote speaker for the conference. His response (one to remember) was that there will always be people ‘out there’ who know things that you don’t, no matter what your reputation and level of expertise, but it’s worth holding on to the fact that you will always know something that they don’t. So maybe this is what is meant by the internet being a great leveler and maybe conscious incompetence in these terms isn’t so bad!

ALTC2013 Blogging connections

One of the pleasures of ALT-C 2013 for me was that I discovered/met two readers of this blog who I was not aware of.  These contacts were very meaningful for me and from them I was reminded of two reasons why blogging works for me.

1. Blogging for me is about personal reflection. One of these two readers told me that for him his blogging days had dried up two years ago. I can easily relate to that because I go through phases when I feel that I have nothing to say/write about, which always brings to mind a comment that I once heard Stephen Downes make (or it might have been write) – that if you have nothing to write about then you can’t be a very interesting person. I remember feeling completely demoralized by this – but on reflection I don’t think it’s true. Writing/blogging is not for everyone. There are many ways of expressing oneself and reflecting on practice, and many of these ways will not be in the public eye.

I’m not sure why I persevere with blogging, but at ALT-C I did say to the person who was kind enough to comment that he enjoyed reading my blog, that I use my blog as a place for recording my thinking and reflection. I often feel uncomfortable about it, but for now the benefits seem to outweigh the tensions I feel between privacy and exposure.

And when I’m really on a roll, for me Jackson Pollock’s sentence –  “When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing” could equally apply to blogging.

“When I am in my blogging, I’m not aware of what I’m doing”

2. Blogging props up my appalling memory. The other person I met who reads my blog, reminded me of a post which I myself didn’t remember. I have long been aware that I have a very poor memory and blogging is a way of making sure my thinking is recorded – a sort of memory bank. I think Lisa Lane once described blogging as a tool for compensating a failing memory – or words to that effect. I rarely read back through my blog, but I am sometimes surprised in the stats by the posts that people are reading and so go back to remind myself about what I was thinking at the time.

I have recently realized that perhaps I should make more effort to organise my blog in such a way that it would be easier to remember what I have written. This was sparked off by Matthias Melcher’s new blog – where he has a wonderfully organized Contents page.

Since Matthias recently moved his blog to this WordPress site and set up this contents page, we have been discussing how tagging might be able to help me and others find and remember what I have on my blog. I have been aware for some time that my tags are a mess, which is why I don’t have a tag cloud in the side-bar, but I have not yet sorted out a way forward out of this mess.

In the meantime, it has been great to make two new connections through this blog.

The Selfish Blogger – A discussion :-)

Its ironic that having said that I don’t see blogs as a discussion tool…

“I don’t see blogs as a discussion tool, for the average person like me. They might be a discussion tool for people like Tony Bates, Stephen Downes, George Siemens and others who have a well-recognized reputation and likely a lot of hits and comments on their blogs. But for people like me, my blog is not a discussion venue.”

……there has actually been some discussion about The Selfish Blogger Syndrome, which I would like to respond to with this post.

Heli  has challenged me by commenting:

I greatly disagree, why can’t you be a better facilitator in discussions than whoever? It is not the number of hits that matters and reputation is not same in everybody’s eyes. So my focus is: why that hierarchy? Who needs it, to whom you speak? I was astonished about those words

This made me sit up and think. When I look back over my posts, some of them have generated discussion, but not many and not much depth of discussion. On reflection I find blogging just a bit too distant for discussion. I value it for reflection and thinking things through, but for me discussion – in the deeper sense – happens in smaller more intimate groups away from the public arena.  So my most valuable discussions happen via email or on the research wikis I am working in. Very often a question might be raised in a blog post or an online session – but the discussion continues elsewhere out of the public eye. So Heli – to answer your question – I wasn’t really thinking in terms of hierarchy, more of depth of discussion – and for me, rightly or wrongly, that tends to happen in locations other than my blog.

Jaap started the discussion – and then Tony Bates and Alan Cooper – raised the technology issues around promoting discussion in blogs. Tony wrote:

What’s for sure is that you can’t just apply good learning management system approaches to the looser structure of a MOOC. We need to find ways to better exploit this looseness

And Alan:

I do think that postings in small isolated blogs *can* be integrated into larger discussions. And I would go further to add that if we believe in open, networked learning then we *should* strive to make that integration as effective as possible.

I think Tony’s comment is probably worthy of a research paper and certainly further thought and investigation. And Alan – Yes I always allow for pingbacks on my blog; I also subscribe to comments RSS feeds and I try to provide links to other people’s blogs within my post – but I find myself in a dilemma in the striving for integration. If I am writing about an event that needs (in my mind) to be advertised, then I am happy to click on the FB, Twitter, Google+ links at the bottom of the blog post and broadcast it. But if it is just my post, simply for me, like this one, then it doesn’t feel right to broadcast it. I get feelings of ‘who am I to push this post out into the webosphere?’ It makes me feel uncomfortable. So I don’t do it, but I am very happy if someone ‘visits’ me here. I just don’t want to push myself on people. Blogging alone feels like enough of a push.

And finally, brainysmurf has written:

Overall, I don’t think I would enjoy this mooc (change11 ) nearly as much if I only used one tool to ‘discuss’. To respond to Nancy White’s question during the #socialartist live session yesterday, I seem to use five sources and that’s as much as I can manage (The Daily everyday plus Twitter, FB, SharePoint and my blog less frequently).

And that brings me back to my starting point. How much of this, i.e. Twitter, Facebook etc. is really discussion. For me a real in depth discussion takes a considerable amount of trust – especially if I am ‘discussing’ with people I have never met and have no physical gestures etc. to get a sense of them. My experience has been that in depth discussion usually takes time to develop and for me has extended long after the MOOC ends. Some of my CCK08 discussions continue to this day.  This reminds me that Etienne Wenger writes about the shared repertoire of a community of practice and that community members need to develop a shared history. I definitely need a sense of shared history to feel comfortable with in depth discussion.

Thank you to Jaap, Heli, Alan, Tony and brainysmurf for prompting me to dig deeper into my understanding of what it means to be a selfish blogger and the extent to which discussion can be promoted through blogs.