Balancing technology and pedagogy in learning music online

Last week I was contacted by a past student – David Rees. Any teacher will know what a thrill it is to be remembered by a past student. In the intervening years, since I taught him, David has graduated from Cambridge University and now works at the Royal College of Music. His interest is in music and technology.  As such, inspired by the Khan Academy, David has been working on developing an open site designed to enable people from any walk of life to learn about music for free.  David’s site was visited by around 4000 students in December 2011, but he now wants ‘to turn the site from a series of videos and exercises into something more dynamic and responsive to users’. He wants learners to be able to learn music in ways which best suit themselves, choosing what, when and how to learn.  I interpret this as a shift from technology to pedagogy.

David’s contact has prompted me to look further into the work of the Khan Academy, which has been both applauded (by Bill Gates and many others – see  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTFEUsudhfs ) and criticized by Wired Magazine and others. See for example:

Fawning over Khan Academy: Wired Magazine explains why

The Wrath against Khan: Why some educators are questioning Khan Academy

The ‘for and against’ arguments presented raise many questions for the development of David’s site – such as:

  • To what extent can a subject such as music be taught/learned online?
  • Can students learn music online without a teacher?
  • What do dynamic and interactive online resources for teaching music ‘look like’ ?
  • How will students learning music online know that they have achieved, succeeded, reached the required level of competence?
  • How will individual and collective learning and practice be balanced online?
  • Would the MOOC model for learning online, work for learning music?

There are, I know, many more questions to be addressed.

If you are interested in music, the learning of music, or the teaching of music,  what advice would you give David to help him develop his site – Dave Conservatoire – to become more dynamic and responsive to users?  Please leave a comment on David’s site or here on this blog.

Dave White: Visitors and Residents project feedback

Following the event – the link to a recording was posted – http://elearningprogs.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2011/12/13/digital-visitors-and-residents-project-feedback/

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As part of the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme, Dave White (University of Oxford) and Lynn Connaway (OCLC) will be presenting findings from their Visitors and Residents project. Please see link to register below (and do pass on to interested colleagues):

JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme: Visitors and Residents project feedback

Dave White and Lynn Connaway

Friday 9th December 2011, 14:00-15:00

Online via Blackboard Collaborate

Session description: Students and staff have been developing their own digital literacies for years and successfully integrating them into their social and professional activities. The Visitors and Residents project has been capturing these literacies by interviewing participants within four educational stages from secondary school to experienced scholars. Using the Visitors and Residents idea as a framework the project has been mapping what motivates individuals and groups to engage with the web for learning. We have been exploring the information-seeking and learning strategies that are evolving in both personal and professional contexts. In this presentation we will discuss these emerging ‘user owned’ literacies and how they might integrate with institutional approaches to developing digital literacies. We also will discuss the Visitors and Residents mapping process and how this could be utilised by projects as a tool for reflecting on existing and potential literacies and the development of services and systems.

To register (free but limited spaces), please go to: http://visitorsandresidents.eventbrite.com

Social Artistry… A new idea?

Social artistry in the context of educational change was the subject of Nancy White’s presentation for changemooc this week.

I haven’t come across the term before – but everything I have heard this week and read suggests that the ideas are not necessarily new – just expressed differently to fit our changing context in relation to learning in a digital age.

So what is it? It’s interesting that when we can’t explain or define something, we end up with falling back on the argument that defining something can often destroy what you were trying to capture. This argument was put forward earlier in this Mooc in relation to defining Moocs – and was put forward again in the Friday online session this week. Half of me understands the dangers of pinning something down with a definition, especially too early in people’s understanding, but the other half says we need some common understanding or terms to be able to discuss it at all.

This is what I picked up from another rushed week.

A social artist is a person who creates a social space for learning – and is not the same as a social reporter.  A social artist invites you to engage – listens, empathises, values, validates, amplifies and most of all asks the questions that will create the social space needed for learning.  A social artist connects people and encourages participation, which in turn leads to reciprocity, reification of ideas and a developing shared history.

Jean Houston writes (in 2004) an interesting article about social artistry and Fleming Funch as long ago as 1995 summarises the key skills of a social artist having attended a talk by Jean Houston.

In 2008 David Wilcox talked to Bev Trayner and Josien Kapma about social reporting as opposed to social artistry and blogged about Etienne Wenger’s reference to social artists

In September of this year Etienne and Nancy were discussing the same ideas in their presentation at the Share Fair in Rome  – where the importance of social artists being able to work in both the vertical and horizontal systems of accountability in organizations was also discussed – i.e. with the hierarchy and with peers. This is significant for a social artist’s ability to influence change.

And then – this week Nancy talked with Giulia Forsythe, Zach Davis and Tim Owens in DTLT Today  as well as in changeMooc about these ideas.

The question came up – is this any different to what the best teaching or the best facilitating has always been? I am struggling to find a significant difference. There might be some differences in terms of the technologies we now use for connecting people and the scale (size) of the networks in which ‘social artists’ work, but my feeling is that the skills mentioned above – listening, connecting, questioning, empathising and so on are what the best teachers have always done (see for example, the work of Lisa Lane ) and the skills that Fleming Funch lists on his post are the skills of a good learner. So maybe a quality of a ‘social artist’ is also to be an effective learner.

I think Nancy’s right – focussing on the words ‘social artist’ does not help. It’s the process we need to be talking about and how this might be changing in our changing educational environments.

14-11-11 Postscript

I have just come across this blogpost by Jupidu – Are we Social Artists? – which is great not only for the thoughtful reflection on the question, but also reminding me that Etienne Wenger has written an essay on social artistry – which I know I have somewhere in my computer files. It obviously did not resonate at the time, but maybe it will now.

Connectivism principles and course design

There seem to be an increasing number of attempts to design courses based on connectivism principles. In my last post I wrote

To think of a MOOC as being wrong is to think of it as a course. For me a MOOC is the antithesis of a course. The principles on which it is based – autonomy, diversity, connectedness and openness cannot be reconciled with a course.

I stand by this statement, but the fact is that I am often (as an education consultant) contracted to write online ‘courses’ within traditional settings, i.e. Universities. In my most recent contract I have explicitly tried, within the constraints that come from working in a traditional educational setting to apply the principles of connectivism to the course design, i.e. openness, diversity, connectedness and autonomy. This is what I have learned.

Openness

We have to decide what we mean by this. Do we mean open as in free course to the whole world? I think most Universities would need a lot of convincing to do this. I would like to know more about how Universities that have done it (e.g. University of Regina and University of Athabasca, USA) have rationalised their costs? What is in it for them? I can see that the recent PLENK course has generated a lot of research. I suppose an open course could also help to market a University – but for Universities which are already high in the rankings what would be the benefit of an ‘open course’?

I do not think that the course I have written will be opened to the whole world. Apart from anything else I personally do not have the required reputation or academic standing – but I think it could be opened to the whole University – staff and students – as professional development. But, in my mind, this does not fulfil the connectivism principle of openness.

If by ‘open’ we mean, transparency in what we are doing and open sharing of resources – yes we can encourage that in the course design – but we cannot enforce it without cutting across the principle of autonomy. And if the course is not open to the world, then the principle of ‘openness’ is compromised from the word go.

Diversity

We definitely need this for a rich learning environment. In a MOOC this is a given – but how do we get this in a small course of say 20 participants. I think diversity of resources (in the sense of variety) is possible however small the number of participants, but diversity in relation to participants is obviously limited by smaller numbers. On the other hand we have seen time and again that MOOC participants are easily overwhelmed by the diversity on offer. So is it possible to build the principle of diversity into an online course which is not a MOOC? Yes I think so. It might come in terms of the student group (e.g. the course might be for international participants), but if not then we can design for diversity in learning environments and resources. Not the wide diversity offered by a MOOC, but still diversity. So it seems that diversity can exist along a continuum of less to more diverse. Openness can also exist on this continuum, but it can also be one or the other, i.e. open or closed.

Connectedness/Interaction

At the heart of this lies a belief in social learning. I have thought about this in past, but have been thinking about it a lot in the past few days following Heli’s recommendation in a comment on my last post to view Dr. Brene Brown’s video, where Brene Brown extols the virtue of connectivity. This prompted me to send it to a friend who I highly respect for her ability to ‘think outside the box’. She dismissed it. Her view is that ‘connectivity’ is just one strategy for learning.  Those that choose not to engage in online social networking have a different strategy. This was a wake up call for me. It reminded me that not everyone believes in social learning and that I must be prepared for this in my course design.  So what have I done?  I have built in an introduction to a lot of different technologies (with thanks to Alec Couros for his idea of providing open course participants with tutorials). I have also encouraged people to ‘connect’ where, when, how and with whom they wish, using whichever technology they wish (a la Stephen Downes and George Siemens in their MOOCs), but I have also realised that if the course participants choose not to be connected  or interact with others, then that must be their choice. And this leads me to autonomy.

Autonomy

In designing my course I have realised that when Stephen Downes presented the principles of connectivism as openness, diversity, connectedness and autonomy, he presented them as equals on a level playing field – but I can now see that autonomy ‘rules’.  This determines how open and how connected  learners are and how much advantage they wish to take of diversity.

It also brings a course designer right up against traditional hierarchies, because autonomy means that learners can choose where, when, how, what and with whom to learn – a real challenge for a traditional educational system, particularly if assessment comes into the mix.

In the course I have designed I have tried to be true to the principle of learner autonomy. I have provided suggestions for activities, discussions, readings and assessments – i.e. I have provided learners with some structure – my structure- but have also made it clear that participants can choose whether or not to engage with any of this.  In doing this I am wondering whether I am abdicating responsibility. I have a friend whose PhD is focussing on why so many of her post graduate learners have the attitude ‘Tell me what to do and I’ll do it’ (Carmen also has some interesting thoughts about this in a comment on my last blog post) – and I’m wondering if this will be the reaction to the course I have designed – and it if it is, what I will do about it. So I am aware that by pinning my colours to the ‘autonomy’ mast, I could well end up with a course that appears to fail.

However….

So far I have never worked on a course that has failed. I think this is because I and my colleagues work very hard to keep our students on board – but this brings me back to the ‘autonomy rules’ thought. If we do this – i.e. work hard to keep students on board, chase them, provide them with resources etc. are we diminishing their autonomy? At what point along the autonomy continuum of less autonomy to more autonomy should a teacher/tutor sit? What is our responsibility in relation to autonomy? I have written my course, but I don’t yet have a clear answer to this question.

Now it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m off to enjoy it.

All the best for 2011 to anyone who ventures here 🙂

What’s wrong with MOOCs? Some thoughts

This was a question asked by George Siemens on his blog and discussed by George, Stephen Downes, Alec Couros, Dave Cormier and Jim Groom in an open Elluminate session (around 45 attendees in all) on 20th Dec.

To think of a MOOC as being wrong is to think of it as a course. For me a MOOC is the antithesis of a course. The principles on which it is based – autonomy, diversity, connectedness and openness cannot be reconciled with a course. Why? Because a course implies assessment. As soon assessment enters the equation, then autonomy – the key principle of connectivism – is lost.

That’s not to say that within traditionally assessed courses we cannot – as course designers – consider more deeply the implications of designing our courses to increase the possibility of autonomy, openness, diversity and connectedness. But within the traditional system of accreditation and validation there are considerable constraints on what we can achieve. Anyone who is paying for a course – open or not – is going to have expectations of what they get for their money and that usually means, in my experience,  of the level of tutoring/facilitation they receive.

So the question of  ‘What is wrong with MOOCs?’  has to be considered in terms of whether the course is accredited or not. The answer to the question for each is different. For the accredited course there has already been much research on what makes for a good online course and what makes for good online facilitation. Of course – the ‘massive’ part of MOOC means that the facilitators’ role has to be reconsidered. Alec Couros realised this when he asked for volunteer mentors.

But for an unaccredited course – and I much prefer Jim Groom’s idea that we should be thinking in terms of online learning ‘events’ rather than courses  – then , in my view, the responsibility lies with the learner and the whole ethos and ethics of the ‘event’ changes. As an aside – a question that has occurred to me is how is an ‘event’ different from a conference? There have been many successful online conferences, but I do not see an event based on MOOC principles as being the same thing as a conference. If the ‘event’ is ‘not for credit’, I cannot see much wrong with the way in which they have been designed to date. Whilst there are things we might not like and also contradictions in the way in which the basic principles of open courses can be interpreted (see Mackness, et al – The Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC), the responsibility for learning is ultimately down to the learner.

What I am currently finding interesting is how difficult it is to apply, in practice, the principles of connectivism  – which I see to be the principles of open courses (autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness) in the traditional settings in which most of us educators probably find ourselves.  I strongly believe in these principles, but find when I try to apply them to course design that they are subject to many constraints, not only externally but also internally, i.e. constraints from my own thinking. If I am honest, it is more difficult to truly change my own practice than I would have thought, whatever my changing beliefs. One of the constraints I encounter – which I think has been raised by Lisa Lane in her blog  – is in the teaching of skills. In the MOOCs I have attended (CCK08, Critical Literacies, PLENK) , the course content, i.e. what we are expected to learn has been loose and within the remit of own ideas and thinking. We have been encouraged to navigate our own way through these ideas and follow our own interests and paths of learning. If we learn skills along the way that is a bonus – but they have not been explicitly taught and they have not been a focus of the course content.

But what if the learning of a skill is the focus of the course – in my case  – the courses I tutor on are for participants who want to learn the skills of e-moderation/facilitation.  Then – whichever way I look at it – however much choice is designed into the course – ultimately the success of the course relies on whether the participants can demonstrate the skills of e-moderation/e-facilitation. And for this they need to be pointed to some activities in which they can demonstrate this. As I write this, I wonder if this is true, but my experience to date is – that it is.

So – to come back to the question of what is wrong with MOOCs – my summary answer would be – not a lot so long as they stick to the principles of autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness outlined by Stephen Downes.  It is sticking to and interpreting these principles for different contexts that is the difficult bit.

#PLENK2010 Reflective Learning

Reflective learning came up in the weekly round up Elluminate session today and Stephen asked Rita to expand on her understanding of reflective learning. It was one of those situations, where I was so busy trying to find my own response to Stephen’s question, that  I completely dropped out of Elluminate into my own thoughts – so apologies if this post crosses or repeats what has been said.

Every year I work, as a tutor on an online distance learning reflective learning course ( a short course – only 4 weeks), run by Oxford Brookes University,  which is based on the work of Jenny Moon and on which Jenny Moon is a tutor. The course is usually fairly small, numbers below 20, which is ideal for the subject, but we get participants from around the world, and it is always highly thought provoking and stimulating. People who attend the course already have a deep interest in the reflective learning process, and I love the course because I learn so much from them.

Today Stephen asked Rita to explain what she meant by reflective learning. This is a question that we ask our course participants, and which I have thought about deeply, since as a tutor on the course, I also share my own definition. My definition has developed a bit over the years, according to the reading I have done and also in response to participants on the course who have sometimes challenged my definition – but currently this is my thinking:

‘My own understanding (I hesitate to use the word ‘definition’) of reflection/reflective learning is that it is the process of thinking about my own thinking, actions or learning, with a view to gaining a deeper understanding of them and improving them, so that I can see the evidence in changed behaviour. This thinking will also involve examining my emotional response and how my feelings have influenced my thinking, actions and learning. To make this reflection significant, I need to mark it in some way, by talking about it or better still recording it in written form. Finally, I need to revisit the marked events at some later stage and note whether my learning has improved/moved on.’

This definition is based on the work of Jenny Moon and also on the work of John Mason, who have influenced my thinking and to whom I am grateful for their insights.

  • Moon J (2006) Learning Journals. Routledge Falmer
  • Moon J (2005) A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning. Routledge Falmer

Every year, I keep a blog in conjunction with the course  – Reflective Learning with Reflective Learners. The next course will run March 2nd to April 2nd 2011. Although it is only short, it is intensive and I always learn a lot from the course participants, which helps to keep my thinking about reflective learning alive and prevent me from forgetting its relevance to teaching and learning in general.

Second NLC Presentation 2010

Here is the presentation for our second paper which we will present on Tuesday at the Networked Learning Conference in Aalborg.

Blogs and Forums as Communication and Learning Tools in a MOOC

I think we are all set to go now.