Week 21 catchup: Online Education Theory

Here I go thinking that I can quickly finish this task as I’m on catch up mode big time.  I should have known better!!  Having watched the video and read the articles, I am left thinking about Issac Asimov’s Foundation series.  A lot of what was said makes me think that we have to be very careful where we go with learning.  I think we have to be careful to ensure that students are given the problem solving skills to interact with the vast range of information available to us rather than just relying on being able to find out what we want to know when we want to know about it.  The ability to have a learning network approach is very important but so is the ability to learn through building and sharing.

First the video

I usually turn up my nose at theory as I see myself as a more application person, but the content of this video totally hooked me.  My compulsory education years were in the 1970s and early 1980s and was totally of the instructivism mode.  Even my first tertiary qualification (accounting) was in taught and (and more importantly) examined (by an external body) using the instructivism mode.  How I grew to hate that.  I wanted to know more about the whys and wherefores of what was going on.  How did I meet this need?  By going to books and finding useful things to read by flicking through them (it certainly made my assignments time-consuming but I got to figure out how things worked).  I think this was the introduction to the concept of the constructivism mode.

As time went on and as my study needs changed, I moved to extramural study (management and maths) in the late 1980s to the early 2000s.  What did I like about extramural study?  I was given a basic set of information and then I had to figure out what to do with it.  Extramural study requires problem solving.  This time of my study life was pre-Internet and email days (at least until the end part of the period) which meant sending questions via the post (ie snail mail) and waiting for an answer to come back.  This could take a couple of weeks so it was important to try to solve the problems yourself and in doing so, learning was enhanced because of the trial and error process.

Coming back to face to face teaching (IT) in the mid 200s was an interesting time because the Internet was here and making a big impact.  As I became more adventurist with my knowledge gathering I first used How Stuff Works and Wikipedia and then as my confidence grew I stated using Google.  It was hard going and I’m still not competent at using it but I am certainly aware of my difficulties.

Now of course, we are hit by the Web 2.0 tools and I have been introduced to the connectivism mode which this course is all about – designing my own learning environment, finding out what works for me and trying new things.  I would love to be able to go off and just find things to learn by following my interests and putting together my own networked learner diagram but that is not me.  I still need someone to get me started, to provide the funnel which puts the learning into some sort of context, someone who facilitates and guides my learning or else I get overwhelmed by everything and end up coming to a standstill –> information overload leading to my standing still!

I conclude from my thoughts above that while the instructional approach worked well when I was at school and my knowledge was limited, I have grown up to become more inquisitive and prefer a more constructivist approach to my learning.  I am happy to include bits of connectivism but I think I prefer the constructivism approach overall – it fits well with who I am, a follower but not a leader.

If I look at my teaching style, I am definitely of the constructivism mode.  It probably fits well with my teaching interests – maths, accounting, systems development.  I’m not one for rote learning and I love the idea that there are lots of ways to complete an activity and that while some ways work better than others, there is often no ‘right way’ – it all depends on what is to be achieved.

An example of this from my current teaching.  The objectives of the systems development paper is to design a system which will meet a users needs.  For the assignment, we are documenting the creation of an online bookstore.  There are many ways in which this can happen and I am introducing the technics which students can use and then letting them experiment with them to come up with their own designs.  I have learned a lot about how these systems work and keep adding and adjusting the assignment scenario as students introduce me to new ideas.  After the first assignment was marked, we had a general discussion on what had been discovered and put together a framework for the second part of the assignment.  Off the students went again.  I listened to their conversations, had new conversations with them on the assignment and then put together the starting point for assignment 3 based on what they were finding out.  Now here is what I think is an important part about my teaching practice.  The students are putting together a database to implement their ideas.  I could get involved with good database design in this class (and in fact, previous tutors have) but I’ve chosen to look at the results of the queries rather than the design of the queries because I know students will look at the design of the queries in other papers.  I asked myself, what is the purpose of this part of the course – database design or an appreciation of what a database can achieve?  I decided on the achievement aspect so I have said to them ‘I don’t care how ugly their query design is, just as long as it can produce the output required’ because that is the purpose of this paper and I want students to experiment with getting the desired result of the output sorted out, rather than looking at how to efficiently get that output.  Let’s break it down and achieve 1 thing now so that later they know they can produce the desired output and can therefore concentrate on getting there more efficiently.

Second the article Individual knowledge in the Internet Age

This article was fascinating.  My immediate reaction was my posts for weeks 16 and 20 and how this complimented them.  In one of the IT courses I completed we discussed the concept of knowing:

we know what we know,

we know what we don’t know,

we don’t know what we know,

we don’t know what we don’t know.

This article seemed to be relating to the above concept of knowing.  How do we know what we know? We have learned it through reading, doing, hearing, repetition etc and we understand that we can rely on that knowledge – we just know how to do it.  We know how to read, we know how to use a dictionary, we know the basic maths concepts.  Likewise, we tend to understand that we don’t know things.  I know that I couldn’t make my car go if it wasn’t going – I know that I have to ring the garage to book the car in.  My knowledge of my car is that if I put petrol in and turn the key it should go.  If it doesn’t go, I know the signs of a flat battery but that is it.  If the mechanic asks me questions about what is wrong with the car, I can’t actually tell him much at all.  As far as telling cars apart, they have different colours and that is about it!!  I really don’t know anything about cars but that is okay.  I know what to do to find out about them (ring the garage!!).  These two are the easiest concepts for me to understand.  Fortunately we actually know about things we didn’t think we knew anything about.  For example, if the mechanic asked me to add more oil, I could probably figure out how to do that but it isn’t intuitive like putting petrol in.  If someone asked me why the computer isn’t working, I would check things and see what options are available and see how I got on.  In this situation, I don’t actually know what I know but somewhere I have learned stuff without actually realising it.  This is bonus knowledge – I didn’t know I had it.

The most difficult situation is what we don’t know we don’t know.  We may assume we could solve the problem at the time but we have no idea how we would do that.  This is where the idea of being able to Google an answer is useful – but only if we have access to a working computer successfully connected to the Internet, but only if we know what key words to use and how to filter the information which comes screaming down to us, and even realising that we don’t know something.  Here is a question: If the power goes off at your house, do you know how to check to see if it is caused by a blown fuse, and if so how to fix it without resorting to the Internet (after all you have no power).  It is often out of emergency situations people find out what they don’t know.

How does this all relate to the article above?  My question is, what happens when no one ‘knows’ anything because we can always Google it?  If we don’t know about it, how can we search for it and having searched for it, how do we know we have found it?

I think we are heading into a dangerous area if we stop learning things to know what they are because we can always find it out later.  How far do we take this.  O well, I suppose it doesn’t matter if I can’t read or write because I can always use audio to find things.  We should  always be able to go back to the source of the information or else we will be relying on the summaries and decisions others before us make and who knows what caused them to make the decisions and summaries they did.  I think the way Wikipedia sums up how to use it for research applies to all research on the Internet:

You should not use Wikipedia by itself for primary research (unless you are writing a paper about Wikipedia).

And to be able to research using the Internet means we have to know how to do lots of things first, not just that we can do them.

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2 Responses

  1. I like the Foundation analogy, and the wikipedia link you provide is really useful–I hadn’t seen that before. One of our faculty members here is really big on teaching information literacy, and that link really ties in to many of her concerns, so I’ll be sure to pass it along. Thanks.

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