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.

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)

#fslt12 Week 0 – starts tomorrow – Monday 14 May

 

 

The run up to the First Steps in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Mooc is well under way. The course officially starts on 21st May (and will run for 5 weeks until 22nd June), so next week is a good time for anyone who is interested in following the course to have a look round our WordPress and Moodle sites and spend a bit of time setting yourself up and deciding where and how you want to participate. These sites are still being developed, so there may be some last minute changes next week.

Designing this course has been more complex than I anticipated and I think this is because the course is neither a fully connectivist course of the type conceived by Downes, Siemens, Cormier and Groom, nor an institutional or commercial type of Mooc (Stanford, MIT, Curtis Bonk). It is somewhere in between and is aligned at least to some extent to Oxford Brookes University’s and funders’ expectations. So we do have an LMS element (Moodle), which feels more like a traditional course, but also the course is open – we will aggregate blogs, and we are expecting people to interact in spaces of their own choosing.

Lisa Lane has written a very interesting (and for me – timely) blog post this week – Where’s your class? musings on course location   in which she describes the type of MOOC we have been developing as a ‘pseudo’ Mooc. A Mooc that perpetuates the idea that ‘class is here’.  She describes the model we have decided on as being the ‘middle ground’.

I recognise our Mooc in what she is saying. Like Lisa, my own preference is for Moocs to be open, distributed and aggregated, but as she has pointed out:

The WordPress Multi-User site, or the LMS that’s open to all, or the main blog where all blog within it but can have their content exported to save (which is what Dave is doing) may then be the preferred models for balancing these issues with those of exploration and innovation. They are being chosen because they take into account concerns of pedagogy and comfort, not because they can handle 1,000 students and use their content and personal information for other ends, but because they work.

Certainly for the #fslt12 MOOC, which is targeted at new lecturers in HE and PhD students who want to teach (although we welcome experienced practitioners as well), we hope to be able to provide a comfortable and safe learning environment for those who need it, for whatever reason.

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating 🙂 Whatever happens it has been, and will continue to be, a great learning experience!