Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Environmental aspects of learning

Classroom space, in second life
A while back I really wanted to develop a course (for the instructional design program I teach in every now and again) on environmental factors of learning.  I know that the topic might seem nebulous but I think that's where the strength of the course would come from†.  We could examine not only technologies which we use to facilitate our learning (and how they promote and don't promote learning, or certain kinds of learning), but also look at learning from a cross-disciplinary perspective including room design, social factors, architecture, technologies, learner attitudes, and so on.

This idea is still in the nascent stages while I am working on my doctorate‡.  That said - despite the busy schedule this semester - I decided to dive into #NR001PL, a cMOOC looking at Personal Learning Environments which is hosted by the National Research Council of Canada (where Stephen Downes works).  The course is interesting in that it ties in gRSShopper◊ (or CCK MOOC fame), OpenEdX (which I am not really digging), and a couple of other systems such as LPSS.me, arke, and so on.

So, the topic of the week (for week 1) if I am guessing right, is "learning through practice".  As I was looking at the course on OpenEdX, and viewing the recordings for the live sessions which I missed, and I came across one part in which Downes cites Tony Bates:

Tony Bates says there are many possible effective learning environments. So what distinguishes between good learning environments and bad learning environments? "It is important for every individual teacher to think about what components may be necessary within their own context and then on how best to ensure these components are effectively present and used," he writes. "The learners must do the learning. We need to make sure that learners are able to work within an environment that helps them do this." 

This is a good question to ponder - what makes a good learning space?  I'll focus more on the online for this pondering, but looking at face to face environments is also an interesting thing to ponder.  In an online environment a lot of the learning is mediated by various software platforms, two of the most ubiquitous are the Learning Management System and the synchronous conferencing system.  I've been part of my own institutions RFQ process for replace our old LMS with something new in the past five years.  It was an interesting process because our "needs" (which were determined before I got there) focused more on doing things to get over shortcomings of the previous LMS, rather than think about what we want to do, from a pedagogical perspective in our class.  Hence, the new LMS, from the eyes of the users whose user stories were gathered, were about replicating the old LMS, which wasn't working well.  Go figure.

When we look at LMS we are sold on bells and whistles, however we don't actually see good examples of pedagogy.  I think the more bells and whistles we have on a system the more we are actually constrained in their use, and the more they constrain our practice since software is really never value-neutral; it's created to solve specific needs, for specific people, in specific contexts. I'd be in favor of creating a more cut back LE (learning environment) where the learner and the instructor have more capability to customize their workspace.  This allows the learner to take more control of their environment and their learning, and it allows instructors to think outside the box.  It also requires that instructors are better prepared to teach (in general), and to (more specifically) teach online. This way you are providing instructors with the ability to shape their own teaching space without mandating (or highly recommending) instructivist principles through institutional templates.  Templates can be good, but just like other aspects of technology they can be abused, and constrain pedagogy.

As a side note, I am not sure how to submit something to OpenEdX for "assessment" of this MOOC...any one got any ideas?

Your thoughts?

† potential for some rhizomatic and connectivist learning for you!
‡ so until I have that EdD after my name, that course won't happen ;-)
◊ I have yet to find gRSShopper, and as of this blog post OpenEdX is down...
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