When you get “The best elearning conference I’ve attended in 15 years” as feedback you feel you must have done something right. Over the weekend I’ve been musing on why we received comments like this and overall I think it comes down to the maturity of the discourse. It felt like elearning had grown up and avoided the normal tussle between the four main areas I see ascribed to the label ‘elearning’:
Replicating core institutional functions at scale. This includes eSubmission, making available content and generally moving paper-based processes into the digital.
Techno-solutionism. Plugging in technology to solve particular problems with the assumption that once the technology is working ‘correctly’ the problem will be eradicated. (Often part of the drive in the approach above)
Fetishising the new. Leaping on the ‘next big thing’ and claiming it will ‘revolutionise’ something. (linked to number 2)
Focusing on pedagogy and people. Exploring how the tech can support forms of teaching, learning and engagement.
At DeL there was a healthy emphasis on number 4 with a concurrent wariness of 1, 2 and 3. Almost all of the sessions I attended discussed the complexities that arise when people and tech mingle. There was also a healthy skepticism of the Digital Natives idea, with very few people starting with that principle as a basis to build from (either directly or tacitly). It was as if the discourse around elearning had grown-up and become less polarised. Perhaps this was also helped by the mix of elearning folk, teaching staff and students. The parallel sessions had an honesty to them in which the subtly and complexity of teaching was respected (No ‘how can we foist this week’s cool tech on staff or students’).
Rhetoric and reality
What also stood out for me was an interesting tension between some of the keynote “the digital has arrived” rhetoric and the reality of developing elearning projects within institutions. This spawned the hashtag #undertheradar as most of what we heard in parallel sessions included a comment along the lines of “We didn’t really tell anyone we were doing this” or “We kept this quiet until we were sure we had the design right”. I’m wondering now if this is a response to the techno-solutionism approach which is gaining ground as institutions seek to stabalise and consolidate processes via technology. The iterative approach in which projects take a number of cycles to find their way is, in my opinion, the only way to develop the ‘pedagogy and people’ side of things. And yet despite the fact that we hear noises from the top that digital is the way forward we are still nervous about revealing the leading edge of our work. I wonder how we can gain confidence and make it clear that there is no ‘plug-and-play’ where we are looking to support pedagogy?
The second theme for me was closely linked to creative practice but stems from a more general challenge, namely that we still segregate the digital. This problem was mentioned in a few of the student keynotes which questioned the hiving off of expensive Apple Macs into pristine labs when the creative process often needed a multi-modal and messy environment. The truth is that the tech we buy as institutions to impress incoming students might not always be the tech they need to undertake their studies. This is a tricky one as a random set of slightly out of date, battered laptops isn’t going to look good but it might free students up and start breaking down disciplinary boundaries which are currently reinforced by the geography of our physical spaces and the fear of breaking expensive stuff. My hope is that the tech will become unchained one day in the same way books once were. For the time-being the march of technology and consumerism is too strong.
This notion of digital segregation goes beyond the physical and is often inherent in numbers 1,2 and 3 above whereby ‘learning’ and ‘work’ is perceived as being undertaken in physical locations (even when we are working with a digital device) and the digital is conceptually segregated off as a series of tools rather than a place in which that self-same learning and work can happen (a shift in thinking I’ve been attempting to influence for some time now).
I’m still thinking through DeL2015 and how we can build on the character of discourse that it fostered. It was a pleasure to host an elearning conference in which the ‘e’ took a back seat.
No credentials or qualifications given or required
$5 lecture fee
All lectures happen live with no limit on the number of students
All lectures to be funded in a ‘kickstarter’ style with visible speaker fee
Anyone can run a lecture as an expert
50% of lecture running time to be Q&A/discussion with questions chosen by the students
All sessions released as a recording under an open, noncommercial license
All income (after expert fee and admin) to go to educational charities that work to widen participation and make knowledge freely available
The following to be decided by the expert for each lecture:
Lecture length (must be a prime number of minutes between 7 and 29)
Speaker fee, which will be visible to the potential students (the fee will either be waived or a prime number)
LoLs student (sLoL) journey:
Become a member of the society by signing up to the LoLs platform.
Seek out an interesting lecture and pledge $5. (It will be clear how close the lecture is to the minimum funding level needed. Beyond this point all income goes to charity. All lectures have a set start time.)
If they make a pledge early (before the minimum funding has been reached) they can submit a question to be asked during the Q&A portion of the lecture. If they are in later than this then they can vote potential question up and down. The number of questions used will be proportional to the length of the lecture.
They might explore some of the pre-lecture links if any have been submitted by the expert. They can also check the lecture hashtag to get involved in pre-lecture discussion and connect with others who have pledged.
If the minimum funding level is reached they receive a reminder of the lecture time and an access code of some sort.
The lecture runs in a Google Hangouts style platform with a video feed from the expert, a hashtag driven back channel and a text chat area. More confident experts could use whiteboards and polls etc. All lectures are supported by a facilitator to assist with the tech and to moderate. Facilitators can work for free or be paid in $5 lecture tokens. Experts will be encouraged to respond to the backchannel and text chat as much as possible.
At exactly half-time the lecture moves into Q&A mode with the facilitator stepping through the top questions as voted for by participants. If there is time left they can respond to questions that have emerged from the backchannel and text chat.
Exactly on time the platform shuts down the lecture with extreme prejudice (automatically 🙂
The video feed is then placed on YouTube or a similar channel under an open, non-commercial license.
Discussion can continue on the hashtag.
Participants can rate the lecture and the expert within limited LoLs criteria.
LoLs expert (eLoL) journey:
Become a member of the society by signing up to the LoLs platform.
Experts must have participated in at least two lectures before having the option to create their own lecture and have completed a LoLs expert tutorial.
Create a lecture by submitting the following:
Subject area, title, blurb etc
Level (novice, intermediate, advanced)
Associated material and links
Pick a speaker fee for themselves
Pick a lecture length and time
Pick a charity or charities (from a LoLs list) that any income over the minimum will go to
The expert can mark what they think are good questions with an expert tag during the voting process but can’t create questions.
The expert might join in the hashtag based discussion.
They may also promote the lecture via their networks to ensure it reaches the minimum funding level.
If the funding level is reached they are given an expert code of some sort to access the lecture space which they can visit as much as they want to set-up.
The lecture runs (all they need is a webcam and headset). Experts and facilitators arrive 30 minutes before the start time to ensure the tech is working smoothly.
After the lecture the expert can chose to join in with any additional hashtag based discussion. The expert or the facilitator may put a link to the recording in appropriate Wikipedia articles.
So that’s about it in simple terms. It’s based on a number of principles:
People like to be involved in live events even if this is less convenient than watching a recording. (See ‘Eventedness‘)
The format is honest about paying the experts if they want a fee. The $5 format also negates the need for advertising (depending on what platforms are used) or sponsorship.
People like to influence events and have input – in this case via submitting or voting on questions or via the live discussion.
Most people can relate to ‘classic’ nomenclature such as ‘lecture’, ‘expert’ and ‘student’. This is a deliberate choice and has no bearing on the style of pedagogy experts chose.
It allows for huge mainstream lectures and niche ones designed for no more than a few students.
People like to lead up to and away from live events – in this case via the lecture hashtag.
‘Big names’ can chose a big fee or munificence.
in keeping with the LoL principle only lectures that people are truly interested in will run.
Popular lectures are very likely to bring in income for the chosen charities as there is minimal (if any) cost as student numbers increase.
People tend to be more invested in something they have paid for even if the fee is minimal (and incidentally a prime number).
The format encourages both the expert and keen students to promote the lecture.
No knowledge is withheld as all lectures are freely available as recordings.
Anyone can get involved in hashtag discussions.
I’d estimate that a LoLs pilot could initially be developed by stitching together a number of free-to-use platforms. The difficult part is managing the way the money flows around. I suspect a bespoke pilot platform could be put together for less than the cost of developing the materials for a mainstream MOOC.
So, who’s interested? 🙂
P.S. If this got off the ground then I’d form a parallel organisation called the Love of Learning institute ( LoLi – pronounced lolly). This would also be not for profit and would handle any commercial interests in LoLs content. For example a number of LoLs lectures under a given theme could be built into a curriculum structure and accredited. The LoLi protects the tenants of the LoLs and would hopefully feed more money to educational charities.