Let’s face it: the trend in education will move towards more E-learning anyway. Not so much because E-learning is special or new, but because our ways of communication have changed. The worlds where we meet are extended by digital spaces. E-learning will be a normal extension of the real life classroom. The interesting question is how educators respond to this. How do they practice e-learning? And how can e-learning absorb different styles of teaching and learning?
This post shares some of my experiences after one full year of e-learning in practice. For Wendorf Academy, we organized several courses for organizations in Higher Education. Central to my teaching, in my case social science teaching, is to develop dialogues between and among teacher/students. E-learning fits well within this social constructivist approach.
1. E-learning can promote dialogues in classes sized 20-25 students
E-learning offers a good strategy to directly interact with students. Through a Classblog or Forum the teacher organizes a topic for discussion and forms small groups who present and react to other students’ work. This can be written works, as well as audio, photo or video. In my experience this is especially fruitful when you work with classes of around 25 students. With smaller groups (up to 10) you can also have dialogues in real life classrooms and the advantage of E-learning is not so remarkable. Larger groups of 30-40 become too large for dialogues with only one teacher. With students and teachers ‘wired for distraction’ through all kinds of platforms and devices, it of course requires – like any other type of knowledge production – continuous efforts from participants. ‘Attention’ remains the real social blood transfusion.
2. E-learning requires a good Learning Management System (LMS), like …
At the moment I use Edu2.0. (added: Edu2.0 has changed its name to NEO LMS)This is what Edu2.0 writes about Edu 2.0: ‘EDU 2.0 is a beautiful, modern, cloud-hosted Learning Management System (LMS) that makes it easy to embrace e-learning.’ The opening image shows some US-American happy teenagers with a laptop, outside in a park.
Now the world is full of self-promoting messages, but as a user, i admit I like the platform. It does have an intuitive interface and is pretty flexible in the ways you can make clear choices about what to integrate in your classes and what not. I use the Classblog, Forum and Assignment-functions as they provide lots of space for dialogues. The platform functions pretty stable and reliable. As a teacher I haven’t spent too much valuable teaching time on digital troubles. I still use the free version, which excludes some new functions. The only critique I can think of, next to the relative underdevelopment of the free version and exclusion of some features, is that some buttons are very small and non-visual (e.g. ‘comments’ at the Classblog). But if you take some time to click through, this works okay.
Other Learning Management Systems include Moodle, OLAT and Blackboard. I have no experience with Moodle (Open Source), but know of teachers who like their Moodle-classrooms. After some research, it seemed to me that it needs more effort to run a Moodle-classroom than to use the cloudhosted Edu2.0. My experience with Blackboard goes back to some years ago, when I was still – how old fashioned this seems now – just uploading and downloading files for classrooms. Blackboard is also expensive for newcomers. OLAT (Open Source, University Zürich) is an alternative. But its interface is less user-friendly than Edu2.0. I was an Olat-student-user in 2011. OLAT and Moodle have the advantage they are Open Source Software and develop independent from commercial interests. In the long run open source with a strong community may be the better alternative to the commercial Edu2.0-platform.
3. E-learning implies more transparancy AND an increase in control-potential
In one of my earlier blogposts on this topic, I mentioned the high potential of control. Of course you can see control as healthy ‘monitoring’. But fact is that monitoring pre-programs control. On a digital platform it is easy to see how much time is spent by students and you know exactly when students and teachers are online (or set their device ‘online’;). You can list what every individual did and when. These are good features, like the fact that you can visit classrooms of other teachers. E-learning really offers some great opportunities for transparency in education.
But we know the web increasingly institutionalizes. Sensible rules on how to behave are followed by rules on who is responsible for which content and these again are now followed by cookie-policies etc. The lesson for E-learning is that we need some simple, basic rules plus communication about privacy and control among students, teachers and administrators. And above all we need to work on trustfulness.
If we think about trust and control ….. Inevitably connected to E-learning is M-learning, Mobile Learning. Edu2.0 can be used on mobile devices as well. Just a short finishing anecdote: Last week I had contact with students over Skype. As their Wifi-connection turned out to be better on the train than in the classroom, we held our dialogue while they were commuting back home. I was at my office. A completely new experience this was. I wasn’t sure who else benefited from my sociology knowledge out there in this compartment. A typical case of open education I would say. So i spoke out loud: ‘Due to good Wifi-connections, in this train compartment currently education is taking place. I am sorry if this causes any inconveniences ….’ Well, one thing for sure: we are wired for distraction, but maybe education is part of the distraction!
Many thanks to the University of Hamburg, the Free University of Amsterdam and the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, who made it possible for me to practice educational dialogues.
Kubli, Fritz 2005. Science Teaching as a Dialogue – Bakhtin, Vygotsky and some Applications in the Classroom. In: Science & Education (2005) 14: 501–534.