OpenEd: Week 12

November 22, 2007, [MD]

So, having duly apologized (1, 2), I will have a look at what people have written during these last one and a half weeks, both on learning objects, but also on other things.

Boot camp/holiday camp/deadlines

Thieme has a number of very interesting posts, many posted from the OpenLearn 2007 conference, where I’d have loved to be, but luckily I get to be exposed to some of the ideas through Thieme’s blog. Thanks for that. He mentions the idea that university has gone from being seen as a boot camp, with deadlines, grades, and driving you through a pre-set program with strict discipline, to what could be termed a “holiday camp”, loosely structured around self-chosen activities that are pleasant, but that you still learn from. I find this fascinating because one of the things we discussed quite a bit at the learning track in Dubrovnik, was the idea that a school or a university is much more than a collection of resources. It provides you a pathway through the resources, both micro (courses/sections) and macro (programs/degrees), it provides interaction with peers (students) and mentors (professors/TAs), and crucially it provides deadlines. Although not universally loved by everyone currently in the system, deadlines play a crucial role in keeping us working hard. This course is a good example of that - even though the topic interests me a great deal, and I have done a lot of reading about it earlier, without being prompted, there is no doubt that this structured course with weekly deadlines has made me put in much more effort.

Tenure and dystopia

Greg Francom has already started on this week’s question, and tries to write an alternative story to David Wiley’s Open CourseWars, which is significantly more sinister, centering on ideas that there will be less money for science, a higher press graduate students and professors that do not yet have tenure, and the idea that in the end only the rich (who can afford to hire research assistants themselves) with no lives (that work 24/7 publishing papers) will survive. Whether this is a plausible trend, I do not know, but I am happy about the discussion, because I find discussion on the basic structures and mechanisms of academia to be very interesting. I am especially curious about tenure, I know several academics have stated that this is not very relevant anymore. I wonder if there are countries that do not use the tenure model, and how they compare. In fact, I wondered if my own country, Norway, has a tenure model, and I came across a very useful page from European University Institute listing academic career information for different countries. Norway does seem to have tenure, and it works in a bit of a peculiar way:

There are thus three ways to become Full Professor: 1) Apply for promotion based on individual competence (as described above). 2) By applying for a vacant professorship in open competition at any university and be appointed the best applicant. 3) By applying for a vacant professorship at any institution in Norway, being found unanimously competent (but not the best qualified for the specific position) and then claim to be promoted to full professor at own institution. The first is by far the most commonly used.

Bike commute

This is a bit of a distraction, but D’Arcy Norman writes wonderfully detailed about his bike commute in Calgary. I love biking, and I have always been disappointed that Toronto doesn’t promote bike lanes and bike safety more - coming from Europe this is not an uncommon complaint I suppose. Downtown is still wonderful to bike in, but it would have been so much better with just a little bit of investment. As it is, I feel like a pawn in a video game, constantly expecting a car door on a parked car to suddenly open. And of course, I dream about seeing any city have the vision to pilot implementation of the Velo-City!

The conundrum of context

One word that has been bandied about a lot in this course, and especially in the discussion about learning objects, is context. Learning objects were portrayed as individual learning resources that should be as de-contextualized as possible, so that they can be used in different situations. I even wrote in my own answer, that people would have to adapt resources anyway, and the most important part was to make this easy and accessible. However, we have not discussed much how this contextualization would happen. Indeed, this goes to a general problem that I have had with thinking about education - I feel that I lack a general framework of pedagogics (or andragogics, heutagogics) - how do we learn? How does the combination of classroom lectures, use of the blackboard/powerpoint, assigning essays, midterms, finals, orals, projects… all lead us to learn? Not to talk about self-learners!

On this note, Greg Francom led me to M. David Merill who seems to have done a lot of work on this - looking forward to reading his work. However - this is my problem in everything that I do, I keep coming across people and articles, books that I really want to read, yet I have no time to do so, because there are always assignments to be written, and students’ work to be corrected. Sometimes I feel like I need to take a sabbatical year only to process all the things I have added to my “read later” list this year.

Bobby McGhie Allen points out that there is an idea that only “white males can contextualize”, and Thiemeis asking us not to underestimate students - they constantly recontextualize learning materials, relating it to their own backgrounds and interests. And thinking about it, it struck me as very true. Most of the learning that I have done in my life has been individual and self-driven, whether it was reading books on phsychology or politics, or learning languages. In all cases, I use a wide variety of sources, academic research, blogs, discussions with friends, foreign language materials - and in all cases I take from it what I need, what is useful to me, taking into consideration who has produced it, what their viewpoint is, how credible the source is, what it relates to, etc. Would I have benefited from someone “pre-contextualizing” all these sources for me? Not necessarily… This would probably be different in a fourth grade textbook on social science, and I agree that for a Physics 101 textbook, having a very coherent and logical presentation would be more important than for a course on women and development. (However, would anyone here really argue that a Japanese text book in Physics 101, translated word for word into English, would not be useful to me in learning physics? Oh no, they’re counting rice grains and not potatoes, I am so lost!?)

The way forward

In general, I am very happy to see students starting to reflect on what will happen after the course ends. The people who have made it through this program form a wonderful learning community, or community of practice, or whatever the current buzzword is, and it would be too bad if at the end of the course we delete our OPMLs, and continue on alone. It would be great if ideas and collaboration projects could grow from this list. Another idea is to try to start an advanced course next term, perhaps with the topics chosen by the participants, and trying to recruit scholars in different fields to suggest reading resources, or to host one or two week sessions on specific topics etc. It would be wonderful if we could find a model for collaborative learning that is sustainable, but still involved contact and tutoring by experienced scholars. But perhaps with such an experienced crowd, just learning from ourselves would be sufficient?

Stian\ (thanks to josef.stuefer @ flickr for the bicycle wheel photo, creativesam @ flickr for the camels, the tree and the jumping birds, MarkyBon @ flickrfor the boy in the train, ellhoisa @ flickr for the peacock, schaaflicht @ flickr for the hanging girl and Forth Photo @ flickr for the birds on the field)

Stian Håklev November 22, 2007 Toronto, Canada
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