Episode 3 of the story of BIM
A descent into Limbo
The initial development and use of BAM was in a single course that finished around November, 2006. This was the last course I was to teach. By early 2007 I had applied for and been selected as the new Head of E-Learning and Materials Development at the same institution. While still an academic role, I would no longer be teaching. Instead I would be the supervisor of a group of 10-20 staff who were responsible for various tasks including curriculum design and desk top publishing. It wasn’t until the middle of 2007 that I became responsible for the support of CQU’s official LMS (Blackboard).
2007 was the start of a significant period of uncertainty. By the time I took over e-learning the Director who attracted me to the position had not had her contract renewed. While I was the designer of Webfuse and very critical of the nature and implementation of traditional LMS (like Blackboard), I found myself in the position of being responsible for Blackboard, but not Webfuse. At around the same time a new Director of information technology was appointed and there was a major re-alignment of IT. i.e. All IT should be the responsibility of the IT division. Various other factors contributed to on-going uncertainty about how to achieve anything related to e-learning. Perhaps the biggest was the perception that the institution was in financial peril and subsequent decisions not to renew contracts.
CHALLENGE #13 A context of increasing uncertainty and reducing funding does not contribute well to the development of innovative pedagogy.
In addition, there were significant shortcomings in the existing processes and outcomes underpinning how materials development and e-learning were currently being done. Not to mention, that after many years absence, it was necessary to figure out how curriculum designers could once again be incorporated into the institution. It was thought that this should be the focus of what I was doing, not on further developments of BAM.
To give some idea of the level of uncertainty. I was employed as the Head of E-learning and Materials Development. But the unit I was in charge of was called the Curriculum Design and Development Unit (CDDU). As stated above, CDDU did not initially include responsibility for e-learning. In addition, CDDU had no official input into the institution’s learning and teaching grants process.
In this context, there were no plans to complete development of BAM. Instead, ad hoc support would be provided to people who wished to use BAM with the understanding that once the situation became more certain decisions could be made about what to do and what not to do. This never really happened.
Subsequent use of BAM, 2006-2009
The following table gives a breakdown of BAM usage by each term. It summarises the number of courses using BAM, the number of staff and students in those courses and the number of blog posts managed by BAM. In summary, during this period 69 staff used BAM to manage 19969 blog posts made by 2789 students.
|Period||# Courses||# Staff||# Students||# Blog posts|
During this period, there was essentially no publicity for BAM. The staff who chose to use BAM in their courses fell into the following categories:
- They were lumbered with BAM because they were employed to run a course that had already been set up to use BAM.
- Were guided to the use of BAM by someone working within CDDU.
- Based on an earlier experience of BAM, they wanted to use BAM in another course.
The course for which BAM was initially developed was particularly was taught be a different person in each of the following 6 offerings. Only on the 7th subsequent offering was it taught by someone who had taught the course while BAM was being used. In practice, this meant that each of the people teaching the course were using the assessment designed by the previous person. Not assessment they had designed. It was on this 7th offering, that the decision was made to drop BAM from the course.
The limited consistency in responsibility for the course makes it difficult to develop a sense of ownership of the course. This can limit full engagement with the intent of innovative pedagogy. The courses where BAM has been most successful, has been where the coordinator/designer of the course has been instrumental in decision making. “Ownership” of a course and the decisions around its design are increasingly difficult in a context where courses are offered multiple times a year and where, increasingly, teaching staff are casuals. Especially with the application of innovative pedagogies which are challenging the status quo. It often takes time to become familiar with the innovation and the ramifications of the changes it creates within the context of a course.
CHALLENGE #14 A context where there is limited consistency in responsibility for a course, make it difficult to learn about the problems and evolve an innovative pedagogy.
From the start an eventual interest of mine in developing BAM was to explore more social applications of the blog technology. Especially, investigating applications that lean more to co-operation than collaboration as suggested by Stephen Downes. However, once I no longer was responsible for the course, I no longer had the “power” to make that decision about a course. It was up to the coordinators.
CHALLENGE #15 Innovative pedagogy is limited by the conceptions, beliefs, desires and aims of the coordinators of a course.
The hobbled BAM
A common theme underlying the design of BAM was that in its first use I would be the coordinator and I had command line access to the server on which BAM was running. Not to mention the expertise to use it. That meant that it wasn’t necessary to develop a web interface for the coordinator/management tasks for BAM. Examples of these tasks included: configuring a course to use BAM, releasing marked posts to students, running copy detection over student posts, changing students registered blogs and merging BAM results with the institution’s end-of-term results processing system.
Since the limbo period resulted in no changes to BAM, coordinators of the above courses had to make do with BAM as is. There were unable to perform these tasks. Instead they had to ask me to perform them on the command line. This introduced delays.
??What’s the challenge here, there is one, how to phrase it?
Most of the courses that were using BAM during this stage were being taught across most of the institution’s 9 campuses (spread across the eastern seaboard of Australia) and by distance education students. The institution and each of its 9 campuses have an infrastructure and set of processes around offering support for information technology ranging from desktop support through to e-learning and beyond. This infrastructure did not recognise BAM as a centrally supported IT system. It could also be argued that few people within this infrastructure knew anything of the centrally supported IT system on which BAM was based. This lack of knowledge led to some confusion when teaching staff new to BAM asked their local IT folk about problems they were experiencing.
It is difficult to see how an IT infrastructure across multiple campuses, run under different regimes could fully understand and respond to all applications of innovative blended learning. How many courses does an innovation need to run across before it become cost effective for the IT infrastructure to disseminate training about that innovation to its IT support staff? 10, 20, 300, 1000?
CHALLENGE #16 Innovative applications of blended learning often operate at a scale that does not match what is required by an enterprise IT approach to support.
In the case of BAM, this was somewhat increased by the reliance on external blogs and RSS. The majority of staff and students had little familiarity with these technologies and vanishingly small numbers had actually create a blog prior to this course. What about the net generation. Aren’t students already meant to be familiar with the Internet and social media?
CHALLENGE #17 The vaunted net generation doesn’t quite appear to have arrived.
It’s extra work
All of the staff who have used BAM comment on the extra amount of work it involves. This perception arises from a number of different sources, including:
- Blogs, bams and reflective journals are all new to most of these staff and their students. Novelty means more effort to become familiar and find out the strategies and tactics to work around the flaws.
- The design of BAM itself was not always the best and added to the amount of work.
- Over reliance on old mindsets or a misunderstanding of the rationale behind the use of BAM.
There appeared to be a correlation between how negative a staff member was about BAM and how strongly they viewed BAM simply as another assignment to be marked. A significant number of the staff using BAM are employed as casual academic staff. This means that they are given a fixed number of hours to lecture, tutor and mark based on the number of students they are responsible for and the subsequent number of tutes. For example, if 25 students fit in a tute and you have 50 students you are paid for 2 tutes per week. Your payment for those 2 tutes includes payment to do whatever marking of assignments you are expected to do.
Courses using BAM almost always included BAM usage as an assignment that the staff had to mark. In the case of COIS20025 this was an extra assignment on top of the normal two assignments. This mean staff had to mark an extra assignment without any extra pay!
CHALLENGE #18: Fixed methods for the calculation of workload and subsequent payment to causal teaching staff limit the flexibility needed for innovative blended learning pedagogy.
Not surprisingly, these staff saw BAM as yet another assignment, and one they weren’t being marked for.
On the other hand, the coordinators who pushed hard for BAM saw BAM as an instrument to improve learning and teaching. To address fundamental problems with learning in courses. To make teaching more student centered. To make student thinking more visible in order to allow staff to help students be aware of any limitations before submitting assessment that would be marked.
The coordinators choosing to adopt BAM typically did so from a “visionary” or “quality” perspective. Other staff saw it through a more “pragmatic” perspective and consequently there experience was very different. Many, if not most, students also adopted this more “pragmatic” perspective and saw BAM as yet another assignment in which they applied there value logic. i.e. how much is the assignment worth in raw percentage terms, what do I need to do to get the percentage I need.
It was common for similarly pragmatic students to ask why they need to do this on a blog. Couldn’t they just do it on paper or a Word document? Why do I have to learn this new technology? Why all this extra work?
CHALLENGE #19 Innovative pedagogies are perceived in very different ways. The differences in perceptions influence how people engage with them.