Exploring Moodle book usage – part 4 – students and initial use

Yesterday’s part 3 in this series of posts continued the higher level examination of book usage. i.e. what types of courses use the Moodle Book module (the Book). This post is going to continue that a little and then start to make some forays into looking more closely at how resources produced using the Book are actually used. In particular, it’s going to look at the following:

  • Compare the number of online students in courses that use the Book, versus those that don’t use the Book.
  • Who is actually creating and revising the Book resources?

At this stage, I’m not sure if I can answer these questions with the data I have to hand.

Yep, that worked.  Still a fair bit to do, the next post(s) will

  • Revisit the staff usage of the Books to include more recent data and fix some of the other limitations of what’s below.
  • Start exploring how (if?) students are using the Books.

Identifying type of students in courses

The last post identified that the Book is generally used in larger courses. A possible implication of this is that the Book is more likely to be used if the course has distance education/online students. The thinking here is that such courses have historically had print-based study guides, which could be converted into the Book module. Also, that on-campus courses are more typically going to rely on lectures and tutorials as the primary form of teaching method. This links directly back to the idea of horsey, horseless carriage thinking.

To explore this further I need to identify whether or not the current data set will allow me to identify the types of students….turns out group allocation allows this.

Plotting the number of online students enrolled in courses using the Book gives the following graph.  It shows that the number of online students in courses using the Book was initially quite low. For example, in 2012 50% of courses using the Book had less than 4 online students. Many of that 50% had no online students. In fact, the only courses using the Book in the first half of 2012 had no online students.

However, over time the number of online students in courses using the Book increased. In 2015, though there remained a large number of these courses that few if any online students.

online Students

Rather than focusing on the number of online students in courses using the Book, the following graph focuses on the percentage of online students in those same courses. It shows that in 2015 there was a significant increase in courses with higher percentages of online students starting to use the Book. Before that a majority of courses using the Book had less than 20% online students. 2012 appears have included only 1 course that had online students – the big outlier with 100%.

Online percentage students

For me this raises a couple of interesting questions

  • How and why did the courses with 0% online students use the Book?
    The use of the Book by these courses challenges my assumption.
  • Why does 2015 appear to have been a turning point for using the Book by courses with higher percentage of online students?
    My current guess is that this correlates with the cessation of the previous method for placing traditional print-based study guides online. That tool stopping meant the courses had to look for an alternative.

 Who is creating the book resources?

My experience is that creating resources using the Book module is not necessarily a straight forward process. I’ve kludged together various tools and practices to reduce the difficulty, but I’ve heard other staff give up on using the Book because they couldn’t. This has me wondering who and how these Book resources have been created in other courses.

Answering this question requires taking a closer look at who is doing what with the Book resources, which requires a bit of work. It’s also the foundation for most of the subsequent interesting analysis.

As a result of getting this working, an interesting question suggested itself

  • For each course, how many “events” happen around the books in those courses?
  • What percentage of events for the whole course, do those book events represent?
  • What about breaking those events down into read, change, and print?

The first rough cut at answering the question is given in the following graph. It shows the number of update events associated with Book resources grouped by each user role. It apparently shows that the core teaching staff (examiner, moderator and assistant examiner) are making most of the updates.  Interestingly, the student role is next in line in terms of number of updates. But there are some insights/limits/caveats to this graph.
Book updates by role - 2012 to 2015
The insights/limits/caveats include

  • The 1376 updates made by students are from two courses only. One course with 1335 (~97%) of the updates. Indicating a specific pedagogical choice for that course.
  • There was one course offering where the idiot examiner (i.e. me) almost doubled the number of updates by examiners. This offering has been excluded from the above graph.
  • The notion of an “update” event doesn’t provide any indication of how much was updated/created.  It might be as simple as deleting a character, or perhaps importing a whole new book.
  • The above data (so far) does not include data from second half of 2015 when the new Moodle event logging was implemented.
  • The mapping between old and new style logging needs to be smoothed out
  • There are events that aren’t logged for the book (e.g. this tracker item).
  • The mapping of logged events to changes to the book need to be rechecked.

 

On the value or otherwise of SAMR, RAT etc.

There definitely seems to be a common problem when it comes to thinking about evaluating the use of digital technology in learning and teaching. Actually, there are quite a few, but the one I’m interested in here is how people (mostly teachers, but students as well – and perhaps should throw organisations in here as well) perceive what they are doing with digital technology.

This is a topic that’s been picked up recently by some NGL folk as the course has pointed them to the SAMR model (originally), but now to the RAT model. Both are acronyms/models originally intended to be used by people introducing digital technology into teaching to self-assess what they’ve planned. To actively think about how the introduction of digital technology might change (or not) what learners and teachers are doing. The initial value of these models is to help people and organisations avoid falling into this pitfall when applying digital technology to learning and teaching.

SAMR has a problem

SAMR has received a lot of positive attention online, but there is also some negative reactions coming to the fore. One example is this open letter written to the SAMR creator that expresses a range of concerns. This open letter is picked up also in this blog post titled SAMR: A model without evidence. Both these posts and/or the comments upon them suggest that SAMR appears to have been based/informed by the work of Hughes, Thomas and Scharber (2006) on the RAT framework/model.

A key problem people have with SAMR is the absence of a theoretical basis and peer-reviewed literature for SAMR. Something with the RAT model does have. This is one of the reasons I’ve moved away from using SAMR toward using the RAT model. It’s also the reason why I’ll ignore SAMR and focus on the RAT model.

What is the RAT model for?

The “model without evidence” post includes the following

SAMR is not a model of learning. There is no inherent progression in the integration of technology in learning within SAMR. Using SAMR as a model for planning learning and the progression of learning activities is just plan wrong

The same could be said for the RAT model, but then the RAT model (and I believe SAMR) were never intended to be used as such. On her #ratmodel page Hughes offers this

The original purpose of the RAT framework was to introduce it as a self-assessment for preservice and inservice teachers to increase critical technological decision-making.

The intended purpose was for an educator to think about how they’ve used digital technologies in a learning activity they’ve just designed. It’s a way for them to think about whether or not they’ve used digital technologies in ways that echo the above cartoon. It’s a self-reflection tool. A way to think about the use of digital technologies in learning

It’s not hard to find talk of schools or school systems using SAMR as an evaluation framework for what teachers are doing.  I’m troubled by that practice, it extends these models beyond self-reflection.  In particular, such use breaks the “best practices and underlying assumptions for using the R.A.T model” from Hughes (emphasis added)

  1. The R.A.T. categories are not meant to connote a linear path to technology integration, such as teaching teachers to start with R activities, then move to A and ultimately T. Rather, my research shows that teachers will have an array of R, A, and T technology integration practices in their teaching. However, T practices seem more elusive.
  2. The key to Transformative technology integration is opportunities for teachers to learn about technology in close connection to subject matter content. For example, supporting subject-area teachers learning in a PLC across a year to explore subject area problems of practice and exploration of digital technology as possible solutions.
  3. Discrete digital technologies (e.g., Powerpoint, an ELMO, GIS software) can not be assessed alone using the R.A.T. model. One needs rich instructional information about the context of a digital technology’s use in teaching and learning to begin a RAT assessment. Such rich information is only known by the practitioner (teacher) and explains why the model supports teacher self-assessment. For use in research, the RAT model typically requires observations and conversations with teachers to support robust assessment.

It’s not the technology, but how you use it

Hughes’ 3rd point 3 from the above (the one about discrete digital technologies) is why I’ve grown to dislike aspects of diagrams like the Padagogy Wheel pointed to by Miranda.

Whether you are replacing, amplifying, transforming (RAT model) OR you are remembering, analysing, creating, understanding etc (Blooms Taxonomy) does not arise from the technology. It arises from how the technology is used by those involved, it’s what they are doing which matters.

For example, one version of the padagogy wheel suggests that Facebook helps “improve the user’s ability to judge material or methods based on criteria set by themselves of external sources” and thus belongs to the Evaluate level of Blooms’ taxonomy. It can certainly be used that way, but whether or not how I’ve used it in my first lesson from today meets that criteria is another matter entirely.

The problem with transformation

Transformation is really, really hard. For two reasons.

The first is to understand the difference between amplification and transformation. Forget about learning, it appears difficult for people to conceive of transformation in any context. I try to help a bit through the use of print-based encyclopedia versus Encarta (replacement) versus Wikipedia (transformation).  Both Encarta and Wikipedia use digital technologies to provide an “encyclopedia”, however, only Wikipedia challenges and transforms some of the fundamental assumptions of “encyclopedia”.

The second is related to the horsey horseless carriage problem. The more familiar you are with something, the harder it is to challenge the underlying unwritten assumptions of that practice. I’d suggest that the more involved you are with print-based encyclopedia’s, the harder it was to see value in Wikipedia.

It’s made that much harder if you don’t really understand the source of transformation. It’s hard for people who aren’t highly digitally literate and have high levels of knowledge around learning/teaching/context to be able to conceive of how digital technologies can transform learning and teaching.

What do you compare it against?

To decide if your plan for using digital technologies for learning is an example of replacement, amplification or transformation, most people will compare it against something. But what?

In my undergraduate course, I ask folk to think about what the learning activity might look like/be possible if there wasn’t any digital technology involved. But I wonder whether this is helpful, especially into the future.

Given the growing prevalence of digital technologies, at what stage does it make sense to think of a learning activity as not involving some form of digital technology?

I wonder whether this is part of the reason why Angela lists as Substitution the use of the Internet for research?

Amplification, in the eye of the beholder?

Brigitte connects to Angela’s post and mentions a recent presentation she attended where SAMR (and the Technology Acceptance Model – I believe) were used to assess/understand e-portfolios created by student teachers. A presentation in which – Brigitte reports – that how students perceived themselves in terms of technical skills influenced their self-evaluation against the SAMR model

For example, a student with low technical skills might place themselves at the Substitution level in terms of creating an e-porfolio, however what they produced might be classified as sitting at the Modification or even Redefinition level when viewed by the assessors. Conversely, a student might classify themselves as at Redefinition but their overconfidence in using the tool rather than their skill level meant they produced something only at Substitution level.

I wonder how Brigitte’s identification of her use of a blog for reflecting/sharing as being substitution connects with this?

Focus on the affordances

Brigitte identifies her blog-based reflective practice as being substitution. Typically she would have been using other digital technologies (email, discussion boards) and face-to-face discussions to do this, and for her there is no apparent difference.

However, I would argue differently. I would point to particular advantages/differences of the blog that offer at least some advantage, but also potentially change exactly what is being done.

A blog – as used in this case – is owned by the author. It’s not hosted by an institution etc. Potentially a blog can help create a great sense of identity, ownership etc. Perhaps that greater sense of ownership creates more personal and engaged reflections. It also offers one way to react to the concerns over learning analytics and privacy Brigitte has raised elsewhere.

The blog is also open. DIscussion boards, email, and face-to-face discussions are limited in space and time to those people allowed in. The blog is open both in space and time (maybe). There’s no limit on how, why and whom can connect with the ideas.

But this brings up an important notion of an affordance.  Goodyear, Carvalho and Dohn (2014) offer the following on affordances

An assemblage of things does not have affordances per se; rather, it has affordances in relation to the capabilities of the people who use them. These evolve over time as people become better at working with the assemblage. Affordance and skill must be understood, not as pre-given, but as co-evolving, emergent and partly co- constitutive (Dohn, 2009). (p. 142)

Just because I might see these affordances/advantages, it doesn’t mean that Brigitte (or anyone else) will.

Does that mean I’m right and Brigitte is wrong? Does it mean that I’ve failed in the design of the NGL course to provide the context/experiences that would help Brigitte see those affordances? Does this meant that there is no right answer when evaluating a practice with something like the RAT model?

Should you be doing it at all?

Of course, the RAT (or SAMR) models don’t ask the bigger question about whether or not you (or the learners) should really be doing what you’re doing (whether with or without digital technologies).

A good current example would appear to be the push within Australia to put NAPLAN online.  The folk pushing it have clearly identified what they think are the benefits of doing NAPLAN with digital technologies, rather than old-school pen(cil) and paper. As such it is an example (using the RAT model) of amplification. There are perceived benefits.

But when it comes to standardised testing – like NAPLAN – there are big questions about the practice. Just one example is the question of just how comparable the data is across schools and years. The question about comparability is especially interesting given research that apparently shows

The results from our randomised experiment suggest that computer devices have a substantial negative effect on academic performance

 

References

Goodyear, P., Carvalho, L., & Dohn, N. B. (2014). Design for networked learning: framing relations between participants’ activities and the physical setting. In S. Bayne, M. de Laat, T. Ryberg, & C. Sinclair (Eds.), Ninth International Conference on Networked Learning 2014 (pp. 137–144). Edinburgh, Scotland. Retrieved from http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/abstracts/pdf/goodyear.pdf

Hughes, J., Thomas, R., & Scharber, C. (2006). Assessing Technology Integration: The RAT – Replacement, Amplification, and Transformation – Framework. In C. Crawford, R. Carlsen, K. McFerrin, J. Price, R. Weber, & D. A. Willis (Eds.), Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2006 (pp. 1616–1620). Orlando, Florida: AACE. Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/p/22293/

Understanding and using the idea of “network learning”

The following seeks to engage with some thoughts shared by Brigitte, bring together some earlier ramblings of my own, and connect this with R&D related work I should be doing over coming months (though it’s historically rare for those plans to come to fruition).

The title of Brigitte’s post is the question “What is networked learning?” This is an important question in the context of the NGL course we’re participating in because the overall focus is developing your own answer to that question, identifying the principles of your conception of NGL, and then using those principles to design a change to how some task you are involved with “as teacher”.  Hence if your answer to “What is networked and global learning?” isn’t all that great, the rest of what you do will suffer because of it.

Features of less than great answers

It’s not hard to see less than great answers to this question. The following lists some of the features of those that I’m familiar with.

It’s the technology, isn’t it?

The most common is that the use of networked digital technology (even an LMS) is the key feature of network learning. Or if you’re really cool, it’s use of blogs, Diigo, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Slack or insert latest sexy networked digital technology. While I’m keen on digital technology and it can be a great enabler for efficiency, or a great catalyst for rethinking and transformation of practice. It’s just a (increasingly useful) means to an end.

This post from last year – titled “There’s more to it than the Internet and social software” – picks up a similar refrain and links it to various thoughts from 2015 NGL participants and beyond, including the idea that everything is a network.

It’s groups of people, isn’t it?

Another common less than great answer revolves around groups of people. i.e. multiple people all working toward a common goal. An answer that often suggests that the absence of commonality of purpose (or some other form) means it can’t be what passes for networked learning. And/or, it’s an answer that often assumes that a single person – someone not talking directly to someone else – can not be engaged in what passes for networked learning.

In this comment on one of my earlier blog posts comparing connected and networked learning, Nick Kelly expands the comparison to include communities of practice. The most common “groups of people” model that comes to most people’s minds.  The particular view of network learning Nick uses in that comment is described as

NL emphasises the possibility for technology and design to enable better connections between learners and between learners and resources

Nothing there about common purpose.  It’s a definition that includes the idea of connections between learners and resources.

It’s about students (and teachers), isn’t it?

Another common less than great answer tends to limit network learning to the learners. Or, as I suggest in this post it might also include the teachers

Typically networked learning – at least within an institutional setting – is focused on how the students and the teachers are engaging in networked learning. More specifically, how they are using the LMS and associated institutional systems (because you can get in trouble for using something different).

But what about everyone else? If we live in a rapidly changing world where ubiquitous digital technology is transforming the very assumptions upon which we operate, aren’t we all learners who might benefit from network learning? Harking back to Nick’s description above

NL emphasises the possibility for technology and design to enable better connections between learners and between learners and resources

Which is the point I try to make in the earlier post, that network learning shouldn’t just be thought of as what the students and teachers engage in, but as

how the network of people (teaching staff, support staff, management, students), communities, technologies, policies, and processes within an institution learn about how to implement networked learning.

The argument made in this paper is that the use of digital technology to enhance learning and teaching in most formal educational institutions is so terrible because “everything is a network” is only thought to apply (if then) to learning and teaching, not the support and management roles.

Learning and knowledge are people things, aren’t they?

In this paper some colleagues and I draw on what Putnam and Borko (2000) have to say about new views of knowledge. Views of knowledge that certainly do not agree that knowledge is something that is solely in people’s heads. It’s a view that’s connectes

Better answers

Brigitte draws on the Wikipedia definition of networked learning

Networked learning is a process of developing and maintaining connections with people and information, and communicating in such a way so as to support one another’s learning.

That’s a better answer (IMHO). No explicit mention of technology or common purpose. But of course there are alternatives and this remains a short description that doesn’t offer much detail. What are good and bad ways of developing and maintaining connections? What is a connection? What is its form? How might it be formed?

It’s in answering these types of questions where the variety between different interpretations of NGL enter the picture. Exploring these different interpretations and find one that works for them is one of the challenges for participants in the NGL course.

Putting it into practice

Formulating and justifying principles for action

A use the following definition of educational theory quite often because it resonates with my pragmatic view of theory. Hirst (2012) describes educational theory as

A domain of practical theory, concerned with formulating and justifying principles of action for a range of practical activities. (p. 3)

And that’s the aim of the NGL course, to encourage participants to draw upon their view of network learning to formulate and justify principles for action. Action that involves them planning some intervention into an act of teaching.

This post seeks to compare two different perspectives on network learning. One titled connected learning (getting a lot of traction and doing interesting stuff in the USA) and more European view of network learning. What’s interesting is that both appear to formulate principles for action.

It’s the formulation of principles for action that are based on an appropriate perspective of networked learning, and then using those principles to design a contextually appropriate intervention is the main focus of the last task in the course.

Is it worth it?

Adam isn’t alone when he expresses the following, related uncertainty

While I myself am a big enthusiast of implementation of ICT in education, I still haven’t convinced myself that online and distance curriculums actually offer learning advantages aside from flexibility and convenience

Indeed, this may be the big question for many people, but whenever people ask the “does it work” question with learning and teaching (with or without digital technologies), I am immediately put in mind of the following quote

That is why ‘what works’ is not the right question in education. Everything works somewhere, and nothing works everywhere. – Dylan Wiliam

A previous offering of NGL included a UK-based university educator teaching one of the sciences. Her definition of “what worked” was, not surprisingly, a very objective one. Either, NGL worked, or it didn’t work. And you could only know if it worked if there were double-blind, randomised, controlled trial. The gold standard for knowing if something works, or doesn’t work.

Along with Wiliam, I think education is much more difficult than that. It’s much more contextual. What works today, may not work tomorrow with the same learners.

Why is e-learning like teenage sex?

I’ve given a presentation that argues that almost all e-learning is like teenage sex. Not because I think that digital technologies cannot have any positive effect. But because I think the way that formal education institutions and the people within them understand and harness digital technologies remains extremely limited.

From this perspective, in this type of context, NGL is rarely going to provide advantages beyond flexibility and convenience.  Especially when the mindsets that underpin how formal education institutions do anything is stuck in a very non-NGL view. Which is what we argued with the BAD/SET framework, and where the D in BAD stood for Distribution and was defined as

the world is complex, dynamic, and consists of interdependent assemblages of diverse actors (human and not) connected via complex networks.

For me, network learning involved effectively recognising and leveraging that view of the world.

References

Hirst, P. H. (2012). Educational theory. In P. H. Hirst (Ed.), Educational Theory and Its Foundation Disciplines (pp. 3–29). Milton Park, UK: Routledge.

Putnam, R. T., & Borko, H. (2000). What do new views of knowledge and thinking have to say about research on teacher learning? Educational Researcher, 4-15.

Exploring Moodle book usage – part 3 – who and how much

Continuing on from yesterday’s post this post seeks to explore a bit further how the Moodle Book module (the Book) is being used at my current institution.

The plan is that this post will explore:

  • What percentage of all courses are using the Book?
  • How big are the courses using the Book?

Follow up posts should look to explore

  • Compare the number of online students between courses using the Book and those that don’t.
  • Which staff are using/creating resources with the Book?
  • How many students actually use the Book – leading into questions of how they use it?
  • Exploring the content of the Books might also be useful.

Percentage of courses using the Book

Yesterday’s post showed the number of courses using the Book per year has grown from 17 in 2012 to 152 in 2015. To put that into perspective what percentage does that represent of all courses offered.

There’s a difficulty in calculating the percentages. I’m not entirely certain what makes an “official” course. The following is based on the criteria of being a course with at least one student enrolled, that also has a Moodle course site.

Year % courses using the Book
2012 2.02%
2013 3.01%
2014 6.36%
2015 10.35%

 How big are the courses using the Book?

Flowing from that, I’m wondering whether the courses using the Book are big courses or small courses?

The next graph shows the number of students per course, for each course using the Book. The following graph shows the number of student per course, for all courses. The aim is to see if there is any difference in the size of the courses using the Book.

The indication is that the courses using the Book tend to be larger than the typical course. Overall the median course has between 11 and 13 students. Compared to a median between 85 and 142 for the courses using the Book.

Possible implications might include:

  • The larger courses see the need to make use of the Book, perhaps as a source of information distribution.
  • The larger courses are more likely to have existing study guide material.
  • The larger courses are more likely to have significant numbers of online/distance education students.
  • The larger courses may be more likely to have assistance in using the Book.

Students per course using the Book     Students per all courses

 

Exploring Moodle Book usage – part 2 – overall use

This is the second in a series of posts exploring the usage of the Moodle Book module at my current institution. The first post gave some background and outlined an initial series of questions about Book usage that I’m aiming to explore. This post reports on initial findings related to the following

  • Correctly identify the number of course offerings using the Book each year.
  • How many books are being produced by each course?
  • How are they edited, in particular how many times they are edited.

The hope is that the next post will explore the following

  • Identify the number of different teaching staff are responsible for those courses.
  • Identify the type of courses using the Book.
  • How do the books fit into the structure of the course?

Note: Click on any of the following images to see larger versions.

Number of course offerings using the Book module

The following graph shows the number of different course offerings (my course – EDC3100 – is offered twice a year, so it’s counted twice) using the Book module each year.

It shows the growth in use of the Book that initially sparked my interest in this analysis. One of the reasons I was interested in this is due to the authoring process around the Book module being quite difficult to do a reasonable job. I put in place a range of additional support to make it meaningful, and I’ve observed other people give up on using the Book because it’s too hard. Raising the questions,

  • Did I just miss out on some simple way to author Book content?
  • Are the teaching staff in these courses out-sourcing the authoring of the Book content?
  • Is there some other driver that is encouraging them to overcome the hassle?

Annual Book usage

Number of Book resources per course

The Moodle Book module is used to produce individual resources (aka books or book resources). How many books did each course produce with the Book module? The following graph gives an answer.

Note: The next two graphs include data from 2016, but this only includes data up until February 2016. Hence the data really only shows results for a few early course offerings getting set up for first semester.

In the graph below the median number of books per course doesn’t exceed 3. The maximum – excluding outliers – gets no bigger than 22 books per course.

Books per course

Number of revisions per Book

Resources produced by the Moodle Book module can be edited and updated. The Moodle database keeps a simple counter revision that indicates the number of times such a resource has been updated.

My guess is that the growth in usage of the Book module at my institution has been driven by people moving the course study guides into the Book module. Previously these were available as stand-alone PDF documents, but the technology used to produce these was phased out. Since these PDF documents were generally not updated during semester, I was predicting that there would be a relatively low frequency of revisions to Book resources.

The graph below shows that the median number of revisions per book resource is no more than 2 (i.e. 50% of the books aren’t edited more than twice). The maximum (minus outliers) peaks at 45 and 32 in 2015 respectively.

It also shows a large number of books with 0 revisions. A quick check of the data reveals that the percentage of books that were never revised each year was:

  • 2012 – 72.9% from a low number of courses (less than 20)
  • 2013 – 33.2%
  • 2014 – 48.5%
  • 2015 – 46.3%

Revisions per course

Exploring Moodle Book Module usage – part 1 – background and planning

I’m due to have the slides for a Moodlemoot Australia presentation in a few weeks. Time to get organised. The following is (perhaps) the first of a sequence of posts reporting on progress toward that presentation and the related research.

Background

My interest in research is primarily driven by the observation that most educational usage of digital technology to enhance learning and teaching is fairly bad. Typically the blame for this gets laid at the feet of the teaching staff who are digitally illiterate, not qualified to teach, or are laggards. My belief/argument is that the problem really arises because the environment within formal education institutions just doesn’t understand what is required to make a difference. Much of what they do (e.g. institutional standards for course sites, checklists, training, support documentation, design and support of technlogies…) does little to help and tends to make the problem worse.

You want digitally fluent faculty?

A contributing factor to that is that institutional attempts to improve digital learning actually fails to be based on any insights on how people (in this case teaching staff and all those involved with digital learning) learn. How institutions implement digital learning actually gets in the way of people learning how to do it better.

Schema and the grammar of school

The ideas of schema and the grammar of school offer one example of this failure. This earlier post includes the following quote from Cavallo (2004) establishes the link

David Tyack and Larry Cuban postulated that there exists a grammar of school, which makes deviation from our embedded popular conception of school feel as nonsensical as an ungrammatical utterance [1]. They describe how reform efforts, whether good or bad, progressive or conservative, eventually are rejected or denatured and assimilated. Reform efforts are not attempted in the abstract, they are situated in a variety of social, cultural and historical contexts. They do not succeed or fail solely on the basis of the merit of the ideas about learning, but rather, they are viewed as successful based upon their effect on the system and culture as a whole. Thus, they also have sociological and institutional components — failure to attend to matters of systemic learning will facilitate the failure of the adoption of the reforms. (p. 96)

The grammar of school problem is linked to the idea of schema which links to the following quote that I first saw in Arthur (2009) and which is taken from Vaughan (1986, p. 71)

[In the situations we deal with as humans, we use] a frame of reference constructed from integrated sets of assumptions, expectations and experiences. Everything is perceived on the basis of this framework. The framework becomes self-confirming because, whenever we can, we tend to impost it on experiences and events, creating incidents and relationships that conform to it. And we tend to ignore, misperceive, or deny events that do not fit it. As a consequence, it generally leads us to what we are looking for. This frame of references is not easily altered or dismantled, because the way we tend to see the world is intimately linked to how we see and define ourselves in relation to the world. Thus, we have a vested interest in maintaining consistency because our own identity is at risk.

Evidence of schema in how digital technologies are used

Horsey, Horseless Carriage

The schema idea means that people will perceive and thus use digital technologies in ways that fit with their “integrated sets of assumptions, expectations and experiences”. This is an explanation for the horsey, horseless carriage way people respond to digital technologies. It’s why courses where the majority of students are online students and will never come onto a campus are still designed around the idea of face-to-face lectures and tutorials.

It also explains why when I finally returned to teaching a course I adopted the idea of a ramble for the structure of the course.  It explains why the implementation of the ramble evolved into using the Moodle Book module the way it does today. The images below (click on them to see larger versions) illustrate the connection between my practice 20 years apart, more detail follows.

1996 2016
The 85321 "online" book - 1996 Online book 2016

The 1996 image is a page from  the study guide (wonder how many people can play the au file containing the Wayne’s World II quote) for the Systems Administration course I taught in 1996. The 2016 image is a page from the “study guide” I developed for an Arts & Technologies C&P course.

I believe/suggest that the influence of schema also plays a significant contributor in the practice of other teaching staff as they transition into digital learning. It’s a factor in why most course sites remain dumping grounds for lecture slides and the subsequent widespread growth in the use of lecture capture systems.

And it’s not just the teaching staff. Students have developed schema about what it means to be taught, and what it means to be taught at university. A schema developed either through direct experience, or via the experience of others and various media. The typical schema for university education involved large lecture halls and tutorials.

 

So what?

The above suggests that whenever students and teachers engage with a digital technology (or any change around) and its use for learning and teaching, there are three main possibilities:

  1. It seen as nonsensical and rejected.
    e.g. whatever was said doesn’t make sense from existing grammar rules and seen as just being wrong.
  2. It sounds like something familiar and is modified to fit within the confines of that familiar practice.
    e.g. whatever was said sounds an awful lot like an existing use of grammar (even though it is different), and thus is interpreted as matching that existing use.
  3. The significant difference is seen as valued and existing practice is modified to make use of that difference.
    e.g. the different use of grammar is both understood as different and the difference is valued, and is subsequently existing practice is modified to incorporate the new grammar.

If this is the case, then examining the use (or not) of a digital technology in learning and teaching should reveal evidence of these possibilities.  This seems very likely, given widespread common complaints about the use of digital technology to enhance learning and teaching. Complains that see most practice stuck at possibility #2 (at best).

If this is the case, then perhaps this way of thinking might also identify how to address this.

But first, I’m interested in seeing if use of a particular digital technology matches this prediction.

Use of the Moodle Book module

Due to a 2015 grant from the USQ OpenTextbook Initiative I’m going explore the use the Moodle Book module. The plan is to analyse the use of the Moodle Book module (the Book) at USQ to see how both learners and teachers are engaging with it, see if the above expectations are met, and figure out what might be done in terms of the support and development of the Moodle Book module to help improve this.

What follows is an initial map of what I’ll be exploring.

A major aim here is to explore whether a student or teacher using the Book have made the transition from possibility #2 (treating the Book as a print-based book) to possibility #3 (recognising that this is an online book, and using that difference). I’ve highlighted some of the following questions/analysis, which I think be useful indicators of this transition. The darker the yellow highlight, the more strongly I think it might indicate someone making the leap to an online book.

Question for you: What other practices might indicate use that has moved from #2 to #3?

Which courses use the Book

First step is to explore whether the Book is being used. How many courses are using it? How many books are being produced with the module.

As the abstract for the talk suggests, early analysis revealed a growth in use, but I’m wondering how sound that analysis was. Hence there is a need to

  1. Correctly identify the number of course offerings using the Book each year.
  2. Identify the number of different teaching staff are responsible for those courses.
    Longer term, it would be useful to ask these staff about their background and reasons for using the Book.
  3. Identify the type of courses using the Book.
  4. How many books are being produced by each course?
  5. How do the books fit into the structure of the course?
    1. Is the structure the same from offering to offering?
    2. How much does the number and content of the books change from offering to offering?

Characteristics of the book content

  1. Statistics around the level of readability of the text (e.g. Flesch-Kincaid etc).
  2. The structure of the book – are sub-chapters used.
  3. Are images, video, Moodle activities included?
  4. What about links?
    • Are there any links at all?
    • What is linked to?
    • Are links purely to external resources? 
    • How many links connect back to other parts of the course’s Books?

Patterns in how the books are authored

  1. How are the books authored?
    • From scratch?
      1. Using the web interface?
      2. Via an import process?
    • Copied from previous offerings?
    • ?? other??
  2. How are they edited? 
    My expectation that a teacher who sees the Book as a replacement for a print book will not be editing the books during semester.

Patterns in how the books are read/used

  1. Are students reading the books online or printing them out?
  2. Does printing always happen at the start of semester? Does it continue through semester? Does it drop off?
  3. When are students reading the books?
  4. What is the nature of the paths they take through the books?
    1. Do they read the books and the chapters in order?
    2. How long do the spend on each chapter?
    3. Do they revisit particular books?
  5. How many times do discussion forum posts in a course include links to chapters/sub-chapters within the books
    • Posts written by teaching staff
    • Post written by students

References

Arthur, W. B. (2009). The Nature of Technology: what it is and how it evolves. New York, USA: Free Press.

Cavallo, D. (2004). Models of growth – Towards fundamental change in learning environments. BT Technology Journal, 22(4), 96–112.

How many digital devices do you have?

In a couple of the courses I teach I ask students (for slightly different purposes) the question from the title of this post, “How many digital devices do you have?”.  In one of the courses that question takes the form of a quiz and looks something like the following.

Question text

How many different digital technologies do you own?
Select one:
a. 0
b. 1 to 5
c. 6 to 10
d. 11 to 20
e. More than 20

 What answer would you give?

Count them up folks. What answer would you give. I’ll give you some space to think about that before talking about what some other folk have said.

 

 

What others have said

Some of the students in another course (where the question is framed somewhat differently) have offered the type of answers I expected, based on the framing of the question.

Jay identifies 3 devices. Neema lists 2.

Thinking a bit further afield than that I can probably count quite a few more than that in my house. I’ll ignore devices personal to other members of my family. This gets me the following list: laptop, 2 smart phones, digital camera, printer, various external drives, Apple TV device, T-Box, X-Box One.  That’s 9.

 

 

 But that doesn’t really start to count them

Fleming (2011) writes that it is

estimated that today’s well-equipped automobile uses more than 50 microcontroller units (p. 4)

Wikipedia defines a microcontroller as “a small computer) on a single integrated circuit containing a processor core, memory, and programmable input/output peripherals.

So your car alone potentially has you well into double figures. Remember that Fleming was writing in 2011. If you have recently purchased the latest Mercedes E-Class, chances are the number of microcontroller units in your car goes well beyond 50.

And of course, with your thinking re-calibrated by this example, you can probably quite easily identify additional devices in your house that are likely to control microcontrollers.

Implications

Digital devices are increasingly ubiquitous. Digital isn’t limited to a separate device like a computer, tablet, or smart phone. It’s wearable and in every thing.

I expect most people not to be aware of just how reliant they are on digital technologies in everything they do. Hence it’s uncertain that they understand or are prepared for what this might mean for what they do. For example, I don’t think many people in higher education or education more broadly quite understand the implications this has for how those organisations operate, perform, or exist. I’m not convinced that the patterns they use to make sense of the world are ready yet to deal with these changes effectively.

But then I’m not convinced the technologists are either.

Interesting times ahead.

References

Fleming, B. (2011). Microcontroller units in automobiles. IEEE Vehicular Technology Magazine, 6(3), 4–8. doi:10.1109/MVT.2011.941888